Global extermination of a class or race has been a common theme with The Strain since day one. It began back in season 1 with the reveal that Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) had been an officer in a Nazi concentration camp and with the horrid flashbacks that depicted the Nazis as brutal slavemasters who treated all other classes of humans — most notably Jews — as mere objects to be used and abused, and when they’re no longer useful, to be thrown out like common trash. Fast forward to tomorrow’s season 4 premiere with the Master’s dominance of the world finally achieved, it becomes immediately clear why Eichhorst had been chosen to lead by his side.
The premiere begins with a 9-month time jump since Zack’s epic temper tantrum in the season 3 finale, and as we will see in Philadelphia (and presumably elsewhere, including New York) , the city has literally been transformed into a finely-tuned concentration camp. Very reminiscent of Nazi Germany, everyone wears an identifying arm patch, walks in a single file to their assigned jobs, and as long as they behave like good minions (and keep their blood donations current, of course), then “The Partnership” will provide everything they need — food, medical care, safety. Of course, the big difference is because of the nuclear winter, strigoi are now free to move about during the day, and sentient strigoi become the modern-day Nazis, patrolling the streets and performing other tasks for the Master. Unfortunately, most have acquiesced and accepted their new reality if it means their remaining alive. Then, there are a few who denounce The Partnership and simply hunker down, trying to survive any way they can. Finally, there are small pockets of a resistance, those very few who are still trying to find a way to fight the strigoi and bring society back to a semblance of what it once was. Such are our heroes.
ROAD TRIP ON THE PLAINS!
With it now believed that a nuclear warhead can destroy the Master, Fet (Kevin Durand) and Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) are off on a road trip to the Dakotas to locate a government missile facility, picking up one of the locals, Charlotte Watkins (Rhona Mitra, “The Last Ship”), along the way as the newest member of the team. I had the opportunity to speak with Showrunner Carlton Cuse about the show’s final season last week, and without revealing any big spoilers, he described Charlotte as “a woman who grew up in that part of the world. She’s very confident and self-reliant. She really exists to create a dilemma for Fet, and that dilemma is there’s a scenario where he could just retreat into some little enclave in the woods out there on the great northern plains and live out his life in happiness and contentment with this beautiful woman. But, he’s also compelled by this sense of duty. He’s out there because he’s got a mission, and that mission is to find a nuke and to try to use that nuke to bring the Master to an end. The characters are torn between love and duty and that’s something that felt like a really compelling thing to explore for Fet.” If you’re like me, you’ll probably notice a striking resemblance she has to Nora. Whether that is intentional remains to be seen (fans of the trilogy should get the relevance of that).
The first time we see the trio in the episode let’s just say they make a pretty big impression. Fet and Charlotte approach a group of locals, and all they want is information — information about a missile base. Back in the day, before the government fell and people had to actually worry about the consequences of their actions, this meeting may have gone smoothly, with Fet getting the information he needed and going on his merry way. But, this is the new post-apocalyptic world, and all the disgusting racist bottom-feeders now believe they can do what they want without fear of the law. So, instead of offering to help, the asshole makes fun of Vasily’s “Russian accent,” starts taking dibs on Fet’s woman, and then, ultimately threatens to kill Fet and keep Charlotte for himself. Ummm, this fat ass is pretty stupid if he actually thought that was going to happen. That is when Quinlan makes his first appearance, and man oh man, what an appearance he makes. In less than 5 seconds, nearly every one of those locals are dead, and the man who had threatened Fet is left standing there, shaking and about to piss his pants.
Think of me as a Demon. From the Good Book — Quinlan
Leave it to Quinlan to be a total bad-ass but serve as the comic relief as well.
Unfortunately, after all of that, those pricks have no useful information about the missile silo, which really causes Fet to get down on himself. This is also exemplified later in the episode when Fet has a horrific nightmare of Setrakian being infected and taunting Vasily for failing and taking so long to find a single nuke (GREAT tactic, BTW, by FX for including the scene in a promo and freaking fans out that Setrakian had been turned!). Keep in mind it’s been 6 months since that demon child, Zack Goodweather, set off the nuclear bomb in New York City, and from what we can gather, they have been looking for a nuke that hadn’t been hidden away by the strigoi and their human collaborators for the entire time. It would be easy to start losing faith, but that’s where Charlotte comes in, to pick Fet back up and keep him going.
