FX’s ‘The Strain’ Finale Goes For the Throat (SPOILERS)

FX's "The Strain" Season Finale TV

In a summer of ISIS terrorism and Ebola fears, “The Strain” could have hardly been better timed. Initially something of an oddity for FX – a vampires-among-us fantasy, on a network steeped in gritty realism – the adaptation of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s creation piled on layers of mythology, bounding ahead with new characters and increasingly fantastic situations that, frankly, would have felt less palatable had the show not gradually built up to them. That concluded in Sunday’s action-laden finale, which neatly laid out countless possibilities looking forward to a second season.

That the show concluded its season a week before “The Walking Dead” returns represents an odd form of symmetry, since in many ways, “The Strain” plays like the natural companion to AMC’s runaway hit. If ever a case could be made for networks engineering baseball-like trades – “We’ll give you ‘Halt and Catch Fire,’ and two players to be named later” – this would be it.

Once again in the finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), the hardy band of vampire fighters sought to find, corner and kill The Master, the shadowy, towering vampire responsible for the virus-like outbreak of murder and mayhem erupting across an amusingly oblivious New York. Yet in one of those twists that nicely underscored how much the series has tinkered with vampire lore, the creature actually escaped his foes by scurrying away in broad daylight, an option that certainly wasn’t available to Frank Langella or Jack Palance in their versions of “Dracula.”

That left even the intrepid leader of the vampire hunters, Setrakian (the brilliant David Bradley), looking befuddled and speechless, and the group back at square one. Meanwhile, a separate plot involving a rival contingent of the undead has gradually begun to reveal itself, setting up the prospect of a high-stakes (heh heh) war that, hopefully, won’t wind up becoming as ridiculous as the alien-vs.-alien conflict on “Falling Skies.”

In a way, the FX program – under the guidance of showrunner Carlton Cuse – has engaged in a clever bit of misdirection. Having begun with a doomed flight and the Center for Disease Control scientists (Corey Stoll, Mia Maestro) tasked with deciphering what happened, it gradually began to feature Bradley’s character, whose history with The Master and his Nazi henchman (Richard Sammel, also terrific) dates back to a World War II concentration camp, lending considerable gravitas to the story.

The ostensibly overmatched saviors of humanity also acquired some much-needed muscle and welcome comic relief in the exterminator played by Kevin Durand. At the same time, the series exhibited an appropriate willingness to sacrifice key players, such as Sean Astin’s compromised CDC employee, along the way.

Admittedly, this sort of serialized cat-and-mouse game has its limits, and the humans can’t simply go charging into nests of vampires every week. Still, the first batch of episodes has steadily added enough moving parts to sustain what’s become an extremely entertaining series, especially if you don’t spend too much time fretting about the details. (On that last front, “The Strain” has something in common with Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful,” another escapist flight of fancy.)

Given Cuse’s involvement, it’s also interesting to note the parallel tracks along which he and former “Lost” collaborator Damon Lindelof, overseer of HBO’s “The Leftovers,” have traveled this summer. While both shows are adapted from other sources and deal with an apocalyptic event, “The Strain” leaves open a ray of hope for thwarting existential disaster, while Lindelof’s project is preoccupied with the grief, depression and disorientation created by its aftermath – a bleakness as apt to describe the mood instilled in its viewers as those within the show.

The best science fiction has always tapped into present-day concerns, and the contagion aspect of “The Strain” — starting with those eye-opening billboards — coupled with the notion of not knowing who to trust (down to the “You hurt the ones you love” thread) certainly play on that level, and prey upon those apprehensions.

Ultimately, though, one needn’t go plumbing for deeper meaning to enjoy the series, with the finale merely reinforcing its status as a show that has managed to take those darting tongues and deftly carve out its own place amid a crowded field of movie and TV vampires –thus emerging as one of the summer’s most pleasantly unexpected addictions.

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  1. James says:

    A rather ‘en-grossing’, visceral attempt at entertainment. One of my very few distractions from ‘reality’, during this era of low-brow political commentary and worse ‘Utopia-n’ attempts at enlightenment. My escape to gardening and the occasional ‘worm/nematode’ reminder, is made more pleasant in contrast.

  2. Dean says:

    This series, was extremely disappointing one of the things I noticed. If vampires were taking over I think there would be more than just a couple about. It’s a joke poorly made that kid actor is terrible. Honestly that part with the master at the end in the sun, he had 10 mins to kill him outside but of course he didn’t. Just so you can drag this drivel on longer.
    That bit with Gus when he called them vampires and questioned the stinger. He’d been in a cell he wouldn’t know that’s what they’re called. Am I the only one that notices this? I could imagine there would be 1000’s of vamps running at night not a couple.

  3. Ari says:

    The Strain makes Z-Nation looks like Citizen Kane. What an awful show!

  4. Michael says:

    Ok so I liked the series up until the finale (minus the kid actor, sorry, he really is as bad as an actor can get.) I’ve read the books and I thought that this episode could have been done much better. The “bar scene” where the vampires walk backward and the attic/balcony scene where the master just kind of fumbles around hissing, left much to be desired. I hope they get some new consultants or better funding for season two. The way the books are written doesn’t lend itself to the screen very well so small changes need to be made in order for it to be properly digestible.

