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'The Strain' review: 'Runaways'

By Will Ashton,

If anyone was hoping that this week’s episode of The Strain was going to decide, once and for all, what his or her feelings were on the show, think again. For this week’s episode—perhaps more so than any episode so far in this virgin season—is about as middle of the road as the FX series has gotten so far.

Much like the weeks before, the parts of the series that stand out the most are the ones centered either on Abraham (David Bradley), Thomas (Richard Sammel) or anyone’s transformation from human to vampire. But, while Bradley is as wonderful as ever, the mesmerizing effects of watching these transformation is beginning to wear thin, as most of the prominent members of the original airplane flight are either dead or fully formed.

Save for one or two prominent examples, as this episode heavily showcases, with Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy) and Joan Luss (Leslie Hope). The later of which gets this week’s award for having the best scenes on the show. By being the only passenger left to truly see transform, it is basically left for her to keep the unhinged intensity of the series alive at this point. This episode kept her scenes rather light in the scheme of things, but they still encapsulate almost everything that this series should constantly try to be. That is, when it is not trying to be as ultra-bloody in its 10 p.m. time slot as possible.

On the topic of being bloody, this episodes, like the final moments of last week’s episode, keeps in the tradition of cutting off vampire heads and destroying The Master’s plan in sword and silver nail gun (a rather clever inclusion in this episode) alive and well. But what made that scene in last week’s episode so delightfully fun was the unexpected nature of it. This episode tries to keep that up at times, but—while the deaths are more present than ever in this week’s installment—even that part of the show is starting to get a little tiresome.

A lot of the reasons why this week’s episode may be so indecisively middle-ground is because it is directed than none other than RoboCop himself, Peter Weller. Nothing against Weller himself in particular, but he doesn’t quite carry enough flair here to helps encompasses the horror and drama elements of the series so well. His directing style is fairly basic, keeping the focus on the characters and their backgrounds and motivations, but not quite sure how to bounce back and forth between different characters’ stories and keep the show’s sometimes distinct look.

The biggest example of this is when the show decides to focus on Abraham’s younger years learning about the Master’s plans in a concentration camp. These segments are so clumsily crossed into the episode, and also serve no big purpose for being in there at all. On the whole, having these early days of Abraham is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they help develop and dig into the mythology of not only the character, but the villains. But, at the same time, they kinda ruin one of the things that make Abraham such a great character: his mystery.

Perhaps these segments are leading up to something bigger in the future episodes. After all, this is just the fifth episode in a 13-episoded season, so there has to be stuff for the future. Plus, this plotline is left kinda open-ended, and Weller is also credited as the director of next week’s episode as well. So, it seems the best thing to do here is to hold off any more judgment until the following installment.

After the show developed such a knack for practical effects, it is mildly disappointing to see this episode so reliant on CG. It is hard to imagine how these effects can be done at this level with practical effects without looking cheesy, true, but considering the over-reliance of CG on films and now TV these days, it is still disappointing.

Perhaps more than any episode this season, “Runaways” seems to want to develop the subplots of its minor characters. Which is a fine goal, but the big problem here is that this episode constantly finds itself slowing down to this, bringing its pacing into the dirt and killing some of the show’s momentum. Still, as noted by the Joan segments of this episode, when the show is tense, it is still very tense. And what is so nice about these nail-biting moments this time is that they are as subdued as the show has gotten so far. It can be argued that the fact that they are centered on children is a bit cheap. But, then again, isn’t focusing on Abraham’s youth in WWII just as easy of an emotional pull?

All in all, what makes this week’s episode perhaps the weakest in the run so far is that it is such a middle-of-the-season installment. But I am being harsher on it than I probably should be. Perhaps this hostility is coming from knowing that this show has so much greatness inside itself that it seems confused in making it come out. As the final moments of this episode tease, this is still the beginning of the madness. So good things should be coming soon, hopefully.

Image courtesy of Peter West/ACE Pictures

 
 

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