Days like these, I wonder if this is hell. Searching endlessly for something that might never be there — Fet
I don’t think this is hell. I think it’s hell adjacent — Charlotte
Well, thank you for ruining my self-indulgent misery. I was going to wallow in it for a while — Fet
They kiss, and the camera then pans to Quinlan who is staring at this moment of intimacy with somewhat unusual curiosity. Could this possibly be bringing back memories for him? For those who are fans of the trilogy (and even if you haven’t read the books, you probably know from social media and/or Wikipedia), Quinlan had a wife and an adopted daughter, and one of the top things fans are hoping for in this final season is some kind of flashback that tells that story. Could this scene possibly be a hint that the fandom will be getting their wish? I think it’s probably a safe bet, but we shall see <queue all the screams and squeals>.
Fortunately, the trip isn’t entirely a bust, and ironically, after Fet and Charlotte are kidnapped by a group of bad-ass women, their luck turns around. Another guy, Roman (K.C. Collins), is also being held there, and by an amazing stroke of luck — or perhaps Divine intervention — he used to work at the very missile silo they are looking for. Great, except there’s still that problem of both Fet and Roman being chained up in a barn. But, no worries, because Fet has a plan. After feigning illness, Fet grabs one of the women, and then, just like the earlier scene with the locals, Quinlan shows up just in time to save the day. And, the look on those women’s faces on seeing the “wormless wonder” — priceless.
Well, let’s go get our nuke! — Fet
So, could it be that easy? Go find the missile silo, get the nuke, and boom, the Master is dead? I doubt it, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
DR. GOODWEATHER AND HIS SPIRAL TO COMPLACENCY
In the meantime, unable to face the atrocities committed by his son, Eph (Corey Stoll) retreats to Philadelphia and has pretty much given up. “I can’t believe we lost” he says himself, and his days now consist of …. well, we really don’t know because his contact for supplies makes no qualms about labelling Dr. Goodweather as a lazy son of a bitch who does only the bare minimum to survive.
You could be King Rat of all of Philly if you just wanted to work a little more. All the food and free shit you could possibly want
Every now and then — like when he runs out of propane for his stove — he makes house calls as a “Dr. Miller,” gets a nice bottle of liquor as payment, and then, trades it for whatever he needs. The one upside is at least he doesn’t appear to spending his days getting wasted with the liquor he collects and feeling sorry for himself, which I guess is something, but at the same time, he’s become part of the problem. Instead of fighting back and trying to do something, like we saw with Quinlan, Fet, and Charlotte (and as we will learn next week, Dutch and Setrakian as well), he’s become complacent and has devolved into a mere drone, one of the Master’s human minions who cares about no one and nothing except surviving.
Honestly, at first I was royally pissed at Dr. Goodweather for just taking off, abandoning the group in New York City, and hiding in Philly like a scared rabbit. After all, Eph’s own spawn and his detonation of the nuclear bomb is what gave the Master the advantage he needed and propelled him to victory and world domination. Of course, let us not forget that Dr. Goodweather ignoring Setrakian’s warnings way back in the Pilot is what started all of this in the first place, and so, any way you look at it, Eph is really to blame for the hell everyone is in now. However, upon thinking about it and seeing his guilt, I do get it. I mean, how could he face his friends after what Zack had done? After failure after failure after failure, they had finally succeeded and trapped the Master in a sarcophagus in the season 3 finale. All that was left to do is dump it in the ocean, and this nightmare would be over. But, oh no, Zack had to throw the mother of all tantrums because his strigoi mommy was dead and with that, their plan was blown to smithereens — literally. How could Eph face Fet? How could he face Setrakian, who had trusted him and allowed him to be part of the group?
However, not all is lost, and due to some weird combination of fate and circumstances, Dr. Goodweather finally starts to get back on track — and to find hope. After he, Neal, and his other supply buddies are forcibly taken by the strigoi in one of their “raids” for The Partnership, the bus transporting them is firebombed. Fortunately, Eph walks away from the explosion and crash with barely a scratch, but everyone else is killed. However, in the process, the bomber is also gravely injured and begs Dr. Goodweather to help him. Eph knows that strigoi backup will be coming and he needs to get the hell of dodge, but the healer in him prevails, and he helps the man anyways.
The man and his sister, Alex Green (Angel Parker), turn out to be members of a small resistance group who have been manufacturing explosives and blowing up buses of strigoi (not knowing that humans were on board as well, of course. Doh!). Eph patches the guy up , and even though all of his friends are now dead, he’s set on leaving anyways. But, then, Alex says something that stops him in his tracks.
You have your mission, I have mine — Eph
What’s yours? — Alex
Staying alive. Staying human — Eph
Fine. Go. Keep thinking about yourself. You’re why the world is the way it is — Alex
You have no idea — Eph
That last part must have hit a sore spot, conjuring up guilt on what his son had done, because Eph turns around and decides to stay — for 24 hours, at least. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s saying that, but my guess is this Alex will be the key in kickstarting Eph’s fight instinct and bringing back the Dr. Goodweather we have grown to love for the past 3 seasons.
