As the Strain heads into the home stretch of its first season, a persistent theme has become clear. The series continues to cycle back to loss and grief and how we shy from the same.
It pops up in the obvious places, like a father’s stubborn refusal to give up his child in the first episode or the messy dissolution of Eph’s marriage, but also in smaller and quieter moments like Dutch’s anger about being ditched by her girlfriend or Jim’s refusal to lose his wife to cancer, even in the fading of Nora’s mother Mariela’s memory.
As of last episode, Eph has lost Kelly, and stands to lose his son. How much more will the Master take?
The episode starts with Vasiliy working on a project at a workbench. Zack enters and is filming the scene on his mother’s iPhone, and we see it briefly from this point of view.
Vasiliy is building a UVC light bomb to test and announces this to the camera. Eph runs in and scoops Zack up and takes him to another room so he won’t burn out his retinas looking at the UVC rays.
Eph and Vasiliy put on eye protection as Setrakian peeks downstairs and asks if it’s a good idea, but the test burns out quickly and starts a small fire. Eph suggest making the lights strobe so they won’t burn out as quickly. Vasiliy testily jokes he can rig up a fog machine and some music, too, but says he agrees. At this point there’s no more room for tests and they have to go with what they end up with and hope for the best.
“Mr. Fet you’ve just described my method of operation for the past six decades,” Setrakian says.
Mariela is banging through the kitchen with a cigarette in her mouth, crying. In her dementia she is looking for an ashtray she once bought in Buenos Aires. Nora tries to comfort her and tell her it broke years ago. Setrakian offers a new ashtray but Mariela bluntly says she doesn’t like him and that he has a “dark soul.”
Nora apologizes to Setrakian and says her mother is wrong.
“No she’s not,” he says and sadly walks away.
Nora tries to explain her mother’s dementia to Zack. She says the ashtray is from the hotel restaurant where her father took her mother on their first date, and he kept it as a memento because he knew then that he would marry her.Zack suggests its good she still remembers it and Nora agrees. We see Mariela smoking and crying while looking out the window.
Gus comes home to his mom’s apartment, still in his orange prison jumpsuit. The door’s open, it stinks, and the place is in disarray. A strigoi’d Crispin, Gus’s brother, is standing in the living room watching soccer on TV. Hey, become a vampire doesn’t mean you have to give up your love for sports.
When Gus interrupts him, Crispin attacks. Gus deflects his stinger with a baseball bat kept near the door and then goes after his brother off with it. It takes several hits to down Crispin and he has to jam the bat into his mouth and twist to finish him off. Gus might not have liked his shifty druggy brother, but he’s clearly angry and distraught at having been forced to kill a vampire version.
Eph’s checking out a bitchin’ silver sword from Setrakian’s arsenal.
“First do no harm,” he says, referencing the physician’s oath.
“Things have changed,” Nora says.
This leads to a discussion where Eph describes killing the Master in the same terms as tracking a disease to its source. He says he has to believe it will work, otherwise he can’t justify leaving Zack there while they go.
He asks Nora to stay with Zack. She refuses, saying she’s sacrificing too by leaving her mother behind. Eph presses the issue, saying that he and Nora aren’t assassins. That this kamikaze mission is kill-happy exterminator Vasiliy’s “wet dream” and Setrakian’s ancient grudge, and they have no plan B because they have no one but themselves at risk. But Nora says there’s no other choice.
As the group leaves an a confused old woman and defenseless young boy alone in a city being torn apart by riots, Setrakian gives Nora the silver knife Jim Kent “chose to use” earlier in the series and says she would honor him by using it. “Chose” is an interesting word. The way I remember it Jim asked for one of the guns that shoot silver bullets but didn’t get one because he wasn’t trusted. And he, you know, died, but oh well.
Eph halfheartedly tries to tell his son that he’ll be all right and that they’ll be home by sundown. Zack, being the smartest person on the show, doesn’t buy it. Eph tells Zack to look after Nora’s mom, that he’s in charge and that they should stay in the basement.
There’s a lingering scene where Eph locks the boy inside the pawn shop’s iron security gate, tells him he loves him, and then hands him the keys. Zack is still watching from inside the gate as they drive away.
