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The Strain S01E01: "Night Zero"

There's a good chance that I am dumb. Silly me walked into The Strain thinking it would be "an FX show" just because it's on FX. The network is one of the best in the business, known for quality dramas that are serious, smart, and innovative; it's got a lock on the title of Television's Most Prestigious Network That's Not HBO (I have them neck-and-neck), and that's fact.

Well guess what, The Strain isn't serious, but it is smart and innovative for exactly that reason. FX is going way off-brand with this one; in a time when prestige cable dramas are all the rage, yet so few shows are actually worthy of the distinction (Low Winter SunHalt and Catch FireThe Walking DeadTyrantHouse of Cards, and The Bridge to name many, but there are many more), The Strain appears to be the beginning of a backlash toward fancypants cable series. It's like walking into your local dive bar to see your professor playing bass in a '70s-inspired psych-rock band with his tie, once a symbol of authority, wrapped around his head. FX is letting its hair down and taking its shirt off with The Strain, and dammit, that's awfully refreshing.  

From creator and director and book-of-the-same-name author Guillermo del Toro, The Strain posits a "What if?" scenario in which vampires are real, eschewing the idea of the pasty fellas turning into bats, having issues with garlic, or sparkling while they flirt with underage girls. There's a decidedly scientific approach to these creatures, in the form of a potential outbreak transported to the U.S. via an eerily silent aircraft; a gooey, ejecting proboscis; and carrier worms that have been terrorizing weak-bellied and overcautious television critics in Los Angeles who can't stand to see them crawling out of eyeballs on billboards for the show. (You people who complained about them are total buzzkills, by the way.)  

This approach provides the perfect entry point for our hero Ephraim Goodweather (the names on this show are part of the joke), played by Corey Stoll (House of Cards) and one laughable hairpiece (maybe The Americans). Eph, as he likes to be called, is a CDC epidemiologist whose marriage is crumbling marriage because of his tight tether to his job. If he takes time off, people die, he said while checking his phone during a therapy session that essentially ended with the diagnosis that checks his phone too much. We've seen this set-up a bazillion times before, but there's something about Stoll's chatty performance and his character's attack-the-problem-head-on 'tude that makes Eph instantly likable. "I'm the bad guy because I don't want this marriage to end?" he said when he felt like his wife and their therapist were ganging up on him. Later, Eph held a press conference and sucked the sugar right off the coat when he told the families of the plane passengers that pretty much everyone was dead. Eph's the kind of guy who puts it out there, which spurs our trust in him. His brand of honesty is rare in the real world. He's not the next great television character and I couldn't care less about his marital issues, but I admire the guy, and that's important in a person I'm going to watch kick vampire ass for three or four seasons of television. 

Other characters were introduced equally fast, which is all the time a show like The Strain needed to spend on them. The standout among is Abraham Setrakian, played with gusto by David Bradley, who might be looking to even out his standing with the viewing public after starring as Stark-butcher Walder Frey on Game of Thrones. Setrakian knew a lot more about what happened with the dead plane than anyone else, and of course he did, because he owns a pawn shop that buys silver and he carries a cane that's merely the sheath for a really badass sword with an even badasser handle. He ain't afraid of no ghost (or vampire), and he's got warnings for all the whippersnappers out there: Things are going to get really bad really fast unless this "he" is stopped, whoever the "he" may be. My money is on the giant, cloaked, blood-sucking menace. 

Elsewhere there's a gangbanger who was drawn into the plot for some reason, some shadowy corporate player (an always welcome Jonathan Hyde) who's running a vampire import business, and Eph's coworkers Nora (Mia Maestro) and Jim (Sean Astin), the latter of whom is (or was) in deep with the bad guys for reasons unknown. There's also a quartet of survivors from the plane, one of which is a rock star with a rock-star attitude (as he took off his Ian Astbury wig to reveal a crewcut, he said, "I'm in it for the pussy"). And if you didn't cackle with a groan when he was introduced, then you probably aren't picking up on The Strain's camp factor. 

