Pissing our pants yet? Oh boy, I have a feeling we’re getting close. Yeah, yeah, wrong show, but I think it definitely applies here. Screeners for the first 3 episodes of season 3 were made available to the press the Wednesday of SDCC week back in July, and I was actually on a plane to San Diego when I got the email notification. So, to make the best of a long flight, I decided to download and watch them. Cool idea, but boy oh boy, by the time I got to the end of 3.03, I was utterly speechless. WTH??!! What. The. Hell! And, when the flight attendant came by and asked if I were OK, I promptly responded, “Yep, but I need 3 Jack Daniels… NOW!”
That was 6 weeks ago. And, even now and having watched the episode multiple times, I’m still blown away. Wow. So, first things first… let’s dive into tonight’s episode, discuss everything that happened in that short hour, and then, analyze (as best we can!) what it all means and how it may impact the rest of season 3.
First, as the title of the episode “First Born” suggests, we are treated to multiple Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) flashbacks that provide a good account of the Born’s origin story (not a complete account but a very good start). The flashbacks take place from 58-60 A.D., and assuming they’re following the books with Quinlan being born around 40 A.D., that makes him about 18-20 years old. He’s a very young mute, completely unaware of his heritage and his destiny, and is part of a travelling circus. Called the “Leech” in scenes very reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera, Quinlan is nameless at the time and is nothing more than a freak of nature paraded around for people’s amusement.
Fortunately, our warrior and hero is ultimately rescued and taken under the wing by a wise older woman by the name of Ancharia (guest star Deanna Dunagan). She gives him the name Quintus, “the 5th Invictus, the Unconquerable, the Invincible”. What’s more, she teaches him how to speak and provides Quintus with the history of the strigoi and of the Master, whom he is destined to ultimately fight and destroy. In the 2 years that passes, Ancharia prepares Quintus for what is to come, but at the same time, warns him that the Master no doubt is aware of his existence and is searching for him. It’s only a matter of time now.
In the final Quinlan flashback, that time, unfortunately, comes, but contrary to what Ancharia and Quintus had expected, the Master (guest-star Paul Aspland) doesn’t try to destroy his son — his abomination — outright. The Master is outraged with Quintus’ apparent discounting of his strigoi heritage, and decides it would be a fitter punishment to present his son with the ultimate dilemma. So, the Master collapses the cave that Quintus and Ancharia are hiding in, injuring the already old and weak Ancharia and leaving both of them trapped and without food or water. What’s more, Quintus is also weak and needs to feed — and, Ancharia knows it. Something has to give, otherwise Ancharia is going to die, and Quintus will be trapped inside forever.
So, Ancharia does what any “mother” would do — offers to sacrifice herself to save her son (if you hadn’t seen the mother/son relationship that was being forged thus far, it should be apparent now).
Quintus, I know you also thirst. I am dying. You will continue to waste and when the Master attacks, you will be too weak to defend yourself. Drink me, Quintus and use your strength to escape. Do not fight him. There will be another opportunity to defeat him. But not here. Not now. You must escape — Ancharia
I won’t do it — Quintus
The Master cannot love. So, he takes it and feeds upon it along with their blood. I don’t know if you can feel love, Quintus, but I can. And, I do. I love you like a son — Ancharia
Mother — Quintus
So, Quintus is forced to drink his Mother, and with that, the Master emerges, freeing Quintus and declaring his “victory.” The Master taunts Quintus, tempts him, tries to lure him to “the dark side,” but the stone has been cast. With his Mother’s death, Quintus has made his choice and with that, his rage and lust for vengeance were formed.
Even though the episode’s title “First Born” appears to mostly reference Quintus AKA “The Born,” it actually goes deeper than that and ties back to a larger theme of the strong bond between a parent and his/her offspring. We see this in the superb flashback in the opening scene of the episode of Eph, Kelly (Natalie Brown), and Zack’s (Max Charles) “caul birth.” But, it continues with Gus (Miguel Gomez) and his relentless mission to somehow save his mother, even if it costs him his life. Fortunately, Angel (Joaquin Cosio) shows up and just in time too. Gus has bled himself so much that he passes out, and Angel ends up having to break down the door to Gus’ apartment.
