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The Strain, now just about halfway into its first season, seems to have finally figured out its groove, producing what appears to be the FX series' best episode since its pilot. After last week's rather middle-grounded, drudging episode, this week's installment not only has a better sense of execution, but also a great understanding of story juggling and pacing.
What's weird about saying that is that both this week's and last week's episode were directed by the same person, none other than RoboCop himself, Peter Weller. For whatever reason, this week's episode feels like it was directed by a completely different person — with the show having a different feeling, and also a quickened pace and better understanding of camera choreography and staging.
By stepping away more from the multi-character centered episodes in favor of exploring the greater consequences of what is going on in this universe, the show has a more fluid narrative that was supremely lacking in the past couple weeks' patchy episodes. Although the transitions will be missed, they are being replaced by more blood and death and vampires getting cut up and murdered in fairly violent ways.
In many ways, this episode is more traditional, in terms of portraying the vampire movement and apocalypse story. At times, it even feels like a Walking Dead episode, especially in terms of having the characters running around the city and dodging vampire by vampire at each possible turn. But, what keeps this show afloat are the characters themselves.
Despite sounding like a broken record at this point, I will continue giving all the high praises to actors Richard Sammel and David Bradley, as Thomas Eichorst and Abraham Setrakian respectively. Especially — for this episode — Sammel, who gets a lot of wiggle room this time around and also gets to have another excellent scene (mostly) with himself early on in the episode as he prepares for a feasting on a poor, random stranger. Sammel is only getting better at snarling and sneering his way through each episode as the show's main baddie, and the actor seems to be having a great time with this guy.
Also, on the topic of Sammel's character, props have to be giving to the lightning crew, who always do a tremendous job at illuminating him and also showcasing the dark contrast and configuration in thematic filmmaking form. It would still be nice for this attention to lighting to be given to each and every frame in the show, but in little doses is fine enough too.
This week's episode primarily focuses on two characters, those being one of the show's best, Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand) and one of the show's worst, Gus (Miguel Gomez). In terms of making the former stand out, this episode exceeds most definitely. Durand has always been a dependable, but underrated actor. While he will — once again — not likely get much attention for his turn here, he still gives aces in each scene he comes in. Especially in this installment, however, when the hero side to the character gets to come out. If only, however, when get had to visit his father would he not be given such clunky and forced lines of execution.
While Gus is still one of the show's most bland and uncharismatic characters, the character himself is growing, and definitely is starting to move farther and farther away from the stereotype he was in the pilot, much like Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad's first season and beyond. But his presence seems to be that he comes on the show whenever the characters need someone to connect them to one another, if they weren't already. Much like Sean Astin's character, Jim Kent. Another prime example of a character on this show that comes across as much too vanilla and squarely written than he has any good right to be.
As predicted and feared, the special effects — whether because of convenience or lack of remaining budget — are definitely growing less practical and more CG-based. The worst thing about this is the special effects seem to be getting worse and worse to each episode. This episode has the worst CG so far by a good mile. Helping kill a little bit of the show's fun and also some of its threat factor. Hopefully, as this is the middle of the season, the show is saving themselves for a great series of special effects for the show's final episodes this season. And, of course, if the show is picked up they will probably have a bigger budget than they did this time.
Not that the show looks bad, by any stretch. In fact, the cinematography seems to be growing more and more confident as well. In particular, the dooming sun shots in this episode are hauntingly realized and portray just the right blend of social culture and metaphoric threat. This episode was definitely among the best looking episodes of the season thus far.
All in all, this show is definitely showing signs of not just progression, but a stronger understanding of its possibilities and its moving energy. Hopefully, as the apocalypse is coming into being and the threat grows much, much bigger, the show will only become more thrilling, more engaging and, most importantly, more entertaining. We'll see next time.
Image courtesy of Peter West/ACE/INFphoto.com