Quinlan will not throw away his shot.
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
If you were to pin down any one flaw that’s prevented The Strain from reaching its full potential over the past four years, it’s the show’s annoying lack of urgency. Each season has generally taken too long to re-escalate the conflict between our heroes and The Master, too often getting sidetracked by pointless character drama and subplots along the way. Season 3 was a huge improvement in that regard. With the announcement that the series would be ending with Season 4, it was if the writers finally lit a fire under the butts of Ephraim Goodweather and the gang. Sadly, the deeper we get into Season 4, the more it seems like the show is falling back into old habits.
That was most noticeable in the Fet/Quinlan storyline this week. I was happy to see the duo back in the spotlight after sitting things out last week. But their raid on the missile silo came up a bit lacking. Despite the whole thing revolving around a tense standoff where an injured Quinlan was pinned down by a jittery but well-meaning sniper (Degrassi: Next Class’ Ehren Kassam), there was a surprising lack of tension to the whole ordeal. Neither Fet nor Quinlan ever felt in any real danger. The whole conflict felt stretched and overextended given the straightforward way it played out.
If nothing else, though, the standoff did end on a pretty strong note. You couldn’t help but feel sympathy for poor Dukali, an honest soldier just trying to do what little he could to maintain order and discipline in his remote corner of the country. And Quinlan had the opportunity to remind everyone what a ruthless bad-ass he can be by coldly gunning down Dukali and pointing out how he was merely doing what he promised. That’s some No Country For Old Men behavior right there.
Eph’s ongoing storyline is easily the most cohesive of the season so far. It doesn’t hurt that he’s the only character to actually put in an appearance every week. I appreciate how the writers seem to have made a concerted effort to trim a lot of the fat where Eph is concerned. He may be his usual, grumpy self, but he isn’t wasting screen time drinking himself half to death or wallowing in misery over the loss of his family. He’s simply portrayed as a man crawling out of a psychological hole and learning how to get himself back in the game again. Corey Stoll’s performance is more understated this season, and it’s working out well for his character.
It doesn’t hurt that his new partner Alex (Trial & Error’s Angel Parker) is turning out to be a solid foil for Eph. She too has a fairly no-nonsense air about her. The two are able to commiserate over mutual tragedies (leading to a memorable little nighttime chat), but not to the point where their shared drama distracts from the mission at hand. And thanks to that mission, Eph was able to strike a small but significant blow against the strigoi who now rule the country. Better yet, that attack looks to be the catalyst that will bring Eichorst back into the fray. Whatever momentum this season has built up so far, it’s mostly thanks to Eph.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be a very Zach-focused episode, and that’s rarely a good thing. I really don’t understand a lot of the decisions that are made with this character. Clearly we’re meant to sympathize with this character as he lives out his lonely new existence under the Master’s watchful eye, but it’s tough to connect with Zach in the wake of his actions in Season 3 and his generally whiny, petulant behavior over the course of the series. If anything, Zach’s portrayal is only growing worse. There’s a creepy, almost sociopathic quality to the way he revels in feeding one pet to another and treating his strigoi companion like a dog.
Now things have taken a turn for the bizarre with the sudden emphasis on Zach’s friendship with his maid Abby (Pixels’ Jocelyn Hudon). Clearly the intent is to give Zach some lingering tether to the human world, but the relationship just adds new layers of creepiness to the equation. I’m not clear on what age the Abby character is supposed to be, but Hudon looks far too old to be a potential love interest for the 14-year-old Max Charles. Beyond that, their dynamic together makes Zach seem less like a lonely, kindhearted benefactor and more like a budding Norman Bates.
The one upside to the Zach-heavy focus is that we got a few good scenes with The Master. While I miss the old, pre-infected Eldritch Palmer, Jonathan Hyde continues to impress even under pounds of makeup and prosthetics. He brings a certain weary sadness to a villain who previously had been all about intimidation. And every scene between the Master and Eichorst is a blast to watch, because you always get a subtle sense that Eichorst’s devotion to the Master is clashing with his ingrained hatred and disgust for Palmer. Their dynamic is something that needs to be a greater focus going forward.