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There is a lot to like in FX's The Strain. It's the stuff that works in the show, though, that makes the stuff that is meandering and dull worse. In its third episode, "Gone Smooth," the show was able to establish both of its quality traits in equal doses.
The episode starts strong by showing the sneering and mesmerizing transformation that Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) has to make on a daily basis. They don't sugarcoat it either; although it is guided by pretty music, their is no denying that the life of the undead is not sunshine and lollipops. It is weird, kinda disturbing and yet oozing with unsettling joy.
These moments are what the show should be on a regular basis. But it is constantly weighted down by cliches and trite guiding its supporting characters. Case in point: the storyline centered on Jim Kent (Sean Astin), who, it is revealed in this episode, is buddying up with the bad guys so that he can support his dying, cancer-infected wife. Really? This storyline has been done to death, both in film and TV, and it feels just as tired and lazy here as it would in any other movie or show that would include it. Not making it any better is Astin's performance, who seems to be trying his best, but can't really make you believe his character. Sorry Sean.
Also dragging its feet in the dirt is the continued storyline between Eph (Corey Stoll) and his attempts to gain joint custody with his son, Zack (Ben Hyland). This storyline seems to add next-to-nothing to the overarching threat of the main storyline. While it is nice to see continued character development and an attempt to gain an emotional investment with this character, these moments reek in melodrama and hammy-ness.
But, moving away from the bad, the show's feather in its cap, Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) gets a bigger role in this episode. While he doesn't get to kick any more ass or say some awesome lines, Bradley still carries all the right mannerisms and ticks to make his character as alluring and fascinating as it should be. Less whiny characters, more Abraham please.
Also continuing to make a great impact on the show is Thomas, who, in addition to the episode's cold opening, gets a pretty great little scene towards the later act of this week's installment. Like Abraham, Thomas is a great supporting character, who is guided by a wonderful performance and written as someone the writers actually like writing for.
Also given some moments to shine here is Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand), who, after last week's introduction, gets some quality screen time and makes the most of them. Durand may be playing up the stereotypical accent a little too thick at times though. But, regardless of this, he makes for a fun and interesting little character.
But, of course, the true heart of the show are the monsters themselves. As one would expect from a show co-created by Guillermo Del Toro. This week's episode is no different, as the transformations from the airplane passengers to vampires is disturbing but always grabbing your attention. One of the show's great traits is that it doesn't fast-forward these changes, but rather zeros in on them and milks them for all their worth. That is one of the advantages of having this be a show and not a movie, and through some nice make-up and clear direction, these scenes are always haunting.
As said before, if the show can produce more moments like those instead of heavy-handed drama and character conflicts, then it's set. These are always things that can be fixed in later episodes or additional seasons, but they do make for some frustrating TV watching at times. Especially when followed by some great horror television moments. The show clearly is developing a thoughtfully-produced outline, and it does contain a nice continued sense of threat. When it is not slowing down to get worked up on Eph's son, of course.
Also, just as a side note, it always surprises me now how much violence they can get away with now on cable TV. Between this and The Walking Dead (and, from what I have heard, Hannibal) TV may actually be more violent now than movies. We live in a crazy, crazy time now for television.
Image courtesy of Peter West/ACE Pictures