First up — Whoa! Hey, new credits. There’s an eerie comic book art style, and they do a great job of quickly catching up the viewer on the central characters and story of the series. I like them, but they will take some getting used to. I was quite fond of humming along to Ramin Djawadi’s hook at the beginning of each episode.
Jumping into the episode itself — Quite simply, “The Battle for Red Hook” is the best hour of television The Strain has produced to date. After last week’s “Intruders”, which stood alongside Season 1’ “Creatures of the Night” as a high watermark for the series, “The Battle for Red Hook” takes things to the next level with a streamlined hour of television that whittles the story back down to the central conflict – humanity versus the Strigoi invasion. We also see a return to a couple of the central character conflicts — Setrakian’s rivalry with Eicchorst and Kelly’s envy toward Nora.
The episode picks up pretty directly after Kelly’s attack on Fett’s loft, with the gang rallying for an oncoming attack from the Master — however, while they’re anticipating quick action, they don’t quite anticipate the full-scale assault headed their way.
On Manhattan dock, Eichhorst bribes a small ship captain to carry him and 19 other passengers to the shores of Red Hook. The captain is reluctant, but when confronted with a huge wad of cash and the promise that it’s only half the full payment, he agrees — and just like that the Strigoi have their in.
Meanwhile, Kelly is the picture of an adolescent Strigoi, pouting in a corner about her failure to capture Zach, bemoaning how Nora has replaced her. Eichhorst comforts her — he’s surprisingly good at it for a super-evil Nazi vampire — promising that they will strike again, and soon. He also makes it clear that he considers Nora irrelevant, and says that they will teacher so in due time. While Nora and Kelly have always had conflict over their relationship with Eph, this season has really emphasized the beef between them, and I’m starting to get very worried for Nora, who has emerged as one of my favorite characters in the series.
While Team Strigoi prepares their assault, Team Good Guy splits up to prep their countermeasures. Nora and Fet head off to Nikki’s apartment, where Dutch is welding the hell out of some security bars for the windows and confessing her feelings for Nikki — or at least she’s about to when Fet comes a knockin’. Once Fet has warned them about the attack, he and Nora head off the spread the word to Councilwoman Feraldo, leaving Dutch and Nikki to work out their issues. Which seem to be a lot. Dutch confesses she loves Fet and then immediately proceeds to have angry sex with Nikki. “I’ve always loved you and it’s never made me happy,” she screams before launching into furious makeout mode. Even for the vampire appocalypse, this is one unhealthy relationship.
Meanwhile, Eph pulls a real Eph move, dragging Setrakian and Zach along with him, and goes to warn Feraldo, who doesn’t know him from Adam, about the oncoming Strigoi strike — even though Nora (who’s actually friends with Justine) just said she’s going to do the exact same thing. It doesn’t accomplish much, because Justine understandably thinks he’s a crazy person, but it does get everybody in the right place for the beginning of the attack.
And this is where the episode gets real good. The final half of the hour is built with one action sequence after another, never redundant, each thrilling in their own right.
At the Red Hook checkpoint our central heroes (Gus and Quinlan sit this one out) are United on the frontline. Eichhorst shuts down the power in Red Hook, leaving them with no lights, and more importantly no UV lights with which to defend themselves. The Strigoi send in a probe attack, testing their barricade.
Justine’s forces take them down in a spray of gunfire, though one or two Strigoi make it dangerously close to the top of the fence before they’re shot down. Setrakian knows it’s far from over and warns Feraldo to rally all her forces. Unfortunately, they’re spread out across town patrolling the streets, and when Feraldo climbs a tower to get a better vantage point, she witnesses the massive scale of the attack headed her way and has a moment of weakness. Thankfully, there’s a Captain Kowalski there to give her a verbal spanking and remind her to sack up, and before you can really start to doubt her, Feraldo’s got her head back in the game. With Feraldos forces set to defend the checkpoint, the gang heads out to turn the power back on.
At Nikki’s appartment, Dutch wakes up from their romp to find the power is out, and when she hears gunfire, realizes “something terrible is happening”. In a foolhardy, but admirable move, she heads out to the streets to join the fight. “You’re just one girl…what are you doing?” Nikki cries out. “Thinking of other people”. Well good. I like Dutch, but she’s been a real pill the last few weeks, so it’s nice to see her back in the game, even if that’s a batshit crazy thing to do. She heads out on the streets just in time to see Councilwoman Feraldo riding through, bullhorn in hand, sending out a rally cry to the people of Red Hook to defend their city.
On the way to the power plant, Setrakian lets his vengeful impulses get the better of him once again, and sets out on his own to confront Eichhorst for a final showdown at Fet’s loft. Eph tries to talk him out of it, but the old man is headstrong as ever, insisting that they can handle they can handle the power problem without him and asks Eph to join him. Props to Eph, who’s usually the worst, for doing the logical thing — helping with the power problem — and then being a pretty solid friend by promising to help Setrakian immediately after.
