This review contains spoilers…
“Gone Smooth,” huh? I see what they did there.
I keep driving home the stake point that The Strain is putting a nail in the coffin of the sexy vampire, in fact, now, it feels like Carlton Cuse, Chuck Hogan, Guillermo Del Toro, and the rest of the talented psychos that bring us FX’s newest nightmare fest are going out of their way to do just that. The Strain’s vampires are not erotic creatures who are going to tickle your g-spot before gently and sensually lapping up your hemoglobin, oh no, there are parasitic worms and fleshy viruses that will deliver the most horrible of infections that certainly aren’t covered by Obamacare. Co-writer Hogan takes solo writing chores on this episode; the only previous screenwriting credit for the novelist was the acclaimed 2010 Ben Affleck heist drama, The Town. The Strain is Hogan’s first television work, and if “Gone Smooth” is any indication, let’s hope Hogan lends his talents to more coaxial one-hours in the future.
Let’s just cut to the chase on this one. Y’know Gabriel Bolivar, jerkoff rock star? Yeah, in his goth getup he could be very sensual, a classic vampire pastiche that exemplifies the 90s gothic aesthetic that brought the sexpire to the forefront of popular consciousness? This character who is rapidly transforming into one of the undead thanks to being one of the four survivors of the fateful flight that began it all. Yeah, he could be a very sexy vampire right? The character that Jack Kesy plays the part with an easy lust for sex and drugs, a hulking Peter Steele (R.I.P) like presence who exudes sexual bravado? Yeah, that guy, remember him?
Well, his dick fell off.
So much for the sexy rock star thing.
The whole bodily atrocity thing has a great Evil Dead or Dead Alive vibe as the usually drug and coitus addled rock star slowly transforms from metal poseur into peenless parasite. Modern popular culture celebrates the virility of the vampire, well now, Bollivar has lost his dick. It was ironically funny to watch Bollivar try to take off his pancake goth makeup only to have the sickly pallor of a vampire underneath. He was once a sexy wannabe, now he’s a dickless, albino version of the real deal. “Gone Smooth,” get it? That’s some funny shit right there.
Bollivar isn’t the only plane survivor we get to see complete his transformation. This week, there is a new focus on Ansel Barbour, the one survivor we haven’t seen fleshed out too much as of yet. Ansel, who looks like a cross between a young Steve Buscemi and Theon Greyjoy seems to live an average life in the suburbs with his paranoid wife, two seemingly voiceless doe-eyed kids, and loving dog. He’s not a rock star or a high powered attorney like the other carriers, he’s just a skinny guy in the burbs and now, he’s thirsting for his dog’s blood. Poor pup.
One of the most effective little horror themes that The Strain has explored thus far is the idea of disease and how it ravages the body. All the survivors are going through some forced body mods, from the extreme, like Bollivar’s pecker, to the subtle, like the sharpening of teeth. Poor morphing Ansel returned home to the loving arms of his children and sort of batshit crazy paranoid hyper-religious wife who has been terrified of airplanes since 9/11. There is something off about Ansel’s family life, giving the whole thing that classic suburban nightmare feel. We’ll see where Ansel’s tale takes him, but with the sickly pallor and his new penchant from sucking up the juice of uncooked meat, things will probably take a rather twisted turn. At least it doesn’t seem Ansel was using his dick too much on his iceberg wife so it won’t be that big a tragedy when it too falls off.
I did mention Bollivar’s dick fell off in the toilet. right? And he flushed it? And they showed his now Ken-doll like smoothness? God, I love this show.
The dickless and the p-whipped weren’t the only characters we get to see fleshed out (or unfleshed out in the case of the suddenly cockless). We got to see Professor Abraham Setrakian flex his thespian muscles as he pretended to be a doddering old man to convince a judge to let him off for trespassing and carrying a giant swordcane in an airport under official lockdown. Setrakian seems to be the type of dude that has quite the bag of tricks to get out of trouble, not the least of which is the ability to make people think he is a helpless old man. You got to wonder what the judge would think of Setrakian if he saw the vampire hunter take out Augustin “Gus” Elizalde’s scumbag brother in the pilot.
As for Setrakian’s arch nemesis, Thomas Eichorst, we get to see a sneak peek at his true bat like form. The episode opens with Eichorst preparing for his day. With his immaculately pressed suits, his beautiful cufflinks, his silk tie, and his stiff trousers, he is a man of wealth and taste. Add to this choice ensemble, a false nose, fake ears, flesh make-up, and a skin dickey, and you have a transformation from monster to Eurotrash Nazi bloodeater. Seriously though, props to the make-up folk for making Eichorst so memorably horrific. It’s impressive the way Richard Sammel pulls off this role, now, it feels like that bat creature lives underneath Eichorst’s skin, just itching to reveal itself to the rest of the world.
Standing in the way of this revelation are our usual gang of heroes. Eph had to deal with the fact that his son asked to live with his mom instead of allowing his father to have joint custody. Every episode, Eph has to deal with another humiliation regarding his family, another ignominious defeat that unmans him as a husband, a male, and a father. Eph has to deal with a figurative castration as another man takes everything that has meaning to him. So at episode’s end, when Eph takes all his frustration out on a vampire skull with a fire extinguisher, it is no surprise that his level of violence is off the charts. He may not be the alpha male of his own home, but by God, he’s the alpha male of NYC against a pack of vampires.
Poor Jim Kent, ‘ol Samwise Gamgee himself Sean Astin, wants out of the vampire plot he helped create. It is revealed that Jim is in the vamps’ pockets because they are funding his wife’s cancer treatments. Jim might be a race traitor but at least his motivations are understandable, but now, he is at risk of watching his city being overrun with parasitic vermin because of a decision he made.
When Eph, Jim, and Dr. Nora Martinez are confronted by their first vamp during the episode’s toe curling climax, Jim sees the evil he unleashed. The trio confronts the poor airline pilot that survived the plane but has now completed his transformation. We see him revealed in all his horrendousness. He was a good man, a loyal pilot, a family man, an average Joe, but now he’s a beast with a prehensile tongue and an appetite, he is what everyone in New York may become and it is Jim’s fault. Now, there is no questioning the fact that Setrakian was right. That the undead have risen and they are crazy deadly. Live with that Samwise!
Our threesome of heroes (well duo, Jim doesn’t count, I guess) won’t go it alone as Vasily Fet is still out there, and as shown this episode, the Ukrainian exterminator has a heart of gold and he doesn’t tolerate any vermin hurting an innocent as seen by his treatment of a little girl bit by a rat. The girl’s father is an entitled douche, but this doesn’t prevent Fet from focusing on helping the little girl and making sure she has no residual terror from the incident. When he saw legions of rats in at a New York peer, Fet knew something is up. Another ally is on the way Eph and Nora, and he’s big, badass, moral, dedicated, and he doesn’t suffer vermin to live. Hold on!
Although judging by the way that Eph caved in that poor airline pilot’s head (it was all concave and EWW), he is ready to go to war as well. You might take his wife, his kid, and his game room, but no one is taking this science Viking’s city without a fight.