Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut last week when I declared that The Strain had achieved that elusive TV trait known as consistency. "Occultation" was the series' worst episode since "The Box," thanks to its focus on momentum-killing side stories when all we really wanted was to see New York City be overtaken by a blood-draining monsters. But nooooooo, instead we were learned all about Vasiliy's daddy issues, hung out with Eph's ex-wife Kelly and her New Yawk BFF while they sipped wine and shared some girl talk, and checked our watches while Nora carted her dementia-stricken mother around. It was as if someone had called a citywide timeout just as the sheeeeit was about to hit the fan, and that zapped the energy that'd been built up in "Runaways."
I know I'm repeating myself, but The Strain's family stories just aren't working. What is this, Parenthood? If I'd just seen my coworkers shoot veiny stingers out of their faces and then fried them with sunlight, I probably wouldn't be spending much time arguing with my dad about his Ukranian architecture book and the Cornell scholarship I didn't take decades ago. I'd probably be more like, "RUNNNNNN DADDY! WE ALL GONNA DIE!" while I flipped tables in search of shotguns and hand grenades and screamed like a lunatic. Where's your sense of urgency, Vasiliy?! Meanwhile, Nora's mom feels more like an object designed to weigh Nora down than an actual family member. And I'd rather hear about Kelly's house renovations than listen her yap about whether or not she moved on too quickly. I'll give Eph some credit for spicing up the family stuff, however; when he went to see Kelly, he was genuinely panicked. That's how you're supposed to act after seeing vampires for the first time.
The Strain is currently hiding behind the somewhat ludicrous notion that the internet shutdown (and it isn't an all-out shutdown; supposedly it's just running at dial-up speeds) is wholly preventing people from spreading the news. And apparently these New Yorkers are so reliant on their smartphones that seeing something with their own eyes doesn't mean it'll register as fact, as if they're living in the Wall-E universe. Even when the medical examiner throat-sucked those two idiot FBI guys in the middle of a gridlocked Manhattan street, only the one woman who was initially attacked freaked out. Everyone else was just minding their own business. Are those eclipse glasses that dark? Maybe a guy running down the middle of the street in bloodied scrubs trying to eat people isn't that unusual for New York City, but where I'm from, that kind of behavior is reserved for St. Patrick's Day and when the Blazers win the NBA championship.
All of this followed a good table-setting sequence in "Runaways," when vampires first started appearing in public. Last week, I praised The Strain for its pacing of the outbreak, especially from a logical and scientific standpoint; this week, not so much. Remember the vampire who was in the old folks' home sucking the lifeforce out of someone's Nana, and then the unfortunate orderly who tried to intervene? What happened to that monster? Did he just decide to quit and take a nap? Do all the other people who saw him have Alzheimer's too? A whole day passed since a monster ate an old person with dozens of freaked-out witnesses, yet it seems like everyone still has clean underwear. that doesn't add up for me.
"Occultation" also raised lots of basic questions—the kind of questions that aren't excusable. Are the vampires hiding in the sewers, or are they out in the public? Regarding the vampires that are out in public, where are they coming from? How did Vasiliy's coworkers get infected? I thought the eclipse would allow the vampires to emerge from their dark hidey-holes and have a smorgasbord, but was it just the medical examiner? If it was just the medical examiner, what was the point of the eclipse? The only thing I can assume is that all the vampires that exist so far are lurking in cellars and sewers and storage closets until the Master tells them to come out, but then why are some running amok while others are not? I'm super confused, and not in the fun, mysterious way.
"Runaways" felt like the lighting of a fuse, as we saw vampires starting to cause mayhem in New York City and the onset of an eclipse. But "Occultation" never exploded—instead, it teased us with the realization that sometimes, The Strain is going to fumble with faulty fireworks. This was a filler hour that relied on ladies sipping wine and a mom and her kid watching an eclipse to fill its runtime. I still dig the show, but I'm concerned that a 13-episode order may have been too big for what's largely been an entertaining first season.
– Eph to the FBI guy: "I warned you. I'm sorry." Yeah, you dumb FBI guy!
– I still really like Corey Stoll as Eph, and I think he's giving the show his all.
– Seriously, though. Why did we need that scene where Kelly and Zach looked at the eclipse and said they love each other? Or Kelly and her friend drinking wine? Or Vasiliy talking to those other exterminators in the diner? Or Abe in the cab? Or the first scene of the noseless vampire feeding off that guy? There was lots of unnecessary fluff in this one.
– Gus dumped a body for Thomas. I guess that means he's now more connected to the larger story, but I'm still wondering how he really fits into things, at least from a standpoint of why we should care about him. And why did those cops arrest him and Felix? F THE POLICE, racist pigs!
What did you think of "Occultation"?