THE STRAIN Season Two: Dead End

Due to my attendance at Fantastic Fest[!!!!!!!] I will not be able to do weekly reviews/recaps of the final two episodes of this The Strain season. My hope is to watch both episodes in short order after I get back from Fantastic Fest [which, seriously, !!!!!!!] and do a long post talking about those episodes and the season as a whole. Both the penultimate and finale will be directed by Hannibal maestro Vincenzo Natali, so I think we can expect there to be some crazy shit to talk about. See you then! And now, for tonight’s episode…

Let’s dispense with the busy-work right up front so we can get right to the good stuff, yeah?

OK, so this week, Setrakian comes to and finds that, yes, the moron-kid from the abbey all those years ago is now a moron-man and his ear is still fucked up and, yes, he has the Lumen and intends to sell it. Setrakian attempts to play the ‘I saved your dumb ass from vampires five decades ago so now give me the magic book instead of selling it and activating the apocalypse” but the dumbass is a dumbass and so he ditches Setrakian and makes his way to Roosevelt Island where Creem (Marlo from The Wire!), who we haven’t seen since early in the first season, has set up his own militarized shop.

And, OK one more, this week also brought back Gus for the first time in a couple weeks. He and The Silver Angel got busy getting the Guptas out of the city (and Gus got himself busy with the Gupta girl). After an assist from Quinlan’s Badass Black Lady Friend, the Guptas made it out and drove off into the distance and Gus and Angel hopped into the car with QBBLF and headed off towards adventure and stuff.

With that stuff out of the way, let’s focus on the meat of this episode: Richard Fucking Sammel.

Honestly, the majority of ‘Dead End’ played as one extended suspense setpiece, as Eichorst taunted and tormented the imprisoned Dutch while Fet and the rest of the gang desperately tried to find a way into the hotel/murder-dome in order to rescue Dutch. Magnificently shot, edited and performed by everyone involved, this episode has immediately become the new high watermark for The Strain.

It helps that Eichorst is the center of attention. While most all the ensemble is on hand and in good form (although Jonathan Hyde gets the week off after his spotlight) this is unquestionably The Eichorst Episode, and Sammel puts on a tour de force performance.

We’ve known for a long while now that Eichorst was a miserable, lonely wretch before he met The Master, and we know that he saw collusion with this dark entity as a way of giving purpose and meaning to his wretched life. But what ‘Dead End’ illustrates beautifully is the way that petty failures and desires mounted until the moment when Eichorst’s soul was broken entirely, and he was left riding the rails to his current vamp-state.

Flashbacks show us Eichorst as a lowly salesman in his pre-WWII village, where he’s unable to make a single sale and is regularly mocked by his co-workers. His only friend in the office is a pretty blonde lady, and she even agrees to go out for drinks with him. During their date, a Nazi comes stomping in and starts regaling the crowd with all the joys and triumphs awaiting in the new reich. Desperate for meaning, Eichorst is happy to subjugate himself to the party, and it’s only afterwards that he realizes that his date is actually Jewish.

She rejects him for the rat that he is, and years later Eichorst is a big man about town, strutting in his new Nazi digs. He’s called before the high command and confronted with his old date, who is facing deportation. Eichorst denies her, reveling in the power that his position finally affords him over someone who had likewise denied him.

And then he comes across her hanged corpse. With Nazi officials watching him, Eichorst feigns disinterest in her death, every inch of Sammel’s face contorting to show the grief, disgust and self-loathing that Eichorst is denying himself.

Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse are alike in that their fiction often highlights the all-too human drives and desires that fuel their villains. No one is born bad, but people make moral compromises every day that take them farther and farther away from humanity until only the monster remains. Eichorst is the great boogey man of The Strain, but the show has dug down into his history to underline that beneath his grand pronouncements and eerie manner, there’s a weak man who was ashamed of his weakness and sought powerful figures that he might drink a little of their strength. But underneath he’s still that same impotent, weak man, and he knows it too.

In the present day we have Eichorst’s abuse of Dutch, and here again The Strain walks a thin line. There’s really no way to avoid the sexual, rape-y connotations of what is happening in these scenes, and the show doesn’t really hide from it. Director Phil Abrahams is careful to never sexualize Ruta Gedmintas, even when she’s stripped of her pants. The focus is always on her terror and her attempts to break through that terror and find a way to release herself. Gedmintas turns in phenomenal work as the usually too school for cool (may have got that wrong) Dutch is driven right to the edge of madness by the unending torment brought down against her by Eichorst.

Dutch manages to fight her way out of the torture chamber, only to find herself in a labyrinthine hotel hallway, with all the exits blocked up with bricks. Oh, and she steps on a nail and has to hobble her way to freedom, because with suffering you are in for a penny, in for a pound.

‘Pulse-pounding’ is an obvious and over-used phrase, but there’s really no other way to describe Dutch’s attempts to escape with smug Eichorst trailing after her. The Strain being a horror show and Dutch being a supporting character, it is absolutely within the realm of possibility that she will die, and the knowledge that this could indeed be it lends this sequence, and the entire episode, an extra hit of pure terror.

She doesn’t die, as Fet and the gang arrive just as Eichorst is dragging Dutch back to the lair and drive him off. On the one hand, bringing Dutch so close to death only to have her dodge out of it at the last second seems like sort of a cop out (and I’ll remind you all again that The Strain has yet to kill a major character this season. Heck, if you don’t count the vamp’d out Kelly, the show hasn’t permanently killed off a regular since Jim [Nora’s mom would be the closest exception, but she was more of a prop than a human being]. Something’s gotta give.)

But on the other hand, it’s hard to argue that Dutch deserved that fucking win, and if the show had spent so much time on her attempts to free herself only to have Dutch die in the end anyway, it’d feel like a waste of an hour (didn’t Walking Dead do that? Spend an entire episode on a major character trying to free themselves from certain death, and then they got bit by a zombie anyway? Man, fuck that show).

For the time being, everyone is around to fight another day. The good guys have been beat to shit, but they’re still standing and still fighting. Last season, even that was not enough to win the day. Might season two be going down a different path?

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the author

Brendan Foley lives in Massachusetts, where he has made a habit out of not knowing what he's doing. He'd like to make a career out of it. You can follow his ramblings on Twitter: @TheTrueBrendanF, and his ramblinger ramblings on Tumblr. Three years from now, it will be revealed that he was dead the entire time.