DAVID BIANCULLI

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‘The Strain’ Season 2: More Than a Mouthful of Fright
July 11, 2015  | By Eric Gould  | 1 comment
 

Maybe with the economy up the last five years, we’re doing better, more secure — and more inclined to get the bejesus scared out of us as a form of entertainment. Fans have lined up behind American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, and Penny Dreadful — all have been renewed for multiple seasons.

Likewise, here comes the return, for Season 2, of the unnerving tale of serpentine-tongued vampires: The Strain on FX, Sunday night, 9 p.m. ET. (The lashing tongues are the size of actual serpents, by the way, and have gnashing teeth at the end. Apparently the creature from Alien wasn't available -- he was probably at the orthodontist, which these creatures might want to consider.)

And so, if you’re up for reptilian, undead things looking to orally impale and implant victims with virus-infested worms that will turn them into new, marauding vampires, have I got a show for you.

You might want to get a night-light for the summer.

Created by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, The Strain’s premise of humans as the hunted makes Penny Dreadful’s Victorian monster mash seem like a quaint tea party. Here, Del Toro and executive producer Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel) continue the horror trilogy originally written by Del Toro and Hogan in 2009, and in the TV adaptation, remain true to the genre’s basic ingredients. They deliver some of our basest fears (worms, being eaten, the decay of the flesh) while simultaneously making the whole thing a work of terrible beauty.

Del Torro has long experience with prettifying the macabre, having given us the adaptation of the graphic novel Hellboy in 2004, and Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006, which explored dark supernaturalism through the eyes of a child. The Strain is often a compelling work of art direction, with a half-deserted New York City under lockdown, and vampires coming out of bleak tunnels and basements on all fours, thrusting their masticating organs at the victim’s throat like some kind of netherworld buckaroos.

So yeah, we’re miles away from Downton Abbey here, but The Strain is a coherent, dystopian world with its own internal logic that doesn’t cut a lot of corners.

Season 2 resumes where we left off — the Master, an ancient vampire who has designs on getting rid of all humans and taking things over — has survived being exposed to sunlight during last season’s finale. That was a surprise to Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll, House of Cards, with toupé, top), epidemiologist and ersatz vampire hunter who had expected daylight to finish the beast as it did his many minions.

Now, The Master is an icky, burnt mess and needs to transfer to a more able body, which he elegantly does by vomiting all his Master worms into the mouth of one of his minions.

If you haven’t figured out to leave the popcorn aside for some of The Strain, that might do it for you.

This season also follows the second book of Del Torro’s trilogy, The Fall, and has Eph and research colleague Nora (Mia Maestro) devising some new biological means to combat the Master and his drooling throng since the daytime plan was a failure.

They’re still allied here with main vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley, below, left), a grizzled and very crotchety old-timer. He's a Romanian émigré (we presume Transylvania, of course) and a survivor of the Nazi death camps where he first encountered the Master -- who was lurching his way over a buffet of camp prisoners. One of the new story lines this season is Setrakian’s pursuit of the Occido Lumen, an ancient text that perhaps has the right incantations to unseat and kill the Master.

With Setrakian, The Strain has all the spooky ingredients for a horror show -- flashbacks to old Romania, a sacred text, and his cane, which conveniently unsheathes a silver sword to behead the god-awful things.

Plenty of ghoulish heads roll in The Strain, with those writhing tongues still planted firmly within cheek, so to speak.

We also learn that Setrakian has a skeleton of his own to hide and is not all he seems to be.

The first three episodes of The Strain sent for review follow Eph and Nora into their next phase and also finds former exterminator and now expert hunter, Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand), in a prominent role. Fet routinely went into grimy places to root out rats, and he's quite at home here giving the man-sized vermin the old decapitation routine. And the story of the ancients begins to be revealed -- and that isn't too far off from Vanessa Ives’ plight this year in Penny Dreadful, believe it or not.

The Strain isn’t a cultural milestone; it's more of a gargoyle, but it might just be the thing for hot summer nights that doesn’t require much beyond peeking over the covers.

Besides, the stock market isn’t looking all that great now anyway, so we might be right back to the Hallmark Channel for feel-good reruns of The Waltons in no time.

 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
Kevin
Caught first 2 episodes of season 1 and could not go any further. Corey Stoll's hairpiece was distracting. Liked everything else.
Jul 13, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
 
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