  5. loco73 says:

    I was anticipating this series for quite awhile now, ever since Guillermo Del Toro announced the project, which remaiined largely wraped in mystery until recently when promotion for the show started rolling out. Initially I found it kind of odd to see where the show had found a home, given the pedigree that FX boasts as a network. Besides “American Horror Story”, FX is better known, as mentioned in the article, for gritty, “realistic” miniseries like “Over There”, dramas, as “Rescue Me”, “Damages”, “Sons Of Anarchy”, “Tyrant”, “The Bridge”, “The Americans”, “Fargo”, the excellent “Justified”, and of course the jewel in the crown, the masterful, wonderful and amazing “The Shield”. There is also the comedy wing of FX headed by such shows as “Louie” from the mind of the one and only Louis CK.

    So, while I got an early inkling that “The Strain” might prove to be at least a solid show, after delving a bit into the mythos and background of the show, I was surprised, pleasantly so, at how much I actually ended-up liking it! It has definitely been a revelation and one of the best show, not just of the summer but of this entire TV season.

    “The Strain”, “True Detective”, and “The Leftovers” form a new solid bloc of shows that once again confirm that in terms of quality, texture, complexity, and just pure enjoyment, at least in my opinion, television has pulled way, way ahead of movies. If you are looking for adult, long-format story telling, television is your field. This is also confirmed by the clear migration of A-list, previously and almost exclusively cinematic talent, witers, actors, directors and prioducers to the medium of television, Frank Darabont with “The Walking Dead”, Martic Scorsese with “Boardwalk Empire”, Peter Berg with “The Letfovers,” David Benioff, D.B. Weiss and George RR Martin with “Game Of Thrones”, David Fincher with “House Of Cards” and the upcoming HBO series “Utopia”, and of course Guillermo Del Toro with “The Strain”, and others.

    Clearly the involvement is no longer at the level of just lending your name to a TV project, Steven Spielbeg and Tom Hanks proved that with “Band Of Brothers”, “John Adams” and “The Pacific” (and others). Guillermo Del Toro directed the pilot episode of “The Strain”, which ended up looking much like a freature film instead of a television show. In addition he is one of the executive producers, and as confirmed by Carlton Cuse confirmed that Del Toro will once again be involved hands on with the show, inspite of his busy movie-making schedule. While this might not translate into him directing another episode anytime soon, Cuse was very clear that Del Toro will be involved in editing, special effects, especially where concerning the vampires and secondary directing, in order to maintain a continuity in the look and feel of the show. As for the roaster of directors for the second season it will be a quite interesting one bringing in some really diverse talent.

    Cuse also reiterated the fact that “The Strain” will be a limited run tv series, spanning about 3-5 seasons. As for continuity and having a solid storyline to follow, I doubt that “The Strain” will falter or go off the deep end, since it has an established source material to use for its outline and structure in the form of the 3 novels writen by Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (also an executive producer and writer on the show). which form “The Strain” trilogy, the first novel being “The Strain”, followed by “The Fall” and “The Night Eternal”. Ironically Del Toro conceived “The Strain” initially as a tv series, but after years of getting rejected by networks, and not refusing quite a few movie offers, he an Chuck Hogan decided that the way to go would be novelization…which brought them back full circle to FX and the show becoming a reality with this here entralled fan!

    The first season was muted for a reason, because from now on the stakes are raised…to epic proportions!!!

    • Peggy says:

      Sorry, Nothing that film people slumming on TV have done has been better than their work in film (Even True Detective failed at the end). This whole TV is Better than Film is bullshit and everyone knows it. People who propagate it just sound desperate.

      • loco73 says:

        Were you dropped on your head at birth or something?! I said that for me, from my point of view. I don’t know what the hell you think me, or someone else who shares my point of view, propagate. You can think whatever you want. Movies have been getting steadily worse, stale and just plain boring, with a few blessed exceptions. On the big screen we live in the era of the big tentpole movie, the franchise, she prequel, the sequel, the re-boot. There is hardly any space left for truly original stories to be told, or visionary movies to be made. I hate to break it to you but all THAT, you can now find on television. In terms of scale, production values, effects, television no longer lags behind in any way shape of form.

        Actually the one who sounds desperate is you, because you needed to put out that feeble minded reply. So please get your head our of your ass and think a bit before you put out another one of these foul brainfarts…

  6. Jason says:

    Finally, you write a good story. The strain season finale was top notch. The season itself had to build up characters and storylines and slowed it down a bit but well well worth the wait. Gus , the old man and the baddies are awesome. Eph reminds me of a young Lincoln in walking dead. Protecting his son sheltering him. Times will change. Well done FX.

    • Willie says:

      …when Eph asks Setrakian if the sunlight won’t kill the Master…what did Setrakian say?…

      • Donna says:

        Eph asks what they can use to kill the Master if not sunlight, prompting a gloomy answer.

        “We’re lost,” Setrakian says.

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