As we venture down into the tunnels for episode eleven ‘The Strain’ attempts to get back on track. . . . .
I love a bit of subtext. That’s no euphemism just a desire for something more from my television entertainment. To say that ‘The Strain’ has provided more than its fair share of peaks and troughs is stating the obvious. If I were to take that further, which it seems only fair to attempt, one might suggest that disappointment and elation are bi weekly bed fellows. As the makers continually attempt to provide original drama one week or offer up a shallow ‘no brainer’ another, things are becoming more difficult to judge fairly.
For those who remember 9/11 there seems little need to open up a wound, which for many represents a landmark in history rather than an allegorical reference point. Examples of film tackling it range from Oliver Stone’s ‘World Trade Center’ to Paul Greengrass’s more immediate ‘Flight 93’. These neither sought to explain or excuse, but merely share in the moment and grieve through their chosen medium.
Having been across the pond when planes started bringing down skyscrapers on network news, I was as shocked as anyone but never likely to be directly affected. However, as the military witch hunt geared up and an armed response gained momentum, this single act of inhumanity became a completely different animal. It no longer felt about the act of avenging independently trained terrorist cells wiping out world trade, but plain and simple retribution. Some thirteen years later it is a brave network that choses to associate itself with what many now refer to as ‘Ground Zero’.
Over the last few months I have said more than once that ‘The Strain’ has the potential to offer up something original, thought provoking and lasting. What I alluded to then I still stand by now. That its allegorical roots encompass major atrocities is clear. Whether that means stirring up memories of a recent past or harking back to a time when people were branded like cattle, ‘The Strain’ set out its stall with some bold ideas. My feeling is that much of this has been lost the adaptation, whilst striking a balance between entertaining an audience and addressing something more serious has proven detrimental.
As weeks pass, things fail to blow up every five minutes, or time is spent forging character bonds rather than chasing after the bad guy, you might think ‘The Strain’ is fighting a losing battle. However, what we have here I think is a programme using formula and convention as a means to explore something less user friendly. These characters are neither original nor particularly engaging, yet the deeper ideas somehow resonate through. For all the trite character meetings and coincidences which pepper the show each week, I look beyond the earnest acting and modern day carnage to find ‘The Strain’s’ beating heart. It requires little effort to discover what lies beneath. In programming just as in people things become more interesting the deeper down you go. You just need to dig.