As The Strain‘s second season roles toward the finish line, we’re treated to yet another engaging, entertaining episode that essentially leads nowhere. Sometimes it’s fine to have an episode that is pure enjoyment without a major story payoff. Last week’s “Battle for Red Hook” didn’t do a lot to further the story, but it was clearly designed as a one-off “event” installment (cleverly differentiated by the use of the feature-style credits sequence, which were cool, but happily a one-time affair), but episodes like “The Assassin”, though they demonstrate technical skill, are marred by a narrative stagnancy that sees repetitive plot points add up to nothing but a zero sum game.
The Strain never wastes too much time with subtle episode titles, and this week’s titular assassin is none other than Eph, putting his hard-won riffle to good use in his crusade against Eldrich Palmer. Dutch is avoiding her pesky love-triangle problem by teaming up with Eph, bringing technical and (im)moral support. Square across from Palmer’s office in the Stoneheart building — listening in via Dutch’s fancy spy tech — the two have a heart-to-heart…or as close as you can get with what are arguable two of the most heartless non-villain humans on the show. Dutch is all about bonobos — they’re promiscuous, they’re happy, and they resolve all their problems with sex…sound familiar? To Dutch, monogamy is a raw deal, and as she ponders her Vasily/Nikki conundrum, she admits that choosing “either one feels like cutting off one of my arms.” Dutch and Eph should have more screen time together. Corey Stoll and Ruta Gedmintas have a chemistry that pops on-screen, and their wry, hard-edged personalities mesh well.
Dutch’s moment of emotional maturity is cut short when Palmer returns. Having tentatively won Coco back over with a confession of love, the two strut back into Palmer’s office. Coco thinks she made the wrong choice by coming back. Palmer says she belongs there. (No. Run Coco, run!). Their argument is interterupted when Eldrich gets an unexpected visitor. The mayor is pissed. He’s had it with Councilwoman Feraldo’s insubordination and calls on the mighty Eldrich Palmer to take her down a peg. Palmer agrees to speak to her, though he’s politic about it, singing her praises as he does so. When the mayor leaves, Palmer tells Coco to alert the media that they’ll arrive at the press conference at 3. Eph and Dutch hear the whole thing, and now they know exactly where and when to get a clean shot.
Why does Feraldo need a talking to? Well, it seems Justine lost her argument with the mayor in some off-screen time, because they’re announcing that her Strigoi-warding Safe Streets Initiative is headed to the Upper East Side. “We’re moving on up,” jokes Mayor Lyle (ugh, shut up, mayor, you’re such a gutless clown). However, Justine isn’t one to take injustice without a fight, so she’s demanding that each resident pay a parcel tax equal to 1% of their property value for her efforts. Which is honestly some crazy shit to do. I really like Justine, but that is a an abuse of power and way out of the bounds of the law. This is where The Strain‘s muddy version of the apocalypse gets tricky. Of course the wealthy residents of the Upper East Side can afford it, and of course if the world ends, their money won’t be worth a damn anyway — Justine’s demands are entirely reasonable through an apocalyptic lens. But we have no gauge on how the Strigoi infection is affecting the country at large (D.C. seemed just fine — though if anywhere was fine, it would be D.C.), and in a situation where the government still holds power, Justine’s demands are an undeniably egregious abuse of that power. Even if we are rooting for her.
Dutch and Fet have relocated to a prime position for a clean shot on Palmer, and as Eph peers through the scope of his riffle, waiting for the right moment to fire, the series delivers the most stomach-churning moments of tension to date. Go figure that in a series about the monster apocalypse, the most anxious, stress-inducing scene would require no creature effects at all. But the stakes are so high, and if eph’s aim is true, it will be a massive victory for humankind. Eph is eager to fire. Dutch tells him to wait, reminding them they only have one chance. Eph lines up a clean shot and…flubs it. Palmer is fine, covered in a mound of security guards, but poor Coco has taken a hit to the chest. Unfortunately for Eph and Dutch, they didn’t plan a very good escape route. (And next time, maybe bring some sunglasses if you’re a fugitive of the law attempting to assassinate a major public figure.) They almost make it out until Eph bumps into a cop who recognizes him. Busted.
Meanwhile, Fet, Nora and Setrakian are on the search for the Occido Lumen, hunting down all the R. Fonescu’s in New York City, which are just enough to fill the hour. “A virile Fonescu must have gotten around,” jokes Fet, casually explaining away the silliness. The first stop leads to a party den, fully equipped with with graffitied wails, strobe lights, and a pumping dub step soundtrak. “I’m not getting a strong book collector’s vibe,” quips Nora, and soon enough a Strigoi attacks. RIP, Nameless Citizen, dropping the bass even in death. Their next stop is a book shop, a much more likely home for the Occido, but in the midst of their search the gang overhears a report on the radio — a male and female suspect have been taken into custody after an attempt on Eldrich Palmer’s life. When Fet and Nora want to immediately leave to save them, Setrakian offers little concern for their wellfare. Fet finally stands up to the old man’s pig-headedness. “They are more important than this,” he tells Setrakian as he heads out the door.
