Review: The Strain – “For Services Rendered” S01,E07

Strain FSR 1

“I give you another day of life, Jew…for services rendered.” – Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel)

One of the things that really elevates “For Services Rendered” is the dynamic between the former Nazi/current vampire Eichorst and Holocaust survivor/vampire hunter, Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley/Jim Watson).

Though the relationship was hinted at back in “The Box” and expanded upon in flashbacks in “The Runaways“, “For Services Rendered” crafts an excellent tale regarding the two adversaries. Thanks to the juxtaposition between flashbacks in the concentration camp and the modern day pursuit of Eichorst by the ever expanding team of heroes (which now includes Sean Astin’s Jim), we’re treated to just how deeply connected the two are.

Strain FSR 2 Back in “The Runaways”, I complained about how ineffective the flashbacks were. While they revealed information, they were more intrusive to the overall story than they should have been and seemed out of place. In “For Services Rendered”, however, writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle have deftly interwoven them into the present day tale, helping to move the action and plot forward even though the events happened 70 years ago. Adding to the great dialogue is the chemistry between the actors. Sammel, who is always fantastic, portrays two different types of monsters here with equal success. He’s no less threatening as a Nazi commander taunting the young Abraham (a similarly superb Jim Watson) as he is a powerful vampire nearly killing the elder Abraham (David Bradley, excellent as always) later in the episode. It’s great to see the writing rising to the level of the acting talent involved with The Strain. Strain FSR 3If the story between the two foes were the sole focus of “For Services Rendered”, it would still have been successful, but there’s oh so much more going on.

When the episode begins, the as yet unseen husband of Joan Luss (Leslie Hope) arrives home, only to be greeted by vampires lurking about outside. He narrowly escapes, but is attacked by his wife, unrecognizable after turning completely to a vampire while he was away. After the nanny and her daughter return with the Luss children (Chloe O’Malley and Jayden Greig), Joan and a few other vampires drive them into the wine cellar and she’s about to attack, but is killed by a spike to the head. Her assailant?

This mystery "man".

This mystery “man”.

Meanwhile, Jim’s wife is off to her cancer treatment and Gus (Miguel Gomez) is tossed in jail along with the infected Felix (Pedro Miguel Arce) but both storylines are wisely kept to a minimum of screen time to allow the other action to unfold.

If there’s one minor quibble I still have with The Strain, it’s that there are still too many characters, though the current forward momentum is starting to eliminate a lot of the unnecessary baggage. While I’ve enjoyed all of the actors in their roles, some of the characters stayed on long after needed, but that appears to be what I would assume is the fault of the writers failing to trim fat from the book adaptation. Perhaps they’ve realized that as much as you’d like to be faithful to the source material, it makes for better television to change as much as you can to avoid getting bogged down.

Finally, kudos have to be given to director Charlotte Sieling who helmed a very successful episode, not only maintaining a perfect pace, but for focusing on the strong performances of all actors involved. It’s worth noting that there’s one very impressive scene in the train station where Eichorst threatens Jim and the background noise drops out to a near silence before seamlessly introduced once again when Eichorst backs off. I was so impressed, I had to rewind it.

I’m hoping to continually be impressed as the season rolls toward the finale. If this high quality is maintained throughout, I might even find myself looking forward to next summer for reasons other than a respite from the harsh winter months! Congratulations to everyone involved with The Strain on the renewal to season 2.

He just looks cool so why not one more pic? Who IS that cloaked man?

He just looks cool so why not one more pic? Who IS that cloaked man?

The Strain – “For Services Rendered” grade: A

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Review: The Strain – “Occultation” S01,E06

Strain occult 1

 “What I find fascinating is how love is considered a gift, a blessing…with no acceptance to the fact that it also binds, chokes and strangles.” — Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel)

The only characters in The Strain that have been wholly accepting of a potential threat from the very beginning are those without strong personal relationships. Abraham (David Bradley) learned long ago (an incident only briefly touched upon thus far in dialogue between him and Eichorst) how loving someone can blind you to true horror and Vasiliy (Kevin Durand) has been more of a loner (at least until this episode) whose eyes noticed strange occurrences almost immediately.

As for the others, well, they were slow to come around because they were more focused on their loved ones and, therefore, short-sighted to trouble.

Thematically, “Occultation” really brings that to the forefront, especially with Eichorst’s above statement because, while our main characters savor their personal relationships, they almost always lead to their downfall (if even only temporarily).

