Alright folks, end of the line! FX hired on some big guns for The Strain‘s Season 2 finale, bringing on Splice and Cube director Vincenzo Natali (most recently know for some MVP directing on Hannibal). He’s a natural fit for the series, and with Natali behind the camera, The Strain’s technicolor palette is cranked up to overdrive, a wash of blue, red, green and orange. Most importantly, Natali delivers a rousing conclusion to a fun season fraught with consistent story issues. The finale is a satisfying hour that sees major character deaths, new alliances, and nods at a very dark Season 3.
The end begins with glimpse at the future. In a truly creepy reveal, we finally get a look at the long alluded-to Phase 2 of the vampire apocalypse, which apparently involves a massive human processing plant. Eesh, not too hard to see where they’re going with this. Phase 1 unleashed chaotic violence on the streets of New York, and Phase 2 will see that slaughter industrialized. Herr Eichhorst strolls through the newly constructed factory, surveying the work of the construction team, and as he alludes the plants European origins, it’s impossible not to conjure thoughts of the Holocaust. And of course, that’s what the series has non-too-subtlety been building toward for some time — the human Holocaust. And it’s very, very nigh. The human processing plant is equipped with massive meat hooks, enclosures that open only from the top, and there’s an incinerator ready to be installed by the end of the week. Fueled by a desire for money and a willingness to not ask too many questions, humans have constructed the means for their own annihilation, and all for the low, low cost of three times their hourly wages.
At Fet’s Loft, Zack, Nora and Eph are embarking for their journey to Atlanta, which will see Zack safely deposited with his grandparents, and hopefully far away from screen time. Setrakian is being all grumbly and hard-hearted about their departure, because how else would he be? But it’s not hard to see a little chink in his emotional armor. On Eph’s orders, Nora, Zack and Setrakian pose for a goodbye photo, never a good omen in horror. Nora promises to find them when they get back, another bad omen, and the trio heads toward the train station leaving only Setrakian and Fet in their once crowded loft.
In the days since Eph’s last D.C. trip, the train station has devolved into an all out zoo. People are storming the gates, guns fire in the background, but fortunately for Eph and Co., Councilwoman Feraldo landed them tickets on the last train out. Why is it the last train? Because “National Guard is rounding up all the trains” – wait, what?! The employees don’t know when the train will arrive, but they do know for certain that there is a two bag limit. Perhaps the most arbitrary rule ever invented given it’s the last running train in a vampire apocalypse. The wait for the train gives Nora and Eph a moment to work out their emotional drama. Eph talks about a “fresh shot” in DC, but Nora’s still not really feeling it. That is, until he jokes that nobody can annoy her as much as he does, and then they hold hands. There’s too much lingering, too much sweetness, this is going to end badly. Sure enough, as the two share a brief moment of reconciliation, Kelly peers around the corner growling at them.
At Stoneheart, Coco and Eldrich are snuggly and smoochy, which remains appalling. In some of Season 2’s most disappointing character work, it’s taken only two episodes since Coco received the white for her to go from an intelligent, morally sound woman to villainous Girl Friday to all out Lady MacBeth-ing in Palmer’s ear about how he needs to make the Master respect him. He’s totally buying it, like a clown, and I’ll be damned if this pride doesn’t cometh before a fall.
After fortifying his van, Fet and Setrakian arrive at the auction for the Occido Lumen, where Alonso Creem is all swagger; a special kind of greed-induced stupid. He’s sipping champagne and won’t stop talking about gold when Eichhorst walks in, and because he’s an Austin Powers 3 villain and literally only cares about gold, he could not give a fuck less that some random dude just showed up saying he’s taking Palmer’s place. Meanwhile Eichhorst and Setrakian are trading barbs, Fet wants to get in on that action, so he starts threatening to put his rebar though Eichorst’s face. The whole scene is actually pretty hilarious since every single character is behaving like a caricature of themselves. “Blah blah I have taken everything from you,” says Eichhorst. Setrakian replies with a delusional, over-confident threat. Fet chimes in, “Rebar!”. “Gooooooold,” cries Alonso in the background.
