The Strain Recap: Zack Attack

The Strain
The Strain
Episode Title
The Third Rail
Editor’s Rating

Abe Setrakian might have gotten along famously with Rectify’s Daniel Holden. Both are innately good but have been driven to dark reaches of the soul, to a point where it challenges the very existential notions of decency and evil. They also enjoy a home-cooked meal, display an aptitude for carpentry and pepper conversations with popular philosophy (Daniel prefers Aquinas, while Abe is more of a Joseph Campbell man). But Daniel, newly off death row, is merely trying to survive in the real world. Abraham, conversely, is hell-bent on staring down certain death by squaring off against an eight-foot-tall vampire who’s amassed a horde of nesting scions well on their way to siphoning humankind of its essence. Suffice to say, this is where the similarities cease.

“The Third Rail” ends with our theoretical heroes still dysfunctional as a group, like a talent-laden baseball team who can’t seem to find their chemistry down the stretch. Abe, Eph, Fet (these characters at least have useful shorthands) and Nora decide to pursue the Master’s subterranean lair, which they deem to be beneath the World Trade Center because, as Abe instructs (and because Eph, apparently a dumbass, has to ask), “The Master is drawn to places of great human misery.” What they find is a serious strigoi slumber party. These things nest en masse, tired from their transformation, in a manner that’s akin to baby True Blood vamps’ dazed immaturity upon first being turned.

Gus, sadly, makes a similar discovery uptown at his apartment. After mowing down his newly mutated brother with a baseball bat (yet another minor player who was eighty-sixed before we hardly knew he), the good son stumbles on his mom going nappy-pie in the closet. He doesn’t kill her. He doesn’t have to. She wakes and creaks toward him, but shies away from the nearby window and its natural light. Lucky for Gus, their pesky landlord is waiting in the hallway like fresh meat, letting our traumatized fugitive take out his mounting frustration.

Meanwhile, poor Zack’s got his own elderly mama drama to contend with. As Eph and crew pack up the delivery truck and head downtown, Zack’s been given the thankless task of looking after Nora’s mother, who’s dementia only serves to put others in jeopardy rather than give her character dimension. True to form, she won’t stop yammering about busting loose from Abe’s pawn shop until Zack goes out and gets a pack of her precious Morley cigarettes. The young Goodweather, growing more bold by the minute, ventures out into the deserted streets to make a Walking Dead-esque supply run at a nearby bodega, only to get spooked when a pair of squatters come and loot the joint for food. He scurries into the basement, encounters a drooling vamp (duh), makes it out unscathed, inadvertently lures the squatters to their deaths and — hoorah — has his meet-cute with Gus before fleeing back to the relative safety of Abe’s compound.

There, he and we get the fake-out one might have expected (and hoped for) when Gus happened on mommy Elizalde. Mrs. Martinez is, in fact, just fine, and eager to dote on the “sweet, young boy.” Except Zack’s no longer so pure and sweet. Watching him grab one of Abe’s knives and shadow-stab imaginary demons, it’s apparent that, like Mr. Setrakian, Zack has begun his own transformation into conflicted avenger. He is this show’s analog to young Luke Skywalker or John Connor, with Abe as his ostensible Obi-Wan and Terminator in one. Without knowing where the story is going, a future in which he and the anti-hero vamps who offed Joan Luss band together and battle the undead majority could be worth watching.

But at present, it’s up to our gang going toe-to-toe with the Master below Ground Zero. Though between Eph falling for the ol’ “It’s me, your wife, calling for help, even though every rational part of you knows it’s a trick” horror setup, Fet prematurely detonating the UV light bomb and sending the Master fleeing for cover, Abe’s aging bones and Nora still bemoaning how victims’ scattered personal effects “are everything that defined these people,” odds sit squarely in the bad guys’ favor.

With but two installments to go in season one, the big questions are these: Will Gus hook up with Abe’s army? Can Abe outlast an immortal force that’s bedeviled him for decades? Does Eph have what it takes to be more than Zack’s future motivation? Will Dutch go back to Fitzwilliam and beg him pretty-please to let her assassinate Eldritch Palmer? Will Mrs. Martinez’ Morley habit kill her before the strigoi do? And, most crucially, will Bolivar be saved so he can regrow his testicles and rally humanity with the majesty of rock? Tough to say, since, as Fet puts it while gazing out over their competition, “That’s a lot of munchers.”

Apart from all that:

  • Sometimes this show feels more like a video game than serial television.
  • Strain deep symbolism of the week: Did the Virgin Mary beside Gus rattle to represent his shaken faith, or how his shaken faith has led him to his current dilemma?
  • For the first time this season, I started to ask myself: What if Abe’s wrong?
  • I’m guessing Zack wasn’t known as Captain Courageous among his classmates.
  • They really screwed the pooch with the Master’s makeup. Maybe they should have just let actor Robert Maillet be Robert Maillet.