The episode opens not on New York, but high above the earth, where a satellite allows us to listen in on random chatter from across the city revealing concerns over the impending eclipse. People view this occultation as a portent of doom and with good reason; with the sun blocked, the creatures are free to roam about the city, spreading the infection faster.

Thankfully, the eclipse, while slightly contrived, is a godsend to The Strain because it also speeds up the overall momentum of the series. Our main characters’ arcs are starting to intersect–and rather seamlessly, I might add. Gus (Miguel Gomez) is both blackmailed and strong-armed by Eichorst into disposing of a body and Jim (Sean Astin) acts as his driver. Eph (Corey Stoll) and Nora (Mia Maestro) reunite at Abraham’s pawn shop where Abraham reveals that he has a new plan of attack.

Even Vasiliy is moving closer to the main group. When he returns to work, he discovers that his coworkers have been infected and are starting to turn. Even though he cares about them, he doesn’t hesitate to destroy them by tearing down the blinds and scorching them with sunlight. Hopefully, it won’t be long before both he and Gus join forces with the others.

Strain occult 2

Speaking of Vasiliy, I’m really impressed with the way the writers deftly wove his back story into the episode without beating us over the head with it. Through the conversation with his father, we discover that Vasiliy is highly intelligent (which was pretty much evident already) and, for some unknown reason, rejected a full scholarship at Cornell in architecture to become an exterminator.

Concise, descriptive exposition. You know, the blueprint for a successful scene.

Concise, descriptive exposition. You know, the blueprint for a successful scene.

Overall, “Occultation” is a complete 180 from the past two episodes, “Runaways” and “It’s Not For Everyone” in that it finally offers a great deal more progress story-wise than we’ve seen in weeks. If future episodes are as similarly structured and well written and directed (in this case, as in last week’s episode, by Robocop‘s Peter Weller), The Strain will conclude the second half of its freshman season in style.

The Strain – “Occultation” grade: A

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Review: The Strain – “Runaways” S01E05

Strain runaway 1

If “It’s Not For Everyone” seemed a little sluggish, then “Runaways” felt as if it moved at a snail’s pace or downright stopped.

By the fifth episode, we should see the action picking up, not slowing down, but the latest installment believes otherwise. Yes, we get to see the plot move forward a little, but “Runaways” is so scattershot in its approach, it’s barely noticeable.

Leslie Hope returns as Joan Luss (whose name I had to look up because it’s been so long since we’ve seen her that I’d forgotten the character’s name), still in the early stages where the vampires (or, as Abraham calls them, Strigoi) are kind of just sniffing people and thinking about sucking on their blood. I guess each victim’s metabolism plays a part in how rapid the vampiric (or Strigoic) changes take place. Or whatever. But, yeah, she’s still around threatening legal action against the airline and waiting to transform instead of maybe seeking medical attention.

Bolivar (Jack Kesy) is still in his lair and, thanks to his manager Ruby (Regina King) who serves up not one, but two meals, is doing okay for himself. Apparently, Ruby is totally fine with murdering a urologist and a clandestine “cleaner” who she enlists to cover up the crime. Other than Ruby, no one is the wiser to his issues. Eh, Eph (Corey Stoll) and Abraham (David Bradley) will get to him eventually but, until then, he’s still transforming and not seeking medical attention.

Strain runaway 2

Speaking of Eph and Abraham, they finally arrive at Ansel’s house and find his wife hanging from the ceiling because she couldn’t live without Ansel (Nikolai Witschl) who is still in the shed feasting off the neighbor she tossed in there last episode. Eph and Abraham off them but Eph insists that he gets video proof so he can show it to the CDC (and presumably put it on YouTube where at least someone would believe him since the CDC doesn’t).

Eph and Abraham are slowed down, however, by unnecessary flashbacks to Abraham’s younger days in a concentration camp, a fact already established by the numbers on his arm. Did we really need to see Abraham’s first glimpse of a hooded creature feeding upon the others in the barracks to indicate Abraham has a past with what he dubs “the Master”? No, because the conversation between him and Eichorst (Richard Sammel) in prison was satisfactory as exposition.

As for Nora (Mia Maestro), who mysteriously abandoned Eph last episode…well she serves as this week’s Gus in a terrible storyline involving a visit to her mother. Her appearance in “Runaways” exists solely to underscore (with a bold marker, mind you) Abraham’s warning that the Master’s manipulations involve the already infected spreading the virus to the ones they love most.

We get it. We’ve gotten it for weeks now.

