TV Series Review
Forget suave. Forget sparkly. The Strain’s vampires don’t care what you think of them. They just want your blood. Your body. Your soul.
Pretty ambitious for a parasitic worm.
Nastier Than Your Average Zombie Virus
The vampires in FX’s horror series The Strain are made possible by said worm. The parasites, introduced to New York via an intercontinental flight, infect their human hosts and remake them in a manner more suitable for the invaders: They raise the body’s temperature several degrees. They cause it to shed whatever hair it has, leaving the skin marble smooth (and particularly susceptible to terminal sunburn). They rewire the jaw so it can drop farther. That allows a long proboscis to shoot from the mouth and skewer prey, which both siphons off blood and infects the new victim, ensuring the propagation of the species.
It’s a nasty, terrifying disease, one that the United States has been trying unsuccessfully to grapple with for four seasons. It looks for all the world like a vampire-zombie apocalypse.
But alas, there’s more at work than just a really terrible infection. There’s method to this madness, and this strange form of vampirism (members of whom are called strigoi) is ultimately caused by a being known as “The Master,” one of seven ancient vampires who has decided to declare war on his brethren and create his own mostly dead army. Humankind? We’re just “cattle” to these beings. And to make harvesting us all the more convenient, he and his allies have created concentration camps to house the remnants of humankind.
But even bovine can buck on occasion, and there’s plenty of folks who want to kick up a fuss.
Dr. Ephraim Goodweather develops bioweapons against the vampires, or “munchers” as they’re called. But the vampires have a bit of leverage on the guy—primarily his son, whom Eph would dearly like to see stay proboscis-free. Meanwhile, Vasily Fet, a one-time rat exterminator, is now using his skills on a different sort of pest. Then there’s Professor Abraham Setrakian, who’s delving into a mysterious book that may hold the secret to the vampires’ ultimate demise. And let’s not forget Quinlan the human/strigoi hybrid who’s been hunting The Master for a very, very, very long time.
Gushing With Grotesquery
The Strain is the brainchild of creature-feature director extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro. He co-wrote three novels (with Chuck Hogan) on which the series is based, and he directed the first episode. With del Toro at the helm, it’s little wonder the show gushes with grotesquery. And while the vampires here are as unsexy as a sentient being can be, that doesn’t prevent viewers from getting an eyeful of near nudity and simulated sex when the blood isn’t oozing. There’s quite a bit of bad language, too.
And though The Strain boasts a spiritual undercurrent, that thread has some occult undertones. As the show has moved away from a virulent disease and transmorphed into a showdown between immortal vampire beings, Setrakian’s book takes an ever-more central role. The Occido Lumen (as the tome is known) is supposedly a translation of ancient Sumerian tablets, and its secrets have reportedly been passed on through occultists and demonologists through the ages. Some passages do refer to biblical heroes and presuppose a struggle between cosmic good and evil. But the Occido Lumen is hardly a source of spiritual truth.
You could say that The Strain, then, is in need of a strainer.
The Strain: Aug. 12, 2017 “Belly of the Beast”
Dr. Eph Goodweather and helpmate Alex Green stumble upon a deserted town, whose sole apparent inhabitant may be able to lead them to the mysterious New Horizons “farming colony.” Mysterious Prof. Setrakian, meanwhile, is being milked for marrow by evil vampires. Fet (the former exterminator), Quinlan (the hybrid) and others are on a quest to get a critical part for a nuclear bomb they’ve pilfered. And in flashback, we learn something of Quinlan’s backstory … in 1880s London.
In that flashback, Quinlan is sought by a woman who hopes an “immortal” can cure her twin brother, who’s dying from syphilis. (We see the raving man ravaged by skin ailments.) Quinlan and the woman eventually get intimate, after a fashion: She knows she’s “different” and offers her throat to him, then lies on the bed and tells Quinlan she wants to “feel” it. Quinlan runs his hand over her (clothed) chest and body. Clothing is moved out of the way, and he uses his proboscis to suck blood out of the woman’s leg as she moans.
