Before developing and serving as showrunner on The Strain, Carlton Cuse was half of the duo behind one of television’s greatest dramas of all time: Lost. While you wouldn’t think The Strain and Lost would have much in common besides the occasional monster, the last few episodes of the FX series have seemed to adopt some of the Lost DNA.
Flashbacks were one of the ABC drama’s signatures, something The Strain has done before, but which have now been used prominently in three consecutive stellar episodes. As well, it seems like no coincidence Cuse’s current show has picked up steam just after announcing an end date, a similar jolt to the storytelling on Lost, with neither show having their plot stuck in neutral anymore. Then finally, Lost was not afraid to kill main characters, including multiple at the same time. While Angel (Joaquín Cosío) and Justine (Samantha Mathis) were by no means central characters on The Strain, their heroic deaths added a weight to “Do or Die” and showed that anything can happen in the series’ last 11 episodes.
“Do or Die” began by finally showing a glimpse at the fallout from the strigoi invasion at Central Park. Following the brutal loss, Justine is trying to rally the troops with a new plan, despite constant interruptions by a skeptical officer who says they should head for the mountains. “You want to cut and run? Go ahead, but I’m not going anywhere,” she declares. “This is our city. A city we are sworn to protect. And I, for one, am not going to abandon her.” Great speech — it even brings back memories of David Ortiz in 2013 after the Boston Marathon bombing. Ortiz’s epic speech helped rally the community and a few months later, the Red Sox even won the World Series. Unfortunately for Justine, hers didn’t work out quite as well, as only a few officers decide to ride it out with her.
A freshly invigorated Palmer makes a surprise drop-in at the home of Bob, a Stoneheart employee who probably wouldn’t mind some White for himself since he’s in a wheelchair. Bob is surprised to see Palmer because Sanjay (Cas Anvar) said he was taking over the company due to Palmer’s poor health. Luckily, Bob is Team Palmer and is going to help find the mysterious cargo from the ship. This week’s first flashback sends us back to Manhattan in 1962, where Palmer (Charlie Gallant) makes another surprise appearance, this time to see his deadbeat dad, James O’Neill (Don Stark). Palmer hopes the guilt over his dad’s absentee parenting will help him land a job at O’Neill Industries, but O’Neill won’t oblige. Instead, he gives his illegitimate son a check for $10,000, which he says fulfills whatever obligation he has.
While Palmer may not be feeling the love, Eph definitely is as he enjoys a shower with a fully clothed Dutch. Just as Team Etch fans are squealing at home, who should show up but Fet. He’s come for his girl! He wants her to come back to the club with him so they can flee the city. Dutch doesn’t want to leave since she thinks the work they’re doing to block strigoi communications could be a game changer. Realizing he’s lost his girl and apparently his apartment, Fet concedes defeat. “At least I tried,” he somberly says. “Hey, I wish you the best of luck.”
The happy couple decides to celebrate their bliss by going feeler hunting in the sewers. “Thank you,” says Eph. When Dutch asks, “For what?” he responds, “For sticking with this, with me.” TEAM ETCH! They lure a few feelers into a trap, with one attacking Dutch, but Eph takes a bat to it like a real gentleman. “It looks so much easier on the nature shows,” he says (what nature shows does he watch?). They take the dead feeler back to the makeshift lab to open it up, where they discover its communication center is double that of the regular strigoi, only making them more confident in their plans.
Quick check-in on some less-romantic duos on the show: Gus and Angel are trying to find a way out of the city — the same goes for Justine and right-hand man Frank (Paulino Nunes) — while Fet can’t convince Setrakian they should leave, too. “Live to fight another day,” says the exterminator. After years of chasing The Master and the hell Eichhorst has put him through, Setrakian’s answer is no surprise. “For me, there is no other day,” he confesses. “I will either do this now or die trying.”
