This review contains spoilers.
The last few episodes of The Strain have gone pretty big. We’ve had the attack on Central Park that saw the deaths of thousands of Strigoi while thousands more poured out from beneath New York and took the city by force. We’ve had the confrontation between Quinlan and the Master that led to the Master losing his body. We’ve had a flashback on Setrakian’s ultimate revenge against a former Nazi doctor. All these moments were sweeping and huge, but this week, The Strain goes small and in doing so, presents the best damn episode of the season.
We kick things off in a most unexpected place- the bloody trenches of the Ukraine during World War II. There, we meet two soldiers struggling to survive. The two Ukrainian soldiers make a pact to stand by each other no matter what. Soon, this oath is put to the test when both infantrymen are captured by the Germans. Right before we return to the present, it is revealed that one of these soldiers is the grandfather of Vasiliy Fet.
If you’ll remember, in the first season of The Strain we met Fet’s father, a stern and loveless man who rejects his brave son because Vasiliy chose a life as an exterminator. This paternal rejection explains why Fet has embraced Setrakian so much. The old vampire hunter has become like the father Fet never had. We haven’t seen Papa Fet since that moment, and in truth, this episode would have been even more effective if the elder Fet was mentioned at least now and again. We haven’t seen curmudgeonly hide nor curmudgeonly hair of Vasiliy’s dad in a few years. This absence did lessen the impact of this week’s shocking episode, but only by a smidge.
Last week, Fet and Quinlan realised the only way to defeat the Master is to build a silver and lead coffin. This week, that construction begins. While on their way to a rival pawnbroker’s business, Fet decides to stop and check in on his parents. There, he finds his parents dead. The two were infected by a Strigoi and took their own lives. Fet feels his father is a coward but Setrakian isn’t so sure.
And this is where things get intense. We flash back to Grandpa Fet to see that he was taken to a Nazi prison camp run by (of course) Herr Eichhorst. Fet’s friend is dying so Fet volunteers both of them for a new work detail where they’ll be better fed. The detail is on a kill crew where the two soldiers will have to murder those too infirm or too old to work. Now, the prisoner must become a killer, or as the title of the episode declares, a collaborator in order to survive. In the present, Fet shares this dark family secret with Setrakian. Of course, Setrakian was a prisoner of Eichhorst himself, but still has empathy for Fet’s grandfather. Setrakian postulates that Fet’s father was such a hard and unaccepting man because of the actions of his father. How could Vasiliy’s father even accept his son being an exterminator when the very name of that profession conjures up the image of his own father systematically murdering Nazi prisoners?
This revelation also serves to make Eichhorst that much more revolting, as if that was possible. Fet’s family horrors brings Setrakian and Fet closer together than ever before as the two hunt for a way to contain the Master. This episode is a stark reminder that evil takes many forms, but so does the will to survive. Sometimes, the two even merge to become interchangeable. It’s powerful, powerful stuff with themes and character work that you usually don’t see much in the survival horror genre.
There is more action to be had elsewhere as Eph, Dutch, and Quinlan continue the search for the secret of Strigoi communication. Not much moves forward with this storyline this week except for Quinlan getting to use his bone sword and Uzis on human and Strigoi alike. That’s always fun. With Quinlan serving as a bodyguard, Eph and Dutch seek out the black box of the fateful flight that brought the Master to NYC in the first season. It’s really cool that story elements from the first season are beginning to come back into play. It’s been so long since the show begin, so long since the main players of the series were Eph, Nora, and Jim, that it’s very welcome to return to the beginning of the series and the Master’s arrival. Dutch secures the black box so now our heroes possess a copy of the Master’s voice.
Meanwhile, let’s check in with Eldritch Palmer before we bid adieu. The dying billionaire’s condition is almost as bad as the Republicans’ current chances at the White House. He is a wheezing, gasping old fool who probably has days to live. Well, thanks to a deal made with Setrakian, Palmer gets his hands on the White. At the same time, a Strigoi ship belonging to Palmer arrives in New York. Palmer finds all aboard his ship killed. It doesn’t look like Palmer will be able to do anything about any of this, until he doses himself with the White. Dose he does, and now, Palmer is back and filled with vigour, and you have to assume after the abuses he has suffered at the hands of Eichhorst and the Master, Palmer might be ready for a face turn.
But all of this is secondary to the tale of Fet’s family’s darkness. It’s a tale of generations of suffering due to an act of survival, and ultimately a tale of forgiveness as Vasiliy, prompted by Setrakian, finds forgiveness in his heart for the generations of his family that had to live through and pass on so much pain. Perhaps that forgiveness will give Fet the strength he needs to be the front-line soldier humanity needs against the Strigoi.