Virtually anything goes in horror—murder, mutilation, the supernatural—but there’s one thing horror movies and TV shows can’t do, one sin that is unforgivable: being boring. And if that’s true, then The Strain needs to get itself to confession, because “The Box,” the second episode of this debut season, was leadenly boring.
A charitable reading of this episode is that it’s devoted to worldbuilding, to both broadening and deepening the pallet with which the series’ world is painted. But that would be too charitable. Rather, this episode is simply plodding, lacking in scares, and adding only the most obvious sort of texture to the characters introduced last episode. When the world expands here, it does so in by-the-numbers sorts of ways that undercut The Strain’s ambitions to being a prestige series:
- We’re introduced to Kevin Durand as a sure-to-be-important city health inspector (whose line “I make many mistakes, but not about rat urine” is my new motto) who has an arsenal at home and a quirky personality
- Ephraim Goodweather’s supervisor, Dr. Barnes, plays a greater role here, but only to inflict the sort of bureaucratic travesty designed to force the hero into action. In this case, Barnes sets the 4 survivors of Aegis Air free less than 24 hours after their quarantine, far before it would be reasonably possible to establish whether they’re infected or contagious. Between this and Goodweather’s disastrous press conference in the debut, The Strain’s version of the CDC is mind-boggling incompetent
- The Secretary of the Dept. of Health and Human Services arrives to support Barnes’ decision in a way that makes it unclear whether she’s simply making a terrible decision or if she’s part of the always-in-just-the-right-place Stoneheart Group conspiracy
- In going to taunt Abraham Setrakian while he stews in jail, the angular and sinister Eichorn confirms that not only was he a Nazi, but he was a concentration camp guard (didn’t the Nazis have, say, postal workers who later got involved in supernatural conspiracies?) and he oversaw Setrakian during his stay at the camp.
- Goodweather is confirmed, in the way of all heroes on these sorts of shows, as a man seeking the truth in the face of a bureaucracy interested only in self preservation. When he questions Aegis Air’s surviving pilot, the pilot says, “Everyone’s first priority is covering their asses, and no one gives a shit about the truth.” Without even having seen the episode you can probably guess Goodweather’s response: “I do. And you do. And that’s our best shot.” He’s a man on a mission—one that we’ve seen a hundred times before.
- Speaking of Goodweather, remember his tedious family therapy session last episode and his desire to do anything to keep his family together? Well, uh, forget it. He sure has. Less than 24 hours after that session, Goodweather shows up at his ex-wife’s house, makes peace with her new boyfriend and, at the obligatory AA meeting later, says that his son Zach is “All that I have left. He’s my whole world.” Which is the sort of thing the hero is supposed to say here, but everyone can see—including his own kid, who calls him on the sentiment—that it’s not true. There’s nothing more important to Goodweather than his work. He’s sacrificed his family for it. He makes reckless decisions for his dedication to it. He roughs up his supervisor in his quest to be right. Only on this sort of rote TV are these the actions of a man who places his kid above all else. (Incidentally, anyone want a side bet about the likelihood that Zack gets infected with the vampire virus?)
You may notice, by the way, that the last sentence, almost 600 words into this article, is the first time the word “vampire” has appeared. That’s a good reflection of how important vampires were to this episode.
Besides serving up TV recipes we’ve all eaten before, the other thing that made this episode boring, that breaks whatever connection the audience is building with the show, is characters acting stupidly. The most flagrant example of that in this episode comes from the father of the French girl who died on the flight and, at the end of the last episode, showed up asking her father for a hug. Here, he calls Goodweather to thank him for sending his daughter home, even though she’s quite clearly shrugged off his mortal coil. It’s absurd to think that this father wouldn’t be able to tell that something is profoundly wrong with his daughter. It’s not inconceivable that he’s in denial, but is so distraught at the idea of his daughter being dead that he simply can’t entertain even the thinnest sliver of that thought. I’d buy that, except that not a second of this episode is used to establish that, so instead we see a man acting in defiance of any rational motivation.
Seeing such a boring episode come from the pens of David Weddle and Bradley Thompson is a surprise, as they are veterans of, among other series, the Battlestar Galactica remake, which was never boring. Being boring isn’t a fatal flaw; many other series have turned in soporific installments and come back to fulfilling and fun seasons. It’s worrisome, though, that The Strain can be so boring in just its second episode.