Then we get an even funnier sequence wherein Setrakian and Eichhorst bid ridiculous amounts of money for the Lumen, even though neither of them knows how much is in their account. When the bids reach 300 million, even Goldmember is alarmed by how much they’re throwing down, so he proposes that whoever has the most gold will win for exactly one dollar more than the losing bid. A quick call to the banks reveals that Eichhorst is the winning bidder, and he’s gloating like it’s his sworn duty when word comes in that his funds have been pulled. Eichhorst is clearly thrown, and ready to fight for the lumen when he’s confronted with about fifteen pistols in the face. He gives Setrakian one last threatening speech and promises to see him soon.
“It’s going to be dark soon. I hope you put aside some money to get a helicopter or something,” Creem tells Setrakian, but as the next scene reveals — no, there is no escape plan. Once again, Setrakian has constructed an outrageously foolish and short-sighted plan. Sure enough, they’re only moments on the road before a truck blindsides them and an all-out strigoi assault begins. They’re well and truly screwed until Gus and his army arrive, quickly dispatching of Eichhorst’s strigoi swarm. Thanks to Fet’s strange little set of skills, the he and Setrakian skip down into the sewers while Eichhorst and Quinlan have a stand off. It seems to me that Quinlan should be able to dispatch of Eichhorst in a heartbeat, but narratively that right belongs to Setrakian, so Eichhorst doges fire and escapes yet again.
Back at Stoneheart, Eichhorst strides in and he’s officially fucking had it with Palmer. “You have crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed,” he tells Eldrich. But Palmer and Coco are haughty as could be, overplaying their hand. “Please, it’s Setrakian,” says Palmer, “My Security team can have the book back in our hands before he’s translated the first page.” (I mean, he’s not wrong). But that’s not good enough, especially when Coco is barking orders at Eichhorst. “What do you think, my Master?” says Eichhorst, eagerly awaiting the reckoning. Bolivar sweeps into the room, basically wags his finger at Palmer, and sucks Coco dry, leaving her a green-tinged husk on the floor. Eichhorst relishes in holding Palmer still, forcing him to watch to the very last drop.
Back on the titular night train, who should sit down next to Eph, Nora and Zack but Mr. R. Fonescue, who does literally nothing the rest of the episode. After they’re all seated, Eph decides to visit the cafe car. Look, when you’re traveling in the vampire apocalypse with your son and the woman you love, splitting up isn’t always a good idea, but the cafe car has light refreshments, and it’s all about priorities, guys. Eph and Nora share an overlong look – bad omen number three – and Eph says, “I’ll be right back.” So yeah, somebody’s about to die for sure. Eph doesn’t even make it to the front of the concessions line when the train runs headlong into an army of Strigoi.
Nora is in full survival mode. While everyone else is still trying to get their wits about them, she’s already got two guns strapped around her and takes Zack straight off the train without waiting for Eph. The two run through the underground, Eph chasing behind unable to find them, crying out their names. Eph quickly dispatches of a few feelers, while a few tunnels over Kelly emerges from the shadows for one last confrontation with Nora. Because she’s the best human being on the show, Nora puts her life on the line to protect Zack without a second thought. She empties her gun. Kelly dodges every bullet. But in close combat, Nora gets the upper hand thanks to her badass sword skills, and just as she’s about to deliver the killing blow Zack yells out “Stop!” Nora falters, and Kelly seizes the moment, stinging Nora on the wrist. Just like that Nora is a dead woman. Goddamnit Zack.
