One of The Strain’s most intriguing episodes in its inaugural season was the gas station bottle episode “Creatures of the Night.” It wasn’t necessarily the best iteration of that idea, but it tried something different, something ambitious in the way it focused its scope and amplified the terror of the strigoi.
Because of the way the fight has escalated, it would be difficult for The Strain to try another small-scale episode like that at this point (though I certainly hope they’re open to re-exploring the possibility). Yet in many ways, “The Battle for Red Hook” echoes that episode. “Battle” focuses itself around a specific encounter, albeit one much larger in scale, rather than pushing the overarching plot forward with major turns or deaths.
By stripping away too many various, winding narratives, “Battle” both suffers and excels for its focus on the immediate. There’s no Palmer plotting and creepy flirting, but there’s also no Quinlan (whose presence on the show has been such a great course-correction that his absence is a notable shame). And while “Battle” may not live up to its name in terms of execution, the whole still works despite the presence of its noticeably weaker aspects.
Though it may seem like the episode is primed for another whiny Zack-filled hour, his tantrums are largely kept to the early moments of the team’s struggle in “Battle.” After Kelly’s strike, the group is nursing its wounds in Fet’s fortress, but they know that another attack is imminent. The Master knows where they are, and he’s not going to let them idly sit by—Abraham is worried about Eichhorst coming for him, Nora believes Justine needs to know, and the rest of the group agrees that more firepower would not be a bad thing at this point in the fight.
They would be quite right, as Eichhorst is clearly planning something. He’s hired a boat captain to drive him and a few of his closest vampiric friends across the river to Red Hook. With the promise of a big payday, the guy acquiesces (oh how I hope there’s a deleted scene of the boat ride over as he met all the passengers), and ships them off to Brooklyn. Of course, this being Eichhorst, and Eichhorst being pure evil, reneges on his deal, having Kelly infect the unsuspecting captain upon their arrival.
As the strigoi prepare for an attack, so too do their human foes gather their own forces. Fet goes off to find Dutch with Nora by his side—she appears quite displeased at Eph’s latest gun purchase — while Eph, Zack, and Abraham go off to warn Justine of the inevitable assault on their neighborhood.
Things don’t go splendidly at Dutch’s hideout. She and Nikki are holed up at the latter’s apartment, a fact Fet would rather ignore. He and Nora fill them in on Kelly’s midnight stroll into headquarters, but Dutch still stays behind with Nikki, further making things complicated for Fet, as the duo returns to meet up with Eph and Justine.
Fet and Nora have a much better relationship with Justine, which would have been helpful to Eph when he first barged into her meeting with the mayor and the police. He brings in Zack, a face Justine knows, to reassure her that he’s not some crazy person spouting lunacy about vampires. It doesn’t help, granted, that Abraham starts going off about the Master and strigoi and all this technical mumbo jumbo.
Justine eventually buys into the idea that Red Hook may not be safe, but the mayor is having none of it, so he leaves in a huff to let Justine handle the whole life-or-death affair. He’s got rich friends to catch dinner with uptown, anyway. The threat very much becomes a real one after the power goes out — Eichhorst and Kelly have tampered with a power plant to knock out all the UV lights surrounding the government checkpoint Justine has set up. And probably just to cause general paranoia and fear, Eichhorst seems to be a fan of that.
Backed into a corner, the police force, led by Kowalski, prepares a first line of defense against the strigoi waiting just outside their fences. Eph and even Justine line up too, though she’s clearly not an expert markswoman lying in wait. The strigoi make their first attack, and the cops pick them off with relative ease.
That’s exactly the problem, though. It’s too easy.
NEXT: The real battle begins and Kelly once again tries to win custody of Zack by attacking everyone he loves. [pagebreak]
Abraham warns them not to feel too cocky about their win. This initial wave was a mere test, a chance for Eichhorst and the Master to see what they’re up against. They’ll be back — and with plenty more reinforcements. They need the power back on or they’ll never be able to properly defend themselves.
So Nora, Fet, Eph, and Zack head off to the power plant, while Abraham stubbornly stays behind and instead heads back to headquarters. He knows Eichhorst will be waiting for him there, and he’d rather take him out than deal with the nameless strigoi masses.
The group arrives at the plant to find dead bodies and a few straggling strigoi waiting for them, but again, their initial success comes with surprising ease. Eph returns to assist Abraham while the others complete the power restoration process, only to be interrupted by Kelly. She’s sick of these games and wants Zack to be with her once again, and another underwhelming Kelly attack commences. If Kelly is meant to strike fear into the hearts of our heroes, the show does another disappointing job of setting up her threat level as Fet chases her through the plant’s equipment. Or maybe she’s just terrible at being a vampire, because whenever Kelly pounces and then quickly runs into the shadows to confuse her prey, the effect isn’t so much terrifying as it is disappointing.
She and Fet battle it out for a little, but the arrival of more police forces scares Kelly away once again. (ASIDE: Fet struggles with her and some of the infecting worms spill out as he tries to slice her head open. It’s not exactly made clear but hopefully none of them found their way into Fet. END OF ASIDE) Luckily the power has been restored, and not a moment too soon. Dozens if not hundreds of strigoi have led an assault on Justine’s checkpoint. But with the warning of a more brutal force at her door, she too bolstered her army, calling the people of Red Hook into action.
Many of them showed up to the checkpoint, whatever they could find in hand as a weapon. Among them are Dutch and Nikki, the latter of whom may have been happy to rekindle her romance with Dutch but can’t quite pull her away from the fight. Realizing this, Nikki appears to aid the fight rather than pull Dutch away from it, saving her life from an attacking strigoi.
The attack itself certainly widens the scope of the show’s action, but it doesn’t quite nail the execution. The battle is frenetic, chaotic, a swirling mass of humans, strigoi, and the weapons at hand, but that doesn’t make it particularly thrilling to watch. The episode ends with Justine making a triumphant speech to the people whose lives she asked for in the fight, and in a better iteration, that speech would have felt powerful, even momentous. Instead, it falls flat after a mass fight that doesn’t quite carry the weight it should.
More tense is the battle between Eichhorst and Abraham, with a little help from Eph. Eichhorst has no problem tossing Setrakian halfway across a back alleyway, but he’s distracted from his target by the horrifically poor marksmanship of Eph. From a nearby window a few floors up, Eph takes aim at Eichhorst but fails to hit his mark. The Master’s right hand then gives chase to Eph; the two ending up on the upper level of a packing warehouse. Eichhorst attempts to goad Eph out of hiding by chiding him for his fear, for the memories Kelly has (which Eichhorst has access to) of Eph as a not so excited expectant father.
He intends to turn Eph, not kill him outright, and as the two bring the fight to a rooftop opening, it seems like that possible future may well become a reality. Luckily for Eph, Abraham didn’t let Eichhorst’s attack keep him down. Instead, the strigoi hunter appears on a level above them, shooting down at Eichhorst and causing him to flee rather than claim Eph for the Master.
Though everyone may make it out alive, the attack shows that the Master has no qualms about striking at the heart of those resisting his plans. And it would be quite a shock if he doesn’t make at least another major attempt before the season closes out.