The second episode of Guillermo del Toro's The Strain seems disinterested — almost maliciously — in advancing the plot. I thought this was going to be a show about a vampire plague as seen through science. So why do I have to watch all these terrible characters not getting eaten by vampires?
We can breakdown the actual developments in the episode pretty quickly.
1) Gus drops off The Master's coffin across the river.
2) The CDC turns out to be perfectly willing to let the entire world be infected with this mysterious illness rather than start a panic or shut down U.S. commerce, and tells everyone the plane had a carbon monoxide link and releases the four survivors into the wild.
3) The survivors start having symptoms which include headaches, losing hair, high temperatures, and literally drinking someone's blood (the Goth, specifically, during an orgy). No one but the pilot is at all concerned by these symptoms or even entertains the possibility they may have contracted some deadly disease that may kill them or human civilization.
4) While examining the pilot in a regular hospital — because again, the CDC has no interest in controlling diseases — Eph discovers those silver worms are crawling around under his skin (visible only with a UV light).
5) Eldritch gets to meet The Master and we see him from behind, and he's all bald and white and pointy-eared and Nosferatu-looking.
6) The dead French girl who came home in the first episode kills her dad by sucking his blood through the vampire mouth-tentacle-thingie.
This is maybe 25% of the episode. Here's all the things The Strain does instead of dealing with vampires or advancing the plot:
1) The episode begins with a Russian pest control inspector played by constant genre actor Kevin Durand. He looks through a restaurant, finds a dead rat, tells the people in the restaurant to leave… and that's it. I literally don't remember if anyone, including himself, says his name.
2) Gus, having dropped off the coffin, has an extended scene with his sweet, church-going mother and his shitty younger brother Weevil from Veronica Mars, and discovers the clock Weevil stole from episode one and then they yell at each other about being terrible sons/people.
3) Eph, despite the fact that the CDC has released four people with a deadly, unknown disease into the public population, decides to take a break to go home to see his kid because… there's a custody hearing the next day? I don't know why this pre-trip was necessary, but at least Eph doesn't act like an asshole to his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Obviously, Eph is going to miss the custody hearing because the entire population of the world is in danger from this contagion, and no one is going to cut Eph any slack because of this. Sigh.
4) Old man Eldritch's assistant tries to get him to order a new liver — from an unwilling poor person who won't be missed, natch — but Eldritch is so looking forward to his new vampiric powers that he doesn't think he needs it. His PA insists. Eldritch acquiesces
5) Nazi vampire Eichorst visits Setrakian in jail, and while it really doesn't advance the plot at least it's a cool scene and they talk about vampires. Eichorst kept Setrakian in his concentration camp and killed Setrakian's gal pal (whose heart he still keeps); Setrakian killed one of Eichorst's fellow vampire peers and apparently stole his badass cane-sword from The Master. Unfortunately, that's literally all from Setrakian and Eichorst this episode.
6) The horrible lawyer Joan and the goth rocker Bolivar continue to be inexplicably mad that anyone bothered to impede their progress after making up in a plane with 260 corpses; Joan is getting her lawsuit ready. Bolivar continues to vocally express his desire for vagina.
7) Bolivar has a really long orgy scene before finally biting one of the girls and developing this particular plotline.
8) Eph goes to an AA meeting where he bitterly recounts his relationship with his wife and son, all of which we've either been told or surmised.
9-???) And then there's a bunch of scenes where the characters learn what the audience already knows: That headless body gets found; Eph discovers the silver worms sure do enjoy eating blood; Eldritch is a bad man; the French dude who inexplicably punched Eph thanks him for sending his daughter home, unattended, in the middle of the night; Eph finally goes to the morgue and discovers all of the bodies are missing (but still not that they're walking around.
You'll notice one list is significantly longer than the other.
When I wrote up the premiere last week, I said that the second episode fixed some of the first episode's flaws; and I truly believed that. And yet when I rewatched the episode last night, I thought it was just godawful.
I think this is because I was originally watching several episodes of The Strain at once, and the show was created more as a single 10-hour movie more than a TV series. Basically, as part of a much-longer feature, it builds off the foundation of the first episode; by an hour unto itself, it's really, really dull and aggravating. I have no idea if this problem will consist in future episodes or things will pick up. But until someone other than Setrakian figures out the existence of these vampires, The Strain is just wasting our time.
• Eph identifies the ammonia sprayed around the bodies of the victims as the equivalent of "tick shit," so for those of you worried that the show wouldn't include the book vampires' tendency to shit while feeding, uh… congrats.
• What the hell is the difference between the survivors and the dead? They're clearly all infected, and they all drink blood, and they can all talk. The dead ones seem to be more zombie-like, while the living hosts are changing… more solely? I don't understand.
• Gus continues to call the giant coffin covered in etchings of skulls and skeletons "White boy." That makes sense.
• Whatever other problems The Strain has, del Toro still manages to pull of some great cinematography. Everything in the last scene with the little girl in the bath killing her father looks great, especially when her mouth-tentacle returns and a tiny trail of blood leaves from her dad back to her mouth.