It's the antepenultimate episode of The Strain, so it's high time the show finally got down to business. It's Team Vampire Hunter versus The Master in a no-holds-barred match to the death! Only one side will survive! (Please ignore the fact that there are two episodes left and The Strain was renewed for a second season!)
I kid. After many (many, many) episodes of The Strain dawdling around — although I know some people have different opinions — the show finally begins its ends game and sends Setrakian, Fet, Eph and Nora to slay the Master and hopefully end the vampire plague. Their cunning plan, to crib a saying from a certain famous buster f ghosts, is in its entirety "get 'em." Fet rigs up a UV stobe bomb of sorts, Eph trails and fails to convince Nora to stay at the shop and look after his kid and her addled mother (more on this in a sec),
Now, while this assault is ongoing, there are two sub-plots. The first is Gus, and I'm happy and a little surprised to say Gus finally appears to be on his way to connecting with the main plot. He returns home, finds his brother Weevil from Veronica Mars is a vamp, beats him to death without too much concern, but then discovers his mother huddled in her closet, infected and in the process of transforming. Miguel Gomez does some solid acting, clearly devastated at the loss of his mother (infinitely more than his shitty brother). More importantly, Gus picks up a fire axe and heads outside and just starts killing vampires. He even runs into little Zach at a convenience store!
Why is wee Zach at a convenience store when he's supposed to be locked in Setrakian's shop with Nora's crazy mom (and, I might add, literally dozens of in-reach blades and firearms)? Because Nora's crazy mom started freaking out and Zach is a stupid kid and left to go get her cigarettes so she'd calm down. Now, Zach is an idiot because he knows there are monsters on the loose outside, but it's forgivable because 1) he's really young and 2) Nora's crazy mom is pretty creepy. I don't blame his character. Do I blame Eph and Nora for not deciding one of them should stay to take care of the child and invalid adult? If only because there are a lot of fucking guns around? I do. Do I blame the show for cutting continually to Zach on a goddamned cigarette run when all we want to do is focus on the fight between the Team and the Master? God yes.
Thematically, we know Zach isn't going to die, no matter how dumb he is (and he does manage to wander into a basement full of vampires at one point), so there's no tension; which is particularly galling since the main plot is as tense as The Strain gets. Watching the Team proactively travel through the abandoned subway tunnels under the World Trade Center isn't exactly the kind of storytelling that requires a great deal of summary, but it's nicely suspenseful, especially after the lull of the last few episodes.
Armed with UV lights, big-ass knives and a few guns, Eph, Nora, Setrakian and Fet follow the ammonia poop spray the vampires leave, presuming it'll lead them to the Master. They discover the very useful fact that the vampires "nest" during the day — which is to say, they curl up in the fetal position on the ground and mutter to themselves — but Setrakian cautions them not to kill any, as it will alert the Master.
Eventually they come to a super small tunnel, forcing them to crawl through one at a time, and of course the vampires begin to wake up. Eph crawls through and starts hearing Kelly's voice calling for help! Setrakian crawls through and finds Eph gone! Nora and Fet crawl through and find them both gone! Eph finds the coffin, and then very shortly finds the Masters in all his misshapen Nosferatu-ey badness, and immediately starts getting choked out while a whole crowd of vampire minions watch. Setrakian approaches but has heart problems or something and can't help; eventually Fet and Nora arrive and Fet uses the strobe-bomb. It's enough to kill the crappier vampires, but the Master just flees. Suffice it to say, no one is particularly happy at this point; Setrakian is especially pissed at Eph, who fucked the entire plan up by going off alone.
Setrakian desperately wants to chase the Master, but in the way are several hundred more nesting vamps and they're forced to give up (although how they'll get any more prepared than they currently are, or why they didn't seem to anticipate there would be a lot of vampires surrounding the Master is unknown). Anyways, a furious Setrakian breaks the hell out of the Master's coffin, crying that neither of them will get any rest now. It's pretty badass, although I have my doubts that the destruction of the coffin will actually mean anything plot-wise. I'd love to be pleasantly surprised, though.
