To say that “Last Rites” is the best episode since “The Disappeared” isn’t really high praise considering the last two episodes ranged anywhere from supbpar to downright awful. Still, I went in expecting the same decline in quality and was mildly surprised I enjoyed parts of the latest installment of The Strain.
Unfortunately, the best parts of “Last Rites” come toward the end of the episode. During the first half or so, I found myself irritated with several recurring problematic issues The Strain can’t seem to shake.
First of all, there’s really only so much exposition and/or spoon feeding of information I can take. I’m well aware that characters vanish for episodes on end only to resurface later, but Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) was only absent for “The Third Rail” yet we still have to be reminded of what her part was in the grand scheme of things (Eph: “You broke the internet.”). In addition, Dutch, Eph (Corey Stoll) and Fet (Kevin Durand) feel the need to explain how the Emergency Broadcast System works when they plan to hack it, allowing Eph to broadcast a warning to New York and, hopefully, the world.
Secondly, aside from “For Services Rendered“, the flashbacks rarely feel like compelling storytelling. “Last Rites” again details a younger Abraham (Jim Watson, wearing a not very convincing beard and bushy eyebrows) attempting to kill the Master in 1967 Albania* where he lives with his wife, Miriam. Abraham’s back story is meant to parallel Nora’s current day dilemma of having to kill her mother (Anne Betancourt) after she’s infected by Bolivar (welcome back Jack Kesy), another character we haven’t seen for weeks.
*Sorry, but whenever I see or hear Albania, it instantly reminds me of this classic scene.
Shortly before Nora (Mia Maestro, who was great here) is forced to decapitate her mother, she discovered that Abraham kept an infected vampire heart in the basement of his pawn shop. I’m not certain if it was specifically mentioned earlier that the heart belonged to his wife, but I’d always assumed it was given the conversation between Setrakian (David Bradley) and Eichorst (Richard Sammel) shortly after the former was arrested early on this season. I’m not sure exactly why we needed this made abundantly clear (or why Nora failed to inform everyone about Abraham’s souvenir), but, hey, this is The Strain we’re dealt.
Anyway, what’s best about “Last Rites” revolves around a few of the action scenes.
Quinlan (Stephen McHattie) is back, albeit briefly, when he rescues Gus (Miguel Gomez) from the horde of vampires Gus and Creem (Jamie Hector) accidentally unleash from storage containers near the docks. It’s unclear why he specifically chooses to spirit Gus away instead of both men, though it might be a bit more interesting had we been allowed to get to know either Gus or Quinlan at greater length prior to this moment.
The Strain is always at its finest when it revolves around the Eichorst/Setrakian dynamic and the suspense created by the vampire onslaught at the pawn shop is the true highlight of the episode. Yes, the scene is undercut by the fact we can be positively certain that no major character will be offed, but it’s great to see Eichorst (the menacing Richard Sammel) flex his muscles against his old adversary.
Overall, “Last Rites” is an okay episode, though it could have been a lot more powerful. Perhaps next week’s “The Master”, the first season finale, will be inspiring enough to warrant me watching a second season, but as of right now, I’m not sure The Strain will continue to worm its way into my regular viewing next year.
The Strain – “Last Rites” grade: C+