Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Strain, Season 1, Episode 1: Night Zero


Pause this I’m going to get some popcorn. Nothing with such a dramatic voice over beginning should be watched without popcorn. I don’t even like popcorn, but respect conventions.

Dramatic voice over guy makes a really awful connection between hunger and love that just ended with me thinking of marriage ceremonies ending “You may now eat the bride”. This could be because I’m thinking of something more appetising to eat than this damn popcorn.

Ok, I’ll take it seriously now. Maybe.

February 8th: Night Zero 20:00:00 (see, serious bold writing)

A plane is landing and one of the cabin crew calls one of the others because something Bad is happening. She isn’t impressed by the urgency and pauses to tell a rock musician (who will be important later) to stop being an arsehole. When she finally gets to the back Rose isn’t happy because Peter has been totally slacking – worried about something alive on the plane (Snakes?)

Sensibly, they decide to open the hatch. Oh someone has not watched enough horror movies. It waits until she closes it again before something begins hammering on the trap door. She tries to pin it closed while sending Peter for help. The hatch bursts open – and something big emerges. It’s not a snake.

At air traffic control, people are concerned about this plane that landed and went silent, after failing to get a response they go for a closer look and we learn there are 210 people on board. Boss man Bishop goes to check it out and finds it odd that the plane is cold (his lackey remarks that planes are big). They see only one open blind. Bishop summons a whole alphabet of random letters representing random American agencies to help deal with the “dead airplane” (aww, it’s going to have dialogue like that and I have to take it seriously?)


Ephraim abuses his CDC privileges to get to his marriage counselling session only 10 minutes late, meets his son Zack, his wife Kelly and vaguely worries me that someone can be a doctor in the CDC but not know how to tie a tie. Is this supposed to be endearing? Because it’s a tie, 7 year olds can tie a tie, doc. We learn that the doc doesn’t want a divorce, Kelly probably does, he’s chronically late, controlling and generally I’m team Kelly.  Kelly has a new boyfriend called Matt who is around while Ephraim is a workaholic (and his phone keeps ringing, probably about the dead plane. Next time I’m at an airport I want to take a plane’s pulse). He also has a thing against prius.

He finally answers his phone to his second in command, Nora who promises to keep all the agencies squabbling until Ephraim arrives to make it clear he’s in charge.


To the airport, Ephraim arrives, denying that it’s terrorism since terrorists don’t normally land planes. Also he’s worried by the lack of emergency calls from the plane – 200 people and none of them have called for help. Technology shows the plane is utterly cold and nearly completely silent. Ephraim throws a big dramatic speech at the homeland security about how viruses are a gazillion times worse than terrorists

East Harlem: 21:28

A dodgy pawn shop where pawn broker Abraham has a reputation for buying silver of… questionable provenance.  He’s also a badass. Hard as nails, lethal badass who knows how to use a knife and is not a good man to rob. After his robbers have run he sees the news about the plane from Berlin going silent. He goes down a hidden staircase to a room filled with mirrors and picks up a sword cane –with a very shiny blade. He tells a heart in a jar (every home should have one) that “he’s back”. He also doesn’t think he’s strong enough to do “it” again – the heart moves. Just in case things weren’t creepy enough. No? Well he feeds the heart some blood which is eaten by little worms coming out the heart

There, creepiness achieved.

Airport: 21:45

Ephraim won the battle to go in first and he and Nora suit up with added sexual tension (Nora’s clearly interested and they had an affair in the past) while Ephraim is worried about his marriage breaking up. Jim is the third member of their team who stays outside on the computers

Inside the plane, everyone appears to be dead. Row after row of dead bodies with no marks on them who appeared to have died peacefully. One child even died with her headphones still in and her music still playing (corpse close up, uckies) They find an odd amount of ammonia in the air – but not a lethal amount. Under UV lights they see spatters of some substance everywhere.

For maximum creepy, one of the bodies twitches – unseen by either doctor.

They find the dead cabin crew and the open hatch into the cargo bay – inside is also spattered with glowy ammonia. Nora finds the open cockpit door – that door really shouldn’t be open. Jim tells her not to go in, naturally she ignores him. For some reason both Nora and Ephraim ignore his rising panic until several people get up – including the musician and the pilots. Ephraim calls for medics.

Stoneheart  Group: Manhattan: 22:00

A man with a nictitating membrane , Herr Eichorst, travels up the lift to see a Mr. Palmer, who is currently undergoing dialysis. He gives some grief to a Mr. Fitzwilliam overseeing the procedure until Palmer wakes, Palmer is clearly not a well man. Eichorst reports that the “cargo” has arrived and that all 4 survivors have been found while Palmer muses on about moral lines being crossed. Also Eichorst doesn’t feel the cold nor does he breathe. Sorry, wormy heart is way creepier

Airport: 22:05

Ephraim’s boss, Everett arrives – bodies have been moved into a giant morgue, the survivors to isolation wards in hospitals. Ephraim insists on a quarantine; Everett is more concerned about containing panic and Nora is concerned about there being no press. Everyone has their priorities.

The survivors: Joan Less (a lawyer who is so very important, or thinks she is). Captain Redfern (the pilot). Ansel Barber and Gabriel Bolivar (the musician with a whole persona that he fakes for the act). All seem pretty well.

In the cargo bay was a 9 feet tall, elaborately carved box – which doesn’t appear on the manifest. As they point out, that’s virtually impossible with modern security. Now that is one damn lazy smuggler and some awful customs people. When they open it, all there is inside is soil – and it latches from the inside. Yes, they opened it. No they didn’t take precautions. Yes they’re terrible.