I'm not sure what I would think of this episode by itself, but I do know in comparison to the episodes before it, "The Third Rail" is a thrill-ride of an adventure, even with a sizable portion devoted to watching a kid doing some shopping. It's nice to see the characters fully pro-active for the first time — not particularly smart, but at least pro-active — and finally putting them in the same room with the Master is as exciting as the show has been all season —minus Vampire Spec Ops Squad, of course.
There are only two episodes left, so the Team doesn't have much time to regroup. But whether they'll plan a second attack or the Master will send his legion of tongue-vampires after them, it'll probably take up the entirety of the last two episodes, so there probably won't be any time for the show to waste. And that's fine by me.
• So some of you are going to mock me either way, but… was that Kelly Eph found among the nesting vampires? I genuinely don't know. Laugh all you want, but here's what I saw and heard:
Eph sees a lady vamp, thinks it's Kelly (he says "Kelly?", that's how we know) and approaches her. Because this person has a bunch of vampire make-up on, I honestly cannot tell whether she's actress Natalie Brown or Eph has made a mistake. This is further complicated by the fact that Nora says, "There's nothing you can do" and they all immediately move on.
Now, I had assumed it was Kelly at first — the vampire looked enough like Kelly that I feel the show would have needed to deliberately comment on it if she wasn't — but Eph had no reaction whatsoever to her. I mean, after all the worry and declarations of love and all that, he finds his ex-wife a hideous vampire monster and doesn't even shed a tear? Right now I'm assuming that it wasn't Kelly because I can't believe even The Strain would be so crappy as to completely ignore this major character moment for Eph. But the show didn't have Eph make a sigh of relief or say it wasn't Kelly or anything, but that's less horrible than turning this major revelation into a non-moment. Right?
• I'm just going to assume The Strain is using the World Trade Center as a plausibly empty location for vampires to hide and not for any kind of metaphor. I sincerely hope this is true.
• The view of the vampire crawling through the tunnel — and when I say crawling, I mean some weird kind of tumbling — was by far the creepiest fucking shot the show has given us.
• The title comes from the electrified third rail of the subway tunnels they travel on. A vampire wanders on to it and electrocutes itself. Eph says that even for a monster it's a horrible way to go. Really, Eph? More horrible than being bludgeoned to death by a baseball bat? Even though these are unthinking monsters who don't appear to feel physical pain? It's just a weird, dumb moment.
• So Zach essentially killed that couple in the food mart because he deliberately failed to tell them that vampires were in the next room, right? I mean, he could have said anything, to the guy and then to the girl, but he kept mum and let'em wander right in and get eaten. We're all in agreement on this, right?
• The Master still looks goofy as hell. And his hands are so damn big. Look, I know he's an ancient vampire monster with incredible powers and technically the size of his hands shouldn't bother me, but that's how big they are. They're so fucking big every time I see them all I can think is, "Even if ancient vampire monsters were real, there's no fucking way there hands would EVER be that big." I feel that's on you, The Strain.
• Um, after all that bullshit last episode, I assumed Kelly was going to become a major vampire lady, like Eichorst. Is she just a regular vamp? If so, I hate last week's episode even more.
• No, seriously, does the goth-pire ever show up again? Was there any point to his character other than giving us yet anther example of people turning into vamps in order to fill episode time?
• On the "On the Next episode" preview, I'm pretty sure I saw the Spec Ops Squad! For all my prolems with The Strain so far in its inaugural season, I am genuinely looking forward to next episode, just to see them again, an hopefully find out a little more about what their deal is. I'm afraid I'm going to be let-down by the answer, but I have a hard time imagining any answer that won't be kind of awesome. Anyways: I love you, Vampire Spec Ops Squad!