But no one in their right mind gives a solid shit about these characters. Any importance they add to the story is just a bonus. What we're here for is to have our pants scared off, probably while giggling a little, and The Strain's pilot contained a few scenes that shot my pajama bottoms clear across the room. If you struggled to get through some of the character moments and dialogue ("It's like a dead animal," said one of the first people to encounter the lifeless plane, and yes, I LOVE that line for its awfulness), I hope you at least appreciated the flawlessly horrifying sense of anticipation and dread as Eph and Nora explored the jet full of ghostly corpses. Or the stewardess riding the cargo hold latch like it was a mechanical bull while some mysterious beast threatened to explode from beneath it. Or that same mysterious beast latching onto a guy and sucking out his insides and then re-enacting the final moments of the Mountain versus the Red Viper in Game of Thrones' big Season 4 fight. These are the types of scenes we'll live for on The Strain, and they're a delicious romp. 

There might be an even scarier element in play, though, if the end of "Night Zero" is a sign of things to come. The poor medical examiner suffered two unequivocal tragedies when the bodies from the plane got up and gang-ate him AND he had to listen to "Sweet Caroline," the most awful song ever created. The rising corpses amped up the idea of an outbreak, building toward the episode's most frightening moment. I'm talking, of course, about little Emma, or whatever little Emma became after being drained on the plane (those dead eyes! That gray skin!). The voiceover at the beginning and the end of the episode blew some hooey about love being our downfall, and apparently one little girl's love for her father compelled her to walk all the way from the morgue to her daddy's house in the dark. Total Salem's Lot vibes, and that movie scared me so badly when I was a kid that I haven't been able to watch it since. Emma's reunion with her father opens up the idea of The Strain being able to tell these kinds of stories—of the dead returning to their loved ones—if it wants to, though I don't think the show has that much of an interest in it. It might just be the way the virus spreads, so those of you who like to complain about being loved by no one, maybe you're in luck.

All this goofy horror fun isn't easy to pull off, and there are plenty of people out there who don't like a good laugh soaked in blood or intentionally flat dialogue. But del Toro has skillfully walked the tightrope by creating a hyper-realistic setting that helps excuse the weak writing. The Strain exists in a world that feels like an alternate reality that's been lifted from a graphic novel or comic book, much like del Toro's Blade II or Hellboy; it's a lot like ours, but it's just different enough that we're not mistaking it for our own. The distinction between the two is underscored by big blocks of color that splash everywhere thanks to off-camera lights. Blues, ambers, and, of course, reds splatter characters' faces and heighten the comic feel. The result is a beautiful visual (that scene inside the plane!) that establishes The Strain as an escape and vacation from our own lives. 

A mere one hour into The Strain, the series is a drive-in horror that offers a new bite (har) on the vampire genre, and it will never win any awards that don't include "technical," "effects," or "-ography" in the title. It's dumb at times, paralyzingly frightening at others, cliché almost always, and gleefully proud to be all of the above. It's clear that del Toro has shaped The Strain into a loving descendant of the golden age of horror and monster movies, when we knew what the characters would say before they said it and what they would do before they did it, but we didn't care because there were MONSTERS. A handful of early reviews dismissed The Strain as dumb and boring, but they were written by joyless people who don't like to have fun. Me? I like to have fun. I'm happy to embrace the show's silliness, just as del Toro and showrunner Carlton Cuse seem to want to do, and I love what it is so far. Too many shows never get a hold on their identity, but The Strain knows exactly what it is: a bloody and fun summer escape. I'm dying to see more.



NOTES

– What's up with Setrakian's organ in a jar? Obviously it has some of those wormy things in it, and he feeds blood to it. My guess? It's the heart of one of his loved ones that was infected by the vampiric virus, and he keeps it around as a harmless pet. 

– Totally unnecessary stripdown scene with Eph and Nora as they were prepping to enter the plane. When I saw that, I was like, "Oh, okay. It's going to be that kind of show." 

– What do you think is the deal with elderly billionaire Eldritch Palmer? And that weirdo with the eyelids Thomas Eichorst?

– Eph texts like a 12-year-old girl. 

– Do you hate "Sweet Caroline" as much as I do?

– I plan to cover the show each week, so please come back each Sunday night!

