Spectacular fight and battle scenes have always been a challenge to bring to the small screen. Not having the deep pockets and seemingly unlimited budgets of blockbuster action films, television series usually find themselves cutting corners thus creating a viewer experience that is often quite underwhelming. There are a few notable exceptions, particularly Game Of Thrones, due to its big budget and its backing by cable giant HBO, but it is definitely more of the exception than the rule. However, tonight’s episode of The Strain pulled off the near-impossible and created the strigoi battle of the century, thus proving that fantastic directorship and superb cast performances may be the key components as opposed to a fat blank check.
THE CASE OF THE COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY EPH AND DUTCH ROMANCE
Whenever I do a review of an exceptional episode and there’s a single thing about it that I don’t like, I usually try and touch on it right off the bat, just to get it out of the way. In this particular episode, that “honor”, if you want to call it that, goes to Eph (Corey Stoll) and Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas), and to be honest, some of the arc is so painful and nauseating to watch that I swear I wish there was some way to un-see some of the stomach-turning images. Yes, folks, it’s that bad.
The Eph and Dutch arc starts out fairly promising. As a techie myself, I’ve been intrigued with the science angle they have brought to the television series with first, the bio-weapon, and now, the research into strigoi communication and the Master’s “voice.” This is something that was never explored in the trilogy, and I think it adds a very interesting dimension to the television adaptation. Well, tonight, Dutch pulls through and is able to extract the audio from the blackbox of Regis 753. Initially and with the exception of the pathetic ramblings of the Pilots’ so-called female “conquests,” nothing too interesting is discovered. Well, that is, not until the recording abruptly stops, and Dutch is led to believe that’s the end of the transmission. However, the recording hasn’t really stopped — instead, the devices aboard the jetliner have simply ceased to function because the Master’s voice has started. It starts as a soft screech or perhaps a howl like an approaching thunderstorm, but then, it gets louder and louder and louder and louder. It finally becomes so loud that it overwhelms Dutch, and she loses consciousness, thus prompting Eph to pull the plug on the experiment.
Now, this is all good and it’s very promising, and if the writers had left it at this, it would have been great. But, no, they just had to do the whole “play house” thing with Eph making the bedridden Dutch soup and putting his hand on her leg. Now, I’m not going to re-hash what comes next because you all are smart enough to figure it out. Plus, if I have to go into detail the disgusting big boob girl-on-girl fantasy that Dutch relays to Eph as she is seducing him, I honestly think I may have to get a bucket and barf. Eph and Dutch make a great **working** team, but both of them are total wrecks when it comes to relationships. On top of that, they are both drunks which makes this particular relationship 10 times more dysfunctional.
I know there are some fans out there who ship Dutch and Quinlan and saw Q’s “curiosity” in her last week as a good sign that may actually happen. After tonight, let us all hope that never, EVER plays out. To be blunt, Dutch is a slut. First, she was with Nikki. Then, Fet. Now, Eph. Keep in mind that the entire series has taken place within 1 month, and so, all of this has happened in about 4 or 5 weeks. That’s almost like someone burning through a sexual partner every week, and is, in my opinion, pretty sad and pretty f*cked up. While some may hope for a bit of happiness for Quinlan before he checks out of this miserable world, I definitely don’t think the answer is Dutch Veldars.
MOMMA’S BOY AND HIS GUARDIAN ANGEL
It’s been a full 2 weeks since “The Battle Of Central Park,” and what you may not remember is Angel (Joaquin Cosio) hurt his arm pretty badly. So, while Fet has paired back up with Setrakian (David Bradley) to chase leads discovered in the Lumen, Gus (Miguel Gomez) is desperately trying to help Angel find the medical treatment that he needs. Given that New York City is falling and there’s not many options yet, they make the desperate decision to seek help at one of Palmer’s Freedom Centers.
This isn’t my father. My father was a coward. This is my Guardian Angel. He has a bad knee, and now a bad arm, but he has a good heart — Gus
Of course, we all know that Palmer’s Freedom Centers are just a front to get people’s personal information — in particular, their blood type — and so, in order for Angel to be treated, he has to provide all that information as well as fingerprints. What’s more, they insist that Gus does so as well, to which he responds with a big “f*ck off!” So, Gus decides to leave and tells Angel to meet him at his Mother’s apartment after he is finished. Of course, Angel thinks this is a terrible idea, and returning to that apartment will only make Gus’ pain worse. But, for Gus, this is his home, and there’s no room for negotiation. We are about to learn why.