Unfortunately, the most promising of the 1700 storylines currently going on in The Strain is the one with Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand) who goes into the sewers investigating the rat problem and beats a hasty retreat after discovering a horde of vampires lurking about. If we could have spent more time with him and the horror ready to burst forth upon the city, it might have made “Runaways” a great episode instead of one that languishes in too much idle chatter.

The Strain – “Runaways” grade: D

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Review: The Strain – “It’s Not For Everyone” S01E04

Strain everyone 1

Is it just me or is “It’s Not For Everyone” the first episode of The Strain that felt a little sluggish?

The hour started off promising, picking up exactly where “Gone Smooth” left off, with Eph (Corey Stoll), Nora (Mia Maestro), and Jim (Sean Astin) standing over the pilot’s corpse. The team decides to perform an autopsy on him and discover a lack of genitals, dried organs within the body cavity, and a new set of organs designed to better propel the “stinger” (i.e. the parasitic mechanism used to drink blood) forward. Eph concludes that the creature uses the mechanism to “reproduce and consume its host”.

Then Jim drops the bombshell that he allowed the box to pass through unchecked so it could leave the hospital safely in return for money to pay for his wife’s cancer treatment. Eph does the first logical thing he’s done thus far and punches him.

Meanwhile, Ansel’s wife, Ann-Marie (Alex Paxton-Beesley), who previously took their kids away from him at his request, returns to find their dog mutilated and strange thumps coming from the shed. She discovers Ansel (Nikolai Witschl) inside, dried blood around his mouth and neck chained to prevent him from attacking her. He tells her to get away for her own safety as he’s fully aware something terrible is happening to him.

Strain everyone 2

Ann-Marie at first seems like kind of an idiot, wandering around in a stupor instead of maybe alerting authorities to his condition. Then she runs into an arrogant neighbor who confronts her about the noises in the shed and she encourages him to go in and quiet what he believes is the dog. The best part about the scene was watching blood run out of the bottom of the shed and onto the white snow below.

Somewhere across town, Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) arranges for all cell and internet communication to be basically shut down so that contact within and out of the city is impossible. Not a bad move and a nice plot point to hamper our heroes. However, it didn’t really need to be mentioned more than once unless the woman he hired is going to return at some point.

For some reason, there was an inordinate amount of focus on Gus (Miguel Gomez) and his family which basically brought the episode to a standstill. I like the characters but seeing him and his friend Felix (Pedro Miguel Arce) just hanging out and committing crimes isn’t really adding to the momentum of the overall story. It’s almost as if they wandered in from a different show. If Gus is to become part of the team that confronts the evil, the writers need to come up with a way to get him there fast.

Strain everyone 3

The episode ended on a somewhat positive note as Eph and Nora finally meet up with Abraham (David Bradley) when they investigate Emma’s house and find that she and her father are now vampires. While it’s nice that at least part of the team is coming together, Nora inexplicably declines to join the two even though she sought out Abraham’s help in the first place. Eph informs her that their job is to investigate and eliminate threats but she’s not really on board with any project that involves hunting and killing humans (though it’s been made pretty clear to her that these beings aren’t human anymore). It’s also stretching a bit of credibility that Eph is suddenly a complete believer in all things vampire but maybe he’ll have second thoughts next week.

Perhaps titling the episode “It’s Not For Everyone” was prophetic because, for the most part, it wasn’t for me. There were some strong elements in the hour, but too much valuable time was wasted on story arcs slowing down a show that was just starting to gain some traction. In the end, I could possibly look back and see that these scenes were necessary, but I’m betting they’re not at all important to the season.

The Strain – “It’s Not For Everyone” grade: C-

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Review: The Strain – “Gone Smooth” S01E03

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Adapting a book into a visual medium is rarely easy. First of all, you have to pick and choose elements of the source material that will translate well to the screen without losing important aspects of the story. Second, you have to satisfy fans of the book because they will nitpick every little thing that’s either missing or added for dramatic effect.

Take, for example, Stephen King’s Under the Dome, a 1,074 page novel (in its original hardcover format) which was, save for the terrible and predictable ending, a fascinating case study about what people will do when trapped as precious resources dwindle away to nothing. In transferring it to the small screen, the writers pretty much abandoned any suspense and coherent narrative it might have had, instead infusing the show with the most ridiculous twists possible and eschewing character development in favor of cardboard characters acting as little more than plot devices. I abandoned CBS’s version of Under the Dome immediately after the first season ended and, thanks to reviews I read, the second season seems like a complete waste of time.

