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An episode focused on Zack represents the worst of The Strain

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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.

  • Before we get to all the terrible Zack stuff, which is the main driver for my negative feelings about this episode, let’s start with something positive. I very much appreciate that “Tainted Love” does its best to draw some parallels between Fet’s relationship with Charlotte and the flashback to Quinlan’s story in 1888. Both are stories about love and sacrifice, and how certain connections with certain people can change us. I criticized the 1888 flashback in last week’s review, and a lot of that still stands, but it’s encouraging to see the show clarify some of its themes.
  • The parallels come in the form of how both Quinlan and Fet must leave their emotional connections behind. In 1888, Quinlan is adapting quite nicely to his life amongst the people, growing closer with Lydia and realizing his humanity. But he’s ripped away from that, as his purpose is to fight The Master. Quinlan may have his humanity, but he’s forever chained to another purpose, and he can’t escape. Similarly, Fet must leave Charlotte behind now that the nuclear weapon has been secured. She’s ready to go live her own life on her father’s ranch in Montana, and Fet, like Quinlan, has a higher purpose.
  • Eichorst being right on their heels adds a nice bit of tension to the episode, and the resulting climax, with Charlotte and her sniper rifle helping Fet, Quinlan, and Roman escape, is packed with emotion. That’s some good, contained storytelling. Now, on to Zack…
  • Where do we even start? This week sees Zack finally make his transformation into a fully despicable person—somehow this is worse than causing nuclear catastrophe—and like so many dudes before him, it’s all because he feels entitled to a woman’s affection. When Zack goes to Abby’s communal home and sees her kissing her boyfriend, he loses it. He tells Abby that she was supposed to be his girlfriend because…well, because she said nice things to him once! And she took his plums! I mean, they’re basically married, right? Anyways, because Zack is the kind of whiny dude who overreacts to even the most basic, inoffensive struggles he faces, he punishes Abby by letting her get stung and turned by his pet strigoi. I can’t tell you how much I hate this storyline. All it does is make Zack look like more of an ass, and that’s already been well established. Apparently causing nuclear winter isn’t enough, Zack now has to punish a woman who won’t have sex with him to show how truly villainous he is.
  • It’s just, are we supposed to feel bad for Zack? Are we supposed to want him to come back from the ledge and find redemption? Are we supposed to think that there’s a meaningful showdown between Eph and The Master in the future, with Zack used as a bargaining chip? The Strain seems to think that Zack can be used as a storytelling piece to challenge ideas of morality within other characters, but there’s really no grey area here. Zack is an unrepentant villain, and we can only cheer for him to get his comeuppance, but something tells me the show doesn’t quite see him in the same way.
  • Getting back to the 1888 flashback, more credit where it’s due: Quinlan realizing that his forever-feud with The Master has cost the lives of two people he truly cared for is the type of emotional gutpunch that this show doesn’t typically execute. It’s effective here, as Quinlan’s cold, distant attitude in the present suddenly makes a lot of sense. Positioning that revelation near the end of the show’s run is still a strange choice, but at least it happened.
  • Zack’s reasoning for thinking Abby should be his girlfriend: “I was nice to you and I gave you all this stuff.” If that isn’t the kind of thinking that leads to a once-innocent kid going on message boards and becoming an advocate for “men’s rights,” I don’t know what is.