It's no secret that FX wanted The Strain to be its own personal The Walking Dead, the AMC zombie hit that even your grandmother watches. The discussion behind FX's closed doors probably went something like, "People like zombies, so they'll like zombie-ish vampires, right?" And in "Creatures of the Night," The Strain was more like The Walking Dead than ever before. Not coincidentally, despite the latter's up-and-down-and-up-and-way-down-again history, "Creatures of the Night" was the best hour of The Strain we've seen to date even though it could technically be labeled a filler episode.
The Walking Dead is at its most entertaining when zombies are getting their friggin' brains blown out, carnage is king, and the show embraces its horror roots. If you're watching The Walking Dead to find out whether Rick will ever succeed as a leader, then you're probably also watching The Strain to find out whether Eph will ever get custody of his son and you are not invited over to my house. "Creatures of the Night" took the gore and poured it into The Strain's idea of a bottle episode, with great—if ultimately story-light (except for Jim's death)—results.
The set-up for "Creatures of the Night" was as simple as it gets, and with horror, simple is almost always better. A bunch of people got stuck in a gas-station convenience store as vampires surrounded the place. The people inside got scared, a few idiots made a run for it with mixed results, various items from the shelves were used to make molotov cocktails, and a bunch of vampires were killed. Great! What else do we need? A few snappy one-liners, and I'm good. I was supremely entertained. "Creatures of the Night" was suspenseful, scary, and focused, and that's everything an episode of The Strain should be.
Plus, even though it largely stayed put in one location and didn't do much to move the plot forward, "Creatures of the Night" finally took care of some important legwork for The Strain's bigger picture. The series' disparate storylines have been one of its biggest problems; not only have they failed to adequately illustrate the breadth of the outbreak, but they've mostly felt pointless as standalone side stories. Are you worried about Gus's dumb brother or whether his mom can pay rent? Is the Lawyer Lady's husband coming home really that interesting? Do you care about Vasiliy's fractured relationship with his father? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, go to bed without dessert! I just want to see people punch vampires in the crotch.
Vasiliy joining The Strain's main Vampire Death Squad was a long-overdue development, because the check-ins with the show's extra characters grew tiresome weeks ago. Think about it. What if "Creatures of the Night" had been the first time Vasiliy was introduced? Would anything change about the story? Not really. You'd just be all, "Hey, this new guy is pretty cool, bro!" So it's a huge relief that we can now put one of The Strain's dangling threads behind us as survivors start combining forces to put silver bullets through vampire faces, in accordance with the classic formula of "ragtag gang fights supernatural threat."
Or course, since "Creatures of the Night" was so entertaining when it stuck with one group, the episode also highlighted some of The Strain's ongoing weaknesses. Namely, that most of the show's other stories are little more than time-killers. Yes, Gus obviously. But also Eldritch (the old man with organ failure), Abe and Eichorst's flashbacks, and any one of the original four survivors (most of whom are dead now). Did I like "Creatures of the Night" mostly because those storylines were marginalized as the episode concentrated on killing vampires? Probably. That's a problem The Strain will have to fix soon.
"Creatures of the Night" also featured the series' first major death. R.I.P. Jim, you sniveling little snake! I'd say The Strain passed the "anyone can die" test by infecting and killing off a main character. I expected Jim to survive, mostly because he's played by Sean Astin, who is arguably the most recognizable actor on the show. But nope! We got a fake-out save and an incredibly surprising death once Eph realized Jim was full of worms. I loved the way Jim's demise was handled, personally. Anytime this show isn't predictable, it's going to be great, and Vasiliy's quick action was badass. For a second there, I thought Jim might try to go out a hero as his last attempt at redemption, that he'd sacrifice himself by distracting the vampires so the others could escape, but having Vasiliy shoot him in the face was so much better. And the icing on the cake? Eph telling Vasiliy, "If you get stung, I won't hesitate to return the favor," and Vasiliy responding, "That's the spirit, Doc, that's the spirit!" Because you know what? That IS the spirit. And the speed at which Jim was offed was fantastic because it dictates some rules of this show. Anyone, even someone who once played a Hobbit, can be killed fast.
The Strain isn't rid of its problems, but episodes like "Creatures of the Night" make me hopeful for its future. Keep it simple, keep it focused on the danger of the outbreak, and for crying out loud, kill a bunch of vampires and humans every week.
– Continuing The Walking Dead comparison, Vasiliy is clearly The Strain's Daryl Dixon. So what about everyone else? Eph as Rick? Nora as Lori? Annoying hacker lady as annoying Andrea?
– What does Vasiliy do when he's faced with death? He buys lottery tickets, of course. Why not? And how about his moment of panic at the gas station pump (by the way, gas station pumps apparently work when phone lines and internet do not), when he admitted that his credit isn't so good and asked for Eph's zip code, then chose premium-grade gas? Funny stuff, and exactly what the show needs more of.
– Where's the Rocker? It's been a while since we've seen him, no?
– I really like Eph's scientific POV; he can instantly spout off percentages about how much UV light can get through glass or explain the viral die-off rate from UV light. Dude is all science and stats!
– I also liked Eph's answer to the question we all have: Is this a disease, or are these vampires? "It's a transformative disease that makes people predatory and extremely dangerous." In other words, it's both, but it seems as though Eph refuses to believe we should call them vampires.
– Who else really wanted Hacker Girl to die?
– I really enjoyed all the stuff with the clerk hiding in his cashier's booth. He probably didn't make it, eh? Dummy.
– New things we learned to fill out our "Vampires: Strain Edition" handbooks:
AIRED ON 10/4/2015
Season 2 : Episode 13