In a wonderful series of flashbacks, we finally get a glimpse into Gus’ backstory which ends up providing a clear explanation as to why Gus is such a “Momma’s Boy.” They take place in 1993 in New York City and come on the heels of Gus and his mother, Juanita, being beaten by his father. Apparently, this had become a common occurrence, and so much so that poor, young Gus goes to Juanita’s brother and his friend for help. Of course, Juanita plays the role of the typical abused housewife and wants them to try and talk to and help her husband. But, for her brother, the time for talking is over. They simply say “they’ll handle it,” and while it is never explicitly stated, it appears that they killed the abusive SOB. In the 2nd flashback and with his father now gone, Gus is told that he now has to grow up a lot quicker, and must step up to help care for his mother. In Gus’ eyes, this was his job from the get-go, and with his mother now turned, he feels like a total failure.
After Angel is done at the Freedom Center, he returns to Gus’ apartment, which turns out to be eerily quiet.
Momma’s boy — Angel
So, he lets himself in, takes his medication, and falls asleep on the couch. If you started getting the creepers at about this time, you’re not alone. You just know what is about to happen, but try not to think about it. Well, Angel wakes up to some noise in the apartment and thinks it’s Gus. But, it’s not — it’s Gus’ Mom instead. To top it off, his gun falls on the floor, and he can’t reach it without risking an attack by Momma Elisalde. But, then, Gus walks in. He tries to talk to her, but the protective mother we saw in the flashbacks is long gone. So, in a split-second decision, Gus does what he should have done a long time ago and shoots his mother in the head.
Poor Gus. The good news is while Gus may have lost his mother, I think he officially gained a father in this episode, a father that he never had. Gus just saved Angel’s life, and trust me, their relationship is going to be different — much stronger — going forward.
THE BLOOD FACTORIES ARE OPEN FOR BUSINESS
We got our first glimpse at Palmer’s (Jonathan Hyde) disgusting blood factories in the season 2 finale and even with Fet’s (Kevin Durand) boom-boom antics, it looks they are finally ready to open for business. While we were introduced to Eichhorst’s new “business partner,” Sanjay Desai (Cas Anvar), in the context of the mysterious Egyptian vessel, it seems he has also been put in charge of the blood factories. And, tonight, Sanjay and his geeky assistant are all ready to give Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) his first demonstration. Unfortunately, Eichhorst isn’t very impressed.
Even though the factories will be used to harvest the blood from humans and thus ultimately kill them, Desai and his sidekick believe it’s perfectly fine to use dummies to test and calibrate the equipment. Seems reasonable but not so for Eichhorst. In fact, it pisses the Master’s #2 off to no end, and as we all know, getting on the wrong side of Thomas Eichhorst almost never ends well. And, for the poor schmuck assigned to be Desai’s assistant, it definitely does not, as Eichhorst quickly volunteers him to determine if the equipment performs the same with a human as it does with a mannequin.
It does not. Hanging in mid-air and struggling on a meat-hook, the poor guy is streamlined to a small cage and his blood drained, all in a short 2 minutes and 17 minutes. Of course, Eichhorst made his point with this grisly demonstration. Their original estimate was 84 seconds, and this new figure, taking into account the struggling and so forth of the victim, is much more than that.
Did you catch Sanjay Desai’s face here? He doesn’t seem very impressed with Eichhorst’s actions, and something tells me he’s wondering what crazy f*cks he’s gone into business with. Well, Sanjay, it’s a little too late for that now.
Back at the Fet and Setrakian camp and after meeting with the now-healthy Palmer, they now have the address of that Cyrus dude who supposedly had been in charge of the Egyptian vessel. They trace it back to a Stoneheart housing facility where people are still living normal lives, seemingly oblivious to the horrors right outside their doors. Groceries, clean clothes, and hell, even yoga! For this Cyrus, this also means a really nice apartment equipped with a big-screen TV and all the amenities, and to which Fet responds with a beat-down unless he agrees to take him and the Professor to where the Egyptian cargo is being stored.
Cyrus agrees and leads them to the very building that Fet had bombed with dynamite last season but unfortunately, they are too late. Eichhorst and Desai, along with a small army of security guards, are loading up the cargo, and even though Fet and Setrakian put up a pretty good fight, they are able to get away — along with the presumed sleeping Ancient in the back of the truck.
The one good thing that does come out of this utter failure is we do finally get a glimpse at the Egyptian cargo. Because this Cyrus is the same guy we saw at the blood factory in the Season 3 Trailer, I had theorized in my review of last week’s episode that the Egyptian cargo may simply be the equipment for the blood farms. This was a complete 180 of my original theory of the cargo being the Old World Ancient described in the Occido Lumen that had been buried by the Egyptians. Well, given the very large size of the cargo box, my money’s back on the Ancient. And, with that, things are about to get bat-shit crazy.
AN EPIC BATTLE WITH EPIC HEARTBREAK
Armed with this new information that the Egyptian vessel has ported in New York City, Setrakian feels it is critical that the Ancients be brought into the loop to determine if they know anything about it or about any plans the Old World Ancients might have of joining the Master in some sort of alliance. Of course, that would mean Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) returning to the Ancients’ Lair with his tail tucked between his legs, and as you can imagine, he’s not so keen on the idea.
