As it turns out, I am finally fed up with The Strain’s bullshit. No longer am I charmed by its low-stakes vampire apocalypse, the way the characters stubbornly refuse to have arcs, the way the “plot” moves forward only begrudgingly. But The Strain reached a new low in this past weekend’s episode.
First things first: Think about where the story was before “The Battle of Red Hook” aired on Sunday night, and think about where all the characters were situated. Fet and Dutch and Nicki were in a love triangle. Eph had vowed to kill Eldritch Palmer. Setrakian was searching for the Occido Lumen. Vampire Kelly was trying to steal Carl’s Jr from the group. Nora was… there. And of course, the vampire apocalypse was mildly inconveniencing New York City, although thanks to Team Vampire Hunter and Councilwoman Justine Feraldo, Red Hook is pretty safe.
And, where do these characters stand after the epic events of “The Battle of Red Hook”? Well, in the same damn place. Nothing has been resolved on any level: Dutch and Fet and Nicki are still bleh. Setrakian has not found the Lumen. Eph has made no moves on murdering Eldritch Palmer. Kelly has tried to steal Zach again and failed again. And, in the episode’s most exciting(?) storyline, an army of vampires tried to overrun Red Hook… and failed, affecting no change whatsoever.
I’ve made fun of The Strain for slowing all of its story advancements to a crawl (Episode 4: They ask Fitzwilliam for help. Episode 5. Fitzwilliam agrees to help. Episode 6: Fitzwilliam helps.), but you could literally skip “The Battle of Red Hook” and not need to be caught up at all from two episodes ago. Seriously. Nothing changed. Nothing was altered. Nothing was experienced that would cause the characters to feel differently about anything, and the only excitement the episode provided is how infuriatingly meaningless it all was.
Maybe if the episode has somehow pulled off “the battle” as something close to epic, The Strain could have gotten away with it, but this grand fight wasn’t exactly staged like one of Game of Thrones’ memorable setpieces. It was more akin to an old episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys or Xena.
The fight takes place in one, easily filmed location, namely a narrow bridge. Despite the “magnitude” of this supposed “invasion,” we only see a few dozen vampires and humans, and almost never in the same shot. Virtually none of the vampires use their mouth tentacles, to minimize VFX costs. The first is filmed in two stages: 1) Where the humans stand impassively and shoot the vampires as they run straight at them, and get mowed down, followed by 2) a big brawl between the two groups, that in which the two groups seem to be evenly matched despite the fact that one side consists of mouth-tentacle vampires.
There’s no sense of scope, no sense of cost, a conflict that is without conflict. There’s no moments of interest, no cool deaths, nothing approaching style. There are corpses on the ground, but almost no one seems to even die on screen. The closest thing we have to a character in the battle we care about is Dutch—which is pitiful by itself—and all The Strain can think of to do with her is have her nearly killed and rescued by dumb luck twice. And this is resolved somehow by Councilwoman Justine Feraldo exhorting the inhabitants of Red Hook to fight the vampire horde, in what is possibly the most unearned, Braveheart call-to-arms ripoff I hope to ever see.
So, yeah. That’s it. Even by writing this, I have given “The Battle of Red Hook” more attention than it deserves, and likely more thought than the people who made it. You want an episode summary? Here it is: Nothing happened. The end.
• Literally the most interesting thing in this episode was the fact that it debuts a new opening (unless I missed it previously?) and it has some truly unflattering art of the cast. It has all the skill and artistry of a low-budget DVD extra.
• A dude agrees to ferry Eichorst and a bunch of vampires to Red Hook for a sneak attack. In Guillermo del Toro’s world, apparently there are always people who are willing to sell out the entirety of humanity and indirectly get hundreds of people murdered for a couple hundred bucks.
• Given that Setrakian is 90 years old and spent virtually all of that time hunting vampires, you’d think he’s have learned at some point that giving screaming things like “The Master!” at authority figures is not an effective way to get things accomplished. Actually, I’m pretty sure the character did know that previously, and The Strain ignored this bit of its own character history in order to have a needless scene where people doubt Setrakian to their detriment.
• So… remember how the mere touch of a vampire infects people, because of the transfer of worms? And how in the weird brawl between vampires and the citizens of Red Hook dozens of people must have gotten infected? Neither the citizens of Red Hook nor the show itself seem to remember this, because when the days breaks all the people are hugging and cheering, meaning The Strain is now ignoring literally the only aspect of its vampire that make them unique.
• It is episode 8 of the 13-episode second season and Gus still hasn’t done a goddamn thing. It has been over 20 episodes of this show and we have been following a character, sometimes in detail, who has done nothing of note since he was inexplicably hired by the bad guys to bring the Master’s coffin to NYC. God I hate this show.
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