The Strain Recap: Luss for Life

Photo: Michael Gibson/FX
The Strain
The Strain
Episode Title
For Services Rendered
Editor’s Rating

As we’re well aware, there are many rules within The Strain’s strigoi-killing universe (to wit, it can now be confirmed that offing the Master withers all his spawns). But the most consistent maxim seems to be that cumbersome cynics and non-believers don’t last long. Which is probably for the best, since they’re really annoying. 

One feels for Joan’s housekeeper, Neeva, when her young daughter Sebastiane (Shailene Garnett) gets an arrow in the eye from a mysterious new band of antihero vamps. Still, what did Sebastiane think would come of flouting all that medical knowhow and casual French dialect, never mind the gumption to drag Jayden and Keene back to their mother’s house of horrors? All one had to do was take a long look at Mr. Luss (Aaron Douglas of Battlestar Galactica) laid out on the floor to see what becomes of those who don’t heed Neeva’s warnings, if not local cable station NY1’s advisories about cell-phone and internet outages.

Corrections Officer Hernandez (Rothaford Gray) certainly hasn’t been persuaded. After all, as he lectures Gus during a routine anal-cavity search at the detention center, “This is New York City. Weird shit goes down out there all the time.” (Sigh.) As will he, inevitably, once Felix’s conversion to immortal bloodsucker is complete. 

In “Services Rendered,” and in the series as a whole thus far, death as consequence for stubbornness isn’t particularly poetic or doted upon; it’s merely a function of storytelling and a fact of life. Aside from a stereotypically thick FBI agent here or a nosy neighbor there (we’ll miss you, Trip), not even the deserving victims die terribly satisfying deaths. Nor do sympathetic secondary players à la Lauretta or fleeting leads like Joan get any real emotional adiós — just a mortal blow to the temple or an incinerating flood of sunlight, often with their loved ones bearing witness.

The point may be to parallel the cruelty of Polish Holocaust barracks in 1944, which again become a focal point via flashbacks. A scene in which then-human Eichhorst shoots and pistol-whips innocent camp workers until the carver of an ornate Hamsa (young Abe) comes forward serves to illustrate the inexplicable randomness of evil. Although it isn’t the most powerful drama to unfold between Abe and Eichhorst over the course of “Services Rendered.” As we continue to revisit their original acquaintance 60 years ago, it’s revealed that Eichhorst recruited Abe to construct what would become the Master’s coffin. One night, as Abraham’s detail neared completion and Russian artillery bore down on the SS, a drunken Eichhorst challenged what he deemed his counterpart’s moral high ground, intoxicated with the notion of visionary new leadership (i.e. the Master) to refine Hitler’s rough, crumbling blueprint for dictatorship. He lays down his weapon, daring Abe to snare it and pull the trigger. Upon his silent refusal, Eichhorst sneers, “It’s much easier to do nothing, isn’t it?” Only Abraham sees what the Nazi two inches from his nose knows all too well — that he’s a coward whose hubris is inspired not by righteousness or faith, but by following orders. From, if you will, services rendered.

What prideful Mr. Setrakian couldn’t foresee was the sinister purpose those weeks of labor had served beyond keeping him alive long enough to hopefully see Eichhorst buried alongside his distorted Platonism. In the episode’s aforementioned central confrontation, Abe quietly summons the noble resistance that would consume him for decades to come, a Simon Wiesenthal–esque relentlessness that would define his own kind of leadership. It would also lead him to the New York City subways beneath Grand Central Station six decades hence, face-to-face with Eichhorst yet again, in an action-packed stakeout and pursuit right out of French Connection (although this time, the good guy wields a cane). 

The prolonged glimpse into Abraham’s past also articulates his willingness to forgive and recruit Jim, who couldn’t possibly have known he was abetting the devil while waiting for an angel to rid his wife of cancer. Their effort to entrap the cunning Eichhorst nearly worked, were it not for Thomas’s ability to leap onto MTA tracks and claw his talons into the steel of a passing 5 train. The only question is whether all those passengers took a moment between updating iPhone apps, warding away mass-transit germs with globs of Purell, and reading up on pressing headlines of the day, like, “Bolivar’s Concert Eclipsed” (genius, by the way) to notice the man — he’s certainly neither bird nor plane — improbably attached to the other side of the glass.

Six chapters remain this year, and up to this point, The Strain’s dazzled at times with its depictions of decay (kudos on Leslie Hope’s makeup tonight) and offered provocative insights into unknowable sickness and transparent bad deeds. It’s also been spectacularly tone-deaf and anticlimactic just as often. Now that a second season’s been confirmed for 2015, we can assume the vampire siege may well send a small group of survivors seeking refuge underground and possibly joining forces with those valiant mutants who rescued Neeva, Audrey, and Keene. Eph may even start demonstrating some consistency in his conviction about the epidemic, perhaps even relinquishing his need for control to contain what he can of humanity and repossess the family he’s all but lost. And unless he’s arbitrarily whacked like his Regis pal Joan, Bolivar could possibly rise up and quench his lifelong thirst for leadership as some kind of vampire idol. Because as Eichhorst once warned Abe, even if he finally meets true death and Eldritch’s drug cartel fails to deliver those liver meds, there’s always someone willing to sacrifice everything for absolute authority, and the Master will always be waiting.

So, to answer Eichhorst’s question about what Abraham’s God would think of him now (and paraphrase a quintessential line from Guillermo del Toro contemporary Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive), it’s time to kick ass for the lord.

Apart from all that:

  • What’s an NYC yellow cab doing in Bronxville?
  • Stupid, stupid cab driver.
  • Gus does not do drugs. Got it.
  • We can assume the gang might soon bust Gus out of jail? Or they’ll somehow find each other?
  • Only The Strain could manage to make poor, cancer-stricken Sylvia infuriatingly unsympathetic. 
  • Speaking of character development, Neeva’s at risk for being something of a stereotype, no?
  • Awesome shot of Joan’s reflection vibrating in the mirror.
  • And, lastly, the triumphant return of music notes! Since we missed last week’s, here’s some soundtrack detail of from “Occultation”: Todd Rundgren’s “Love Is the Answer” certainly seems appropriate under the circumstances, and the trend of a Spanish-language hip-hop track continues with Pusho’s “La Matematica.” Although most interesting was the inclusion of obscure, early dancehall track “No Cup No Broke,” by teen reggae group African Brothers, featuring a young Sugar Minott. Now, for tonight’s episode, all the selections were actually original compositions by Ramin Djawadi, but maybe next week, if/when Bolivar returns, we’ll get some more terrible goth music?