JONATHAN HYDE AS THE MASTER STEALS THE SHOW
While it was great to finally see these characters once again, perhaps the best part of the episode is the first look at Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) as the Master. Wow. Wow. Wow! I must admit that I initially laughed at the idea of Palmer as the Master last season, and I especially laughed at his portrayal in the season 3 finale. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. With a very Nosferatu-like appearance and a commanding air about him, Palmer projects the perfect Master, one that is even more terrifying and menacing than the original Sardu in season 1. Regarding the decision to make Palmer the Master, Carlton Cuse explains, “No one makes a successful television series in a vacuum, and if Jonathan Hyde wasn’t as outstanding as he is we probably wouldn’t have done it. That said, as we were talking about that earlier over the seasons of the show, it became pretty clear to us that that was a really interesting, logical progression of where the Master would end up.
It’s particularly delightful because of how annoying it would be for Eichorst. Ultimately, Palmer as a character, combining his innate human evilness with this evil, parasitic creature felt like we wouldn’t be able to do much better than that. The answer is it’s really both. But it really required not just the conceptual idea, it required also a conviction that the actor was extraordinary and would be able to really pull it off, which Jonathan absolutely did. He reveled in it. It was great. It was a really fun thing.”
With his goal of world domination achieved, the Master now sets his sights on 2 primary goals. First, it is imperative that Dr. Goodweather, Setrakian, and the rest of our heroes who had thwarted the his plans so many times before be found, and he promptly places Eichhorst in charge of that task. And, secondly, to prepare Zack (Max Charles) for what he was destined for — to become the next vessel for the Master. The latter involves giving Zack a new “toy” — a Scalcombe Mark 18 rile — and a field trip to the Central Park Zoo. It turns out to be a test by the Master on whether Zack has it in him to kill — particularly to kill a “lesser being.” Well, I think Zack passes, as he kills a tiger with very little hesitation, but the only problem is he feels remorse. Someone who is to become the next Dark Lord of the world wouldn’t have such compassion. That certainly needs to be rectified, and so, someone appears to Zack — someone he loves and would listen to — to tell him he was right to kill the tiger, and he shouldn’t feel badly. Welcome back, Natalie Brown!
Yeah, you’re probably thinking the same thing I am — how in the hell is that possible? Well, the camera finally pans down to Zack and Kelly from the viewpoint of Eichhorst who is watching the scene from above, and when that happens, we see that Kelly really isn’t Kelly at all. It’s actually the Master, who is somehow “tricking” Zack into thinking he’s his mother. We know the Master has all of Kelly’s memories because she was one of his minions, and so, he could easily impersonate her as Zack’s mother. But how did Zack see the actual image of Kelly, instead of the Master? We can’t be sure, but we do know that the Master seems pretty adamant on Zack getting a regular dose of the white. I initially wrote that off because of Zack’s asthma, but now, I’m wondering if it is to **control** him. Make him do things, see certain things?
Regardless, the big question is will Palmer remain the Master until the very end? Given how well-suited he is for the role, you would think so, but the Master himself may not be in agreement. “I created this vessel out of necessity, not out of choice,” the Master explains to Eichhorst on choosing Palmer. And, while the Master does have his eyes on Zack for the part and seems to be grooming him for it, he also says that once Eph and the others are found and destroyed, the boy will no longer be needed. Let the speculation begin on that one.
All in all, tonight’s premiere was a good, solid start to the show’s final season. After 3 seasons of build-up, the Master’s vision of the world is finally realized, dominated by strigoi and with him sitting at the helm. While some may categorize tonight’s episode as “slow” with very little action, keep in mind that it’s somewhat of a stage-setter, and so, I think everyone needs to be patient. I give the episode an “A” rating, with the only thing that really bothered/concerned me is the fact that our group is, once again, fractured. Think about it. Here we are in the final season of the series, with only 10 episodes left (actually, 9 now), and so, there’s very little time to begin with with to tell a full, complete story. Now, on top of that, time must be made for all of these character “check-ins” (case in point, we catch up with Dutch and Setrakian next week and don’t even see our missile-hunting gang again until episode 3). On the other hand, I do have the utmost respect for Carlton Cuse and feel he has done an exceptional job with every series he has worked on (most recently with the superb final season of Bates Motel). That being said, I’m going to cautiously optimistic and have faith that everything will eventually come together, and the fans will be given the memorable, satisfying ending they so deserve and will be talking about for a good long while.
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