The Strain 1.03 Gone Smooth

Tensions arise in this week's episode of The Strain, as the mystery of the Regis Air flight deepens for our CDC investigators. Bodies once thought dead are on the loose and our four known survivors undergo some intense metamorphosis at the omniscient hands of The Master.

"You have to get better, okay?" - never has a line felt so prescient. Yes, this piece of dialogue was aimed at a rather sickly looking character, still reeling from the Regis Air flight debacle, but no truer words have been spoken. The Strain has to get better, otherwise a vampiric virus is the least of their worries. Gone Smooth is yet another example of the shows bland, flat and dull demeanour.

It's a little too soon to blame the plot, as indeed, we are only three episodes in. Equally The Strain is based on a much-loved novel, heralded for its ideas, scope and development. Fans of the literary franchise insist we stay tuned for certain intricacies to surface, yet this fictional world isn't really selling itself. Sub-plots and character arcs remain trivial and clichéd, from the bribery of Jim Kent (Sean Astin), to the persistent annoyance of Dr Ephraim Goodweather's (Corey Stoll) familial strife. As our main protagonist, he remains utterly unlikable and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro), whilst being the only character thus far to consider a supernatural threat, nevertheless feels misrepresented and underused in a leading female role. Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) and Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) play their parts well, although borderline caricature which doesn't always work in the show's favor. Thank goodness we have pest control's Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Duran), who after a little more screen time in Gone Smooth is proving to be likable, comical and refreshingly watchable. Not to mention, very busy, given the sudden growth of New York's rat population...

In spite of the above and the show's subsequent banality, there remain one or two sequences that are entertaining. This week, The Strain's creators make a particular effort to horrify us through the use of bodily transformation. It may not be gory enough for some horror hounds but it is fun to watch, regardless. From Eichorst's make up application to hide his hideous vampiric features, to a survivor's animated tongue. From rock star Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy) flushing away his er... appendages to the violent, blood-sucking actions of Captain Redfern. Each set-piece, nicely portrayed through a makeup and mirrors motif, works wonders in keeping the show alive.

Yet even though The Strain's superficiality holds merit, its persistent lack of substance is an overbearing issue. We need flow, consistency and a desire to follow our protagonists. We need empathy and engagement to keep us coming back for more. Instead what we have is a great case of irony. For a show about a virus, it is so far proving to be anything but contagious.

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