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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

By peddling a contrived romance, The Strain stumbles towards its season finale

Illustration for article titled By peddling a contrived romance, The Strain stumbles towards its season finale

If you were hoping that The Strain would use the penultimate episode of its second season to ratchet up the tension and hurtle towards something meaningful and compelling…then you probably haven’t been watching this season very closely. This has been a season of fits and starts, the narrative a mess of dangling plotlines and filler. There’s been no momentum to the season, no overarching story to latch on to and care about. While the show has done well to bolster its horror elements, smartly indulging in and amplifying Gothic tropes, it’s also continued to peddle half-baked character dramas. Unfortunately, it’s those character dramas that make up the majority of “Fallen Light.”

Obviously every show needs some sort of character development and arc, and The Strain specifically needs it to ground its more ludicrous and campy elements. The problem is that the show consistently fails to create compelling character work, not only from episode to episode, but over the course of an entire season. “Fallen Light” can be separated into four separate storylines, three of which are representative of The Strain’s inability to think long term in terms of character and storytelling. The other concerns Setrakian and his search for the Lumen, a sentence I’m sure I’ve typed in every single episode review this year. If there’s one promising thing to come out of tonight’s episode, it’s that his search is (kind of) nearing its end. Setrakian and Fet meet with Alonso Creem and discuss buying the Lumen. Of course Palmer is still in the game, so they’re going to have to bid on it, meaning that the bidding is delayed for 24 hours until Setrakian can secure some gold. There’s a certain unpredictability to the storyline, as Quinlan is willing to hand over the gold but doesn’t trust Setrakian to deliver the Lumen, so he tells Gus to get the book even if it means killing the old man; more than anything though, this stagnant storyline is nearing its end, and hopefully interesting characters like Quinlan and Setrakian can move on to better things.

While Setrakian’s storyline is running on fumes, the three character dramas that make up the rest of “Fallen Light” are simply out of gas. All season long The Strain has been doing a disservice to the characters of Gus and the Silver Angel. When the Silver Angel debuted, it was in a thrilling and mysterious way, the VHS, B-movie introduction a perfectly campy way to show off the latest vampire hunter. Since then, he’s been nothing but an accessory, grumbling his way through changes in his life and failing to be a meaningful part of the action. Gus is in the same position, his allegiance to the Ancients a potentially complex and compelling plot beat, but there’s been no development all season. In “Fallen Light,” Gus and the Silver Angel team up to free some prisoners from Rikers Island, hoping to use them as their army to battle the strigoi alongside Quinlan. It’s a moment that should feel substantial, but instead feels like white noise. Gus and Quinlan have hardly interacted all season, and there’s been no dive into what makes them a good or necessary partnership beyond their tenuous relationship to the Ancients. Too often The Strain hits a narrative beat because it needs something to happen, to set up something down the road, but it’s almost always haphazardly executed.

The feeling of plotlines and narrative beats being shoehorned into the larger story is the theme of “Fallen Light.” For instance, much of the episode focuses on Eph and Nora, including their current listlessness and their former romance. “Fallen Light” structures itself around their relationship, showing Eph and Nora teaming up to figure out what’s best for Zach and their bio-weapon­–it turns out that what’s best for both is returning to DC, where Zach’s grandparents are still alive–while also flashing back to when the two first met at a conference in 2005.

The trouble with fleshing out the backstory of Eph and Nora, including the lead up to Eph’s divorce and his subsequent romance with Nora, is that their romantic partnership hasn’t exactly been a focus of the series for some time. They’ve always been close, but season two has largely relegated Nora to the sidelines, and there’s been no hint of anything romantic between the two for awhile. Again, it’s as if the show is considering exploring their romance in the near future, so they need to find a reason to bring that back into play. With no proper build though, it ends up feeling contrived. When Nora, a few episodes ago, was shocked by Eph’s admission that he slept with another woman in DC, it didn’t feel like a betrayal or a moment of insight into their crumbling relationship. Rather, it was an out of the blue reaction, as their romance hasn’t even been hinted at this season.

“Fallen Light” is structured like an episode that delivers emotional devastation, but completely misses the mark. From Dutch walking out on Fet and then watching Nikki walk out on her, to Nora feeling betrayed and hurt by Eph, to the flashback of the beginnings of their romance, the episode boasts the framework of an emotional payoff weeks in the making. But it’s hard to payoff a storyline that never had any legs, that never once was the focus of the season. That leaves “Fallen Light” feeling empty, and the outlook for the season finale more than a little grim.


Stray observations

  • If this episode is any indication, the finale will involve Eph, Nora, and Zac traveling to DC, and a book auction. Exciting stuff!
  • So the mayor is dead and Feraldo is being recruited by Palmer to run security in New York City. At least that storyline is starting to shake things up.
  • “Guess I picked the right bling. I can bite them all back.” Alonso Creem/Jamie Hector is great.
  • Will Kelly be back next week? Will Zach finally face his internet-mandated fate? These are the big questions leading into the finale, folks.