When they reach the power plant, the gang easily dispatches of the remaining Strigoi, but not before one spots Zach, eyes glowing red, and the Master sends the visual to Kelly, who immediately takes off to reclaim her son. Nora continues to be the best and figures out how to get Red Hook back on the grid in no time. There’s a moment of celebration when the lights come on before Zach spots Kelly — finally (!) understanding that she’s a monster. Fet and Nora square off World’s #1 Momma Bear for a few tense minutes — it’s always effective to put your most lovable characters in immediate jeopardy – and Kelly just about has the drop on Fet until a few well armed police men rush in, thwarting Kelly’s efforts once again.
At Fet’s loft, Eichhorst saunters in, anticipating Setrakian’s eagerness for a final showdown. That showdown lasts like, two seconds, maybe, because Setrakian is a withered old man and Eichhorst is a super powerful monster. Good news for Setrakian, Eph delivers on his promise, and shows up with his trusty new rifle just in time to save the day. Eichhorst sprints off to deal with pesky Eph, leading to a one-sided shoot out. Eph creeps behind pillars, taking shots at Eichhorst, as he puts the five Ds into action, easily doge, dip, duck, dive, and dodging every bullet, giving a gnarly anti-Semitic speech in the process (I’ve included the entire speech under Miscellany, because wow). Eph runs out of bullets in no time, but Setrakian swoops in at just the right moment, sending Eichhorst off the roof in a hail of gunfire.
Meanwhile back at the checkpoint, the army of Strigoi quickly overpowers Feraldo’s defenses, storming past the gates – until the people of Red Hook swarm in for a proper battle. Dutch gets a badass gun and sword-weilding moment, fighting the good fight, and just when she finds herself in peril, Nikki shows up to save the day. Even with the help of the city’s citizens, it’s a losing match – until the lights come back on, and the Strigoi roast away under the massive UV lights. The people of Red Hook revel in their battle well won, Feraldo delivering a rousing victory speech, and the gang reunites in the warm light of day for a moment of good feels. Nikki and Fet even have a moment to bro out. In the face of wildly overwhelming odds, Team Good Guy emerges victorious…for now.
Eichhorst told the boat driver “20 passengers, no more no less” but there were sure as hell a lot more than 20 Strigoi in that battle. In true Strain fashion, that’s never explained, but I’m going to assume Eichhorst made that deal with more than one captain. Or maybe the Strigoi held hands underneath the boat in a sort of “monkeys in a barrel” chain.
They’re really playing up the Fet/Dutch/Nikki love triangle, which feels a little out of place in the series. Sure, love triangles are kind of a staple of the modern vampire genre, but The Strain relishes in subverting most of those genre tropes so it’s a strange addition. It’s also a little one-sided since Fet is the fan favorite character and we know very little about Nikki besides the fact that she left the woman she supposedly loves to die at a convenience store with a bunch of strangers.
It’s an absolute pleasure to see Eichhorst back in top form as the jubilantly villainous jew-hater. Richard Sammel relishes in the character’s sportive villainy at every turn, and I relish every moment we get to watch him do it.
I’ve been a little hesitant to buy into Feraldo because of her extremity, but she’s the real deal and I officially like her. She’s a sort of medieval ruler, displaying the bodies of her enemies at the gates and fighting at the front lines with her soldiers. Mad respect.
It’s great to finally see Eph and Setrakian get some screen time together. They’re both so damn curmudgeonly and stubborn, it’s fun to watch them try to keep each other in check. Setrakian also gave Eph some well needed advice about the importance of refusing to become a monster in the presence of monsters. Let’s see if Eph heeds it. Prediction: he won’t.
From the Set
Richard Sammel, who is as fascinating as his character, though more long-winded and less terrifying, on how he sees playing the bad guy and the ambiguity of morality:
“When I play a bad guy, I don’t play a bad guy. And when I play a good guy, I don’t play a good guy. I play a guy. I play the story of a man…You do not behave with the conscience of what you are doing is bad. You behave because you must behave like that. You do what you do because you have a reason for it, whether this reason, for you, justifies what the other does or not. For him it does!
Look at us, look at your food, you have skins of other animals on your feet! Holy shit! And around your belly is another part of skin! You eat the meat of other animals, and those animals are in blood forms. And you raise them, and their only purpose is to be killed whenever it pleases you. Holy shit! So, you know what I mean. And then you decide, we decide this is a pet so he needs to be hugged. Okay? Cats and dogs. Okay. And we get crazy when other people eat them! But we eat cows! In India they are holy!
Saying that – yes, he’s a bad guy…And he decides Setrakian is a pet. He’s a nice pet, so I hug him. But when he’s of no use, well, I’ll kill him…I think that’s also very important always, you know, because we have this complexity going into the whole hero or bad guy system in the modern times now. But heroes are no longer shining heroes, and we talked about that, and the bad guys are not just bad guys. Everybody has a motivation for what he does, and it’s all gray. More or less white or more or less dark, but it’s all in between. That’s way more interesting; also way more challenging for the audience. But I think the audience is pretty much ready for that, you know? Look at Breaking Bad! It’s not that there are shining heroes, yet we cheer for them. ”