'The Strain' season 1, episode 4 review: 'It's Not For Everyone'

By Will Ashton,

In a show that constantly has its ups-and-downs, at least in terms of quality, The Strain's fourth episode this season, "It's Not For Everyone," may very well be its most consistent. Don't quite take that as a compliment, but also don't think it as an insult. I'll explain.

For a majority of the episode, this week's installment appears to be the most narrative focused of the series so far, with the focus being brought down to primarily three or four story arcs. Also, in terms of quality, this show has the least amount of flip-floppy moments. However, that also means that, for the majority of this week's episode, the quality runs along the lines of just average.

Until its last act, this episode feels most like a filler episode. It makes sense; after all, the show is just about halfway through its 13-episode season. Most of the episode is setting up things to come, or briefly continuing to establish things that happened before. But there are two to three moments that — in the show's tradition — stand out. Two of them involve Ansel (Nikolai Witschl, an actor who looks to have a long-lost connection to Del Toro favorite Doug Jones) and his wife, Ann-Marie (Alex Paxton-Beesley) dealing with Ansel's changing condition after his time with the doomed airplane's infection.

The scene where Ann-Marie has to find Ansel outback, and their recently deceased (and eaten) dog is a great build up of tension. The scene with them a little later, with their neighbor — who, like so, so many characters in this show, feels more like a stereotype than a person that would ever exist — is a nice little subdued character moment in a show that so often seems to be too bombastic and melodramatic in its character arcs.

Yet, the real killer scene — no pun intended — here is the show's next to last scene, where Abraham (David Bradley), once again, gets to be the complete badass that he was the first time the show introduced him. While the scene is a bit far fetched, it is undoubtably surprising, and continues the show's nice weird and offbeat nature of playing nice, happy songs in unpleasant moments for unsettling effect. Abraham is a character with a well-designed layer of mystery, once again brought wonderfully to life by Bradley's brewing eyed performance, and the final two scenes here use him better than ever. He clearly is going to have a bigger role in the episodes to come, and I, personally, just can't wait to see what he does next.

By now, it is most definitely clear what The Strain's greatest weakness is: writing believable dialogue. When it comes to straight execution, the show knows what it is doing well enough. Considering that most of the things that come out of Abraham's mouth is such, there's another reason why he is the show's best feature by a large, large margin. But when the show attempts to slow down and have its characters talk realistically — or simply saying something in a tension-filled or action driven moment — the lines are often either hokey, dumb or just irrelevant.

Writing English dialogue has never been what Guillermo Del Toro does best. Even though he has only co-wrote the first episode, they are based on a book he also co-wrote, so I'm sure some of these lines are just crossovers. This week's episode, in terms of dialogue, is slightly better written, thanks to a teleplay by Regina Corrado. There still are some groaners here, though. For example, whenever Eph and his gang are dissecting the body of the captain, whom they brought down last time (this episode picks up immediately after the events of last week's episode) and, when they are pulling out his "stinger," Jim (Sean Astin) retorts "What that smell?!" Well, it is probably the dead vampire — decomposed and opened up — in front of you. But that is just my best guess.

Speaking of Jim, I spoke ill-will of Astin's performance in last week's episode. While I still don't think this is his best performance, I will admit that this week's installment showcased a mildly better showcase of range this time around. He was able to come across as more believable this time around, which is good considering he had more dramatic weight to pull this time around.

Also, once again, applause should be driven towards the show's continued desire to stick to practical effects and make-up instead of simply using CG when it its convenient. Perhaps this has to do with the show only having a limited budget, but, considering the films in Del Toro's filmography, it is easy to see that he loves to use practical effects whenever he can, especially for making his weird, imaginative monsters. Unless he is making Pacific Rim, of course. The aforementioned dissection scene is a practically good showcase of all the detail and expertise brought from the effects teams into this department.

Overall, there are still some greatness to be found in The Strain. So much so that when the show does get lazy or just mediocre/average it starts to get more and more frustrating. This is certainly not a show to give up on, though. At least not now, for the show definitely has something big up its sleeve that will, hopefully, be showcased more and more with each passing episode.

Image courtesy of Peter West/ACE Pictures

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