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The Strain “Night Zero” Review (1×01)

14 Jul

The Strain (2014) (left) Mia Maestro as Nora Martinez

Early on in the pilot of Guillermo del Toro’s new series, Corey Stoll’s Dr. Ephraim Goodweather goes on about how a virus and a terrorist are two entirely different beasts. The former serves no purpose other than to find a host and reproduce, whereas the latter at least has an end goal in mind. It’s a key distinction, and it’s one that should play a significant role over the next 12 episodes.

What we’re introduced to are parasitic worms, and these worms are vampires at their most base instincts; they eat away, living off of you as they slowly suck the life right out of your body. del Toro and co. seem intent on exploring a particular vampire mythology, from the roots up through a hierarchy promoting a sense of order to a type of species that knows how to think and act; it’s a species that is simply evil. This isn’t The Walking Dead for many reasons: for one, these vamps aren’t the bumbling walkers, and second, this show doesn’t get lost in its own bleak worldview. The Strain knows exactly when to have fun, when to bring the gore, and when to be serious.

Our entry points to this intriguingly crafted world are Professor Abraham Setrakian and the aforementioned Goodweather, and both are experts at their respective crafts. It’s essentially Setrakian’s sole purpose to defeat the vampires–and he’s faced off with them before, apparently–and epidemiology has essentially become Eph’s sole purpose in life; the latter is exemplified by the short therapy session he has with his wife at the beginning of the pilot. Of course, this plot point with Eph’s family could easily become a bit shoehorned in and a lazy attempt to manufacture a human story, but I hope it won’t take too much away from the rest of the show.

The rest of the show is certainly entertaining. The pilot holds back, attempting to slowly build up the tension and dread before we get a few bursts of head-smashing violence. It’s a nicely paced episode with some disturbing imagery and interesting stylistic choices, and the relationships drawn by the script–between Nora and Eph, for example–are well-defined even though we could use for more character dynamics (one of the general pilot problems, so it’s not too big of a problem).

Now, it’s just time to sit back and watch it all unfold. “Love is our downfall,” the narrator (who is a bit intrusive and awkward) states to close the pilot. What does it mean to be human–to feel emotions like love–in a world that will soon become overrun with living shells of our bodies?

GRADE: B+

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-It wouldn’t be a vampire story without some creepy vampires wearing suits and ominously discussing creepy things, like the fall of a city or whatnot.

-Stoll is a great choice for the human side of things. He, after all, was the one who brought some humanity–and gave the best performance of the show, for that matter–to the cold and pretentious landscape known as House of Cards.

-You know what other show started with a plane scene, then eventually became one of my favorite shows ever? Fringe.

-David Bradley (Filch from Harry Potter) is amazing. He commands your attention, and you can tell he’s having fun doing so. The scene of the night: him scaring the hell out of those two thieves.

-It also wouldn’t be a horror show without a gory death scene due to some idiot taking off his gloves when a parasitic worm is trying to burrow into his skin.

-Lots of other stuff in this episode I didn’t mention for lack of time. However, it all gels together fairly nicely for a 100 minute (with commercials) pilot.

-Thankfully, this is a good show thus far. I’m not sure I could handle two hours of vampires sucking (haha, get it) each Sunday. The other hour is True Blood, in case you were wondering. In case you’re wondering why I’m still watching True Bloodthe answer is a hearty shrug.

-Weekly coverage….debatable. I’m not sure how much I have to say about this series, especially given “Masters of Sex” and “The Leftovers” (Cuse vs. Lindelof! Bring it on!) are meatier thematically. I’m leaning toward no weekly coverage, but I’ll definitely check in again at some point, maybe when “The Leftovers” finishes and definitely for the finale in October.

Photo credit: FX, The Strain

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