tv review – FX’s The Strain, episode 1.6

‘Occultation’ was a crazy episode, or at least that’s what it told us. Characters kept saying people were going insane before and during the episode’s lunar eclipse, but sadly ‘Occultation’ never actually showed it to us. Instead there was just one vampire who happened to pop up everywhere at the exact same moment our main characters were there too, to then unsuccessfully attack them. For an event that was built up as much over the last couple of episodes, the eclipse really turned out to be a bust and was not nearly as exciting as The Strain had made us believe it would be. This event was a disappointment that really took away from the episode itself, but also deflated the built-up excitement for what’s to come; given the show’s apparent budget constraints, how is it going to deliver on the promise of the whole city of New York overrun by vampires?

If The Strain has shown us anything, it’s that it does quiet, small and isolated moments far better than the big and eventful ones. ‘Occultation’ once again reinforced that fact; while it still kept the main characters apart for most of the episode, Eph, Fet and Setrakian were all given nice little moment that were both creepy and showed us something about these people through their actions. We learned that both Eph and Fet wouldn’t hesitate to do what needs doing and won’t be slowed down by sentiment, despite the fact they’re good men, while this episode’s best moment taught us that Setrakian really is far too old to handle things efficiently on his own. The scene in which he entered a basement filled with vamps, was great: it expertly built tension and the sound design effectively told us about Setrakian’s heart condition before he almost collapsed in the midst of these hungry predators. We knew he would get away of course, but his near-demise still proved to be a gripping moment and also showed us that he needs to get a team together quickly, to either deal with this epidemic with or without him.

The scenes with Eph’s estranged wife Kelly were also surprisingly solid this time around: she was way more sympathetic to Eph than before and Natalie Brown did a fine job with the little bit of character development she got to work with this episode. While her character and her stance toward Eph and her current boyfriend were still very sketchy and she isn’t much more than a type, Brown didn’t manage to bring some authenticity and gravitas to her character’s scenes. It’s a case where the acting elevates the writing somewhat, which can’t be said for many of the episode’s other scenes. While the secondary characters really can’t be labeled anything more than types or stock characters, Miguel Gomez fails to bring anything relatable or compelling to his lead character Gus. He’s written as a tough Latino thug who loves his mom, and that’s also all we get from Gomez: he doesn’t have the charm or charisma to make you like him, and he doesn’t bring some vulnerability or nuance to the character to make him more interesting to watch. Corey Stoll, Kevin Durand and David Bradley on the other hand really infuse their characters with energy and presence, which makes these people fun to watch, even though they’re all essentially one-note types too.

‘Occultation’ was marred by many of the show’s familiar deficiencies, but the reason why it ended up being a disappointment was because of the way it had set up and then executed the lunar eclipse. The event ended up being half-baked and cringeworthy, not as epic as The Strain had led us to believe beforehand. 6/10


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