Vampires have had a bit of a bad rep these days. They’ve been everywhere. Clogging up our bookshelves, glaring moodily from the small and the big screen. The Strain written by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Chuck Hogan was an answer. The Strain’s vampires aren’t romantic figures, they’re parasitic monsters that feed from large stingers that protrude from their mouths. The Strain is horrifying, visceral and grimy. I loved every minute of it. I just wanted to know why it was a book and not a TV show. The novel read like a movie script.
Then FX announced they had ordered a season to air July 2014. The wait was on. The Strain had one of the best viral campaigns that I had ever come across. When the first real trailer was released I couldn’t help but get even more excited.
The Strain follows Ephraim Goodweather, the head of the Canary Team meant to be first on the scene during outbreaks or similar high infectious situations. When a transatlantic flight lands at JFK baring only dead passengers and crew, Eph is called in. Unbeknownst to NYC this is the beginning of the vampiric take over.
In the world of The Strain vampirism isn’t portrayed as a curse, it’s a disease.
When describing The Strain del Toro explains
“…for me the interest is to create a vampire parasite. Something truly repulsive. In Eastern European lore the vampire is a resurrected corpse with an alien will in it. It can be a demonic spirit, it can be the body of a suicide, it can be an unholy crime that makes the vampire be interred on unholy ground, like a crossroads… I was interested more in mythology that made it a thing, with a horrible will possessing it, you know, which is the will of the Master. So it’s not about counterpointing the sparkly vampires, it’s about creating gnarly ones.”
And it’s these vampires that are one of the highlights of the show. Newly turned vampires shamble about, aliens in their own skin, learning how to move and how to feed. In the tenth episode of the series Loved Ones we get to follow a character as they go through the transformation and get to see first hand exactly what it does to them.
In shows revolving around the end of the world as we know it, it’s really important for the audience to develop a connection with the characters. You have to want to see them survive and overcome what they’re facing. The side characters in our vampire hunting troupe do more than this.
If I had to narrow it down to my two favourite characters I would have to settle on Abraham Setrakain, who serves as the show’s Van Helsing. Setrakain has been hunting vampires since he was a young man, and it is his life long goal to defeat The Master and his ilk. it’s alluded that Setrakian’s fight is a personal one. At the beginning of the series it is shown that he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, and still can hold his own in a fight, but his health is failing and he is going to need help.
Enter Fet, the Rat Catcher. He’s charming, clever and a lone wolf. Fet and Setrakian bond almost immediately. Fet is exactly what the older vampire has been looking for in a protege.
Nora also deserves some love. Eph’s second in command she’s a skilled doctor with a miserable past. Over the course of the series she comes into her own as she works her way out from under Eph’s shadow (more on Eph later). She serves as the voice of reason and compassion in our group of survivors but in no way does this stop her from making the “tough” decisions. Throughout the series Eph feels that he needs to protect Nora from (pretty much) everything when really it should be the other way round.
Loving Your Villain
I could write a completely separate article on Thomas Eichorst, arch rival to Setrakain. Eichorst was a monster long before he become a vampire and I just love to hate him and Richard Sammel seems to just love to play him on screen. The chemistry that he has with Setrakain is amazing, any scene that the two of them have are the highlights of the episode. During the seventh episode For Services Rendered the audience gets to learn more about Setrakain and Eichort’s past together, watch for the scene where they talk about choice and fear. It’s probably my favourite scene in the entire show.
Richard Sammel is able to bounce between being joyful to charming to downright terrifying. He’s just too good at what he does you have no idea how our heroes will be able to defeat him, especially when they realize that he is only just one cog in the machine….
Not everyone is likeable
The major flaw of The Strain is the main character Eph. Eph is selfish, overconfident and suffers from some serious control issues. He’s never wrong (or so he thinks) and never learns. More than anything Eph really wants to be the hero and the centre of attention. Much of the show’s major conflict comes from Eph flipping around between not-believing in the vampires and believing in them. Finding a way to treat the patients to putting down monsters. Eph has no set personality and functions as what ever the plot needs him to be at that exact moment.
He underestimates those around him, and mistreats those close to him. Hopefully in the next season Eph will start to realize that trying to be the hero is going to get him and the other survivors killed. Also, maybe listening to the man who’s spent his life hunting vampires might have an idea of what they should do.
The Strain is a great balance of horror and camp. When the effects are good, they’re amazing. When they’re bad, well… They’re just ridiculous. Fully transformed vampires lack the creep factor that their younger siblings have. The lead vampire, only referred to as the Master looks like a man wearing a rubber mask with fake glowing red eyes. But if you’re able to look past the silliness then you’ll find a show that has a lot of heart.
I’m looking forward to the next season, which promises to kick up the crazy to eleven.