by Darwyn Carson - In a sea crammed with vampire centric graphic novels, books, TV shows and films this one, The Strain, is not typical romanticized bloodsucking fare.
It starts simple enough. Regis Air Flight 753, out of Berlin, goes dark after landing at JFK. The pilots don’t answer when hailed: there is no movement, no sound, nothing from within. Window shades are down. It is a dead plane on the tarmac.
The cavalry arrives in droves; SWAT, Homeland Security, CIA, NSA and the FBI; everyone is called in and each one wants jurisdiction.
It is Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) of the Centers for Disease Control—the CDC—who makes his case quite adroitly and muscles his way in. He and Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) are the first to enter the plane to see, what they already suspected; a cabin full of the dead. But there is something unexpected. Survivors. Out of 210 people four are found alive. Also found are residual remnants of a biological substance. They don’t know it yet, but they are on the trail of The Strain.
It becomes clear to them that this is something the likes of which they’ve never seen, but it is a killer of a virus. One that hitches its way across the ocean in the cargo hold of a 767 wide body jet. Within the space of a few hours, it escapes detection at Kennedy and spreads out into the city, person to person, meal to meal.
A lot has to fall into place for that to happen. Just as Dr. Goodweather has his guys, the virus, unbeknownst to the CDC, has its team too. The team members don’t know one another or know why they are asked to do the task, but they don’t need to. All they need to know is their part. If they knew why they were being asked, perhaps—one would hope—they might rethink things. Whether coerced, bribed or threatened they do their bit and like pieces on a chess board, the virus edges toward its goal: to find a host to take over.
(see also: Who’s Who in The Strain)
Creator Guillermo del Toro and partner, Chuck Hogan wrote the novel The Strain several years ago, followed by The Fall and The Night Eternal to complete the trilogy. With their filmmaking team, they have visually created a very realistic horror series for modern times. There is a definite sense of elegance in the timbre of the storytelling. There is no panic in the streets. Life, as most know it, goes on as before. The vampire-like creatures aren’t supernatural. They are infected with a virus that has no other intent in life than to survive. In order to survive they must find food. Blood, it just so happens is their food.
The true monster is the Master and here del Toro has done one of the many things he does best; created a ‘bête de bêtes.’ This beast is the parent to the pathogens that seek to find hosts in the Big City.
(Fair Warning: the initial meeting of the Master (after deplaning) is a bit tough, but incredibly powerful)
The Master’s chief lieutenant, (Richard Sammel) who walks among the living at behest of his boss is sophisticated and slight of stature. He walks with grace and when he threatens someone, doesn’t raise his voice, which is why, he seems even scarier.
Episodes One and Two: The Wrap Up:
Our hero, Ephraim Goodweather, is a darn good medical officer. While attempting to solve this medical mystery he suffers through trying to work out custody of his son with his estranged wife and keep his sobriety in check. Don’t expect a mea culpa hero here however. He’s simply an ordinary man thrust into the midst of an extraordinary situation.
As the CDC crew work their way through the puzzle of this disease, they’ll prove very human, cross paths with many other ‘ordinary’ people and help will arrive from unlikely sources. Mistakes will be made… and consequences paid.
This ensemble of players is truly choice and a couple of them I am just discovering. They’re all superb but, aside from the heroes of the CDC, one of my favorite characters is Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand). I look forward to the day he hooks up with Ephraim and the others at the CDC.
Hogan and del Toro have injected another passion into the mix which, it is suggested, is as strong a motivator as the instinct for survival and which separates us from non-feeling creatures and makes us human; it is the ability to love. Humans actively seek love, just as they seek food, and will go to extraordinary lengths to find it or protect it. This is not romanticized teen vampire stuff. The exploration of this takes a different path and anything that surprises me in a storyline gets a special nod.
Give The Strain a good look-see. A “high concept” thriller and a medical mystery of a different kind.
The Strain debuts on FX Sunday night, July 13 at 10pm et/pt. There are 13 episodes.