Truth be told, I was quite anxious as the series finale of The Strain approached. Actually, to be completely honest, I was a nervous wreck, and those who have had to put up with me this past week can attest to that. As some of you know, I’m a fan of the trilogy, and the way some of the characters met their end — in particular, Mr. Quinlan — didn’t set well with me at all when I first read the books. I knew that if the television writers decided to be true to the source material and end the series the same way, I would be inconsolable and not to mention, royally pissed off. So, I came home Wednesday night, poured myself a hefty glass of bourbon, and sat down to watch — hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Fortunately, when I got to the end, while I was extremely sad that we lost 3 main characters — including my personal favorite — I was beyond relieved. The writers have made deviations from the books before, but this time, they did it when it counted most.
QUINLAN’S SUICIDE MISSION PLAN
The episode opens exactly where last week’s left off. Our group is surrounded by strigoi on the streets, and with Eph (Corey Stoll) making the point that they need to think of the nuke above all else, Gus (Miguel Gomez) makes the bold and heroic move of volunteering to stay behind with his crew, while the rest of the group get the bomb to safety. Of course, leave it to Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) to make a smart-ass remark just so the writers can tease us with Gus’ possible death once again.
Not a nice way to say this, Gus, but don’t get stung and lead the Master back to us — Dutch
Man, that’s cold — Gus
The good news is they’re able to hold back the massive onslaught of strigoi AND Gus manages to survive too, but the price his crew pays is pretty hefty. Several are stung and put down by Gus immediately. But, when Oscar is infected as well, Gus erroneously believes it’s all over, pulls out a grenade, and is about to sacrifice himself to kill the remaining strigoi. However, in a very brave and heroic move, Oscar grabs the grenade, charges the strigoi kamikaze-style, and goes out like a boss, while Gus just stands there dumbfounded. This scene actually is very important because it lays the groundwork for the overall theme of the episode — courage and self-sacrifice for the greater good.
In the meantime, Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) quickly takes out the stragglers the Master left for him at the Empire State Building in another one of his classic Q bad-assery scenes and then heads to the group’s rendezvous point — the water tunnel 3 construction site. When everyone finally arrives, well, they just look defeated. Eph and Dutch point out that they now have likely nil chance of locating the Master, and Quinlan looks depressed like he just lost his best friend. But, leave it to Fet (Kevin Durand) to brighten the mood. Before thinking about their next move, first they need to get the nuke to a safe location, and Fet knows just the place. Remember, Fet is an expert on New York City history, and what everyone else doesn’t know is they’re above one of the most ambitious construction endeavors in history.
It was going to be the main tunnel, bringing water to all of New York City from reservoirs over 60 miles away. It was built to replace 2 older tunnels. It was started in 1970 and was slated to finish in 2020. 800 feet down — Fet
Fet tells this story as they take an elevator down to the construction site, and when they arrive, Quinlan steps away and stares down into the blackness of the tunnel. It’s obvious he’s thinking about something, and in a few moments, we learn he’s hatched a new plan.
Quinlan’s new plan is actually based upon what he learned from the nuclear explosion in the Ancients’ lair. Because it was deep underground, the city wasn’t affected when the bomb detonated, and so, his idea is to do something similar. Detonate the bomb 800 feet underground in the tunnel, and then, hopefully, the city and its remaining inhabitants will survive. However, there’s a big catch. Quinlan can get the Master down into the tunnel, but he’s going to have his hands full in the fight and keeping the Master from trying to escape and get back up to the surface. What’s more, because they are so far underground, the remote trigger won’t work either, and so, that means there will need to be a 2nd person down in the tunnel to press the manual trigger. In other words, this is a 2-man suicide mission, but even so, Fet is dedicated to the mission, and more importantly, this is his city. So, he gladly accepts.
If you want to save the city above us and the world beyond, the time for half-measures is over. I know you well enough to know when you commit to something, you’re unwavering. But, this is a lot to ask — Quinlan
If you have a way to destroy the Master and save New York City, I’m in — Fet
Oh crap. I can hear all of the Vasily Fet fans screaming and throwing things at the TV now! And, when Fet and Quinlan share their plan with the rest of the group, well, Dutch’s reaction is about as extreme. She sobs, confesses she still has feelings for Fet and begs him not to do it. However, Quinlan recruited Fet — and only Fet — for a reason. Unlike Eph and Dutch, Fet has been on the road with Quinlan for the past 9 months. They have grown quite close — almost as close as brothers — and to blunt, Fet is the only one on the team Quinlan can truly trust. Quite a far cry from their being at each other’s throats last season, don’t you think? However, if you’re like me, the more I watched Fet and Dutch together, and the more I observed Eph’s overall reaction, the more I became convinced Fet was not going to be the one going down into that tunnel and setting the nuke off.