Inside the shop’s basement Zack puts a record, “The Isrealite” by Desmond Dekker & The Aces, on a record player to amuse himself. Mariela comes downstairs and starts going nuts about the ashtray, accusing taking it. When he says Nora will help her when she comes home she sits down sadly for a moment, but then starts back again, asking where her daughter is and if she’s getting her cigarettes. Zack seems to calm her once more by mentioning that Nora is coming back.
While the vampire hunters drive their bread truck through the streets they see they are erupting into “every man for himself” looting and rioting.
“That’s what the Master is counting on,” Setrakian says.
Gus is trying to reach his mom on her phone. He calls the hospital where she works but she’s not been in. And then he hears a thump down the hall.
The thump is coming from a closet. Gus’s mom is lying inside and well on her way to turning. Gus breaks down in terrible sobs.
And we find out why you don’t leave a young boy to watch an old woman with dementia. Mariela is at the locked security gate and is screaming to passersby that she needs to get out. They’re looters, though, so they don’t care.
When Zack investigates she tells him Nora was taken and that she needs to get out. Zack aptly realizes that it’s mostly the nicotine fit talking and offers to go get her cigarettes if she goes back to the basement and she agrees. I’m estimating it took about 10 minutes for both the safety and security of the boy and the old woman to be compromised.
As they arrive at the tunnels near the World Trade Center, Setrakian explains that the Master chose it because he’s drawn to places of great human misery.
There are so many strigoi there that Vasiliy can smell them. That smell is strigoi excrement/urine, which glows under UV light and is revealed to be splashed all about the place.
As you may remember, strigoi genitals fall off and they develop a cloaca, like a bird, which efficiently disposes both urine and feces in one glob. Their leavings provide a trail that leads the hunters toward their goal.
They schlep through flooded tunnels for a while with flashlights. Vasiliy warns them to avoid the third rail from the subway. The further they go into the tunnels the more personal effects from strigoi they find. There’s a philosophical argument where Nora says it’s “everything that defined these people” and Vasiliy says he hopes he’s defined by more than just his wallet and wristwatch.
Zack locks Mariela in the pawn shop and walks out into a riot to buy cigarettes. Police sirens scream, tires squeal, there are several gunshots, a crying woman asks him if his phone works.
Vasiliy says the section of tunnels the gang is in was abandoned after 9/11, and that it’s likely no one human has been there since. But it’s clear that strigoi have, as their glowing crap is smeared all over everything.
The group finds a nests with dozens of sleeping strigoi. They twitch like they’re having a bad dream but they don’t wake up even as the group walks among them. Eph thinks he sees Kelly in the nest but it’s not her.
At Gus’s mom’s apartment, momma wakes up. She doesn’t seem that aggressive and Gus can’t finish her. He just says “I shoulda been there for you momma,” and leaves the apartment.
He takes a fire axe from the hallway and notices the jerk landlord that was harassing his mother earlier in the season is now strigoi, waiting at the end of the hall. He sarcastically asks if he’s there for the rent and then separates the strigoi’s head from its shoulders with the axe.
Eph hears a noise in the tunnels. Vasiliy is showing off and acting like an expert on the tunnels and tells him it’s nothing, but Eph is proven right when a train quickly appears and forces them to flatten against the wall.
“You were sayin?” Eph yells above the noise.
Later Vasiliy and Eph are still arguing, with Vasiliy smugly asking Eph how it feels to have a pawnbroker and ratkiller know more than he does.
Eph angrily says Vasiliy has been waiting on this his whole life and “congratulations on the vampire apocalypse.”
“The first will be last. The last will be first, Doc,” Vasiliy says, before Setrakian breaks them up.
They see a strigoi wandering the tunnels, but Setrakian won’t let Vasiliy kill it because it will alert the Master. Fortunately, it steps on the third rail and burns up, revealing another way to kill strigoi.
Zack finds an open store. Well, the door is open. The place is torn apart by looters and the man behind the counter is dead. He starts to loot some cigarettes lying near the corpse when two more looters, a young man and woman, enter.
The pair have clearly accepted and adapted to the apocalypse, gathering what they can eat and trade. The girl says they might not find another store like this one again.
Zack tries to escape by climbing down into the basement, but there’s a young girl strigoi down there. Worse, he drops his mom’s iPhone, which is his sentimental connection to her and contains videos she took.
