The Strain Episode #1.1: Night Zero Recap
I picked up The Strain way back during my bookstore days. The book both scared the living crap out of me and made me wonder why exactly it existed. The book read like a screenplay, filled with detailed descriptions of characters thoughts and what everyone was doing at ever moment. Later when I would recommend the book to Chelsey she wouldn’t be able to finish it because of this. It was only a matter of time before the book would be adapted for the screen.
Night Zero Brief Episode Summary
A plane filled with dead passengers spurs an investigation in the opener of this series, in which a vampiric virus spreads through New York City. [x]
Yes, The Strain is about vampires. Now before you start complaining about the saturation of vampires in today’s media, you should know: these aren’t the vampires you’re used to. Del Toro and Hogan have gone back to the basics and have reshaped their vampire into something both gruesome and creepy. The vampires of The Strain have more in common with zombies than Dracula or Edward Cullen. They’re infected with a parasite that rewrites their body chemistry and connects them to a hive mind. Goodbye identity, hello shambling collective. Instead of transfering this disease through a bite, these vampires have a stinger/tongue that shoots out of their mouth (similar to that of a frog) letting them feed and infect their victim at once. Match that with their maggoty white appearance and you’ve got yourself some serious nightmare fuel.
Taking Something Old and Making It New
The Strain isn’t without its throwbacks. Much of the pilot shares striking similarities to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The way the episode starts with the dead plane landing at JFK. This can be read as a modernization of the ship Demeter which Dracula crosses to England in. Like Dracula on the ship the monster on the plane proceeds to eat everyone on board. There is also the character Abraham Setrakian who serves as this series’ Van Helsing. The fact that they share the same first name cannot be a coincidence.
The Strain takes its vampire narrative and instead of framing it in the world of magic, it take a scientific approach. From the get go our Eph and his team see this as an outbreak and try to contain it. I’m excited to see what happens when Eph and Nora meet up with Setrakian and are faced with a more mystical outlook on the current events. Overall I like the medical approach, it grounds the story in a sense of realism.
Your New Friends
The main character of The Strain is Ephram Goodweather. From the name you can guess he is supposed to be an everyman hero. In the novel he comes off as exactly that and feels bland for it. For the televison show he is allowed to have more of a presence. He comes off as charismatic and a good person despite his flaws. Eph is the head of Project Canary a team of CDC specialists focused on containing outbreaks. His long hours and devotion to his job has caused his family life to fall apart. When we are introduced to him he’s going through a messy divorce with his ex wife Kelly. He’s also a recovering alcoholic.
Eph loves his son Zach more than anything and wants to try and reconnect with him. He’s trying, but as to be expected everything is put on hold when the dead plane lands. Eph is played by Corey Stoll, a solid actor who I first became aware of in the netflix series House of Cards. He shows a lot of promise to become an interesting and well rounded character.
Eph’s team include Nora (Mía Maestro) and Jim (Sean Austin). From what we’ve seen of them so far they’re a tight knit team, not only work colleagues but friends (or even something more, we’re looking at you Nora).
As I mentioned before Setrakian is a nod towards Stoker’s Van Helsing. He also was the best character in the book. When we first meet him he’s an old man running a pawn shop in Harlem. Yet there is more than meets the eyes. Setrakian is perfectly cast as David Bradley.
Your New Enemies
Eldritch Palmer is a fairly traditional villain. Sick since he was a child, he’s on the quest to find immortality and he’s willing to watch the world burn to save himself. I love his name. Eldritch always makes me think of Lovecraftian horror (it was one of Lovecraft’s favourite adjectives) but the name is probably a more direct reference to The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch a Philip K. Dick Novel.
Palmer’s contact on Team Vampire is Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel). He’s German, it’s implied he was a Nazi and he’s probably a vampire.
Compared the newly turned vampires we see at the end of the episode, Eichorst looks pretty human. It makes you wonder. Is he a half vampire? Do some humans get to retain their appearance? Is he caked in the most believable stage makeup that the world have ever seen? We’ll just have to find out. Eichorst is creepy and clearly awful, but I have a feeling he is going to be one of those characters you just love to hate. We’ll have to give it time.
Night Zero screams Guillermo del Toro’s style. The use of colour in this episode is hypnotic. In a time when most genre shows have dark pallets The Strain is dripping with colour. Del Toro used colour in clever and interesting ways to set the tone of his world. When Eph and Nora first board the plane everything is awash in blue light which gives the scene an alien feel. I read an article on io9 where it explained “Guillermo del Toro had a strict “no red” policy on almost all of the The Strain sets. But that rule was lifted for Bolivar’s home.” This was done to make sure that when the blood would start to spray it would really pop on screen.
Best/ Creepiest Moments
Eph has his coroner friend go behind the back of the CDC to do an autopsy on one of the bodies pulled from the plane. Eph insists that he do it while he is alone so now one will notice. As you can guess this is pretty much a death sentence. When the Coroner exposes the body to a UV light he can see the masses of parasitic worms in the corpse. He manages to get his hands on one of these worms and despite his scrubs and gloves he becomes infected all to the cheerful voice of Neil Diamond singing Sweet Caroline. The icing on the cake is when the the rest of the now live cadavers decide to feast on him.
A security guard hears a voice and wanders off doing exactly what you’re not supposed to do in a horror movie. He comes across a mass of fabric in the middle of the floor which turns out to be a vampire. The vampire’s stinger shoots out and the poor man is is drained of his blood. Not only do you get to watch his face become disturbingly gaunt, but you’re forced to focus on just how large and muscular the vampire’s stinger is.
Then just to add insult to injury and to give you a taste of the gore ahead. Then he vampire grabs the man’s head, breaks his neck and crushes his skull like it’s a watermelon. It’s so jarring and violent that not only you can’t look away but you find yourself rewatching the clip over and over again.
I’m hooked. I’ve been waiting for this story to be adapted for the screen for a long time now. This story always felt like it would do best in a visual medium (there is also a comic adaptation, I should read that). The show is well shot, looks slick and well casted. I’m excited to watch the story evolve and see how the adaptation changes it to fit with contemporary audiences.
So, if you like vampires, zombies or even medical thrillers than you should check out The Strain. See you all next week for our coverage of episode two: The Box.