Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Strain, Season 1, Episode 13: The Master

A now hearty and hale Palmer leads his minion Fitzwillian to Abraham’s pawn shop that they took last episode. Fitzwilliam unfailingly says “yes sir” to every suggestion Palmer has while looking increasingly disturbed. One question is answered though – Palmer’s ability to touch silver and the way his image doesn’t vibrate in a mirror shows that he isn’t a vampire.

Palmer doesn’t seem to realise this and he asks Eichorst when he gets his horrible injecting tongue thing. Palmer was given health, not immortality. Eichorst also makes the point that there’s a difference between the random infection they’re inflicting on half the city and the true turning that Palmer wants (if there was any doubt that Eichorst is a different kind of vampire). Palmer is not amused by the delay.

Palmer goes on to be creepy by adding Miriam’s heart to the collection of his own preserved failed organs. Fitzwilliam continues to say “yes sir” while his face says “ah hell no!”. Palmer also so Ephraim’s broadcast and now there’s talk about quarantining Manhattan.

And Fitzwilliam tells Palmer no. He can’t defend Palmer any more. He can’t keep making excuses. He can’t be any more complicit (and he accepts his complicity) in this evil. He also finds Palmer’s resurrection unnatural – he leaves, challenging Palmer to manage without him when Palmer mocks the idea that Fitzwilliam can’t manage alone.

Even without Fitzwilliam, Palmer and Eichorst go to see Secretary Maggie Pearson and Everett, Ephraim’s old boss at the CDC, to try and convince them not to quarantine Manhattan. She isn’t convinced and isn’t willing to put her career ahead of the survival of the country and, really, there’s a limit to how much she is in Palmer’s thrall. So Palmer throws her off a building.

I’m quite sure that there would be some level of political consequences for throwing such an important government official off a building. I’m also pretty sure you can’t just co-opt her power. Is this a hidden rule of the American government? You kill an official and then get all the powers of that rank? Some kind of extreme belief in competition?

But apparently so – because Palmer now has the magical power both to make Everett Secretary of Health and, of course, Everett is quite happy to be Palmer’s servant because he just saw him murder someone (rather than summon the secret service the minute Palmer leaves – or before, it’s not like Palmer and Eichorst look that scary).

Our heroes have found a new safe spot (skip over Zack’s attempted angst dream). Vasiliy, Abraham and Ephraim are plotting (Nora doesn’t get to plot now? Or Dutch?) and Ephraim has a bit of a tantrum because Abraham won’t hide and sugar coat things from Zach.

They track down a theatre Bolivar owns and assume the Master may be there, they check it out through an old speak-easy tunnel. Inside they find the Master’s destroyed coffin and a pack of vampires. They leave to get the others, but first Vasiliy removes the sewer manhole covers so more vampires can’t sneak into the theatre under ground.

They return to Dutch who offers Ephraim (an alcoholic) a drink… he considers it briefly before pouring it away. He goes to tell the grieving Nora and adds he daren’t leave Zach alone, because Kelly will be hunting her loved one. Nora drops more of her history in Argentina into the discussion and demands Ephraim wake up – there are no safe places, there is no safety, they can fight or lose. The only way he can have any safety for Zach is to keep him with him forever.

So they give Zach a silver sword and bring him with them. They head into the tunnel and find the bottleneck Vasiliy created with the open manhole cover – the huge crowd of vampires that are kept at bay by the sunlight which then lets Vasiliy blow them all up

They enter the main theatre and it’s battle time – brief interlude as Dutch recognises one of the vampires then lots of killing (interlude for Ephraim thinking he had killed Kelly).

It’s a pretty awesome fight scene with lots of people we recognise – Bolivar, the annoying lawyer, Eichorst. While everyone is battling away, Abraham, Ephraim and Zach make their way up to the top floor to confront the Master. While Abraham decides to dramatically faceoff against him, Ephraim realises it’s a far better idea to break the windows, making the Master cringe back from the sunlight. It provides a necessary distraction because Abraham is way out of his league, is disarmed and knocked across the room like a puppet. As Ephraim confronts him though, the Master runs outside into sunlight

This causes all the vampires downstairs to back off – literally walking backwards out of the room, as the Master calls them.

Abraham and Ephraim prepare to slice up the writing Master, but he jumps off the roof, manages to crawls away and escape. Sunlight can hurt the Master but it seems it needs a lot to actually kill him

Everyone gathers to repeat the obvious – sunlight is not a Master killer. Abraham despairs.

