The Strain series premiere sees Guillermo Del Toro not only bring one of his creations to television, but it also gave him a chance to direct the episode as well. Based on his own novels, which he co-wrote with Chuck Hogan, The Strain is a television series that brings vampires back to their horror roots. There are no sparkly vampires here, only grotesque and disturbing ones that might haunt your dreams.
A Dead Plane Lands
Honestly, the problem arises here that arises in almost every adaptation. There is a lot lost in the translation. Here, there was a fantastic opening sequence where an air traffic controller is who we view the plane from the view of. This is only hinted at in the pilot episode. Instead of opening with this nice sequence, we get a giant bombastic opening of the vampire master exploding from a cargo compartment and attacking the flight attendants. That never happened in the novels, but it was really needed in The Strain series premiere in order to sell the audience that this was a horror television show in a visual way. It wasn’t bad, it just seemed to oversell the start.
Eph and His Family Life
In the novel (and I’m sorry if I keep coming back to that), the relationship between Ephraim and his son is pretty solid but the show really glosses over it. Instead of the empty plane disrupting his weekend with his son, it just happens during a custody counseling session. His son loves his dad and the mother and counselor just seem to be very disruptive people in his life. In the first couple of chapters of the book, we see how much Eph loves his son. Here, it is barely glimpsed at and the entire counseling scene seemed a waste of time when getting to the story.
Searching the Plane
When we finally get on the plane, The Strain series premiere starts to pick up. Everyone is dead and this entire scene is pretty creepy. When four of the people on the plane end up not dead, it was a well done shock and that is when the show really started to pick up. This was not without problems, as Eph is really a flat character in this first episode, and it is very hard to get behind him, despite him being the protagonist. Mia Maestro (Alias) is much better as his partner Nora and Sean Astin is great as the third member of the team, Jim Kent.
We next meet this series version of Van Helsing. In this case, it is Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian, a man who has battled The Master before in the past. Played by David Bradley (Hot Fuzz, Harry Potter), he is a brilliant and fun character. When we first see him, he works in a pawn shop and thwarts a robbery attempt before heading downstairs and seeing that he has a beating heart in a jar that likes to feed on blood. He then heads to the airport to warn everyone that they need to cut off all the heads of the dead and then burn the bodies. He ends up in jail after that, but it was a great introduction to what might be the best character on the entire show.
Not listening to Abraham comes back to bite the CDC when they realize that the strain that killed everyone was caused by worms looking for hosts and they were transported over in a giant casket on the plane. By the time they realize what happened, it is too late because the casket is gone.
The Master Kills Again
It turns out that The Master was brought into the country in the giant casket that was aboard the plane. That is how he got out and infected the entire plan with worms that entered the bodies of the victims, which is how the vampire strain is spread in this fictional world. Because this is a TV show that wants to hook horror viewers, we have to have a full fledged attack and murder, which happens when The Master sucks all the blood out of a man and then smashes his head into the ground before stealing his casket. A gang banger is paid to then transport the casket into Manhattan and Jim Kent shockingly betrays his own teammates. The Master is now on the loose.
This is followed by the coroner who is working on the bodies discovering that one of the hearts is actually still working despite being outside the body and is covered with worms. That is when he realizes that the worms are trying to get into his body. He fights it and gets it pulled out before it infects him. Sadly, that was not enough because everyone just rose as vampires and take the time to feed on him.
Of course, one of the main villains in the books makes his appearance in The Strain series premiere as Thomas Eichorst and The Stoneheart Group are the reason The Master is now in the United States. Eichorst is a man who undergoes treatment to keep him from aging and now sees a way to gain the immortality he has always desired. He also has a vampire associate and they pull the strings to make sure the strain spreads.
The Final Twist
No horror television show can end without something truly horrific that makes the viewers squirm. In The Strain series premiere, it is the fact that Eichorst said that the plan was to have the vampires enter Manhattan and seek out their loved ones. When this happens, the strain will spread until there is no one left alive. There is no better way to display this than by showing it happen as Eichorst explains it. And what is more horrific than to show the first victim to be the father of a young girl who died on the plane (Isabelle Nélisse, who played the creepy feral girl in Mama). When the young girl approached her dad and said she was cold, before her eyes flickered, it was clear that this show was going to very disturbing places.
The Strain series premiere had some problems, mainly in the character development, but it made up for it in atmosphere, creepy horror, and some very disturbing scenes. Hopefully the show finds its audience because there is a ton of potential here.
The Strain airs on Sunday nights on FX at 10 p.m. EST. Visit the official site at fxnetworks.com.