However, even with all of that, Gus still won’t budge. Angel wants to do what Gus clearly cannot, but hey, come on, this is Gus’ Momma! Angel, I get you, but seriously, you have zero chance. So, down the 2 guys go on the floor, beating themselves senseless… at least until they hear sirens. It’s one of Feraldo’s “sweep teams,” and they are about to go door-to-door, looking for anyone who is infected and putting them down in the process. So, in a very hilarious sequence of scenes, Gus hatches a plan of turning Momma into E.T. and enlisting Angel to help him sneak her out of the building.
Mexican seat belt — Angel
That’s funny. Can we go now? — Gus
Of course, just as Angel predicted — calling it a shit plan from the start — the entire thing blows to hell, and they are caught. However, it seems the NYPD aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed because the officer insists on Gus taking the helmet off his mother. Doh! This only results in the police officer being sucked dry by Momma E.T. but at least it gives Gus and Angel a fighting chance. They make a run for it but are eventually apprehended and arrested. The good news is they aren’t taken to an ordinary jail. Taking a page from Gus’ playbook of recruiting inmates for Quinlan’s sun-hunting team last season, the NYPD are now doing the same thing to form these “sweep teams.”
Now, moving on from the flashbacks, back to present day and where last week’s episode left off — Quinlan and Eph (Corey Stoll) becoming the next Bonnie & Clyde to doublecross the Master, get Zack back, all while Quinlan finishes his “job” of 1000 years in-the-making by killing his father. Before I get to the “guts” of the episode and its last 10 minutes which everyone has been buzzing about, I’d like to talk about this newfound alliance/relationship. Even though the Q die-hards may have been irked with Eph’s poking fun at Quinlan last week and ridiculing him, you have to admit it was pretty damn funny. And, humor isn’t this show’s strongest suit. Except for the handful of Fet (Kevin Durand) one-liners, this series is one of the most serious and somber that I know. So, going into tonight’s episode, while Eph may have changed his tune and is no longer treating Quinlan like a leper, the dialogue is still just as hilarious:
Am I a fool? — Eph
Well, you are human — Quinlan
And, then, there’s the ever-uncomfortable convo between Eph and Quinlan about Q’s conception.
So, now that we’re out here…The Master isn’t your biological father… of course, because strigoi, by their very nature, don’t possess the proper equipment — Eph
If that inquiry were meant to be a joke, I’m just as happy to ride in silence — Quinlan
No, no, no, I’m dead serious! I want to know how it works. Is it transduction? The transfer of genetic material from one organism to another by a viral agent — Eph
Bottom line — this relationship just works. Why? Because these 2 guys get each other — and much more so than any of the other characters. Quinlan lost his mother — Eph lost Kelly, and then, most recently Nora. If we are to believe the remainder of the Quinlan mythology from the books (assuming they don’t change it in the adaptation to television), Quinlan also loses his wife and adopted daughter. Eph has just lost his son. The funny thing is if Nora were still in the picture and if she hadn’t been killed off in the season 2 finale, would this relationship even be happening? After thinking about this for weeks and weeks since my first viewing of the episode during San Diego Comic-Con, my answer is an emphatic “No.” Even if Zack were still taken by Kelly but Nora survived, Eph wouldn’t be here right now conspiring with Quinlan, a half-breed strigoi he had just met. Instead, he would still be back at the lab working with Nora, or both he and Nora would have immediately rejoined Fet and Setrakian to come up with a new plan. But, most importantly, Nora was Eph’s guiding light, the one person who somehow managed to keep Dr. Goodweather on the straight path and prevented him from making foolish, impulsive decisions. Either way, we wouldn’t be here now watching Eph riding in a cab, by himself, with Quinlan getting ready to execute a plan that, to be honest, is based almost entirely on revenge and emotion rather than logic.
