THE STRAIN Episode 1 Review: Oh, the Horror!

If you were skeptical after watching True Blood devolve into a glorified smutfest, with more tits and ass than substance and overly sensitive vamps with “issues”, The Strain episode 1 was a welcome respite from the bullshit.

First, let me say this to start.  If you haven’t read the books, a trilogy written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, do that the first chance you get.  The books, three in all, are the stuff of nightmares and are sure to give you lots of goosebumps.  Having read the books, I was counting down to tonight’s premiere episode with gusto.

In “Night Zero”, a Regis Airlines flight from Berlin is seen making a routine approach to land at JFK when all hell breaks loose in the cargo hold, and an entity–which will come to be known as an ancient vampire named the Master (Robert Maillet)–attacks two flight attendants.  Before you know it, the plane is on the tarmac like a dead whale.  This is where things get interesting.

206 people on board appear to be dead, with a select four mysteriously becoming conscious when the plane is boarded for investigation.  A family man, a rock star named Gabriel Bolivar, an insipid lawyer named Joan Lusk, and the pilot, Captain Redfern are the four “survivors”.  Those that remain unconscious in a manner of speaking don’t have any signs of trauma visible to the eye.  They look very dead, but again, none of the hallmarks of death are present which puzzles the hell out of Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia  Maestro) of the CDC and everyone involved.

Meanwhile, old man Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley, who also plays Walder Frey in Game of Thrones) is in his pawn shop in the city when the news starts blaring on the telly about this mysterious flight just sitting on the tarmac.  Instantly, we are introduced to a man who knows what’s going on, and who has seen a lot in all his years; some of it even touching him personally, which becomes evident when he speaks to a beating heart infested with parasitic worms (more on those later) that he feeds with a drop or two of his blood.

You will immediately dislike Eph’s estranged wife Kelly Goodweather (Natalie Brown) and her annoying boyfriend Matt.  Eph is trying to be a good dad to their son Zach, but she’s basically jealous of his relationship with his job.  You can’t help but want to dropkick her ass into next year when she gets an attitude at Eph being called to do his job and investigate this plane full of corpses.

Sean Astin plays Jim Kent, a sort of colleague/lackey to Nora and Eph who genuinely seems like a really nice fellow until he lets Gus Elizalde, a gang thug charged by vampire Herr Eichorst to get this millenia old vampire into the city, pass through a checkpoint.  So we get an idea that Kent is part of whatever shady dealing is enabling this vampire to stake his claim, one blood worm at a time.

Herr Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) is the shadowy liaison to The Master, and while I want to get in more about Eichorst, I won’t.  What I will say is that in the first episode, he indicates that he knows Setrakian.  Eichorst isn’t helping the Master to get comfy all by himself, however.  He is enabled by billionaire Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) in this endeavor to infect New York and the world with an insidious strain of vampirism.   Palmer is frail and sickly, but we gather that he is in this only for himself.  Fuck the world, right?

There are more characters that we are introduced to, but they focus on them quickly or they are quickly eliminated.  For example, one airport official’s death stole the show because of the level of brutality involved in his disposal by the Master.  People this is NOT Twilight.  As the corpses start to reanimate in the morgue they’ve been taken to for examination and autopsy, we learn that the love they felt for their respective loved ones will eventually bring them home.

The episode closes when a grief stricken father returns from the airport where he found out his little girl was one of the dead on the plane.  As he sits and weeps in an eerily silent house, all of a sudden his daughter–looking very pale and dead–comes into the house without invitation (because these vamps are gangsta like that)–telling her dad that she is cold over and over again while she reaches for him.  He embraces her, and breaks down crying, but it’s clear she is not the same child he knew,  and is very much infected with the blood worms that enable the Master to spread his brand of vampirism.

Overall, the first episode was super strong, and the effects employed to make the Master move are on point.  The casting was perfect, and they even created a few roles for POCs, which is something I love about Guillermo del Toro as a director.  I’m hooked, and very optimistic that FX, GDT, and Hogan will not mess up a good thing the way Benioff and Weiss like to do with Game of Thrones.  That was shade.  Yes.

Tell us what you thought of The Strain episode 1!