Even missing part of a face, this guy's infinitely more interesting than anyone Under the Dome

Even missing part of a face, this guy’s infinitely more interesting than anyone Under the Dome

I’m not at all familiar with the novel version of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, but I have to admit that the TV version seems as if it’s a relatively faithful adaptation of a novel–and that’s both good and bad.

The TV version of The Strain isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it does exhibit some problematic issues with the narrative.

  1. There are too many characters. We get the idea that something is wrong both with the four survivors as well as the dead passengers who have vanished from the hospital, but perhaps too much time is spent on them and, at times, it slows the show down as we bounce back and forth among all of them.
  2. Though there are wonderful performances by all involved, I dread the scenes involving Eph (Corey Stoll) and his semi-estranged family. They bring the momentum, and therefore the hour, to a grinding halt.
  3. The inclusion of Vasiliy Fet needed to be handled a little more deftly. I’m always excited to see Kevin Durand (Lost, Mystery, Alaska) in anything but his character’s introduction should have been better explained (though in all fairness, his role becomes a little clearer in “Gone Smooth”).

These are, of course, minor issues (other than the family scenes which I think should have been altered somehow) because many, if not all, of these plots will undoubtedly pay off down the line once they start to come together. It’s just that today’s TV viewers expect something not only suspenseful, but a little more fast paced.

“Gone Smooth” continues to not only build momentum but also starts to bring our heroes together.

Nora (Mia Maestro) approaches Abraham (David Bradley) inquiring about his knowledge of the passengers and the missing cargo but he ultimately declines to help her unless she fully commits to destroying the bodies of anyone on the plane and those with which they came into contact.

“What was in that coffin? – Nora

“A thing of enormous power and terrible will. The will to devour the world and swallow the light.” – Abraham

Vasiliy, who seems to possess innate knowledge about rodents, becomes even more suspicious of something strange going on when he notices an increase in infestation as well as hundreds of rats scurrying about near the river.

As for the survivors…well, big changes are afoot for the lot. Bolivar (Jack Kesy) is still hearing voices but his hair falls out–among other once vital parts of his anatomy–as he evolves further into a vampiric state. Barbour (Nikolai Witschl) has developed a taste for blood which he drinks with a forked tongue.

And the pilot, Captain Redfern (Jonathan Potts), has undergone a full transformation resulting in an attack against Eph, Nora, and Jim (Sean Astin).

strain smooth 1

“Gone Smooth” is not without fault (the aforementioned family scenes really get in the way of the suspense), but it is one hell of a ride!

The Strain – “Gone Smooth” rating: B

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Review: The Strain – “The Box” S01,E02

Strain bath

I know it’s every parent’s dream to sometimes have their child be in a zombie-like state for the sake of quiet, but when that state is accompanied by chalky white skin and eyes filled with blood, it should be a tip off that something’s not quite kosher.

Emma (Isabelle Nelisse) isn’t the only one exhibiting strange symptoms after her adventure on the flight, though she is the only one who was pronounced clinically dead that has any screen time (the other vampires who attacked the pathologist last week have mysteriously vanished from the morgue). The four survivors are also having issues after they are released from quarantine when the NTSB (who attribute the deaths to carbon monoxide) takes over the investigation from the CDC.

Not a usual side effect from carbon monoxide poisoning

Not a usual side effect from carbon monoxide poisoning

The survivors also have alabaster skin and red eyes but they also hear a humming noise in their ears, claiming it sounds like “an echo of a voice”. That and a higher tolerance for the taste of blood.

Eph (Corey Stoll) has been removed from the case due to the implied intervention of the shadowy Stoneheart group but continues to pursue his own investigation with the help of coworkers and the flight’s pilot, the latter still wracked with guilt over not being able to safely deliver his passengers to New York.

Everyone’s first priority is covering their asses. No one gives a shit about the truth. –Pilot

I do and you do. And that’s the best shot we’ve got right now. –Eph

Early on in “The Box”, it’s evident that there’s a lot of ground to cover and the episode does a pretty admirable job of touching base with all of the major players.

  • Eichorst (Richard Sammel), Stoneheart’s mystery man, pays a visit to Abraham (David Bradley) in prison and it’s obvious that there’s a huge back story between the two of them which is only briefly touched upon.
  • Eph spends some time with his son and promises him that he’ll be at the custody hearing the following day. However, there’s a little too much exposition about his character revealed during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting immediately after.
  • Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) finally receives a face to face meeting with the Master (though the latter isn’t fully revealed).
  • Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand) is introduced as a rather tenacious health inspector with a fondness for “killing vermin” but, beyond that, there’s little ties to any other storyline (which will eventually connect to something, I’m sure).

