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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A long-gestating reveal underscores The Strain’s storytelling flaws

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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • “Belly Of The Beast” begins with Eph and Alex on the road, stumbling upon the ghost town of Quarryville, Pennsylvania when their car breaks down. Eph and Alex are searching for the New Horizons farm, and they’re hoping that this town might provide a clue as to its whereabouts.
  • Because life is filled with all sorts of happy coincidences during a nuclear winter, Eph and Alex find a phone in the street. A pre-teen girl named Emily has recorded a few videos, all leading up to her family leaving for New Horizons. She says she’s not going, and she shows that she has a secret hiding place behind the back wall of her closet. As it would happen, Eph and Alex are right in front of that house, and they search it for Emily.
  • Alex commenting on Eph’s hesitancy when entering the house: “You worried about strigoi?” Eph: “I’m worried about a strigoi Emily.” Eph has had his fair share of run-ins with little vampire kids.
  • Speaking of weird vampires, Quinlan introduces the team to another breed called Mongrels. He rambles on about how they came to be, but none of it seems to matter; they’re just a nastier version of strigoi. Or, as one of the guys says, “they’d make Rob Zombie nervous.”
  • A solid chunk of this episode is spent filling in some of Quinlan’s backstory. We flash back to 1888, where a young woman is seeking out the immortal demon, only a whispered myth here, in order to harness his powers for her brother who’s dying of syphilis. Quinlan saves the woman from a mugging, befriends her in his cold vampire way, and, after getting adorned with stage makeup to make him look human, eventually has some sort of sexual stinger encounter with her and her exposed thigh. The flashback left me wanting to ask one big question: what’s the point of this? Digging into Quinlan’s past hardly seems relevant as the series approaches its end, and the content of the scenes do little to provide insight into who this man-demon is. Sure, we learn that he’s been compassionate before, but that was part of current-day Quinlan already. Add to that the overwhelmingly cheesy “sex” scene and you have a number of flashback sequences that don’t amount to much.
  • It’s good to see the show moving Dutch and Setrakian in more interesting directions. Having Dutch light up Eichorst and escape with Setrakian gives them a much needed change in environment.
  • Back at the house where Alex and Eph are hiding out, a woman named Francis barges in and holds them at gunpoint. After some explanations of who everyone is, it’s revealed that Francis escaped New Horizons; or rather, she never made it inside. She got an uneasy feeling at the welcome center and hid inside the back of a truck and made her escape. Now, Eph and Alex want her to show them the way back so that they can see this supposed idyllic farm for themselves.
  • The Strain has been light on its action sequences this year, but the raid on the convoy carrying the pit assembly for the nuclear missile is a lot of fun. It’s Quinlan in his element, slicing up strigoi and securing what Fet, Roman, and Charlotte need for the missile. Plus, we get a solid one-liner from the famed strigoi hunter: “Resist the temptation to read anything into the fact that I saved you…again.”
  • “Belly Of The Beast” builds to what’s meant to be a stirring climax, with Eph and Alex finally finding New Horizons—killing Francis in the process after she turns and The Master is able to pin down Eph’s location—and discovering that The Partnership is harvesting human blood. “We’re not the farmers. We’re the cattle,” says Eph as he takes in the scene. It makes sense that the line is so uninspired because the storyline itself is as well. While the details of The Partnershop haven’t been clear this season, there was really no secret that the strigoi were harvesting humans to feed themselves. And yet “Belly Of The Beast” treats it like this big mystery that’s supposed to shift the course of the entire season, rattling the characters and, supposedly, our own expectations of viewers. But it’s really no mystery at all, and once again we’re left feeling like the show is spinning its wheels. The Strain just spent the entire first half of its final season building to a moment that’s not only unsurprising, but also lack an sort of emotional resonance within the show’s universe. I mean, the big reveal here is that vampires…like…human blood? And that once they have control of the population they use the humans for said blood? Corey Stoll, bless his heart, delivers the above line with some real gravitas, but on our end of things, everything is falling flat.