I’d prefer not to go back there — Quinlan to Setrakian
However, Setrakian again stresses the importance, and then, like a little boy who doesn’t want to do what his father has told him, Quinlan finally lowers his head, sighs, and agrees to investigate.
As would be expected, the re-introduction to Lar (Ryan Hollyman) and the Ancients is initially awkward, but that is quickly put to rest once they hear the new information that Quinlan brings. He informs them of the arrival of the Egyptian vessel in New York City and the theory that perhaps it’s the Ancient that the army of Egyptians had sealed in a sarcophagus over 3000 years ago, as is outlined in the Lumen.
Perhaps the Master is trying to form an alliance with one of your kind. Do you understand what it means that he doesn’t have the same sort of arrangement with you? That means he intend to do away with you. Fortunately, the pawnbroker has devised a plan, gleaned from the pages of the Lumen — Quinlan
The Ancients don’t particularly trust the pawnbroker, but I suppose at this point, they see no other option. So, they reluctantly agree to work with Quinlan and Setrakian, and Q is to return in the evening with instructions.
However, unknown to Quinlan, it seems that Eichhorst and Kelly (Natalie Brown) have been using the feelers to track the sun-hunters when they’ve been going out to hunt for the Ancients. They have learned the location of the Ancients’ Lair, and so, when Quinlan returns, unfortunately he is followed by some very unwelcome company — Eichhorst along with 500+ strigoi, at the very least. Brace yourselves, everyone, this is the big shitstorm that I have been hinting at all week long.
The Born. Fitting that you should be here to bear witness. And you? I knew humans would be complacent, but I never anticipated how impotent you three would be. You should be Masters of this world, kings, emperors, Gods. Instead, you are already like statues to a fallen race. The step I take here is more merciful than triumphant — The Master
As it turns out, the strigoi horde that Eichhorst pulled to the Ancients’ Lair was only a diversion, and the real threat is inside his silver briefcase. A bomb (actually, probably a nuke), which Eichhorst activates after giving that ever-so-eloquent speech. So, as Eichhorst steps away into the shadows, the epic showdown between the strigoi, the Sun-Hunters, the Ancients, and also Quinlan begins. Fortunately, Q is the smart one, sees this as a battle that can’t be won, and so, immediately starts fighting his way out.
These scenes are breath-taking and utterly magnificent. With Quinlan’s background as a Roman soldier and before that, a Roman gladiator, cutting through these strigoi minions is mere child’s play. Slashing strigoi with one hand, firing at strigoi with the other. Quinlan is the ultimate warrior and a total bad-ass, and these final scenes are a perfect demonstration of that. Also, if there were any doubts whatsoever on Rupert Penry-Jones‘ casting, I think they have all been put to bed — for good. It takes a great deal of talent and experience to make fight scenes of this caliber feel real and authentic, and I’m sure Rupert’s past work in other action series, like BBC’s spy series Spooks, certainly helped. Every move was absolutely perfect.
So, while Quinlan is making his way out of the Lair before Eichhorst detonates the bomb, unfortunately the Sun-Hunters and the Ancients don’t fair as well. Lar and the Sun-Hunters do get some action and put up a pretty good fight, but there are just too many strigoi. And, the Ancients finally come down off their little chairs and show us just what tough SOB’s they truly are too. Keep in mind they have the same power and strength as the Master, and so, they proceed to take out these strigoi as if they are pesty bugs. ALL HAND-TO-HAND too. Hot damn.
Regardless, the fact remains that the Sun-Hunters and the Ancients chose to remain and fight, and so, when Eichhorst finally emerges and detonates the bomb, they are all presumably killed (hey, no matter how hard you argue, I don’t think even their crimson worms could survive that blast nor the weight of all of those buildings falling). At the same time, we see Quinlan doing his super-fast marathon run and getting the hell out of dodge, and so, we can probably safely assume he made it out. However, what the next step may be now that Setrakian’s plan has officially been derailed — that remains to be seen.
All in all, a fantastic, perfectly-rated A+ episode. The masterful choreography, stunning special effects, and mesmerizing soundtrack, especially in that mind-blowing final battle scene, make the episode, in my opinion, Emmy-worthy. And, also kudos, plaudits and a big standing ovation to director TJ Scott and stunt coordinator, Jamie Jones. You both are mad geniuses and created a viewing experience that I don’t think the fans will forget anytime soon.
All great stuff, and the even better news is we **still** have 2 episodes left in the season! Tonight’s episode could have easily served as the season finale, but oh no, the writers aren’t done with us yet. Those sadistic bastards! If this episode is any indication of what’s waiting for us in 2 weeks, trust me when I say I think we’re all going to need therapy come October 30th.
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
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