The Strain S02E09 “The Battle For Red Hook” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Watch, Wednesdays, 10pm
Writer: Regina Corrado
Director: Kevin Dowling
Essential Plot Points:
- There’s a battle for Red Hook and the strigoi lose.
- Feraldo now looks like a hero.
- Setrakian and Eichhorst have a bit of a spat but not a lot comes of it.
- Kelly tries to kidnap Zach again but unfortunately fails.
- Nikki – in the most unlikely moment of the series – saves Ducth’s life.
“The Battle Of Red Hook” feels like a major upswing in quality even though if still suffers acutely from The Strain’s main problem: while there’s a lot of action, the plot barely moves on at all. Apart from a bit of positive PR for Feraldo and Dutch’s girlfriend showing signs of not being totally self-obsessed, the situation at the start of the episode is pretty much the same as it was at the beginning. Which is pretty amazing considering there’s a massive strigoi/human battle and a show-down between Setrakian and Eichhorst.
The battle, admttedly, is good. It needs to be as it’s the towering centrepiece of the episode. It’s not The Walking Dead good – it doesn’t have that show’s ability to suddenly highlight an achingly human moment amidst the mayhem – but it is a decent spectacle. The build-up is tense stuff too, with the strigoi sortie followed by an agonising wait until Feraldo can wait no longer and climbs to a vantage point to discover the horrible truth: there are hordes of Strigoi of Red Hook’s doorstep.
Councilwoman Feraldo is the best character this week by a mile. It’s refreshing to see someone who has so far been portrayed as something of an extreme right wing zealot – who’s ready to sacrifice all human rights in her mission to secure the city – shown in a more sympathetic light. It would have been so easy the writers to have selfishly leave with the Mayor when the going gets tough, but she chooses to lead her troops (after a brief wobble). It’s a canny acknowledgement that great war leaders often have a strained relationship with ethics. She does, though, look enormously pleased with herself at the end of the episode even if she does pay lip service to, “We all did this, Frank.”
The action sequences are gutsy and gory and well shot. It’s without doubt the show’s most exciting moment of the series so far. It’s a shame, though, that our heroes opt out and decide, en masse, to take part in a Crystal Maze challenge (“No, not that switch! THAT switch!”) in an attempt to get the electricity back on. It means that until Dutch shows up for the fight – late – the “Battle Of Red Hook” lacks the involvement of a regular character for the audience to root for.
Dutch could have been in the thick of it from the word go if she hadn’t been lumbered with the dullest plot of the year. That’s not just the dullest in The Strain; the dullest on TV. “I have always been in love with you and it has never made me happy,” moans Dutch to Nikki is a dispiritingly unconvincing argue-then-snog scene. There is nothing in their relationship that is in the least believable or interesting. It’s nothing more than an unwanted distraction from what you really want to be watching.
Kelly makes another attempt to kidnap Zach in a series of scenes that have a stench of familiarity to them. Setrakian and Eichhorst snarl at each other and achieve little else. Eph finally gets to use his rifle and proves he should have spent some practice time down the range. Eph does have a few good lines this episode, though. The stroppier he’s getting the pithier he’s getting too. “I can’t believe I voted for that guy,” he says of the mayor and he has all kinds of low-level contempt for Setrakian’s search for his magic book. You can’t help feeling the show might benefit from a bit more of Ep and Setrakian taking verbal pot shots at each other; it’s fun when they do.
For all its faults, “The Battle For Red Hook” is much more like the show The Strain should be. Can it maintain that momentum until the season finale?
- The battle actually feels hard-fought and has loads satisfyingly down and dirty moments with gory casualties on both sides.
- Interesting portrayal of Feraldo; despite verging on a right wing dictator in previous episodes she’s allowed to look like a strong and noble hero here.
- Some fun snarkiness between Eph and Setrakian (“Maybe you shouldn’t have bought the Master into it. Just saying…!”)
- Everybody hates the mayor! He’s fun to hate.
- The Ducth/Nikki relationship is calcifyingly dull.
- Now we know why the Feelers are usually kept in the shadows; they look absolutely dreadful when you can see them properly.
- The Setrakian/Eichhorst face-off is utterly pointless.
- Kelly trying to kidnap Zach feels like a plotline that started around the same time the universe was formed.
- Fett and Nora consulting an instruction manual does not make for exciting telly. Some people criticise shows like Doctor Who for having large red buttons or massive leavers marked “Plot Resolution!” but you can understand why writers do that kind of thing when the alternative is the TV equivalent of watching somebody assembling flat-pack furniture.
- Eichhorst’s Matrix-style bullet-dodging is so poorly achieved it just looks like Eph is a phenomenally poor shot. And this guy is planning to assassinate Palmer?
And The Random:
- For one night only! Sadly, the new title sequence is used only for this episode. It was created by French artist Rémy Gente and heavily influenced by the visual style of the Dark Horse comic book version of The Strain. There’s a great interview with Gente about the title sequence here.
- This episode must hold some kind of record for the number of regular, starring actors who don’t appear: Jonathan Hyde (Palmer), Jack Kesy (Bolivar), Miguel Gomez (Gus) and Rupert Penry-Jones (man who we lost Stephen McHattie for… sorry, I just can’t let it lie)