Martin Carr reviews the sixth episode of The Strain…
Manacled by a cast iron dog collar and naked except for stained underwear a man sits surrounded by empty food wrappers. As the padded cell door opens he begins begging with his captor. Slowly Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) begins turning the crank handle of a medieval pulley system, drawing his guest inch by inch towards a stone mantle smeared with blood. A neck rest fashioned on one side is there for one purpose only. As fear gives way to resignation Eichorst (Richard Sammel) runs a paternal hand through his hair.
Several metres above ground Vasilly Fet (Kevin Durand) sits in a coffee shop sketching creatures over breakfast. Eph (Corey Stoll) is now a fugitive wanted for questioning crouching behind cars watching police question his ex-wife, while Abraham Sekrakian (David Bradley) continues making house calls to dead passengers. However Gus Elizalde (Miguel Gomez) and Jim Kent (Sean Astin) are slowly realising their debt to The Stone Heart Group is far from paid off. As a lunar eclipse looms and residents talk of ‘Judgement Day’, The Strain reaches street level spreading through panic and an impending darkness.
I am having a distinct feeling of déjà vu with this programme. So much promise, so much potential and yet no progression seems to be the committee decision when it came to the Weller episodes. Now I know that scientists say the average attention span is twenty minutes, but honestly, giving people five minutes of small screen brilliance and then a load of baby steps towards a payoff which never arrives is just deceitful. What we have is Richard Sammel (Thomas Eichorst) being handed more character development, screen time and drama than anyone else, while our supposed protagonist lurches on the fringes lacking gravitas.
Again this need to squeeze in everyone, everything and remain as faithful as possible to this trilogy of novels gets in the way. Even the title ‘Occultation’ which refers to the passing of one object in front of another is a sloppy allegory at best. In basic terms government represents the moon covering up the sun, which on this occasion refers to either The Strain or the people behind it. If you wanted to get even more biblical we could name check Revelations when god sent plagues down upon humanity as a slate cleanser. Having said that if the makers sent down hellfire onto Manhattan that would perhaps spur people on a little.
I do not mean to bitch but there are good characters here being short changed every week. Beyond the head slicing and feeding scenes, we get minor dramas between an ex-wife and boyfriend, another for love interest and senile parent, while ‘Eph’ (Corey Stoll) goes in and out of custody quicker than a Jimmy Saville defence witness. But seriously what happens is that others are simply missed out altogether or given little screen time. It feels like and I think it will turn into Abraham (David Bradley), Vasilly (Kevin Durand), Nora (Mia Maestro) and Ephraim (Corey Stoll) against the rest. There will be assorted hangers on, but ultimately those are the most likely. It is also my feeling that these characters are underwritten because the source material is lacking somewhere. Now we all know that villains are more exciting, but I would like to remind people about Breaking Bad which had a chemistry teacher as its central protagonist.
Vince Gilligan was able to make the mundane interesting. His characters felt real if a touch exaggerated at times. Now I understand that The Strain is a different proposition but surely the rules of dramatic writing apply to everything. I said it last week and I will say it again. If someone would just trim the fat there would be something substantially more dynamic on screen. It would make us watch, demand our attention and for some the week could not go quickly enough. Right now it feels like a bad remake of Invasion of The Bodysnatchers; without Donald Sutherland.