They head back to Vasiliy’s, dropping off at Ephraim’s on the way to get Zach’s asthma medication (a ploy from Zach so he can grab a picture of his mother. Suddenly Abraham’s advice not to sugar coat seems like very good advice indeed). Zach and Ephraim leave everyone waiting outside and hang around the building where Kelly can find them so they can reminisce.

Kelly vampire appears. Ephraim fires at her and she calmly leaves. Ephraim has a drink, while Nora tries to stop him.

As they drive away, Abraham has a voice over and we see several fires have started

Meanwhile the vampire hunters who hunt vampires have dragged Ausgustin far underground. He tries to attack the vampire several times with his bare hands and gets knocked down easily each time. He runs and ends up in a creepy huge room with pools of blood on the floor. On three pedestals are 3 naked vampires that the Hunter makes clear are very very important – the Ancients, though they largely speak through Hunter vampire since the ancients are insensible and “dreaming”. Hunter vamp tells him a truce has been broken and they need a human to act during daylight to massacre “the unclean” (hunter vampire seemed like he was doing ok so far).

That was a decent episode. A nice amount of action and activity. Everyone getting involved and fighting and doing something to end the big threat. It was probably one of the better episodes of the season

Even though the action was good, even that was based on some dubious elements. Why has the Master moved upstairs rather than staying underground? Why did Abraham & co, after failing the last time they launched a frontal assault on the Master, basically default to yet another frontal Assault on the Master? There was no plan – it’s find him and attack despite repeatedly being shown that they aren’t actually a match for him? Three times now Abraham has confronted Eichorst and the Master with his sword and three times they have rather contemptuously batted him aside like a slightly vexing gnat.

But my main problem was that it was the season finale and absolutely nothing has changed since the last episode (or the last 5 episodes). Our grand cliffhanger is that the Master apparently packs SPF200 – no-one even died! The one interesting element was Augustin and the Ancient vampires and that was tucked in at the end as some pretence at plot. This wasn’t a finale. And that’s the problem with the whole show – it has been so wretchedly SLOW. Week after week with virtually nothing happening – my recaps are actually really shirt because very little actually happens. They rarely fight or hunt vampires, they spend a lot of time bickering, there’s a lot of attempts to try and dredge up some emotional content that just kind of fails to bring anything impactful. Augustin still hasn’t joined the main group and only recently has his storyline become relevant. Week after week the gang gathers and argues and achieves nothing, barely inching towards any kind of goal. It’s not even a desperate fight for survival because most of the time they could achieve this by hiding in a basement. The vampires aren’t actively hunting the main gang and the main gang aren’t going a whole lot to hunt the vampires.

To be fair, I have to say this is directly lifted fromthe book – in fact, it’s probably much faster paced than the book. Yes, the book is that slow.

While we do have an excellent and rare portrayal of an active elderly man with Abraham, we equally have Eichorst – the disabled elderly man willing to literally destroy the world for a cure – and Mirela – Nora’s mother with Alzheimers who exists to be an immense burden on everyone else. Other women on the show aren’t great either – Kelly and Nora are pretty lacking in characterisation or active involvement in the plot, and are there for Ephraim’s angst more than anything. Dutch is the least appearing of the main cast – she’s also the show’s only LGBT character – with a past relationship with a woman, though in the show we only see her flirting with Vasiliy.

POC have also largely being relegated to side roles – Nora and her mother have been the only ones in the main group. We have had a lot of Latino people – and other POC - with Augustin – but they have been with Augustin which has always been the B plot (or sometimes the D plot) compared to the rest of the characters; and we’re talking a lot of gang members (with immigration worries no less), even if they have been heavily humanised. Other random vampire plot lines have brought us POC servants and Bolivar’s Black manager – there’s a fair few characters there, but none of them are in major roles or around for more than 2 or 3 episodes. They’re ancillary to ancillary characters.

One element that almost interests me is Ephraim. I can’t stand this character – but he’s also very much a clone of so many characters especially in dystopians: the straight, white man who leads them all, who knows best, who dishes out orders and is more than a bit of an arsehole (he reminded me so strongly of Alan Faragut from Helix). It’s a cliché. But what is interesting this time is Ephraim is inept. He’s clearly surrounded by people (well, admittedly other cis straight white men, so don’t expect it to be that much of a subversion) who are better than him. His arseholery is shown as just that – Ephraim is unpleasant. It’s not because he’s tough and forthright, it’s because he’s having a tantrum. For once I feel like I’m not expected to sign off on or even cheer on this behaviour, but I don’t like him and the writers EXPECT me not to like him. It’s the first time I’ve hated a protagonist and I think the show actually expected me to.

So, this has been renewed for a second season – if so it needs to pick up the pacing. Or watched on fastforward