Is there a more fitting title for an episode of The Strain than “It’s Not For Everyone”? Every episode so far has brought up debates about the show‘s quality level and what exactly the show is even attempting to be. Either it’s simply not living up to its potential, it’s the worst show on television (after Under The Dome, that is), or it’s perfectly fine unless you nitpick it.
That being said, “It’s Not For Everyone” is also The Strain’s best episode yet, even with the weight of Gus (a character who still exists, lest anyone so easily forget) doing everything he can to bring it down. In fact, if Gus were to be replaced with Fet the exterminator or Bolivar the rocker in this episode, this could quite possibly be the show’s first A-range episode. He’s the cliched elephant in the room.
To say that every scene with Gus brings the show to a screeching halt would actually be offensive to screeching halts. He is a character who, unless he’s in the episode—or even in the scene—lacks any memorability. Even calling him a “character” is a bit offensive to the rest of the characters. At the risk of generalizing, no one is watching The Strain for the struggles of a not-so-reluctant criminal.
This episode even features an obligatory “everything is connected” scene with Gus returning the clock from the pilot (the last time Gus appeared to have any relevance to the plot) to Setrakian, but his scenes are consistently irrelevant to everything else that’s going on in the show. Regina Corrado’s script does well to make nearly every character in this episode more interesting than they were before, but there is nothing she could have done to help Gus. The day that Gus becomes of real importance to the show and not a hindrance to its momentum will possibly be too little, too late.
It’s disappointing, because otherwise, The Strain gets a lot better at juggling the various storylines in this episode, making most of them feel like moving parts of the same show.
In terms of story, the biggest thing that The Strain has been lacking in—other than its pace—is having characters that act intelligently. “It’s Not For Everyone” finally has the show realizing that a little competency from its characters goes a long way, and because of this, things actually happen in this episode. It’s not just delayed reaction, with the characters twiddling their thumbs until the script tells them to finally do something noteworthy.
Continuing where last week’s episode left off allows this one to get right into action mode, a concept that has been mostly foreign to the show until now. From the beginning, the Eph/Nora/Jim trio have come across as the truest forms of protagonists (outside of Setrakian) on The Strain, and now there’s reason to actually call them that. Four episodes in, and they finally find their call to action. Plus, Jim’s cancer wife backstory is made slightly better by the fact that his role in all of what’s happening now isn’t dragged out. Plus, Eph’s reaction to the truth—slugging Jim and adding “You’re dead to me”—is the most honest emotion we’ve seen from the character.
However, the most disheartening part of all of this is Setrakian being proven right in his claims that Nora is not “ready” for all that’s about to come. Having been the first of the team to even consider that maybe Setrakian’s a little more than just some crazy old man, the fact that Nora decides she doesn’t want to kill people—even with Eph’s very valid argument that these are now just shells with viruses controlling them—is disappointing. In fact, it’s almost like Eph takes her place by Setrakian’s side, solely because he has the required hero hair. Still, it’s more intriguing than anything he has done in the past three episodes.
Also, in a show where genitals go plop, the autopsy on Captain Redfern’s body is possibly the most grotesque thing to happen so far. It’s as if this week’s episode remembered the type of show that it is and acted accordingly, finally playing up the horror to a higher degree.
The Ansel plot works as a mini-horror film in its own right, complete with less 9/11 references than last week’s episode. What really makes it work here (and is the case for most of the episode) is its ability to engage the audience in a way other than one that leads to commentary on the characters’ stupidity. The most questionable part of this whole plot is still Ann-Marie’s refusal to call a doctor, but it’s easily explained away by the character’s religious faith and trust in her husband. There’s still the pleasure that comes from her taking the children to their aunt’s place, the worry and disappointment (despite the expectation) over the dead family dog, the genuine sadness (but appreciation) of Ansel chaining himself up to keep from hurting others, and the fist-pumping moment of Ann-Marie feeding the obnoxious neighbor to her husband. Things don’t finally just happen in this episode. They make the audience care.
And that’s what The Strain has had a problem with from the beginning—getting the audience to even care. It’s been trying to do it with Eph, Gus, and their families, but all that has caused is more and more disinterest because none of it has ties to the horror aspect of the show. All The Strain had to do was focus on the horror. Go figure.
- Billy Zane Hair Update: The wig is all over the place in this episode, because Eph has clearly had it up to here with these worms and reanimated corpses. Finally.
- Every time Gus listens to music, it’s rap in Spanish, because of course it is.
- While Jonathan Hyde continues to play the role of Palmer terrifically (especially in the scene where he expresses his disappointment in his lack of a miracle), there is no way he could have made that hacker scene anything other than excruciating. The Strain should probably try to do less Internet talk.
- The show also brings back its best technique, the unassuming music plus horror trope, this week. But points are deducted due to it being a repetition “This Old Man.”
- Honestly, I found myself uttering quite a few an “ew”s and “don’t go in there”s this episode. R.I.P. Ansel’s dog.