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The Strain S01E05: "Runaways"

Going into "Runaways," I was debating whether I should start calling the plane survivors by their real names instead of their caricature labels of the Spooky Geek, the Pilot, the Rocker, and the Lawyer, but then the episode made the decision for me when Setrakian beheaded the Spooky Geek (Ansel) in the shed. Since the Pilot (Captain Redfern) died last week, that means half of the original four survivors—who I thought we might follow for a while, as they seemed like an integral part of the story—have perished, and we're only on Episode 5. 

Not only that, but the metamorphosis that the remaining two passengers—a.k.a. the Rocker and the Lawyer—are going through is pulling them further and further away from being identifiable as individuals, as they're blending together through pasty monstrous uniformity. What's the point of calling the Rocker "the Rocker" if he looks just like the Lawyer? Answer: There isn't one.

So let's all give a warm TV.com welcome to Gabriel Bolivar (formerly the Rocker) and Joan Luss (formerly the Lawyer)! But make it quick and don't get too attached to either one of them—or to anyone else on this show—because The Strain has made it clear that it's ready and willing to kill its characters, even if it's already established them via small multi-episode arcs. Adios, Ansel! Sayonara, Ansel's wife! Au revoir, Emma! Peace out, Emma's dad! (Can Gus be next, please?) 

That approach A-OK with me, because I want The Strain to be an all-out slaughter and I want to see some familiar faces be vamp-drained as if they're human Capri-Suns. Like every contestant on ever reality show always, I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to watch vampires suck up half of New York City while a ragtag band of heroes, maybe one kooky old man with a cane-sword, and a scientist with a terrible hairpiece armed and a nail gun cut their heads off and save the day after four or five quality seasons of television. 


"Runaways" totally obliged my wishes, as it was another meaty hour of fun and campy horror. So many beheadings, guys! Plus, the episode ended with a huge step into "Oh sh*t!" territory, as signs of a total chaotic outbreak began to show. It's one thing to have a vampire locked in a backyard shed or hanging out in the loft of a rock club where only a few people might witness their grotesque transformations into hairless, translucent bloodsuckers, but it's another thing to reveal a pack of vampires lurking in the sewers or munching their way through an old folks' home in full view of the public eye. There's no turning back from this, even if New York City has to rely on the eyewitness accounts of grannies suffering from senior moments. This outbreak is real, and it's happening a lot earlier in The Strain's first season than I thought it would. It's also happening exactly as fast as it should, at least from a scientific standpoint; "Runaways" took place over the course of an afternoon or so, and I tip my hat to the series' pacing, as well as its sense of the logic behind the outbreak.

The episode also delivered The Strain's first flashback, jumping all the way to 1940-somethingish, when a young Abraham Setrakian was nothing but a number to a bunch of Nazi jerks. Thomas Eichorst was there too, looking the same age and the same amount of smug as he does now (things are starting to come together!). And a "Nazi" prefix will add a whole new levil of evil to just about anything, so say hello to Nazi Vampires! While it's not yet clear whether the Nazis were in cahoots with the Master, it certainly appeared that way as the Master whisked from bed to bed in Abraham's barracks, dining on Eastern European fare. The flashback was a cool way to establish Thomas and Abraham's past—however, I hope we don't spend too much time in this era, as it appears to have already served its purpose. 

Throughout the rest of the hour, Abraham's past bled into his present as he dropped some wisdom about the creatures during his and Eph's egg-scrambling and strigoi-beheading adventures. Apparently the Master allowed four people from the plane to survive as a means of diverting attention away from the dead, while setting up the airline CEO to take the blame (with Thomas's help) and sneaking out of the airport in a box transported by a gangster. This is one smart bag o' worms! 


But is he smart enough to get his claws into the CDC? How else would you explain Eph's boss Everett immediately blackballing him even though Eph had video of a vampire? Everett is totally on the take, dude. Thomas has obviously been planning this outbreak for a long time, so expect Eph and Abe to end up stymied at every turn, forcing them to form some sort of underground "La Resistance." 

"Runaways" wasn't any better or worse than The Strain's previous two episodes, which gives me hope that it will achieve one of television's most elusive feats: consistency. It's not a substantive drama, but it sure is a lot of fun to watch. The Strain feels just smart enough and self-aware so as not to embarrass itself, but it still knows how to have a good time.


NOTES

– Did you hear the eclipse talk on the radio? That can't be good! Just when you thought the middle of the day was guaranteed to be safe. Obviously the Master planned his attack to coincide with the eclipse, too. The Master has corporations under his control, he's hiring an IT department to control the internet, and he's paying attention astronomical events, too? Daaaaaaaaaaaang! 

– Was this the first time the creatures were specifically referred to as "vampires"? 

– R.I.P. urologist! R.I.P. crime-scene cleaner! R.I.P. old person! R.I.P. younger person who tried to help the older person! R.I.P. dog-hating neighbor! R.I.P. Ansel's wife! R.I.P. concentration camp people! Putting aside the "deaths" of the plane passengers in the pilot, "Runaways" featured the highest body count of the series so far. And on a show like this, the higher the body count, the better.

– Does anyone else think Vasiliy Fet, the rat guy, looks like his face is made out of adobe? I like the character a lot, but just like with Gus, I'm still waiting for the show to incorporate him into the main story. 

– What's the deal with Eldritch Palmer? He's getting organ transplants and... ummm? Obviously he's party to the vampire conspiracy, but how? What does Stoneheart do? 

– Unnecessary side story of the week: Nora's mom!

The Strain is becoming FX's answer to The Walking Dead, isn't it? What's cool is that we're seeing the plague from the very beginning, instead of picking up long after it spread.

– Regarding The Strain's vampire mythology, we now know the following:

  • They totally don't like silver! It burns them, especially when shot out of a cool, customized nail gun.
  • Decapitations ruin their day and are the best way to kill them.
  • Sunlight is a no-no without six inches of sunblock.
  • Vampire reflections make mirror images wobble.
  • The disease moves at different rates with different people, just like the flu hits some people harder than others.
  • There's no word yet on garlic, wooden stakes, or a weakness for moody teenage girls.

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 10/5/2014

Season 1 : Episode 13

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