The brother dies, and an Anglican priest recites the Lord’s Prayer during the funeral. Quinlan is referred to as a “fiend” and “demon.” Prof. Setrakian is confronted by a powerful vampire who—alone among all strigoi—has been given “free will” by The Master. The vampire tells Setrakian that he’ll kill him quickly (instead of the painful way he’s currently dying) if Setrakian simply admits one thing: “That your God does not exist.”
“For your sake, you should hope that He does not,” Setrakian counters.
The vampire is later set ablaze. Another strigoi gets cut in half by a wire. Others are shot in the head or stabbed. People fight with humans who are helping the vampires, beating them, kicking them and throwing them against walls. A strigoi bites into someone’s neck, apparently killing him. There’s talk about babies being killed and “drained.” Necks are cracked. Quinlan puts a stop to a mugging, which also involves some blood.
Strigoi drink blood-like wine. Viewers see a bit of a 19th-century opium den. Characters use the s-word four times, as well as “a–,” “b–ch” and “h—.” God’s name is misused twice, once with the word “d–n.”
The Strain: Aug. 28, 2016 “New York Strong”
Eph returns home night after night, hoping his son will somehow return. He’s also concerned that his bioweapon, which is supposedly 100% effective against the munchers, only has a 75% success rate—a disturbing discrepancy that suggests the monsters may be evolving. Meanwhile, Fet works with a team of Navy SEALs to clear out muncher nests in New York’s sewers and subways, hoping to find the Master’s hideout.
Alas, as well trained as those Navy SEALs are, they’re no match for the Master and his underlings. We see one SEAL who’s sliced in half, intestines trailing out of the body. Another is grabbed by the neck by a muncher’s mouth tentacle and held aloft while his blood is drained. Others scream and vanish, leaving only blood behind. Elsewhere, two vampires feed on a poor victim, proboscises buried in her neck; soldiers shoot all three dead. Seemingly dozens of others get mowed down in a hail of bullets. One creatures is stabbed in the side of the head. Another burns up when a car it had jumped on drives into the sunlight. Several high-level vampiric beings stand in a hall where the floor seems stained with blood. A man syphons out a dog dish of his own blood to give to his infected mother. (She eagerly sucks it all up, but she’d clearly like to turn her son into an after-meal meal.)
Eph drinks heavily while waiting for his son (emptying an entire bottle of whiskey) and while working in his laboratory. Characters say the s-word (uncensored in the Amazon version reviewed) four times, while also using profanities like “h—” and “d–n” (the latter once with God’s name). Jesus’ name is also abused. People steal medicine to sell in New York’s black market. A showdown takes place in an abandoned church. A reference is made to Moses.
Survivors are allowed to leave quarantine and go home, much to Eph’s and Nora’s annoyance. All is clearly not well. And soon, one of the freed, shock rocker Gabriel, while having a sexual foursome (we see bare torsos and a great deal of near nudity), bites a girl on the neck and draws blood. The women flee as Gabe proceeds to lap up blood from the floor. Elsewhere, another woman realizes blood is leaking from her mouth and into her wine. Eph, Nora and CDC official Jim Kent investigate a corpse and find that the man’s head has been crushed (blood and brain matter are everywhere, prompting Jim to vomit). A little girl kills her father with her proboscis tongue; the man lies lifeless, half in a bathtub, as blood stains the water. A dead mouse and rat are held up for display.
Eichhorst talks with Abraham Setrakian, an elderly professor in prison, and makes it clear the two were acquainted with each other in a concentration camp. Eichhorst tells Abraham that his God is an allusion: “You are not a hero or a savior,” he says. “You’re just a number. I took your name and gave you that number. That’s all you are.”
Gabe crushes and snorts erectile dysfunction medication. He talks about his first acid trip. People drink wine, whiskey and champagne. But Eph attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and says of his son, “He’s all I have left. He’s my whole world.” Characters say the s-word close to 10 times. We also hear “h—,” “a–,” “b–ch,” “b–tard” and “p—.” “D–n” is paired with “God.” Jesus’ name is abused once.
You could say that The Strain is in need of a strainer.