THE PLAN’S EXECUTION, VICTORY AND THE ENORMOUS COSTS
I’m not sure exactly what timeline Fet and Quinlan had originally for this new plan, but it is put on the fast track after the Master begins to take desperate measures to locate Eph and the rest of the group. The Master basically decides he’s done with New York City and is willing to sacrifice all of its inhabitants to secure his victory. So, he unleashes all of the strigoi to wipe out the population for the sole purpose of isolating the heartbeats of Eph and the rest of the group. Quite honestly, this is where things begin to go downhill for the Master, and because of his desperation and his fixation on defeating The Born, he completely ignores the trouble that’s brewing right before his eyes. If you watch Zack (Max Charles) during these scenes, the look on his face is no longer one of admiration — it’s more like one of disgust. It also doesn’t help that the Master berates Zack for failing to obtain the location of the nuke, and so, it makes you wonder if Zack is now starting to have some “Oh crap. What have I done?” moments.
They escaped with the warhead you failed to locate. If you had touched your father’s heart more completely, he might have come to the Empire State Building himself — The Master
Even so, when Fet and Eph purposely reveal their location to a stray strigoi, the Master takes the bait and heads right into their trap with his army — and Zack tells the Master he wants to go too. It’s really hard to tell what may be going through Zack’s mind here, and that’s especially true since he’s a very confused boy who has been through so much. However, given the obvious displeasure Zack is now having for the Master and also, given the events that are about to come next, I strongly suspect his intention is to protect his father and betray the Master. Even if he may not completely realize it yet.
Once the Master arrives at the water tunnel, we have one of the biggest and most ambitious battles of the entire series. Gus and Roman (K.C. Collins) lead the charge, killing as many strigoi with gunshots and grenades while leading the rest, as well as the Master (with Zack in tow), deeper into the tunnel. Eph is the next one to step up in the fight, killing as many strigoi as he can while also exposing himself to the Master as bait, thus luring him further inside the tunnel. It all finally comes to a head when the Master reaches the entrance to the elevator Quinlan intends to use to trap and take him to the water tunnel below. At first, the Master tries to use his telepathic signal to deafen everyone, but when Fet sets off his last silver bomb, Quinlan takes advantage of the opportunity, lunges toward the Master, and throws him inside the elevator, while pressing his face against the elevator’s silver wall thus burning it.
Now is when the shit hits the fan, and so, if you don’t have that bourbon and tissues ready, go get it…. NOW! What comes next is the final showdown between the Master and The Born, and boy, it’s a doozy. One thing to note is Quinlan drops his bone sword during the struggle in the elevator, and so, this puts him at a serious disadvantage. As a result, he’s forced to fight hand-to-hand, and while he does hold off the Master for a while, the fact is the Master is much stronger and much more powerful. He punches our poor Quinlan, throws him against walls, and even slams him up against the ceiling. However, even as Quinlan is slowly getting the life beaten out of him, he does make one critical move, and as it turns out, this is the one thing that will ultimately win this thing for our heroes — he grabs the Master and rips out his throat. At this point, Quinlan collapses like in the scene from the promo, but then, when the Master walks over to him, an amazing thing happens — Quinlan is **smiling**.
What have you done? — The Master
I’ve won — Quinlan
Then, in a fit of rage, the Master raises his foot and from what we can tell (actually, from what we can HEAR because the crushing of bone is quite traumatizing), crushes his skull or at least part of it. Poor Quinlan! But, at least he appears to die happy, and that’s actually a question — why is he so happy?
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Well, Quinlan is happy because 1) He succeeded in getting the Master down into the water tunnel even if it cost him his life. 2) He mortally wounded the Master which means he’s going to have to take another host. The latter turns out to be critically important. While all of the fighting is going on, you may or may not have noticed that Zack also got knocked into the elevator when Quinlan lunged at the Master. To top it off, at the very last minute, maybe because he saw Zack being pushed into the elevator or perhaps after growing a conscience, Eph takes Fet’s place and barrels down on the 2nd elevator to the water tunnel below. So, while you may be sobbing over Quinlan’s death, get ready for round 2 because you’re about to shit your pants.
When Eph steps off the elevator, he sees Zack, he sees the nuke, and he starts walking towards the bomb (Quinlan would have been proud that his feelings weren’t getting in the way of what has to be done). The Master then orders Zack to kill his father, and while he does go so far as to raise his gun, he just can’t do it.
I can’t. He’s still my father — Zack
Then, Zack turns and shoots the Master in the chest instead. Of course, the bullets barely even phase the Master, and the next thing you know the Master is right back up and is about to do a worm transfer into Zack. However, Eph sees what is about to happen, lunges at the Master, and as a result, Eph is the one who gets the worm dump instead. Oh. My. F*cking. God!
I’ve never liked Dr. Goodweather. And, I sure as hell have never liked Zack. In my opinion, these 2 are more responsible for this hell the world has been in for the better part of a year than anyone else. Eph had the opportunity to stop the entire thing had he only listened to Setrakian at JFK in the Pilot. And, Zack is even more culpable by collaborating with the Master for the past 9+ months. However, at the end of the day — and at the time when it’s most important — they both end up doing the right thing. When Eph finally regains consciousness after being wormed, the Master really hasn’t taken hold yet, and so, Eph does still have some control. He does manage to make it to the nuke to arm it but collapses, and when he rises to his feet, it’s clear that Eph is now the Master.