NOW does everyone see the significance of that season 2 finale? So many people were upset with Nora’s death and didn’t really understand the writers’ decision on taking such a sharp deviation from the source material. But, back then, fans’ emotions were raw, and no one could see beyond the pain of losing a character that most of the viewers really liked. However, at the end of the day and seeing where we are at now, it’s clear to me that Nora’s death was nothing less than sheer genius on the writers’ part. Without that, we wouldn’t have this fantastic new relationship, but even more monumental, without Nora’s untimely departure, it’s highly unlikely we would have the final showdown and the mother of all plot twists that takes place in the final 10 minutes of this episode. Was this planned from the start? Of course, and kudos and plaudits to Carlton Cuse, Chuck Hogan and the rest of the writing team for that!
Moving on to the part that everyone has been waiting for. Drum-roll please…. After grabbing a random strigoi and with the help of his new partner-in-crime, Eph is able to speak directly to the Master providing very specific instructions on how the exchange for the Lumen will go down. Eph’s got the Lumen. He’s in control. No more bullshitting. Also, by this time, Fet and Setrakian have caught up with them thanks to Fet’s little GPS gadget he hid in the Lumen, and so, we are all set for the battle of the century.
So, all parties converge on Coney Island — Zack’s favorite fishing spot — as Eph instructed, and at first, the Master has the upper hand. He doesn’t bring Zack as Quinlan had predicted, and he also has those turned Navy SEAL’s as reinforcements. So, when Quinlan finally emerges from the shadows, guns-a-blazing, he encounters some very unexpected return-fire from the SEAL’s, causing our Q to be riddled with bullets. But, mere bullets aren’t going to stop Quinlan now. After Fet drops one of his infamous silver-bombs (and THANK YOU, Setrakian, for warning Quinlan!), the Master is severely burned, and Quinlan, with his last ounce of strength, goes in for the kill and beheads the Master. Then, Quinlan collapses on the ground, and from all appearances, looks to be very dead.
YIKES!!!!!! Did Quinlan just fulfill the prophecy and kill his father?! If you’re like me when I first watched the episode, your brain is in overload, and your thoughts are being driven by emotion. But, let’s think about this logically. First, if the Master is truly dead, the story is over. Done. End of series. We’re only on episode 3.03. Nope, not gonna happen. Second, we see that one worm-on-steroids crawl away and down the sewer, and since the Master’s “psyche” is in the worms and not the host he encompasses, we know he is still alive on some level. And, if the Master is still alive, then it is likely that Quinlan is too.
So, what can we expect to happen now? Very good question because we are embarking on unchartered territory. None of this happens in the books, and in fact, Bolivar remains the Master’s host until close to the very end. So, going forward, virtually anything is possible. I was, however, very fortunate to be able to speak with Natalie Brown about this game-changing episode, and she offered some pretty good clues. You can head over and check out that interview to see what she had to say, and you can also find a link at the end of this review.
In the meantime, what more can I say? This episode encompasses a top-shelf, exceptionally-written and executed piece of storytelling, which is a rarity these days. Back many years ago, I can remember when superbly-written, well-crafted television series were the norm, but fast forward to 2016, it has become more of the exception than the rule. Instead, the landscape is littered with remakes, reboots, and very shallow, ill-conceived ideas that makes you wonder if there is any creativity left at all in the industry. Then, for the ones who do manage to rise above all that, if the series is based on some source material, the writers often become too consumed and worried about pissing off the fans to do anything original.
In contrast, The Strain has officially given the status quo a middle finger, and the result is an amazing work of television. It doesn’t conform to everything in the trilogy — instead, it’s better. As I said in my Advance Preview, the episode could have easily served as the season finale but given the fact that we are only 3 episodes in, I can’t even begin to imagine what the writers have in store for us for the remainder of the season.
The Strain airs on Sundays at 10/9c on FX.
Critic Grade — A+
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com
s are closed.