The Strain Recap: The Jazz Stinger

Photo: Michael Gibson/FX
The Strain
The Strain
Episode Title
It's Not for Everyone
Editor’s Rating

As has been discussed in this forum before, any classic horror story worth its serum needs a catchy set of rules (e.g. don’t feed Gremlins after midnight; slay werewolves with silver bullets; don’t dumbassedly intone “Candyman” in front of a mirror three times; etc.). Over the course of four installments, Abraham’s revealed some of the Strain universe’s vampire-abating essentials, such as destroying the head and burning the body. Handily, he demonstrates those twin tenets quite effectively when separating host Emma’s neck from sternum. He then urges Nora and Eph to get the eff out the way so he can dispatch of Papa Gary, who’s come back home from feeding to seek shelter before sunrise (a disinclination toward daylight holds fast from familiar myths). The final bit of caution? Don’t make contact with those parasitic worms as they spill out from the Arnots’ insides. 

These vamps are fairly simple organisms by design. When Eph, Nora, and Jim splice open the carcass that was once Captain Redfern, they discover what Dr. Goodweather deems an “efficient,” entirely new circulatory system and set of organs that’s almost reptilian. These creatures exist solely to consume, survive, and procreate. But so long as a freshly sharpened sword rests by one’s side, they can be taken down mano-a-eunuch. The problem, as Mr. Setrakian grimly denotes, is that the virus has already spread. 

Or, if you follow Eldritch’s version of what happened on that flight — as relayed to Secretary Pierson, whose career we learn has been made possible by Mr. Palmer’s largesse — it was simply a still-incubating military agent run amok who has since vanquished.

Either way, Nora wants no part of it. Never mind that she was the one who hunted down Abraham and implored Eph to reconsider the old guy’s expertise. The moment evil-dead Emma’s skull went rolling around that carpet like a wobbling Weeble, Nora got cold feet and skedaddled from the scene, opting to die from the disease before killing human beings. It’ll be just like that time the Chinese culled birds in Hong Kong during the Avian Flu! Eph reassures her, flashing that trademark Goodweather way with consolation. But she’s out (for now), no matter how much Eph needs her.

Meanwhile, over in the section of Brooklyn that apparently doubles for a suburb in northern New Jersey, infected Regis survivor Ansel, a.k.a. Steve Buscemi vampire (Busempire?), goes from pale and veiny to outright insane-y. After Ann-Marie drops the kid off with Grandma, she comes back home desperately clutching onto some rosary beads and the false hope that her husband isn’t mutating into something unholy. One dead dog later (we knew it was coming, but why does this continue to be such a popular ploy on these shows?), ashen Mrs. Barbour finds a fiending Ansel in their shed. He’s chained himself by the neck to avoid lashing out at his beloved, even warning her with all his immortal restraint to get the hell out of Dodge. And in the episode’s best and giddiest bit of action, she runs into their badgering neighbor Chip, who simply won’t tolerate that damn canine’s barking any longer. “He’s all yours,” Ann-Marie essentially obliges (as Chip, shockingly, takes off his belt for the beating), before shoving him inside and sating Ansel’s need for flesh.

But where is this Master who’s come to conquer us all, you ask? Eldritch would certainly like to know. Just when things are getting good, the Stoneheart honcho’s liver transplant arrives and he’s whisked off to surgery, despondent that Master and servant (i.e. Eichorst) have possibly played him for a fool. Increasingly spastic CDC betrayer Jim Kent can relate, although all he wanted was a chance for his cancer-stricken Sylvia to live half as long as Palmer and, if possible, without karmic debt. 

Alas, that’s not how the world works, and much as it’s “harder to hide evil shit these days” — to quote Palmer’s latest recruit, token sexy hacker-chick Dutch Velders (Ruta Gedmintas, late of the NBC debacle Do No Harm), good intentions can bring evil to the surface. Which makes Ephraim mad. Mad enough to punch. Though when he and Nora learn of Jim’s dealings with Stoneheart, she can’t help but put herself in their colleague’s shoes, even as she leaves him bruised and peerless by where they dissected Captain Redfern’s massive stinger. Then again, Nora doesn’t make a lot of sense. Nor does Mia Maestro make convincing work of even her character’s most rational moments, let alone when reminding Jim, “You have insurance!” But The Strain is, in part, the kind of show where you’re always aware of actors acting and line-readers reading lines. There are exceptions (David Bradley continues to get the most out of terse, barking Abraham, for example), but then there are deadening exchanges, like Gus lamenting to carjacking buddy Felix that “a sure thing got me locked up last time.” At least “It’s Not for Everyone” spared us more Goodweather family drama.

The body count has yet to dramatically ascend, even as Strain’s cast credits continue to swell. If Guillermo del Toro, Chuck Hogan, and crew are taking cues from The Walking Dead, every one of these irregular bit players will become either bitten or bait, leaving no screentime to waste. In the process, strange alliances (Gus and the Nigerians, perhaps?) should continue to form, and in the series’ most transparent sentiment, ideologues for compassionate science and necessary self-defense will reconcile their differences to save life on Earth. And if we’re lucky, Ann-Marie will continue to ring that dinner bell.

Apart from all that: 

You could point to Invasion of the Body Snatchers for influence, but I prefer Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

Speaking of which, Chip kind of reminded me of Nightmare 2’s Coach Schneider.

I did snicker at Gus’s “go green.”

In light of recent current events, Ann-Marie venting, “Goddamn airplanes, like missiles, the way they rip through everything,” was particularly pointed.

And to get you up to speed on last week’s music notes: Some folks already noted the fine use of Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy in C” during the opening scene, and otherwise it was predominantly scored by the show’s music composing maestro Ramin Djawadi. Tonight, you might have caught wind of Dead Prez’s “Hip-Hop” booming in the Nigerians’ underground HQ, contrasted with Gus and Felix rolling to Latin rapper Proyecto TQ’s “Esto Es Guerra,” but who will forget children’s-music arrangers Stephan North, Pat Lee, and Grahame Maclean’s take on “This Old Man” in little Emma’s room?