Kelly makes Eph an offer he can't refuse as New York takes the fight to the strigoi
When FX renewed its apocalyptic vampire series The Strain for a third season of 10 episodes (rather than its traditional 13), showrunner Carlton Cuse assured viewers the compressed schedule would help accelerate the pace of the storytelling and give the show a stronger sense of urgency. He wasn’t kidding. Tonight’s premiere felt a little bit like a reinvention, if not a wholesale reboot, with some sleek opening credits that seemed designed to shift the prevailing mood from slow-burn horror to James-Cameron-style action. By the hour’s end, Eph was facing an impossible choice delivered from the Master via Kelly: Turn over the Occido Lumen and be reunited with Zack, or keep the tome and never see his boy again.
But before Eph received his deal from the devil, the episode opened with an exposition-heavy recap to help remind viewers what had come before (or to catch up fans who possibly had drifted away and were looking to check back in). Even that opening montage handily summarized two seasons at a surprising clip. Against the backdrop of civil unrest, Abraham Setrakian (the incomparable David Bradley) points out via voice-over that only 23 days have passed since Regis Air Flight 753 brought the strigoi to New York. As the nation argued over the proper response to the new threat, the vampire plague took hold; while National Guard and Army troops fought to retake parts of the city, outbreaks only became more widespread. If humanity hoped to defeat the enemy, he concluded, they had better act fast…
Well, they’re trying. In Chinatown, exterminator Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand) stands at street level remotely guiding a team of Navy Seals through underground tunnels as they attempt to ferret out strigoi and hunt down the Master. The POV and infrared vision shots give the subterranean sequence a distinct video-game/Aliens vibe. As a crowd of onlookers gathers around Fet, one man shouts, “Are we finally taking the fight to these things?” (A proxy for a segment of frustrated viewers? Perhaps!)
Meanwhile, Eph Goodweather (Corey Stoll) is contributing in his own way. Staying at night in his empty house in Queens waiting in vain for Zack to come home, he’s spending his daytime hours in a Brooklyn lab working on his bioweapon with materials courtesy of Justine Feraldo (Samantha Mathis). But the weapon is losing its efficacy against the “munchers,” leaving Eph to ponder whether the creatures are evolving or just growing more intelligent.
They’re certainly every bit as vicious. After stopping by a makeshift Manhattan street market to procure some basic supplies — canned goods, liquor, a taser — Eph pulls into an underground parking garage to siphon fuel for the cab he’s driving. Not surprisingly, he’s attacked, first by one strigoi, then more. Before long, he’s out of bullets and has to fight back with only a knife. Assailed by more strigoi, he jumps back into the cab, one monster riding on the hood. Moments later, Eph pilots the vehicle back into the daylight, narrowly escaping the encounter.
NEXT: So, about that book…
At the Olympian Club, Setrakian carefully pages through the Lumen, while a frustrated Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) urges quick, decisive action against the Master. Rebuffed by the old man, the Born goes to see the Ancients, accusing them of growing indolent and defending his alliance with “the cattle” — pointing out that Setrakian is, at the very least, a fighter, which is more than can be said for the elders. Fet, too, wants Setrakian to move against the chief vampire, but he stubbornly insists one week isn’t enough to understand the secrets from a tome that was compiled over the course of centuries.
But the exterminator is betting the Navy Seals on the case might just finish the job on their own. He excitedly relays to Setrakian that the government is now operating under a theory that there’s a “king rat muncher” that needs to be destroyed — or, as Fet says, they’re finally coming around to the reality of what’s really going on. Just then, Quinlan silently appears behind Fet, insisting that should his “centurions” discover the Master, they must allow him to finish the task. Technology offers no advantage against the Master, he says.
Unfortunately, he has a point. Fet goes back out on the street ready to assist the Seal team on their next underground hunt, but the mission begins on an off note, with Fet learning New York has essentially been “written off.” If the Master isn’t found in two days, one Seal tells him, resources are going to be deployed elsewhere. Unfortunately, there will be fewer resources to deploy. Moments into the strigoi search, Eichhorst appears! Fet warns them the man is not human — he’s Bolivar’s second-in-command — and the Seals give chase to an abandoned church, which couldn’t feel like more of a trap unless there was a sign out front that said, “Caution, this is a trap”).
They stalk through the darkness searching for the man, flashlights piercing the gloom X-Files style, but their technology soon fails — before the soldiers can fall back to safety, the strigoi attack, first with an ear-piercing shriek, then with their stingers. Fet rushes in, armed, and rescues two of the last men standing, exiting only to find Eichhorst waiting to bid him a good evening. Fet opens fire, but the evil German escapes easily.
That’s when another of the Master’s emissaries enters the picture — namely, Kelly, who visits her son and tells him the Master will allow the two of them to be together, provided she does him a small favor. She returns to her old home, accompanied by a small group of Feelers, and lets Eph know that turning over the Lumen is the one sure way he can be reunited with Zack. “You kept Zack alive to trade him for a book?” an incredulous Eph asks. It would seem so…
Cuse, who co-wrote tonight’s episode with Chuck Hogan (Guillermo Del Toro’s writing partner on The Strain novels), deserves kudos for kicking off season 3 in fine form. Here’s hoping the rest of the season is every bit as compelling as “New York Strong,” though, maybe just one request — more Gus, please?