Brief interlude to Kelly her boyfriend Matt and the kid Zack. Kelly, I’m on your side, Ephraim needed kicking into touch, but don’t take sympathy for me actually caring about your boring side plot, or that fact that Ephraim and Zack have a strong relationship

Back to Ephraim – no Ephraim and the disease, not Ephraim and sexual tension Nora. And Ephraim still can’t tie a tie. Anyway, enough of that – to some random guy calling Berlin to try and find out about the box hears some ominous noises which no-one else can hear. He follows the noise past several ominous red puddles until he reaches a… thing

It’s a strange pile of cloth on the floor and it’s… moving. When he gets close it zooms up, into a giant robed figure. It grabs his head in one hand and a tentacle shoots out of his hood, latches onto the man’s throat and drains him of blood. It drops the body and then smashes the man’s head to little pieces. He then zooms off with his robe flying around him like a love child of cthulu and zorro.

Harlem 23:15

Not-human Eichorst meets up with Augustin, who wandered in from central casting for a Latino gang member. He wants Augustin to pick up something at the airport – it all sounds very dubious and worrisome but Eichorst offers to fix both Augustin’s brother’s criminal record and his mother’s immigration status (I think Augustin may have now hit bingo on the Latino stereotype card: gang member, criminal record, illegal immigrant, calls Eichorst the homophobic slur “puto”.) Augustin accepts and afterwards wants to stay on the right side of the law for his mother’s sake.

Airport: 23:30

Abraham arrives and has to work his way through a huge crowd of Bolivar’s fans. He manages to get past the police cordon by acting ill and clutching his pills – Jim, a doctor, hurries to help him and waves off the police. Meanwhile Ephraim is thrown to the press. He gives them the truth and what reassurance he can – and one of the crowd randomly slaps him for not resurrecting his daughter.

Medical Examiner: 23:40

Examinations have found some interesting things – like a perfectly, super precise cut of the carotid artery – on every body. He also cuts one and shows white goo coming out of the veins – no blood at all. Under UV light, the bodies look like they have worms moving under their skin. Ephraim is taken to see Abraham by Jim – and Ephraim tries to dismiss him; until he reveals knowledge about the bodies (that they’re not rotting). Nora listens to him – but he urges all the bodies be destroyed and that’s enough for Ephraim to dismiss him and walk off; but Nora listens when he talks about destroying the coffin.

Nora’s still clearly thinking about this when they find a white worm – the clear carrier – and that the coffin is missing. Even CCTV shows it disappearing in a blink of an eye. Even looking frame by frame shows only a blur able to pick up the massive coffin. They realise that it was only stolen recently so it must still be in the airport

Airport Garage: 4:40

To Augustin who is here to pick up a package – getting in the van as instructed, in which is the coffin. Ephraim orders the whole airport cut off for any big vehicles that can hold the coffin – but Augustin has a CDC ID provided by Eichorst and Jim lets him through. And Jim seems to work for Eichorst.

The Medical Examiner keeps finding weird things in the bodies  - including a heart full of worms. Worms that aggressively burrow into his flesh. He tries to stop them with tweezers and scalpel – but all the bodies have got up, including the ones he’d already autopsied. They eat him

The music choice is awesome.

Ephraim is focused on the worms

NYPD 113trh precinct: 04:05

Abraham is put in a cell. One of his cell mates randomly examines his tattoo – he has numbers from a Nazi death camp on his arm. He’s a holocaust survivor.

Stoneheart Group: 04:20

Eichorst tells Palmer how everything is going as planned – and how the survivors will return to their loved ones. Palmer mentions Abraham – and Eichorst is surprised that he is “still at it” but not worried about him. Palmer speaks ominously of the Fall.

59th Street Bridge: 04:55

Augustin calls his mother as he crosses the bridge – with the coffin

Dramatic Voice Over closing!

Tudor Road, Queens: 05:29

The angry man from the airport who slapped Dr. Ephraim comes home  to find his daughter – dead on the plane has come home. He hugs her and her eyes blink a nictitating membrane.

Scary, good. Creepy good. Ominous good. Sexual tension between Nora and Ephraim? NO! Bad! It’s unnecessary – she could just as easily be a colleague, we wouldn’t get the distraction of a romance subplot and we could actually have a female character on TV with a male protagonist and her not be his love interest. She’s Dr. Nora Martinez, she words for the CDC, she’s good at her job – she has a place on this show that doesn’t involve Ephraim’s penis.

In some ways, I’m actually a little disappointed that the show seems to be sticking pretty close to the books (albeit with some very good cutting of extraneous verbiage which the books loved so much). I read the books, I know what’s coming and if this show relies as much on mystery and tension as I suspect it will, then having read the books is going to rob it of a lot of its effects. At the same time, with the reveal of the master so early, I don’t think it’s trying too hard to keep things mysterious.

Unfortunately, being true to the books means it’s true on the characterisations as well. I mentioned Nora – but I’m not thrilled by the others. Ephraim – he’s here to save the day! Which means not listening, not discussing, overriding any disagreement – and treating any disagreement as a challenge to be battered down. Seen it before. Will see it again.

Kelly and Zach are to humanise Ephraim, but are the moment are a huge distraction

Despite his care for his mother, Augustin needs a lot of work. And, from a story standpoint, he doesn’t make sense. Palmer, with his vast resources, can’t hire someone more reliable than a gangmember from the street?

I’m here for Abraham.