He risks going after it only to find it’s cracked anyway. Ain’t that always the way? He makes it out of the basement with the strigoi chasing him only to run into the looters, who are both promptly attacked and killed by the strigoi. He then runs into Gus, who simply says “vamoose” as he goes to kill the strigoi with his axe. Zack grabs some cigarettes and runs.
In the tunnels the group finds the strigoi have dug a hole dirctly through the bricks at a dead end. There’s debate over whether it’s a trap, but that just pisses Eph off and he grabs one of the UV lights and crawls inside. The filthy hole is long and barely big enough for him to squeeze through on his belly, so I suppose the fat strigoi are out of luck.
As soon as Eph makes it through the vamps attack the group outside the hole. Vasiliy tells the others to go through and he’ll hold them off. Setrakian says the Master now knows they are here.
Setrakian is crawling his old butt through when Eph starts hearing Kelly’s voice. Setrakian gets out of wind and can’t crawl anymore. He cries for help, but Eph goes off to look for Kelly.
Nora and Vasiliy fire some shots into the approaching vampire horde, then Nora heads into the hole. In the commercial break Setrakian seems to have made it out, and there’s no trace of either he or Eph in the hole or on the other side.
Vasiliy fights alone for a bit, then heads in himself. He’s the biggest of the group and gets stuck. A small, limber strigoi starts crawling after him and goes for his feet, but Nora pulls him out in the nick of time and burns the strigoi with a UVC light. She leaves the light in the tunnel to discourage more guests.
Eph has tracked the sound of Kelly’s voice to a room filled with rubble, at the center of which is the Master’s ornate coffin. With his silver sword ready he frantically pulls it open, but there’s nothing but dirt inside. A huge horde of strigoi surround Eph and then the Master leaps down from the ceiling, with his face unfortunately not hidden.
He grabs Eph and disarms him, then gets him by the neck.
This next part is hard to make out without subtitles because of the Master’s evil, whispery voice, but here’s what the Master says, minus some heavy breathing and halting pauses.
“Have you come here to destroy me? The old professor has a new pupil. To fail as he failed. I have taken everything from him. And I will take everything from you. Your wife. Your son. I am a drinker of men.”
He readies his stinger to do some drinkin’, but while he’s making his big speech Setrakian is sneaking up on the Master with Sardu’s sword. The Master pulls his stinger in, not without some slobber, and greets Setrakian as “Professore.”
Setrakian then seems to have a very ill-timed heart attack, but before the Master can kill he and Eph Vasiliy and Nora show up and toss the UVC bomb into the room. Whaddya know, with the strobe modification Eph suggest it works, chasing off the Master and killing the horde.
Zack comes back with the cigs and finds Nora’s mom sitting silently in a chair in the basement, with her back turned to him. She doesn’t respond for a moment and suspenseful music plays to indicate she might be turned, but it’s a cheat. She turns around, accepts the cigarettes and calls Zack a “sweet young boy.” She moves across the room and fires one up, as Zack takes a dagger from Setrakian’s collection and begins stabbing the air.
Back at the Master’s lair Vasiliy says “We had him,” but Nora’s assessment is “No, he had us.”
Eph is a bit hoarse but wasn’t choked to death. He says the Master tricked him with Kelly. That leads to a big blow up with Setrakian mad at Eph for being tricked, Vasiliy mad at Eph for running off and Setrakian mad at Vasiliy for igniting the light bomb and ruining his chance to get the Master. His assessment that the Master was “within his grasp” was a bit optimistic, though.
Setrakian wanders over to the rubble and finds a sledgehammer.
“I’ll not rest until the Master is destroyed. And now, neither will he!” he says.
Screaming and ranting, he lays waste to the coffin he built so many years ago.
Nora wants to regroup, but Setrakian forces the gang to push on through the tunnels. They come to what seems like a random choice of tunnel entrances, but Vasiliy checks them with a UV light and finds the one with the most strigoi crap on it. He stops Setrakian from running inside and throws a flare in instead.
They peer in and in the red, hellish glow of the flare, you can see the tunnel packed with thousands of strigoi.
“That’s a lot of monsters,” Vasiliy says.
Setrakian wants to run in anyway, but the group pulls him back, screaming “No!” all the way. End of episode.
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