The following review is rated TV MA. It contains strong language, violence, and dicks falling off. Reader discretion is advised.
The Strain continues to keep things moving toward the impending vampire-holocaust with just the right touch of horror, heart, and gross-outs. With an opening scene of Eichorst (Richard Sammel) going through his daily ritual of make-up, prosthetics, and wig appliance, the audience gets its first unhampered look at the creatures that are soon to be popping up everywhere, while also providing a humorous meta-commentary on the level of make-up effects that are going to become more and more intensive as the show goes on.
I like how this week, the douchey CDC director Dr. Everett Barnes (Daniel Kash) moves slightly into the more likeable column by acknowledging that mistakes have been made and that the government is too incompetent to have been behind the disappearance and pawns off the blame on the military while maintaining a “cover our own asses” approach with the CDC. When Setrakian (David Bradley) later says that the Master relies on “human self-interest and bureaucratic complacency,” this is exactly what he was talking about.
Not only is there foreshadowing and fleshing out of characters, there’s also a nice bit of humanizing being done for Eph’s ex-wife Kelly (Natalie Brown) and a heartbreaking bit of self-sacrifice from his son Zach (Ben Hyland). It’s painful to watch the entire family suffering through this, but it really does a good job of setting the stage for what’s to come. If the emotional core of these relationships isn’t solid, it will be hard to really make the story work once things get dark, so I’m happy with what we’re getting here. Brown and Hyland are doing very strong work.
And they’re not the only ones. The entire cast is actually nailing just about every mark. Eph (Corey Stoll) doesn’t do a whole lot this week, but Corey Stoll still gets top marks for making him a believably selfish dick with a heart of gold. Sean Astin‘s Jim is in a tight spot and doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to put up with it for very long, despite the benefit he’s providing his wife. (Melanie Merkosky). Mía Maestro‘s Dr. Martinez isn’t being given a lot to do, but her character’s instincts are beginning to take hold and move her in the right direction. Bradley is making Setrakian more bad-ass with each episode and I can’t wait for him to cut loose with the vampire-killing.
And the same goes for Vasiliy Fet. Kevin Durand is making Fet both sexy and human, not afraid to say what’s on his mind and not above stealing a cigar from a rich prick. The vampire hunting can’t get here fast enough.
This week we also only touch base with three of our four survivors — lawyer Joan Luss is missing this time around — but we get some good progression for each of them. Nikolai Witschl, who’s Ansel Barbour was missing last episode, gets a lot of screen time this week as he deals with sickness, anxiety, the press, and a wife (Alex Paxton-Beesley) who is a little on edge. Our heroic pilot with a conscience, Captain Redfern finally crosses over to the vampire side and Jonathan Potts does a great job working the make-up and turning what was an extremely sympathetic character into a nightmare-inducing machine. I’m pretty sure after what happens in the basement of the hospital, our gang will be looking up Abe and be ready to listen this time.
But best of all is the transformation of Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy) from Rock God to Creepy Monster. After frightening his doctor with a look at his disease-riddled cock, Bolivar discovers just before his big concert that he doesn’t need his makeup to look monstrous. His eyes are bloody, his hair is falling out, and his skin a more frightening pallor without his makeup than with it. And then, after some painful urination, his DICK FALLS OFF.
As he was peeing, Dr. Girlfriend turned to me and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was just a ‘plop’ and his dick fell off?” We chuckled, and then it actually happened. Then we laughed. It was comical the way it was shot, but still had a nice, disturbing aspect to it. Especially when he turns to face the camera and we get a full-frontal shot of his Barbie Doll Crotch and discover the true meaning of the episode’s title, “Gone Smooth.”
Any Mighty Boosh fans can be rest assured, the phrase “smooth as the bonnet of a Porsche” was bandied around my house for the next few days. Who knew Naboo was a vampire?