THE STRAIN: NIGHT ZERO, So It Begins
Be warned: Spoilers are rife in this article!
Turn back while you can.
The Strain has had me hesitantly excited for a while now. I LOVE most of Guillermo del Toro‘s work, but was nervous to hear that his book, which The Strain is based on, would be brought to television. To be completely honest, once I heard it would be on FX, I was even more apprehensive. It seemed to me (having not read the books) that it was fodder for a network like Sundance or maybe even AMC to tackle. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the programming on FX, just like many, many others. I cut my teeth writing about FX’s Sons of Anarchy and revel in the adrenaline charged, violent, overly-dramatic moments of the series. That is where the concern came in; I didn’t want to see the work of del Toro, Chuck Hogan and Carlton Cuse the same way as I watch Sons. After watching a few episodes, I needn’t worry. While, yes, there is a definite element of FX-edness to the show, The Strain is something new for the network and is approached with thought. Sensationalism? Yes, a bit. Overkill? Not for the subject matter.
Night Zero, which is Episode One of the The Strain is exactly what it sounds like, the night it all starts, when it goes down. This episode was somewhat reminiscent of the TV adaptation of Stephen King‘s The Stand. Moreso in how it was shot and a bit in how it was acted than anything. The way the story unfolds is a little similar as well, with an unexplained and unstoppable strain moving from person to person.
The first episode is used to introduces us not only to the “pathogen” and it’s effects, but also to the myriad of characters and key players in the story, as makes sense. There are a lot to keep up with, so we’ll dive right in. Initially we meet the passengers on a plane that later becomes the subject of an investigation by the CDC Canary Team after it lands at John F. Kennedy Airport. Among the passengers on this plane are Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy, Morgan), who is a rock star with a habit, for pills, women and anything the stereotypical gothic rock star might want. Joan Luss (Leslie Hope, The River), presumably a business woman returning home and Emma Arnot (Isabelle Nelisse, Mama), a young girl traveling alone, trying to make it home to her father. When the plane lands, no one on the plane is moving and it is assumed they are all deceased. It is revealed that this is not the case during the CDC’s sweep of the plane.
During the subsequent investigation and other goings-on around the incident, we meet more players. First is Dr. Ephraim Goodweather or Eph (Corey Stoll, House of Cards), head of the CDC Canary Team investigating the ‘outbreak’ on the plane. On a personal front, Dr. Goodweather is in the middle of a custody battle and has the unique ability to blind himself to others needs or wants, believing he knows best, which seems to be a hinderance at the beginning of his investigation. Dr. Norma Martinez (Mia Maestro, Alias) who is Eph’s right hand in the mystery of what is infected the people on the plane, who likely has feelings for Eph as well. Jim Kent (Sean Astin, Lord of the Rings) an administrator for the CDC working with the two doctor’s to discover what is going on. It is revealed his wife has cancer and he may have done some shady things to help her in the recent past that involve Eldritch Palmer, introduced below.
Finally, turning to the city itself, we find the most interesting cast of characters yet. Enter Professor Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley, Mount Pleasant), an elderly pawn shop owner, possible vampire hunter who survived the Holocaust and has an interesting companion. Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand, Real Steel), who has become my personal favorite character already, is an exterminator who is not above using blackmail to get paid. Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel, Inglourious Basterds) who knows Setrakian, but how is not revealed just yet (thought I think we have a good guess). Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde, The Mummy) is an elderly billionaire who seems to be searching for immortality at any cost. Gus Elizalde (Miguel Gomez, Bless Me, Ultima) is the thug brother of Crispin (Francis Capra, Veronica Mars) and an unwitting pawn in Palmer’s quest. Kelly Goodweather (Natalie Brown, Being Human and Bitten) is Eph’s ex-wife and mother of his child. Not much more known about her character yet, other than the actress playing her is no stranger to vampires. Zach Goodweather (Ben Hyland, Marley & Me) son of Eph and Kelly (not the first time he’s played Corey Stoll’s son, he was also Kevin Russo in House of Cards).
Thanks for staying with me on that. Now you can refer back if you get lost later. As the team establishes the mystery, connections on connections are made and questioned. The majority of the first episode is dedicated to introducing characters and establishing the storyline. We spend a lot of time at the airport running around with the good doctors and Mr. Kent. As the investigation goes on, the backstories and layers revealed in each character’s life are what stand out as most interesting and give foresight in to an enjoyable season of character development. The possibilities are certainly endless.
The monster is revealed in the first episode, briefly and not in it’s entirety. Though the initial attack is a little bit cheesy at the outset, it gives insight in to what we can expect from these creatures and kiddies, these ain’t your mama’s vampires. Trust me when I say, the best is yet to come. Not only do we get a look at the creature, but at each stage of it’s evolution. These vampires are not the sparkly variety, or even the mwah-ah-ah-ah version. They are ugly, monstrous and there is a slow, painful dehumanization process that adds depth to the usual instantaneous changelings to which we are accustomed.
It always takes a couple of episodes for a series to get rolling, and that truth stands firm here. Upon finishing the first episode, I was not an instant fan. Maybe it’s the oldest child syndrome, I expect a lot from Guillermo del Toro and as such I might have set my expectations too high for episode one. However, these expectations were rewarded in the subsequent episodes that I have had the opportunity to see. It looks like The Strain has a lot to offer the FX audience and I, for one, am hooked.
Make sure to check back each week and discuss your impressions in the comments. Think I got it wrong, agree with me? Let us know!