– Because The Strain is based on a series of novels (which I have not read), I ask kindly that you avoid posting book spoilers in the comments. Let those of us who haven't read them enjoy the story for the first time, please!


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 10/30/2016

Season 3 : Episode 10

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I liked the Strain until the 8/16/15 episode where the master transferred himself to the rock star body and in so doing said 'this is my body' ...a direct blasphemy to Christ at the last supper. Im so angry about this I could just spit. They had to go and blaspheme. Im done with the Strain;I cant watch it again because it mocked my Savior.
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I don't have cable, or even a TV, but just finished the audio version of the trilogy. Am a big fan of Del Toro films. I like the idea of vampirism being from a parasite that completely changes the human body, rather than the generic "walking dead" vamp. I kinda got lost in the 3rd book where he described how they were first created and how this "Master" evolved differently than the others (Old Ones). In the books the vamps seek to consume (and thereby convert) their "Dear Ones" because that's the only remaining link they have to their former humanity. I'll have to find a way to watch these online. .
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"he had to listen to "Sweet Caroline," the most awful song ever created"

Blasphemy!!!


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we need a .gif of the monster/vampire/whatever flying down the hallway after killing the one eyed dude from LOST.

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i thought it was good. the little girl at the end really creeped me out.

also, when i am old, i'm gonna have a sick cane with a sword in it.
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i thoroughly enjoyed the first episode. the scene that included the monster bashing guy's brains in and the scene with the coffin getting lifted really set it off for me. i think this is a show i will stick with till the end.

haven't read the books either so the dialogue at the beginning/end (love) was greek to me as well. surely we will find out the significance of it.
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Tim, the thing about love...get used to it. Major part of the story.
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It was OK, but I would have wanted them to pay more attention to details. For example, it seemed entirely random when they needed to wear a protection suit and when they didn't. And are we really supposed to believe that the young girl (and probably most of the the other corpses as well) walked all the way to their homes without being noticed by anyone? Yes, I know that vampires aren't believable either, but I don't consider that an excuse for sloppy writing.
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I'll try to explain it with as little as possible spoilers from the books: The Strain pilot almost showed half the 1st book! It was very decent from the producers since after the Strain the series becomes seriously supernatural and they got the viewers fast to the middle of the 1st book so they don't cheat them into thinking the were watching a Sci-fi survival of an outbreak story.
In the books they took all the time in the world to point out when they do and when they do not need protection suits, what is the biology of the vampires, how a supernatural virus is implemented in our natural world etc
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I haven't read the books so I'm just guessing. I'm getting a Nazi vibe or something. Plane from Germany & Jewish guy with the numbers tattooed. It's was only the 1st episode but idk where the vampire stuff is coming from. Is that monster supposed to be a vampire?

Anyway, another great show from FX and I think you're right about them being the best overall network with the best comedies and some great dramas.

1. FX
2. HBO
3. USA
4. AMC
5. Netflix
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this was entertaining but predicatable do all writers work on all movies and tv shows the old crazy men coming to warn the unbelievers

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Everyone the ''stone heart group'' similar to the carlyle group and president bush connections with the bin ladens haha this should be a warninng that corporations are becoming to powerful and being led by evil people eldtrich palmer is charles koch beware everyone vote in November haha
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Uhm... Am I the only one that noticed the Nazis?
Old corporate germans whose old enemy is a Jew?
Am I imagining this?

