We gave it a B-
You don’t have to wait long for FX’s vampire saga The Strain to deliver the creepy, cheeky shocks and gore that made the show a delightful summertime thriller last year. The season 2 premiere begins with a prologue directed by co-creator Guillermo del Toro that synthesizes into storybook myth everything chilling and charming about this B-movie extravaganza. It’s spooky and poignant and includes a moment when a vampire vomits thousands of maggoty worms into another man’s mouth. Now, that’s how you start a tale.
Alas, you need more than a gruesome upchuck of grubs to keep a long-form, serialized drama going. You need… um, drama? Here, The Strain keeps us waiting. Missing is the richness and sense of discovery of season 1, which used the impact and revelations of an unfolding conspiracy—a bid by an ancient vampire with a serpentine, pincher-tipped tongue to take over New York City—to create a vibrant world full of strong, macabre stories about hubris and heroic folly. Reluctant, boozy, flawed father/hero Ephraim Good- weather (Corey Stoll) and his son, Zack (Max Charles), lost mom Kelly (Natalie Brown) to the bloodsucker plague. The devil’s bargain that billionaire baddie Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) made for immortality proved fraught with caveats. Holocaust survivor/vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian’s (David Bradley) scheme to slay the Master fell apart due to bad intel. Turns out some vampires can survive sunlight. D’oh!
Season 2 switches from building a sand- box to playing in it. The premiere sets in motion a mixed bag of plotlines, but the episodes that follow don’t take them any- where fast. CDC scientists Eph and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) shift their focus from curing vampires to slaying them. Their progress is slow, their setbacks and breakthroughs lack pop, and their experi- mentation on an infected couple just doesn’t have the do the ends justify the means? unease the show wants us to feel. Their struggles heighten Eph’s foibles, which is bad, because said edges—the drinking, the glib cynicism, the barking at his kid— are cliché and tedious. Abraham, such a lively delight in season 1, spends too long moping around following his failure in last year’s finale. A new character, a Staten Island councilwoman (Samantha Mathis, talkin’ New Yawkish) who becomes popular for her extreme war-on-vamps tactics, is almost cartoonishly tough.
Still, The Strain gives you enough savory pulp to get you through the lean times. Kevin Durand’s cool and quirky rat-catcher remains a hoot, and his growing rapport with hard-and-heartbroken hacker-artist Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) is endearing, even sexy. The fiendish Palmer is a stronger force of antagonism this season, for both the heroes and the vamp villains. And there’s a twisted subplot for vamp mommy Kelly that gives her a pack of eerie, scuttling blood- suckers culled from a school for the blind. The Strain knows how to do gross. It needs to get better at the engrossing part. B–