The Strain S02E13 “Night Train” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Watch, Wednesdays, 10pm
Writer: Carlton Cuse & Chuck Hogan
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Essential Plot Points:
- Eph, Nora and Zach try to escape the city so that Zach can be delivered to his grandparents and Eph can go back to Washington to work on his bio-bomb.
- But the strigoi derail the train, Zach gets Nora killed, and then he wanders off with Kelly. Jerk.
- Setrakian wins the auction for the Occido Lumen when Palmer freezes his assets leaving Eichhorst unable to bid.
- Eichhorst and the Master are a bit miffed by this so the Master turns Coco to remind Palmer who’s boss.
- Palmer cuts out Coco’s wormy heart.
- Eichhorst tries to recover the Lumen by sending an army of Strigoi to attack Setrakian and Fet in their van.
- But then Quinlan and co swoop in to save the day. The bread van is toast (see what we did there?) but Quinlan, Fet, Setrakian and Gus escape down the river in a boat. Cue portentous end-of-season monologue.
This bloody, bloody show. “Night Train” is in so many ways is a superb season finale, especially following such a slow-moving, misfiring, directionless season. Then it goes and throttles the life out of any goodwill you’re finding for The Strain again by taking one of the worst things about the show and making it even more monumentally odious than ever.
One word: Zach. But let’s deal with that after we’ve had a rare opportunity to rave about the show.
Action-packed, pacy, witty, surprising, shocking, gory… this is what you want The Strain to be like. Crucially, the characters don’t get lost in the accelerated plotting; they actually benefit from it. Robbed of the time to rely on the kind of indulgent, unsubtle dialogue scenes that have dogged season two, writers Cuse and Hogan instead have to sketch in the characters moments with economy and stealth… and it works. The verbal sparring between Setrakian and Eichhorst, and Fet’s general bewilderment bring them all more alive than they’ve been in weeks. Similarly Nora feels more natural and likeable in the few moments she has here than in a whole load of contrived flashbacks last week.
But let’s be honest, it’s the big set-pieces that make this episode. The Battle Of The Bread Van is high-octane stuff, genuinely exciting and tense, directed with some considerable style by Vincenzo Natali. The train derailment is superbly achieved and the following subway action is – up to the point when everything goes hideously wrong – gripping to watch. The auction (though we have some problems with it conceptually – see the “Bad” section below) is huge fun to watch. The final montage – showing you where everybody is left at the end of the season – may be a cliché but it’s an effective one, with some beautiful, emotive imagery.
So much to like, then. So much.
Then it goes and blows it. Not just with niggles (Quinlan is as flat as ever) but with a dramatic choice so jawdroppingly misjudged you can’t help thinking the writers did it just to be perverse.
Zach gets Nora killed then voluntarily walks off hand-in-hand with her murderer.
Bollocks to that.
Zach’s been whiny and loathsome all season but it turns out we may have been a little mean to actor Max Charles. It’s not his fault. Why bother trying to make a character like Zach sympathetic when the writers seem determined to make him the most colossal tit in TV history?
Okay, we can kind of accept – even after every awful, monstrous thing he’s seen the husk of his mum do this season – that he might still cry out when Nora attacks Kelly, thus distracting Nora and leading to her death. But then he watches Kelly use her stinger on Nora… and still goes off hand-in-hand with her? No. Simply… no. Not ever. Totally unbelievable. A product of scripting necessity and in no way justified on screen, emotionally or plot-wise.
Zach plays a major part in the books The Strain is based on so it would be difficult to get rid of him. But he’s been so appallingly handled on screen, we’re hoping beyond hope that Cuse and Hogan take a leaf out of the Game Of Thrones guide to adaptation: ignore the source material and kill the little scrote off in the season three premiere.
- The Battle Of The Bread Van is about as exciting as small screen action sequences get. We especially like director Vincenzo Natali’s new twist on the “first person shooter” shot.
- Gus lives! Honestly we were fooled.
- The train ploughing through the strigoi is a wonderfully nightmarish image.
- The Master killing Coco was another high point. Honestly, we had no problem with Coco but Palmer did need his aura of smug brought down a peg or 20.
- Besides, anything that gets Eichhorst in a pissed-off mood is a good thing. He’s at his best when he’s pissed off.
- In which case, bonus points also for Setrakian in this exchange: “How ironic that our duel will not end with a fight but with a simple transaction in gold.” “I assure you, Eichhorst, that our duel shall end with a transaction in silver.”
- Fet’s bemusement the whole episode at only knowing about a tenth of what’s going is fun.
- The final montage is effective.
- Zach. Has there ever been a less sympathetic character on telly?
- Quinlan. He’s so stiff and lifeless. His Henry V moment falls utterly flat. Okay, the words aren’t exactly Shakespeare (“Today will spill white blood and change the future.”) but Rupert Penry-Jones doesn’t exactly bother making it sound rousing either.
- The auction business is an artificial piece of drama that hasn’t made sense ever since Fonescu went to Creem instead of waiting to see what Setrakian could offer him. We’re not sure what his deal was with Creem but we imagine he came away with considerably less than $323 million.
- Where’s Dutch? Okay, she said goodbye last week but we assumed this was a just dramatic sleight of hand and she’d be drawn back into the action. If she really has left the series, that’s Nora, Coco (in human form at least) and Dutch all gone in the space of two episodes. Not a great show to be an actress on, is it? (THIS JUST IN: We’ve found an interview with Ruta Gedmintas in which she says she’s back for season three, so Dutch hasn’t been axed – good. We’d still like to have seen her in this episode, though.)
And The Random:
- Did you spot that the workmen in the processing plant were employed by a company called Widmore? Perhaps owned by Charles Widmore, the industrialist played by Alan Dale in Lost, on which The Strain showrunner Carlton Cuse was an exec producers.
- Battle of the creepy smiles – Eichhorst versus Setrakian.
- And finally let’s spare a moment for those we lost in this episode…
- Bye bye Nora. But at least you outlived your usefulness as character by about a season.
- Bye bye Coco. You sided with the wrong creepy old guy.
- Bye bye bread van. You had more expressions than Zach.
Reviewed by Dave Golder