I liked this pilot.
The dialogue may not have been the best, but this didn't feel campy at all to me. They seemed to be going for a serious tone.
I just hope this doesn't turn out to be another Helix. Started good, ended as a bitter disappointment.
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you are not imagining it;-)
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the the branded numbers and the little girls dad so alot of the victims are religous lol
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Must see the strain s1x02. I think that we have a winner for the best new series not only for summer. What a great cast and especially Corey Stoll and Walder Frey (David Bradley).
PS Spoilers,spoilers,spoilers everywhere. Same old story as with game of thrones
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we will see!
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Tim, I think the voiceover about love being the downfall was meant to refer to the father letting his paternal feelings override common sense and taking his (clearly non-human) daughter in, rather than the daughter going home, which was an act of monster programming rather than love..
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Really enjoyed it! Can't wait for more! Putting a scientific spin to d vampire lore not only makemakes it fresh & interesting but even scary at times!
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Haven't read through all the comments left but I'm surprised by all the negativity. I enjoyed it myself. I may be a bit biased because I read the trilogy and enjoyed it as well. I'd been looking forward to the screen adaptation and it didn't disappoint - at least not me. I can't remember all the details of the book, just the overall main important parts that happened which helps so I don't pick the show apart like I do with GOT sometimes. I'm in it for the long haul:-)
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love it. Can´t wait until nest week!!!
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i couldnt get through helix but im digging this show. even with all the high praise and moderate expectations, i was pleasantly surprised. It wasnt scary though. but very entertaining.
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It felt cheap and cheesy. I didn't like the acting also. I'll give it a try for 2 more episodes. Considering so many shows have awesome pilot episodes, I doubt my feelings about this show will change. Also, it sucks that they killed Andrew Divoff already, I was hoping he'd stay longer.
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Am not into horror, but will stick for a little while because... David Bradley!
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Tried reading the book last year, couldn't get past the first few chapters. This looks to be the same. Which is a shame, because I absolutely LOVE del Toro. I love camp and gore and thrills, I do, but this is just not doing it for me. Must give it a couple more episodes though.
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I listened to all 3 books on audio - downloaded from the library. I think it would be a difficult read.
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All I can say is PLEASE NOT ANOTHER HELIX! I hope it gets better in ep2.
" Sweet Caroline" thing is not very reassuring.
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I loved the photographic look, but found it a bit slow paced at times after the plane had been discovered having (gone silent) they needed to introduce the characters in this time, however, if I had it my way I would have started in on the character introductions before the plane landed. For me the action would have flowed smoother with less interruptions. But then again, it was probably deliberate for Del Toro to try and agitate his audience to thinking it's taking to long to find out what's going on with the people on the plane?
I too look forward to seeing more episodes...:)
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I tried to like this show but liking it requires you to like juxtapositions of two polar opposites intentional thrust together. This show aims at some of those very juxtapositions and thus puts itself into a narrow niche. To like this show you really need to like sweet and sour; hot and cold; good and bad-- all contained within the wrapper of a horror show. The Strain is brilliantly creative, intriguing, strategically plotted out, and well directed but is marred by the way its juxtapositions intentionally fail to create a suspension of disbelief. I almost prefer Ron Moore's spin to outbreak turned dark supernatural human phenomena for its well rooted but largely unoriginal and directionless series. At least with Moore you aren't constantly interrupted right when you become immersed in the show.

Good acting is displaced by intentionally poor dialog and action that indicates more than a picket sign with an arrow pointing to "look here there something cool going on" Its way too direct. So direct it negatively mars any semblance of good acting and story. Without these horrible moments (likely a pun in itself) the Strain would be traditional horror story and not the playfully wonderful world crafted by Guillermo del Toro. The issue is it lacks the overtly stylized and highly saturated surrealistic nature of Del Toro's films; and the intentionally playful nature is concentrated in playing with the audience in a 4th wall breaking manner rather than containing its jokes within the realm of its fictional world.

As I watch the show I am left wondering whether I'm supposed to sit back, relax and react to the frightening moments or whether I'm watching a show with the commentary track on. Unfortunately I felt like it fell into the later category. Its like watching a show with the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 crew constantly spinning jokes spoiling any suspense and any bit of scare that a horror film experience could deliver.
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Do you really like the word "juxtapositions",do you?
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No, Obviously I like the word like. In case you're counting I also used the word horror 3 times; good 3 times; but none of that compares to my usage of some form of the word like-- 7 times in total.
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I agree.
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You know that this is going to be one of those shows where everything goes to hell because of stupid people and red tape, when the intelligent and decisive boss is killed of - And why did he the vampire bash his head to smithereens after it allready sucked him dry and broke his neck? That's overkill.
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For those of you saying it wasn't scary, different people find different things scary. I love horror movies and everything about the horror/supernatural genre, but I found The Strain to be particularly frightening to me.