Overall, “The Box” wasn’t as thrilling as “Night Zero” but it did have enough forward momentum with director David Semel doing an admirable job both advancing the plot and supplying us with some really terrifying images (especially in Emma’s scene).

As long as The Strain maintains its slick production values and has the ability to address a few issues (one in particular is: why were there four “survivors” and were they chosen for a particular reason?), it will continue to be one of the most entertaining series of the summer.

The Strain – “The Box” grade: B+

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Review: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (2014)


Stephen King is arguably my favorite author. He has the uncanny ability to create realistic characters who inhabit a believable world, regardless of whether or not that world has supernatural overtones. IT and The Stand easily carve out two spots on my top 5 all time books. The short stories “Strawberry Spring” (Night Shift) and “N.” (Just After Sunset) are equally terrifying in different ways. Even his non-genre (The Colorado Kid) and more recent somewhat non-genre fare (Joyland, 11/22/63) are phenomenal entries into his body of work. The guy rarely disappoints (last year’s unsatisfying Doctor Sleep being the notable misstep).

So what about Mr. Mercedes?

Sounds great, right?

Well, it is…for a little while. The beginning is pure King and when that car’s engine revs up, so does the suspense. For that brief moment, when the killer behind the wheel of the Mercedes runs down the crowd of hopeful job applicants, you can feel the author set the stage for something special.

It’s everything else after that that falls flat. The rest of the novel is little more than standard police procedural one might see on a rerun of some old 70s cop show. It’s predictable fare with relatively cardboard characters that fail to jump off the page.

Apparently, King stated that Mr. Mercedes was originally slated to be a short story, which would have served the tale a lot better than a full blown novel. There just seems to be too much bloat in the middle that we’ve seen him do before, just in a better way.

Recently, it was announced that Mr. Mercedes is the first in a trilogy of novels. To be honest, I just don’t see enough in the first entry to compel me to read the others (the next installment is slated to be released sometime in early 2015). In the meantime, I look forward to Revival, his next book scheduled for this November.

If you’re looking for a suspenseful story from the master of horror, pick up the August issue of Esquire where he delivers a riveting knockout punch with his short story, “That Bus is Another World” (you can read my review here).

Mr. Mercedes grade: C-

Just After Sunset (Kindle Edition)

By (author): Stephen King

Kindle Edition: Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only

Night Shift (Kindle Edition)

By (author): Stephen King

Kindle Edition: Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only

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Review: “That Bus is Another World” by Stephen King (2014)

Another world

Stephen King is at his best with his latest short story, “That Bus is Another World”. Better than anyone, King knows that within the little moments of our mundane, workaday lives, there are events that pack a wallop because sometimes, the sheer terror in our world comes not from the supernatural, but from within ourselves and others.

En route to New York on behalf of his “one man outfit”, Wilson is due to make a marketing pitch to an oil company after one of its undersea wells caused a disaster. Taking every precaution available (an early flight, a well prepared portfolio), Wilson is determined to get to that meeting with time to spare. However, throughout the story, King demonstrates that, no matter how much control you try to exert over your life, something will come along to wrest it from you at a moment’s notice. It could be a flight delay, a rainstorm, or even a stranger on a bus.

There’s a sense of urgency (of purpose, even) that propels “That Bus is Another World” forward because Wilson HAS to be on time for that meeting, a once in a lifetime opportunity (though only that, not a certainty) that could change his life. Sometimes, though, you get distracted, even if briefly, and it happens to Wilson, allowing him to realize life goes on around him and there might be more to it than what you expect.

Wilson had a momentary image–vague and unformed but tremendous–of a clockwork galaxy where the separate wheels and cogs went through mysterious motions, perhaps to some karmic end, perhaps for no reason at all. Here was the world of the Jolly Dingle cab, and five feet away was the world of the Peter Pan bus. Between them were only five feet and two layers of glass. Wilson was amazed by this self-evident fact.

While King’s tale is a mere three pages long, it speaks volumes, not only about the characters who inhabit this particular time and space, but of the past, or at least its possibilities. It also holds a mirror up to the human race and reflects the potential for good and evil within us all. It’s a must read and recommended over the longer, less interesting, Mr. Mercedes.