Zack implores Kelly to let Nora go, like that’s worth anything at this point, but she heeds her son’s wishes and walks over to him. “Let me see you,” he demands, and she walks into the light, revealing her monstrous face. “Mom,” he says as he drops his dagger and pulls her in for a hug. She returns the hug, her eyes glow red, and she leads Zack away by the hand, as he looks back towards Nora, leaving her to die alone in the dark. Eph finds Nora quickly, but far too late. She’s infested with worms and she can already hear the Master’s voice inside her. They’re both crying and he’s going on about how they can find a way to fix it when Nora dies as she lived, protecting other people, and touches her sword to the third rail, electrocuting herself and sparing Eph the pain having to kill her himself. She gets a “heroes death” moment as she falls to the ground in slow motion, sparks flying around her. Eph stumbles out of the train station, stricken (and apparently just leaving her body to rot down there), as the sun rises over New York City.
GODDAMNIT ZACK! This character is the most astonishing little dumbshit fuckwit on the planet and it turns out we were right to hate him all along, because he is a monster. I never really thought he was a villain, just the worst. But, credit to the folks at The Strain, they weren’t writing the least-likable kid of all time, they were writing an evil little shit in the making. Maybe he will be easier to tolerate next season now that we know he’s rotten through and through.
As the episode comes to a close, Fet and Setrakian crawl out of a manhole at the docks. “Home free,” says Fet when Gus crawls out of the sewer behind them. They both pull their guns and a brief standoff ensues until Quinlan and Angel arrive. Quinlan demands Setrakian honor his arrangement with the Ancients and hand over the Lumen, but Setrakian embraces his roots as a pawnbroker with a quick bit of wheeling and dealing. He reminds Quinlan that the ancients will destroy the book, eliminating the last thing in the world the Master truly wants. Knowing that the Master will pursue the book until the end, Quinlan agrees to join Setrakian, Angel and Gus in tow. This is our new alliance as we head into Season 3, and while I’ll miss the loft gang, it’s high time Gus and Quinlan finally arrive at the heart of the story. As the new team sails down the river, Fet at the helm, Setrakian flips through the pages of the Lumen, a voiceover monologue pondering the future of the human race.
“We have become over confident as a species. We ignorantly believed in our primacy over all else, over all other species, over our planet itself. Will we perish by our own greed and selfishness? Or will we overcome and survive?”
Episode Rating: ★★★★
Season Rating: ★★★ – Season 2 is a marked improvement over the first, but willfully stupid characters, circuitous storytelling, and convoluted world-building continue to keep the series from reaching its full potential.
- Looks like Palmer is back in the organ collecting business, and Coco’s heart will undoubtedly be the center piece. There’s a nice symmetry there with Setrakian’s story (he also cut out the heart of the woman he loved), but Palmer is a coward, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t obey the Master’s every whim next season.
- Aside from the standard Strain issues with narrative and character motivation, this episode had one major problem – the female characters were boiled down to plot points to further their male counterparts’ journeys. It seems Coco was essentially invented to take the bullet for Palmer, and Nora (who I understand survives much longer in the books), was killed to spur on Eph’s journey. Both of these women, two of the most likable characters on the show, deserved better.
- Angel in a Luchador mask! Love it.
- “How ironic that our duel shall end, not with a fight, but with a simple transaction in gold.” Setrakian: “I assure you, Eichhorst, our duel shall end with a transaction in silver.”
- Construction Worker: “What kind of animal are you going to be processing here?” Eichhorst: “Sheep.”
- Setrakian: “We win it, we take it, or we die trying.” Fet: “Yeah, alright. How about we skip that third option though, huh?”
- Fet: “We’re ripping off one gang of immortal monsters and we’re looking to throw down against another?” Setrakian: “That is an accurate assessment.”
- Nora: “I would come for you. I would come for you and Zack.”
It’s been fun a fun summer recapping this with y’all and sharing our mutual distain for Zack, so what do you guys think? Were you satisfied by the conclusion? How did Season 2 measure up as a whole? How my book-readers doing after tonight’s episode changed the game? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.