I love that this show is going back to what vampires are supposed to be, scary monsters that everyone wants to stay away from, instead of glamorizing them and making people believe that being a vampire would be "cool". There's something very off-putting about a swarm of creepy crawlies infesting your body, scrambling your innards and turning you into a souless, lifeless killing machine.
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Did you know those worms are based on a real parasite called Dracunculiasis? They only infect humans, and are found throughout Africa, India and several other countries.

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wow I love you for posting this !!!!
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No spoilers, but all of your questions are indeed answered in the 3 books, of which I have read. The pilot was campy, with the bad dialog and cardboard characters, but I have to see these books on the screen, especially with Del Toro's amazing imagination. It will be a lot of fun, which it seems all of the critics are saying is what one should expect (but not much more a la FX shows). I can say that if the series is successful, and they get to tell the entire story, it could get deeper and more morally complex as it progresses.
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Eh...that was my reaction. It sort of reminded me of some scary movies that came out in the nineties that you go see and sort of shrug. I guess I am curious that "he" seems not keen on forming those morgue types and when he's a little more prepped he destroys who he eats from so they won't rise. But that really was it.
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Wow, that was terrible! Absolute snoozefest with not a single interesting storyline, scene, actor or anything...what overhyped BS all this time!
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Damn dude, it was only episode one. Sheesh. You know they never show anything in the first part of monster movies, and since this is also a disease outbreak, they tried to cover all bases. With the next couple eps theyll probably descend into hell.
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Well, compare this to the pilot of Tyrant or Fargo or True Detective or even recent shows like Gang Related or Reckless, and you would catch my drift.
I don't care that this is about a virus, a pilot should suck you in, and for me this didn't at all. Basically...
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tyrant blows.
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I thought it was a good show but you're right. Other FX shows like Tyrant & Fargo had me hooked and wanting more instantly. I don't have that feeling with the Strain. Doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it.
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I hear that. It couldve been a lot more explosive, thats for sure. Its almost as if its based on a book.

I loved True Detective but I thought the pilot was a sleeper, though it was necessary viewing. Still havent seen Gang Related or Reckless, but Tyrant is turning out to be a lot more political than expected. Its good though.
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It was a very boring and totally not scary pilot...to be honest, i had to laugh when i saw the Master with his red riding hook cape...that was so funny...
Even when the people woke up or the group attacks the dokter...nope not scary at all.....i think that the first episode of Buffy was even scarier...
So i hope that we see more action and less talking my god..they kept talking and talking.....
The only cool thing was the old guy!
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this ep was about the beginning of the end. Not chaos or the collapse.
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The old man was Walder Frey?? I knew there was a reason I instinctively disliked him. :p
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I found it funny his cane/sword had a wolf's head hilt.
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It would be hard for people who struggle with the concept of "camp" to like this show. This is campy horror at its best (well, so far). I was actually going to complain about the "bad" graphics (the vampire monster thing) and the "bad" acting from Eph's CDC colleague (the woman with the glasses) but now I'm wondering if all that is actually intentional. It definitely adds to the camp factor. With these kinds of shows, you just have to go along for the ride. Suspend disbelief, suspend logic, suspend common sense. As long as The Strain stays with this brand of fun and entertainment, I will keep tuning in.
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The Sweet Caroline scene was very similar to a scene in Helix in one of the first episodes, when a silly joyful song is also playing very loud in a laboratory while a bloody scene develops.
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Except Dionne Warwick's version of 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose' is a hell of a lot better than Neil's overplayed Red Sox anthem.
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Yes!
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It was good, but one thing you are wrong on Tim: it was NOT SCARY. Not even a little bit.
The scene in the plane? I knew that a) The people we'd seen during the intro would wake up, as soon as they made a point of showing us those peoples faces "dead", and b) The doctors wouldn't be harmed there because that's too obvious, and too confined a space.
As for the stewardess and the hatch, did you see a different version of that scene than I did? She knelt on it for a few seconds, then got off and the screws undid themselves.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more stupid it becomes.

Why didn't anyone see that the hatch had been forced open from the inside?

How exactly are we to believe that 206(!!!) people were killed by the Thing, without a single person getting out of their seat? We SAW how long it took to kill one guy - multiply that 10 seconds by 206 and you have a timeline of 34 MINUTES. Everybody sitting perfectly calm and serene in their seats that whole time is just a bullshit scenario.

