Guilt is often at the heart of good horror. Consider Father Karras’ guilt over his neglect of his mother in The Exorcist: it’s the path that Pazuzu chooses to attempt Karras’ corruption. The Strain knows the power of guilt, and tries to use it—but with less success.
The guilty core of “For Services Rendered” comes in flashbacks to Setrakian and Eichorst’s shared time in the concentration camp. In his youth, Setrakian was an apprentice carpenter and is revealed in this episode to be, under Eichorst’s command, the craftsman who created the exquisitely detailed coffin that brought The Master into the U.S. at the beginning of the series (though isn’t it odd that he can produce such impressive work after just a few episodes ago protesting that he’d only just started working with wood?). More than just establish Setrakian’s decades-long connection to the vampire plague, and particularly Eichorst and The Master’s attempts to loose it on the world, this episode attempts to make Setrakian complicit in the threat facing New York.
But who—outside of the writers room for The Strain—can take that proposition seriously? Damien Karras might have spent more time with his mother, could perhaps have attended more to her needs. He had his freedom and chose to spend his time and energy in another way. But Setrakian? He was in a concentration camp where his friends, his relatives, other people like him were slaves, were killed, were eaten each night by The Master. His wasn’t a question of how to spend his weekends; for Setrakian, working on the coffin was a matter of life and death. Can we honestly feel that a person is truly responsible for a decision made under the most extreme duress?
World War 2-era Eichorst certainly thinks Setrakian should feel responsible. Eichorst, humanized in this episode perhaps more than intended as an awkward, physically incapable, lonely man, has been coming to see Setrakian throughout the creation of the coffin, often late at night, often drunk, clearly needing something approaching a friend (Setrakian bears with him more than reciprocates; what choice does he have?). At one point, Eichorst addresses Setrakian’s supposed complicity directly, alleging that he had a choice about working on the coffin, then offering him a gun with which to either kill himself (the option other than building the coffin, it seems) or Eichorst. Setrakian does neither.
Guilt over his own involvement in the outbreak also prompts Jim Kent to team back up with Goodweather, Martinez, and Setrakian in a strangely conceived, and deeply ineffective, plot to confront (capture? annoy?) Eichorst at Grand Central station. Their plan doesn’t achieve much other than giving Eichorst a chance to look cool as he moves quickly through crowds and jumps onto the side of a moving subway car to escape.
The episode’s coolest development involves—so far, at least—no guilt at all. It comes in the form of a troop of paramilitary-style vampire hunters who rescue the kids and housekeeper of the female lawyer, now vampire, who survived the doomed Aegis Air flight. These fighters, dressed all in black, with hoods, guns, and tactical gear, make quick work of the vampire threat and promise a more exciting next few episodes—especially since the leader of the group isn’t quite human himself. His mottled green and yellow skin, sharp front teeth, and oddly shaped mouth don’t mark him as the kind of vampire we’ve seen so far, but do suggest that things may soon get more interesting. There’s a suggestion that these fighters may represent some kind of inflexibly extreme position that will be useful for, but ultimately come into conflict with, the heroes—which, if so, will be too predictable—but for now, they at least offer so hope that the second half of the season may include some excitement that we can enjoy without guilt.