The Strain Recap: Scene Feelers

Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather. Photo: FX
The Strain
The Strain
Episode Title
By Any Means
Editor’s Rating

As an actor, you never know when you’ll get that call back for one more reprisal. Unless Adina Verson, who played Abraham’s wife, Miriam, via flashback in one episode last season, knew ahead of time she’d be in the script for “By Any Means.” The rest of us probably didn’t see it coming. Nor did we imagine that Abe first met a polio-stricken, wheelchair-bound Eldritch Palmer while teaching college kids in Vienna circa 1965. (Unless, perhaps, you read the books, but who reads books?) Yep, turns out Palmer’s greedy designs on immortality intersected with Setrakian’s (or Professor Setrakian to you) quest to abolish the Master half a century ago. Only Abe made an error in judgment back then that may yet cost him dearly. Though Miriam was suspicious of the younger Palmer’s intentions, her husband nevertheless accepted his money if it meant he could accelerate the hunt for strigoi. Palmer was even hip to the Occido Lumen, so how could he resist?

Fifty years later, Abe’s got his nemesis cornered, cautioning that he’ll undo whatever master plan Palmer and Eichhorst are abetting. Still brimming with mojo, Eldritch at last reveals his motivation, explaining that God abandoned him while ill as a child and that he owes the almighty nothing. To thine own self be true, one supposes. And even though, at this point, Abe and Fet have successfully spoiled one of Palmer’s stagey press conferences (this one meant to convince the city that he’s offering unlimited food, when in reality he’s gathering data on their blood type), the hubristic Stoneheart CEO’s got reason to flex. After all, New Yorkers are under his spell, foxy assistant Coco Marchand is writing speeches that bestow him with false humanity, and over at the warehouse in Throggs Neck, Eichhorst and Kelly are readying for a feeding frenzy.

And who of any civic stature is doing anything to stop him? As the mayor himself concedes, bureaucrats are too busy pointing fingers and protecting their hides to forge a solution, making it far too easy for Eichhorst’s new wingman (and now secretary) Barnes to enact a borough-by-borough quarantine of the infected. Enter: Councilwoman Justine Faraldo (Samantha Mathis), who bursts into a meeting of governing minds and lays out her plan, plain and simple: Preserve her native Staten Island block by block, by any means necessary. Much like the virulent vampire strain itself, her vigilante mentality is spreading. Fet has the same idea about Brooklyn, bringing Dutch along for the ride and laying waste to some nasty dead-alive at a nearby gym to get the party started. (And, once done, going for a skinny dip with his new more-than-friends sidekick, who also takes on the role of de facto swim instructor.)

It’s a neat analog to Eph and Nora’s plan to beat the disease, which is all about taking the fight directly to it, in their own microbiotic way. Sure, Eph’s methods become a bit sneaky, but he can’t just go ahead and euthanize Mrs. McGeever (Brenda Bazinet) per her hubby’s wishes when they’ve still got testing to do. Besides, Eph’s been drinking and it’s been a long couple weeks, and if he doesn’t figure out how to reverse this epidemic, not only is he a widower but he’s of little use to himself, his son, or the world. It sounds dramatic, but it’s kind of true. Though when it comes to Zack (whom it’s admittedly tempting to call Carl-lite), the kid’s already wearying of Dad being dodgy and placating, making him increasingly vulnerable to his newly empowered mom-pire’s designs. If only he knew that pops was, in fact, on the precipice of a real breakthrough.

Too bad Kelly’s already got her feelers in tow, sniffing out some of Zack’s old clothes to get a whiff of his scent and beat on his whereabouts. Who knew the late Mrs. Goodweather would turn out to survive as one of The Strain’s most compelling fringe foes? (See: earlier remark regarding books.) Even though it was evident at last season’s end that her story was far from over, the development of these creepy, chattering mini-vamps as her extra-sensory charges is one hell of a wild card. And kudos to the makeup-SFX teams for rendering them and Kelly both hideous and hypnotic. Ditto for beefing up some adult night-stalkers, who are getting visibly and terrifyingly stronger, enough where it’s hard to fathom how Fet or Faraldo can keep going Dusk Till Dawn on their ass.

Despite Vasiliy and Dutch’s efforts, and whatever progress Eph and Nora are making in the lab (not to mention, in Eph’s case, playing petri-dish basketball), Fet knows they need Abe’s head in the game. But the old man’s in such a tizzy between his failure to vanquish the Master and difficulty finding traces of Occido Lumen that he’s losing faith. He’s beginning to wonder if all his bubbe’s stories were merely hearsay. Until, in the nick of time, a telltale illustration escapes from his notes and drifts to the floor. There’s no mistaking it as having come from the sacred text that might lead them to mythologized destruction of all strigoi.

All told, our fearless vampire killers, along with a bold new local politician, have some guile and wiles to work with. It’s making for a much more exciting season than its predecessor, which worked overtime introducing its cast at the expense of coherent action. But Eph, Fet, Abe et al better watch their backs, because Kelly’s on the loose, the Master’s out prowling for a young new vessel, and Eichhorst is starting to turn his gaze toward the catbird’s seat. As Abe’s bubbe warned last week, evil comes in many forms, and sometimes, if we’re not careful or we're too complacent, history’s worst lessons can repeat themselves.

Apart from all that:

  • That chase scene between young Abe and the Nazi merchant wasn’t quite TV’s most riveting action sequence.
  • Ya know, Walter Reed, yellow fever …  jeez, doesn’t anyone know anything?
  • Ooooh, Fet butt.
  • Abe’s got reason to be leery of human experimentation.
  • That Nazi’s pawnshop looks an awful lot like the one Abe erects later on.
  • I like the idea of an increasingly flawed Eph.
  • Cool visual of the old lady’s tongue starting to split.
  • Always tricky invoking the Twin Towers, even for a show that summons the Holocaust this much.