Palmer is absolutely losing his shit about Coco. She’s stable, but in a coma, and possibly brain dead. He demands that the Master come and save her or he’ll withdraw his support entirely and send the Master’s plans to a grinding halt. Eichhorst is amused by these demands, but promises to pass them along.
Eph and Dutch are stuck in a jail cell, and there’s just enough time for Eph to note that this is going to end badly for them before a police officer clears the room and drags Dutch away, screaming. Just when they’re out the door, in walks Palmer to gloat in Eph’s face that he missed his mark, and how his error may cost an innocent woman’s life. But Eph’s not sorry he fired the bullet. Ephraim Goodweather, king of Zero Fucks Given. Palmer is trying to justify his support for the Master — the dominant species will always prevail — the humans have no chance and so he has no choice, but Eph isn’t buying it. Palmer did it all to save his own life, and Eph delights in taking him to task for it.
“Why would he share his great kingdom with anybody?” Eph asks him. Palmer may believe they are partners, but once the Master’s agenda is won, Palmer will hold no charge over him. For now, though, he still has a bit of power in their dynamic, and the Master proves it by showing up to Stoneheart and saving Coco’s life. But not before giving Coco an eyeful of her Strigoi savior and putting Palmer’s lies on blast. She rouses, afraid and confused. “Now you have experienced his power for yourself,” he tells her in tears as he laments ever having to lie to her. She looks horrified, as she should be, and I’m really hoping that Coco is heading over to Team Good Guy.
Back at the police station, a pack of Strigoi storm in, making short work of the force. A deeply stupid officer locks himself in the cage with Eph. The strigoi line up against the cell, lashing their tongues at their pinned-down prey. The cop tries to reload his pistol and the Strigoi catch him with their stingers, draining him swiftly. It’s all but lost for Eph when Nora and Fet burst through the door, crow bar and sword a blazin’. Fet is raging in his search for Dutch, and an officer reports that his partner was ordered to deliver her to the Mayfield Hotel.
After three failed attempts, Setrakian heads to the final R. Fonescu on his list. Searching his apartment yields no results, and Setrakian swings his sword around in despair, dropping it to the ground. That’s when he notices the squeaky board underfoot, and sure enough, underneath lies the Lumen. Setrakian flips through the pages, spending way too much time idling, and a man knocks him out from behind, taking the Lumen from his grasp once more.
The episode’s stinger reveals exactly where Dutch is in the Mayfield Hotel, and bad news, she’s chained up in Eichhorst feeding room. Eichhorst slowly reels the chain in with a nefarious grin, and Dutch futilely resists, her screams lost in the padded white walls.
Season 2 has undoubtedly marked a general improvement for the series, delivering large-scale action, top-notch creature effects and consistent performances from the fantastic leading cast, but the narrative troubles continue to keep the series from achieving its full potential. By the time you reach episode 10 you have to ask — how much has actually happened this season? There have been some excellent Strigoi stand-offs, and Eph’s had a compelling, if unlikable, arc, but the major storylines consistently cancel themselves out. Actions rarely have consequences. It happened at the season half-way mark with “Identity”, and now, as we near the end, it’s happened once again.
Eph’s Strigoi virus, which is seemingly shelved for the time being, led him to his decision to assassinate Palmer. Eph’s assassination attempt is a failure, and the impact of it is nullified when Coco is saved. Setrakian finally gets his hands on the Lumen, but it’s gone before he can put it to use. In an episode that otherwise delivered the goods, it all amounts to no progress made.
Episode Rating: ★★★
- Coco calling out Palmer on his endless bullshit parade: “You think you’re the only one with a hard life? You think that entitles you to something?” — yes he really does.
- Dutch: “This is pretty badass of you.”
Eph: “Yeah, well…it won’t be that badass if I miss.”
- Councilwoman Feraldo: “Trust me, you don’t want to play ‘wouldn’t dare’ with me.”
- Fet appreciates a good Strigoi rave: “You got to respect a guy who keeps a party going no matter what.”
- Nora: “You could have told me.”
Fet: “I have an aversion to rats.”
- As a grown ass adult, I’m not one to invest too heavily in fictional relationships, but I think I ship Fet and Nora. Yeah, I ship Fet and Nora
From the Set
- Jonathan Hyde on Palmer’s relationship with the Master: “Well, Palmer, it seems, is under the illusion that they’re partners. I have to believe that he believes it, that he actually, genuinely believes that they have a partnership, that they are absolute equals. But essentially, I think, he may be living a deep lie — that he may, in fact, deep down really believe that he is hostage to this extraordinary creature and that his power is limited. He knows that he’s useful, that he can pull all sorts of essential levers to bring the whole thing to a head. And he knows that he’s very crucial to that, as well. He can reach into the White House. He has tentacles everywhere. So I suppose on the surface, he’s very confident, and underneath — I think, way underneath — he’s thinking he’s treading on very thin ice.”