Welcome back, dear reader! And welcome back, The Strain. After taking last week off to focus on house renovations and custody battles, the series returned to the fun it promised in its pilot, with more vampires and a penis falling into a toilet. See, The Strain, is it that hard? Drop a dong in the crapper and all your sins and ridiculous aspirations of being a character drama will be forgiven.
"Gone Smooth," GREAT TITLE BTW, improved on its immediate predecessor in just about every way imaginable (although that wasn't too hard, considering how stinky "The Box" was). The episode did a much better job of following the outbreak—paying worthwhile visits to the quartet of survivors and offering a freakier look at their transformations—while also uncovering truths about the vast vampire conspiracy that were previously absent.
But really, most viewers are watching The Strain to see worms crawling beneath people's skin and monsters shooting veiny tongues out of their faces, and "Gone Smooth" delivered. I've been pretty transparent about this, but all I ask from the show is that it embrace its genre and its campiness. If a horror show that doubles as a great drama comes out of that, then yippy skippy—but after seeing a pilot that upended my expectations in a good way and a second episode that was hugely disappointing, my standards for The Strain lie somewhere between Cabin Fever and Dracula: Dead and Loving It.
I'm going to choose to forget the mixed messages we received from last week's visit with the four survivors (the Lawyer subtly bled a little bit into her Prosecco, while the Rocker viciously tried to eat one of his sex partners) and pretend that "Gone Smooth" was our first encounter with them post-plane disaster, because watching the disease spread this week was way more fun than it was last week. The Spooky Geek's face was literally falling apart, and he drank the blood out of an idling refrigerator steak while his wife looked on in horror because that is gross and who has a single steak just sitting in some CorningWare inside the fridge besides people in horror movies? Seeing the family side of things intensified the urgency of the disease, and since the Pilot is a lonely old bachelor, the Rocker don't have time for longterm relationships, and the Lawyer's heart is full of ice, it's up to the Spooky Geek to illustrate how the virus affects more than just those who are infected.
The Rocker, whose taste for flesh has apparently subsided (see what I mean about mixed messages?), arguably had the worst day of all. The look on the doctor's face when the Rocker opened his robe would've been more than enough to make our imaginations run wild, but then The Strain spared our imaginations the exercise by revealing one of the weirdest things I've seen on television in a long time. This, a thousand times, this:
What in the what!? Why was his wiener so quick to fall off and nothing else? Was that black mass that fell in the toilet, to quote There's Something About Mary, the frank or the beans? How does he pee now? Do vampires pee? Do vampires poo? Why didn't the Rocker freak out? Is this what Robert Pattinson looks like naked? I have so many questions! With penises falling like leaves in the fall, what started out as an annoying cold is now serious business. (P.S. What happens to female vampires down there? Just wondering.) I'm hoping we do get these kinds of answers, though, and from what I've heard about the Strain trilogy of novels, they take a very scientific approach to vampirism. Also, a little birdie told me that we might get another hint regarding the genital shriveling in next week's episode, so the fact that the show didn't shrink the Rocker's junk just for giggles is a positive sign that The Strain isn't shocking us just for shock's sake.
Elsewhere, the Pilot made the biggest jump to toothy bloodsucker after escaping his quarantine bubble and slurping down blood bags in the hospital basement. But his experience as a monster was short-lived as Eph smashed his head in with a fire extinguisher after dodging his projectile proboscis. It was the first time we've seen a fight with a vampire (and by the way, I'm calling them vampires for lack of a better term) rather than a one-sided slaughter, and now I'm itching to see Setrakian throw down with that cane-sword of his. "The Master" might be a badass, but the low-level infected can be killed, even by a trio of nerdy scientists (no thanks to Jim). Again, this bodes well for the future of the series if you're into awesome things.
No contemporary sci-fi show is complete without some sort of shadowy conspiracy group pulling strings behind the scenes, and guess what!? The vampires have their dirty fingernails stuck in all kinds of business, including experimental cancer trials at Stanford. I always knew those preppy Stanford nerds were bloodsucking no-gooders (go Cal!). The vampires are using their influence to rope in Jim, who so far is The Strain's weakest character and might only be filling the role of mole. We don't know why Jim was so indebted to them in the pilot, but now Thomas (the vampire who was putting on his face in the episode's opening scene) is using his connections to get Jim's wife the cancer treatment she needs.
Ahhh, the ol' "my wife has cancer" conundrum! It's too bad this type of storytelling device smacks of convenience. It's obvious that the only reason Jim has a cancer-stricken wife is to give him an excuse to be in league with the vampires. What if Jim had a wife who didn't have cancer? What if she was perfectly healthy—then what? "Jim, if you work with us, I can get you that great parking space at the CDC you've always wanted." And since Jim hasn't been established as a very likable fellow, he sucks out the energy of the show. Ugh, sorry, I know I said The Strain isn't about characters, but Jim is a real bummer so far, and a waste of Sean Astin the Goonies guy.
But other than that, "Gone Smooth" was a solid, entertaining episode that totally fixed most of what bothered me about last week's "The Box." Our Strain craze may continue. See you next week!
– Yep, I had to see that image one more time.
– Where are the 200+ walking corpses that woke up in the morgue? I know New York City is crowded and full of haggardly looking people, but surely someone would notice a huge mob of undead, some with their guts hanging out?
– The Pilot's nose hair was all up in my face!
– This episode offered a much better introduction to Vasiliy the Rat Exterminator than "The Box" did. Come to think of it, what was the point of that first introduction at all? He busted a restaurant and... ?
– I totally thought the Spooky Geek was going to eat his wounded dog. Maybe next week?
– Setrakian. S-e-T-R-A-k-I-a-N. THINK ABOUT IT.
– How long will this dance between Setrakian and the CDC continue? Hopefully not too long.
– Screw you, Zach, for not asking for joint custody between your mom and dad! But come to think of it, the kid probably made the right choice. I mean, Eph is an absentee dad and workaholic, right?
– Ummm... hackers don't work for PS4s. They work for cash. That girl probably already has like 10 PS4s.
– Notice how no one on the show watches anything on TV? It's all laptops, iPads, or computers?