NEXT: A sudden strigoi ambush results in shocking death(s)
Things continue to look up for Palmer as his buddy, Bob, comes through with the location of the cargo. Duncan, Palmer’s head of security, and a few associates are able to infiltrate the building, where Sanjay is protecting the case. Before we get a glimpse inside, it’s another Palmer flashback. It’s 1992 and a wheelchair-inhabiting Palmer visits his father at a nursing home. Palmer isn’t there to check on daddy dearest — instead, he’s there to gloat. It turns out the $10,000 check is what he used to create his empire, so he’s here to repay the debt, after which he says, “Fulfills whatever obligations you might imagine I have to you.” Unlike his son did 30 years ago, O’Neill angrily rips up the check, only to become even more infuriated when Palmer reveals he has purchased O’Neill Industries and intends to shut it down. “You wasted your life trying to get even with me. Look at you. Look at what’s it done you,” laughed O’Neill. “I’ll outlive you. I’ll dance on your grave.” Back to present day, Palmer — still alive, but not dancing — discovers the suitcase contains a nuclear bomb, which he decides to take with him along with poor Sanjay.
Things aren’t going quite as well for Justine and the few remaining officers with her. They’re stuck in traffic trying to flee the city when they’re suddenly ambushed by strigoi. Gus and Angel stumble upon the scene, prompting a perfect reaction from Gus, “Holy sh-t, that’s messed up. Turn around, let’s go.” Angel refuses and the duo saves Justine and Frank, but not for long. As they attempt to make it over the bridge, more strigoi and feelers descend on them. A strigoi worm makes its way into Justine’s eye (callback to her previous close call), while both Frank and Angel are bitten. After having just killed his strigoi mom, Gus is devastated and refuses to leave his new surrogate dad. Angel refuses to let Gus stay behind, throwing him off the truck and telling him to make a run for it. Knowing they’re not going to make it, Frank, Justine, and Angel continue to fight off the oncoming strigoi. Just as Gus makes it to the fence, he looks back as an explosion kills all three heroes. Not to be lost in the tragedy is a beautiful piece of imagery: When Angel is engulfed in the flames, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it callback to his wrestling days.
The demise of three characters — including two series regulars — is usually where an episode ends, but The Strain quickly moves from tragedy to romance. Eph and Dutch are testing out their machine on some unsuspecting strigoi, who stop in their tracks the minute it’s turned on. After some easy strigoi killing, the duo celebrates their success with a makeout session. TEAM ETCH! They share video of their success with Fet and Setrakian, even though they smartly seemed to have edited out the kissing part. Fet clearly isn’t Team Etch (Team Fetch is a better couple name) and will only go along with the plan if Eph isn’t involved. The two once again engage in a battle of testosterone as they trade insults and punches. The only thing that can put an end to the bickering is the unexpected arrival of Quinlan, who, despite being in rough shape, is thankfully alive.
Palmer and Duncan make it back home with the bomb and begin to prepare for an angry Eichhorst to arrive at any moment. Now it’s off to Paris in 2002, where Palmer meets with Eichhorst, finally ready to accept The Master’s offer. It’s understandable why The Master tempts Palmer — the proposed deal includes immunity from disease and an equal partnership, something we know has turned out to be false. “Parents, wives, children… They all disappoint us, Eldritch. How could they not? They’re humans,” says Eichhorst. “But The Master is different. He will never let you down or betray you.”
Back in present day, Eichhorst shows up to confront a suddenly weakened Palmer. In exchange for the return of the nuclear bomb, Palmer wants The Master to finally fulfill his promise. Eichhorst says the old man hasn’t done his part, to which Palmer rightfully responds, “Take a look out the window, you see my part of the bargain.” BOOM! Not one to be checkmated, Eichhorst is over this back and forth and threatens to take away Palmer’s memories before killing him. “I have been looking forward to this for a long time,” he teases. “So have I,” says Palmer, who throws off his blanket to reveal a shotgun and begins firing at his frenemy. Duncan and his men suddenly appear and multiple shots on Eichhorst, who barely makes it to the elevator only to fall through the shaft. Instead of finishing the job, Palmer is in a rush to see his other frenemy — Setrakian.