I hate Zack for all the shit he’s pulled over the seasons, but at the same time, I’m not a sociopath like he is and still have sympathy for others. That being said, I can’t help but feel sorry for Zack in this scene. When he sees his father stand up with the black eyes and speaking to him with the voice of the Master, I think the gravity of what he’s done finally comes crashing down like a ton of bricks.
My son — Eph/The Master
Dad, are you still in there? Because if you are, I love you — Zack
Then, Zack embraces his father 1 last time, reaches for the manual trigger of the nuke and ends this nightmare once and for all. Holy shit. This, as well as Quinlan’s death, all happens within a 3 minute timeframe, and that’s enough trauma to force anyone into therapy.
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5 YEARS LATER….
As I had been pondering over the past few weeks on who may survive the finale, there was 1 character I was 100% certain would make it out alive — Vasily Fet. When this series began, it was more or less Setrakian’s story, and the beginning and end of each season would often feature voice-overs of the Professor. Well, now that the Master has been defeated and given the fact that New York is really Fet’s city, the only logical person who could tell the story in the aftermath and as the city rebuilds is Vasily Fet. And, that’s exactly what happens. A perfect ending for a perfect series.
Somehow, someway, he detonated the warhead beneath the bedrock of the city, and the Master was no more. There were still millions of strigoi worldwide, but without the Master’s central intelligence, they were dumb, hungry munchers, easily slain. 5 years later, the atmosphere is healing. 6, sometimes 7, hours of sunlight and growing. The strigoi are all but eradicated now. The interim government decided to keep a few munchers on lockdown inside the same bio-safety facilities as small pox and other hemorrhagic viruses. Because what could go wrong? Roman followed through to go back to the Federal Reserve and emerged as one of Manhattan’s biggest property owners, a driving force in the city’s renewal. Gus declined to partner with Roman, instead setting off into the countryside to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees return to their homes, hoping to one day cross paths with a certain young woman he once knew. And, Dutch, she went to work with a bunch of ex-hackers to get the Internet back up on its feet. No monument exists at the blast site, no plaque. Only a handful of us know what really happened. When the rats returned, I knew the city was going to be OK. Not a day goes by that we don’t remember those who are no longer with us, those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The Master used the bonds of human love as a conduit for the strain. He tried to destroy us, but he never understood it. Love. In the end, it was love that saved us all and gave us the world. Our world.
And, then, Fet and Dutch just so happen to meet up randomly after all this time. When Dutch said earlier in the episode that she thought they had a chance, I really didn’t believe her. In fact, I yelled, “Hell, no!!!” However, now that 5 years have passed and she appears to have gotten her life straightened out, who knows, she may have been right after all.
First, and foremost, what a fantastic finale and a phenomenal way to end the series. As I had mentioned at the beginning of this review, I was quite anxious — in fact, terrified — going into this finale because of what I know from the trilogy. Most of you know by now that my favorite character is Quinlan, and to be blunt, that character gets the worse possible ending in the books. In the final showdown, Quinlan ends up being infected by the Master, and so, the last time we see him, his beautiful eyes turn black, and an expression of pure evil comes over his face. Now, in the television series, Quinlan is immune to the worms (we’ve seen him holding the worms multiple times, and in one episode, the worms even crawl freely on his arms), and so, I was doubtful that would happen unless the writers wanted to risk a major plot hole. However, just because Quinlan is immune to the worms, that doesn’t necessarily mean he would be immune from a worm dump from the Master, and so, when the Promo for the finale showed the Master doing just that to someone, a terrible feeling of dread came over me. How horrible would it be if Quinlan were the target of that worm transfer, and he becomes the Master? He would effectively become the very evil he’s been hunting for nearly 2000 years. That’s a shit ending, and I was so hoping the writers wouldn’t do that to such a wonderful character.
And, thank God, they didn’t. Yes, Quinlan does die, but had he not done what he did and sacrificed himself, his plan would have never worked and the Master would not have been destroyed. He died a heroic death, and he died knowing that after 2000 years, he finally succeeded. Given the fact that most knew Quinlan was going to die anyways, I don’t think the writers could have given us a better outcome than this. Same thing for Eph and Zack. In the books, the Master doesn’t manage to jump into anyone else’s body, and Eph is the one who sets off the nuke before the Master has the chance to. What a great twist to have Eph become the Master, and Zack left with the burden of detonating the bomb to save humanity.
Even so and even though I’m giving the finale a strong “A” (in fact, I give the entire series an “A”), there are definitely several things that make no sense at all. Or, maybe they’re not **supposed** to make sense.
Lots of open questions, don’t you think? Of course, that could very well be the intention of the writers, and in fact, I’m certain it is. If all of the strigoi had vaporized like in the books and if the Master had been definitively destroyed, that would make this finale a conclusive end to the story. But, with strigoi being kept on lockdown by the government and no “proof of death” of the Master, that leaves the possibility of a “next chapter” completely open. Anything can happen, and as I’ve said before, “never say never.”
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