Why does NOBODY question that the Airplane Whisperer goes missing, and how does his body go unnoticed for the rest of the episode?

The Medical Examiner sees a detached heart start MOVING, and does the exact opposite thing to what would actually happen at this point.

Given his knowledge of what happened to the victims, Van Helsing would have been immediately a suspect, not just branded a crazy old coot and arrested (for what, exactly, by the way? He didn't actually commit any crime, did he?).

If I wanted, I could probably find more to nitpick about, but given that I actually enjoyed the show, I don't want to. Let's just say I will be treating this as a "Show like The Dome, but I actually like"
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I think the old guy may have been arrested for something like "carrying a concealed weapon". Remember they found his sword.
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There is an explanation as to how he was able to attack everyone on board, it should come up later in the series. But you definitely have some good points...
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how the 206 did not run will be explained later, though was already hinted at when the man was lured to his death in the airport.
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I have been hooked before with episode one, season one. I like what I see but want to see another couple of episodes before a commit..
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It was creepy, gross and full of OMG moments. I loved it.
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The book didn't grip me at all. I think i got about 30 pages in before i set it down never to return. But i really enjoy this episode if i'm honest. I'm happy to see vampires that don't sparkle in the sun if nothing else. there are some damn cheesy lines and what seem like huge logic flaws though. The fact that Eph and the others clearly saw a fecking cloaked monster on the security footage and didn't seem all too bothered about it was one. I'll stay tuned for sure and see where it goes.
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I'm honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed this first episode. It had it's flaws (the family crap for example) but it was pretty good.
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To be honest, so far this show is boring as hell. On top of that, it commits the biggest sin a horror show can - it's not scary... AT ALL.

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Your comment commits the biggest sin a comment can - it's not right... AT ALL.
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Hey there,
Everyone is entitled to their opinion...play nice.
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No, not everyone, sorry. Get used to it.
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very lame. so much bad acting and writing but because its del toro fan boys will lap it up while bashing stuff like helix and walking dead.

CDC guys see flying shadow monster lift super heavy coffin.
"thats not possible" " it must be him...hes still here"

No freaking out. no WTF IS THAT SHIT JSKLDFJ:;lakdjfa;dfajsdfasdf

horrible reactions to whats going on by every character.
the lame old guy that knows whats going on somehow with no official story released on the news.
Dumb ass inept CDC workers.

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did you want the writers to explain every possible plot twist and every character back story all in one episode? what were you expecting
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lol you cannot be serious with that pile of rubbish...
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Someone handed me this book a few years back and recommended that I read it... I got about ten pages in before I was like "Nah, I'm cool, bro." Now I wish I had read it, because the pilot totally sucked me in, camp and occasional bad writing and all. Ah well, at least it means I'll be surprised by whatever happens next!
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Get the triology on audio - my library had it as a download from their website. Probably can get them from audible.com too.
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it was good...kinda reminded me of the movie .."daybreakers"
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there were some similarities. daybreakers sucked though
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I liked the pilot enough to keep watching for a while. It reminded me of Helix, though not as cold an isolated, with less tension and much better science and action. Hopefully, it will continue to entertain.
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I almost skipped on this show, but got to it at last moments, and I am glade I did. The Strain is a serious, mature and engaging series as I felt it. By serious not the dull serious but a serious attempt toward the show.

Several times it felt if the show is there to fill the gap made by Helix. I had same vibes for more than one reasons, and I am not talking about similarities.

I will be returning to it of course, I like the pace of story, I hope they keep this pace for coming episode too.
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Dam Weevil the years have not been kind to you and that was a big ass vamp!
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Corey Stoll is HOT just the way he is, i don't know who's idea it was to give him a rug, but....
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Corey Stoll with hair is actually a really handsome man.

I didn't take a whole lot else from this yet besides that it's entertaining enought to keep watching.
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I'm not totally onboard yet. Del Toro just doesn't deliver the way I expect him to. This is not the first time I get disappointed. Helix had a way better pilot and I expected this to at least look a little more expensive but... no. I won't give up just yet though. There's too much crap out there right now...
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