Stay Tuned: ‘The Strain’ stumbles in Season 2
In Season 1 of “The Strain,” the storyline focused on the reemergence of an ancient vampire (Robin Atkin Downes) and his plans to turn the population of New York City into his own personal vampire kingdom. The main characters — scientists Eph (Corey Stoll) and Nora (Mia Maestro), Fet (Kevin Durand), a city worker and Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas), a hacker — suddenly found themselves thrown together as they tried to make sense of the strange plague that was turning people into monsters. Only Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), a pawnshop owner with intimate knowledge of “the master” knew the true horror of what was happening. He became the group’s guide into the dark mystery, and by the end of Season 1, they tried to kill the master in order to stop his plans.
The element that made Season 1 a fun and creepy ride into vampire lore was the unfolding of the central mystery and the transformations of the infected. With vampires now a fact, Season 2 is less dynamic as the group tries to find a way to eradicate them. For Eph and Nora, this means creating a fatal infection. For Satrakian, whose backstory in Season 1 revealed his long history as a vampire hunter, it means searching for a book that may hold the secrets to destroying the master.
Moving the action from revealing things to searching for things creates a slow-moving plot. Nora and Eph spend a lot of time with lab equipment. Eph occasionally pays attention to his annoying son Zach (Max Charles) who still thinks his vampire mother Kelly (Natalie Brown), might come around. There’s also a subplot involving an aggressive councilwoman (Samantha Mathis) with a take-no-prisoners plan that feels like a distraction. Satrakian is still gruff, but flashbacks continue to add emotional depth to his story. Fet remains a highlight and his relationship with Dutch grows stronger.
Despite the slow pace, the series has strong moments. In a recent episode, Gus (Miguel Gomez), a character who helped to transport the master into the city, comes face to face with the high price of his selfish choice. The master (who is able to communicate through the bodies of his vampire offspring) tells the man, through the body of his mother, that her disappointment in him remains with her in death. It’s one thing to hear your mom tell you that you’re a let down when she’s alive. But hearing her vampire corpse tell you? That’s a whole new level of shame.
In another creepy plot, Kelly, one of the master’s more aware vampires, is given a group of blind children to command and mother. The kids skitter around on all fours like jumpy spiders as she alternatively pets them on the head and breaks the necks of those who don’t meet her approval. It’s silly but also a nod to one of the things that the show does best — having fun with the grotesque.
The story focus this season is the next logical step, but unfortunately, the search for a way to defeat the vampire enemy comes across as a chore for the characters as much as for the audience.
“The Strain” is on FX.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.