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The Strain Recap: The Master’s Degree

THE STRAIN "The Box" -- Episode 2 (Airs Sunday, July 20, 10:00 pm e/p) -- Pictured: Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather -- CR: Michael Gibson/FX

Last week’s Strain pilot episode, “Night Zero,” straddled a fine line between sub-genre excess and elegant thematic prose. If its ensuing chapter, “The Box,” is a reasonable barometer for where the balance might tilt, then things are going to get very, very silly. 

Just when you thought we’d met all the players, “Box” opens up on Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand), a badass pest-control man who occupies a vast warehouse loft in Red Hook. His distaste for vermin and zeal for eradicating unwelcome critters suggests some particularly icky trauma buried deep in his personal history. In the present, that predilection for stomping out multi-legged infection carriers means bad news for the owner of a swank Manhattan restaurant. Vasiliy can’t be bought like some rookie exterminator. A free meal won’t sate his appetite for fumigation. And boy, does he know his way around an LED flashlight.

Likewise, Holocaust-surviving pawnbroker Abraham can get Biblical with a sword. When Nazi-bot Eichorst visits his old foe in jail — where Mr. Setrakian is still being detained for his dustup at the airport — he only acknowledges Abraham as “Jew,” or 8230385, the very sequential branding Eichorst assigned him in the camps. Abraham, in no way disillusioned by or cowering before evil, snaps back with an anecdote about slicing Eichorst’s friend into little pieces with the Master’s own sword. (And we can now commence referring to the 9-by-4-foot destructor transported in that nutrient-rich cabinet as the Master.)

Thankfully, Abe won’t be alone in his fight for long. Iced out by CDC bureaucracy and the Health and Human Services Secretary’s refusal to halt import-export commerce by closing JFK, Ephraim (but you can call him Eph) and Nora should ally with Abraham any episode now. And once Vasility gets wind of the vampire business superseding his routine sweeps, it’s not hard to fathom why he’d volunteer his particular expertise. As for Gus, he may be too beat for Sunday mass after hauling the Master around, but once the reality of his actions sets in, a tried-and-true, kid-from-the-streets redemption arc is fait accompli.

Mr. Palmer’s as-yet loyal muscle Fitzwilliam may yet join the Average Joes and save the world, assuming he snuck a peek out the car window when the Master revealed his true self. Harvesting organs is one thing, but invoking the services of a possibly prehistoric behemoth that sustains itself through violent and spiritual genocides might be where Fitzwilliam feels less obliged. Hell, even Palmer — a candidate for bittersweet mid-series death if there ever was one — seems to wish he could put the Master back in his coffinet (a sufficiently reconciled term for that haunted-house contraption he crosses continents in). Clearly, Mr. Palmer’s not much of a horror-movie study. 

If there’s one little problem Ephraim, Abraham, et al couldn’t quite contain while dealing with all that sticky red tape, it’s that the four quarantined survivors — thanks to plucky attorney Joan Luss — were set free. That means more orgies for Bolivar, who apparently needn’t maintain the ruse of his persona when “getting his pipes cleaned.” (Regina King, playing Bolivar’s manager, Ruby, must be thinking, Wait — Southland was axed just for me to be offered this?) Just before jumping into bed, he removes his wig, even letting the ladies call him “Gabe.” But then, with phony follicles still attached, how would his lucky conquests observe that his hair’s falling out in chunks, an apparent telltale sign of the Master’s parasitic implantation? Though if that somehow eluded them, it’d be hard to miss the moment when Gabe gnashed down on one of their pulsing jugulars, causing the whole gaggle to flee and scream. (That is clearly making the gossip pages tomorrow.)

Through the Regis “survivors” — the very notion a veritable taunt to Abraham — we see the gradual onset of symptoms as the episode wears on, from their shared aural humming and ashen pallor to Captain Doyle’s erratic cellular activity, Bolivar’s bloodlust and, climactically, little Emma’s Species-worthy choke-out of daddy Arnot. By the time Mr. Arnot’s body falls lifeless into that milky bathwater, it’s evident that the Master (with Mr. Palmer as his latest impulsive benefactor) is on a mission to find faith and strength where it lives and systematically bleed and breed it out. Sorry, Vasiliy, but we’re gonna need a bigger LED flashlight.

Apart from all that:

I’ll just state on record, as a Jew descended from Holocaust survivors, that I cringe a bit at the way shows like this exploit its dramatic potential, although I’m not principally opposed to its inclusion (American Horror Story: Asylum fared quite well) and am open to it being cathartic.

The dialogue in this series is tough.

I thought Bishop died in Cargo Area 3? Or was it always D?

So, is this all going to culminate at the eclipse?

“You’re not a hero or a savior, just a number.” Them’s fightin’ words, Nazi-bot.

Gus, you broke the cardinal rule: Always wait until your mom is at least down the hallway before violently attacking your younger brother.

Wherever there’s a cracked pair of glasses, a dead medical examiner can’t be far away.

Easy on the score during Nora’s pep talk to Eph about his family obligations, okay? Maybe just easy on all the Eph family stuff?

Matt is so going to die.

Photo: null/FX