“That Bus is Another World” grade: A

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Review: The Strain – “Night Zero” S01,E01


While in college, I co-hosted a movie review show with a fellow classmate. One night, we watched Betsy’s Wedding, a film we didn’t cover on the show, but rented one weekend night. When it ended, I told her how much I really enjoyed it. She looked at me, shocked.

“I never thought you’d like something like that,” she said.

“Really? Why?” I asked.

“Because you’re more of a film snob.”

It’s true that I’ve always gravitated toward things that will challenge me, regardless of whether they’re films, books, television series, or anything else in life and I’m still often accused of being too highbrow when it comes to my choices. People can’t understand why I’m so critical of shows like Under The Dome and The Following, both of which I watched much longer than I should have (one season on the former, two on the latter) hoping to find some redeeming kitschy quality about them. Turns out, both are so asinine and poorly written that I can’t overlook the fact the writers pretty much don’t give a damn.

Enter FX’s new series, The Strain which could either fall into the trap that the above two shows did or just be pure fun like Betsy’s Wedding.

Adapted from the book by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, The Strain is about a vampiric virus threatening to infect New York unless its progress is stopped by the CDC’s Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and pawnshop owner (and Holocaust survivor) Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley).

Though The Strain introduces a more viral aspect to vampire lore (with the “disease” transmitted via worm-like creatures after victims are injected via a vampire’s proboscis instead of fangs), it does drop hints that the creatures can be destroyed through old fashioned methods like severing the head from the body, destroying the corpse, and exposure to sunlight.

The Strain isn’t going to set the world on fire with complete originality, but it’s hard to truly do anything new with the vampire legend. Lord knows others have tried, but we end up with creatures who twinkle in the sun or fall for bland faeries. That said, The Strain is fast flowing (at least in “Night Zero” thanks to del Toro in the director’s seat) and successfully juggles multiple subplots without being distracting or confusing.

If you’re looking for a good horror series, you could do a whole lot worse than The Strain (like True Blood, for example, which is plodding along this year and should have been destroyed at the end of last season). If you just sit back, go along for the ride and forget about being a snob (as I still am today in many regards), you’ll probably have a lot of fun for the next few weeks.

The Strain – “Night Zero” grade: B+

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Review: Penny Dreadful – “Grand Guignol” S01, E08

PD Grand Guignol

“Remember us better than we are.” – Vincent Brand

The same parting advice Vincent gives to Caliban (Rory Kinnear) after casting him out of the theater is the same advice I’m going to try to take until season two begins sometime in 2015.

To be honest, I was expecting a LOT more from “Grand Guignol”, not only because it was the season finale, but also because: 1) it promised to be a resolution to the season long search for Mina (one would hope, anyway), and 2) the term “Grand Guignol” set an expectation that this would be a bloody, over the top episode.

What did we get? An extremely limp resolution to the group’s incredibly dull search for Mina without spilling much blood.

Rejection is the theme running through “Grand Guignol” as several of the characters experience it in some form. Vanessa (Eva Green) rejects Dorian* (Reeve Carney) after he tries to reignite the passion they shared two episodes ago. Caliban is rebuffed by an actress at the theater as well as the theater itself. Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) finally rejected Mina by shooting her after she remains a vampire and threatens to kill Vanessa. Ethan (Josh Hartnett) rejects the idea of returning home by transforming into a werewolf (or maybe Mr. Hyde, who knows) and killing the Pinkerton agents his father sent to retrieve him. Victor rejects both the idea of killing Caliban as well as the idea that death has to be the end when he suffocates Brona and plans on using her reanimated corpse as a mate for his first creation.

*As I mentioned in the review for “Possession“, the character of Dorian Gray served absolutely no purpose this season. Why couldn’t they have saved him for season 2 instead of wasting the work of Reeve Carney?

Penny Dreadful had a promising beginning and, thanks to the incredible cast, flashes of brilliance along the way. Ultimately, it sputtered as the season trudged along, largely due to the very weak spine of the tale which involved the search for Mina, a character I don’t really think anyone (including the main characters) gave two fucks about. In fact, that whole story was so dull, it reminded me of the storyline in the second season of Twin Peaks that involved Laura Palmer’s boyfriend, James Hurley. Anyone remember that? There’s a reason–because it was fucking dull!

The biggest improvement to this show would be relegating creator/showrunner/sole scripter John Logan to an advisory role and allowing a more seasoned staff to develop better stories for this gifted cast. They deserve a lot better and so do viewers.

I’ll most likely check out season two of Penny Dreadful and, hopefully, enough time will have passed to help me remember it better than it was.

Penny Dreadful “Grand Guignol” grade: D-

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