Warning: Spoilers Ahead
It’s been almost four months since the season finale of The Walking Dead, and this hiatus has been dragging with nothing good at all on TV and no end in sight to this big-fat boring summer of television. That is, until about four weeks ago when I accidentally stumbled on a promo for the new horror drama The Strain. No more pining over TWD for this girl here because honestly, and very ironically, we’ve got a much better show to watch on Sunday nights now.
The episode begins very quiet but very creepy. Regis Air flight 753 lands at JFK from Berlin and has all the hallmarks of what they call a “dead plane.” It goes completely dark, there’s no movement in the cabin and the weirdest part, it is cold to the touch almost as if it had been placed in a freezer. This is definitely not going to end well. So, immediately a whole alphabet soup of federal agencies are called to the scene, including the CDC. There is a brief pissing contest between the CDC’s team lead, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll, House of Cards) and homeland security, with the CDC finally prevailing. And, so, finally we get to see the horrors that lie for us inside flight 753 that has been waiting on the runway for over an hour now.
Dr. Goodweather and his partner Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) are sent on board and what they discover takes freaky to whole new level. All 210 passengers appear to be dead, or so it seems. But there’s no signs of trauma and all of them actually look peaceful, almost as if they just went to sleep. The only anomaly they find is some kind of ammonia residue on just about every surface of the cabin and the cargo bay (I won’t spoil it for everyone what this substance is, but trust me when I say it turns out to be one of the most disgusting parts of the entire story). Â But then freaky turns into super-freaky with 4 passengers suddenly waking up and all at the same time. Â So, now the attention turns to the survivors instead the 206 that are being sent to the morgue, which turns out to be a big mistake.
This is the point when the episode really kicks into high gear. The quietness of the first thirty minutes is replaced with chaos with CDC administrator, Jim Kent (Sean Astin,Â Lord of the Rings,Â Goonies) running interference while Drs. Goodweather and Martinez work frantically trying to find the source of the contagion. But nothing really makes sense in their world where everything can be explained with facts and science. They discover a nine foot ornately hand-carved box in the cargo area with nothing in it but soil. Nora wants to call it a coffin, but Eph refuses to think outside the box (no pun intended!) because no coffin would be nine feet long. He soon realizes his error after they find some kind of parasitic worm mixed with the same type of soil in the cargo area, but by then it’s too late. The coffin is already gone and the chain reaction of events have begun with nothing being able to stop it now.
Back at the airport hanger and at the morgue we get a glimpse behind the scenes and away from the eyes of the CDC of what we’re actually up against with some very horrifying and gruesome scenes that have Guillermo del Toro’s name written all over them. Mr. Bishop (Andrew Divoff), the air traffic controller, is attacked by the vampire-like creature that had been hiding in the coffin, his blood drained by a giant python-like stinger that is plunged into his neck and his head completely flattened after the thing was done with him. And the poor ME back at the morgue finally stumbles on the bloodworms, which is one of the keys to how the virus is spread, only to be attacked by all of his cadavers who amazingly just wake up and get off their slabs (The Walking Dead fans would definitely love this scene!). This all really sets the stage for episode 2 and onwards and so, if this freaked you out, better stock up on the Xanax because there’s plenty more of it to come in later episodes.
All in all, loved, loved, loved this pilot and while it may have been ninety minutes long, it didn’t seem that way because I was on the edge of my seat, biting my nails the entire time. How the episode started very slowly but ended with a big punch was done so well and was so characteristic of Carlton Cuse. And I love how the characters were introduced and are being developed, especially Jim Kent. His character is the one that seems to be a little different from the books and I mean that in a good way. Without revealing any spoilers, I can say that in the book Jim Kent isn’t exactly the most likable character, but the TV version seems to be a super-nice, level-headed guy. Yeah, the end of the episode hints the guy has a secret, but at the same time he takes charge and follows up on every lead, even ones that his “Boss” quickly dismisses, including the crazy ramblings of Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley, Game of Thrones) which you may guess will turn out not to be that crazy at all.
I would have described the episode as being perfect were it not for just a couple of annoying things, no biggies but just enough to break the stride of the story. First, the whole custody and divorce drama between Eph and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Kelly (Natalie Brown) was very distracting. Sure, I know this was part of Ephraim’s character development, but I really didn’t give a crap at this point in the story because I just wanted him to get out in the field and do his job. It also highlighted how controlling and self-centered the guy is and in all honesty, made him appear like a total asshole, which is a bitter pill to swallow considering he is supposed to be the one trying to lead us out of this mess. Second, little quotes like “Why would anyone put a latch on the inside?” were just silly. Dr. Martinez is a doctor for Christ’s sake, you would think she could figure out that means someone or something was on the inside of the box.
At the end of the day, none of these little quirks really mattered. The episode was terrifying, it gave a new twist to the age-old vampire story and it was true enough to the source material that the Guillermo del Toro fans out there wouldn’t be put off. Definitely a strong “A,” and if it is any indicator of what is to come, I think we have one of the best new series of the season.
The Strain airs on Sunday nights at 10/9c on FX.
For those that are a little rusty on the classic vampire mythology, here’s a little cheatsheet on the elements thus far that Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse decided to include in these new-and-improved modern vampires. Many more will be revealed in later episodes, but these are the ones that can be gleened from the pilot alone:
- Vampires notoriously hate light and can actually incinerate in direct sunlight. This is clearly part of the story since the airplane arrives with all shades pulled down but one.
- Vampires generally cannot cross bodies of water on their own. This is why gangbanger Gus (Miguel Gomez) was hired to drive the creature and his coffin across the bridge into Manhattan. And it’s also why it took someone like Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) to get him across the ocean.
- Silver appears to be a deterrent to these vampires since Setrakian carries a silver sword and hoards silver at his Manhattan pawn shop.
- There is a head vampire, which will later be dubbed the “Master,” very much like Vlad the Impaler in the Bram Stoker’s Dracula version of the story.
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