In this New Golden Age of Television, it’s become common to use a season’s penultimate episode as a climax that resolves the major plots, with the final episode serving as a coda to wrap secondary themes and stories. In this, its second-to-last episode of the season, The Strain ignores that trend and delivers an episode that builds to next week’s finale. In doing so, it fills in some tedious background detail and delivers a generally unfocused episode.
One of the odd things about The Strain is how it’s spent the entire season following characters who were, at best, peripheral to the core plot, including Latino tough guy Gus, goth rocker Gabriel Bolivar, and corrupt oligarch Eldritch Palmer. We find Palmer, who I’d almost forgotten was in the series, on his deathbed, believing—despite Eichorst’s taunts—that The Master will reward his faithful service with eternal, vamplified (thanks to Art Elliot for the neologism) life. And, indeed, he is a master of his word: the episode ends with Palmer restored to youth and a vamplified immortality (though, strangely, he doesn’t look like any other vampires). Is that the end of the Palmer story? Other than pulling levers to facilitate the outbreak, his role has never been terribly clear.
The same is true, but moreso, of musician Gabriel Bolivar. Bolivar was an early lens into the pace and scope of the vampire transformation, but he’s been absent since episode 5. Here, he returns for one scene—to kill Martinez’s mother. At least we won’t have to wonder what happened to him.
Lastly, Gus—another character who’s only been of interest due to his minor role in the outbreak—reappears. He carjacks another minor character, a gangster played by Jamie Hector (of Marlo Stanfield fame), who’s only appeared in one other episode, to stock up on weapons. As the pair find themselves confronted by a shipping container full of vampires (which, hang on a second: how did the vampires get in the container? Were they in there as humans being trafficked? If so, who infected them? If they were already vampires, were they being shipped from elsewhere? Is there another outbreak going on?), the monster SWAT team from the end of episode 7 show up and whisk Gus away.
Back in the main plot, much of the episode is devoted to explaining Setrakian’s somewhat unhinged actions of last week. This happens through flashback, but thankfully we’re out of the concentration camp and into 1967. Setrakian, wearing terrible, terrible age makeup (after last week’s recap I feel a little bad knocking the makeup team so hard, but this looked pretty dire. The seams of the hairpiece and goatee were obvious, while the age makeup didn’t hold up in HD), lives with his wife and spends his time tracking The Master.
Believing he’s got a lead on The Master’s location and a good plan, Setrakian heads into the countryside to some ruins, where he finds an inviting looking well. After descending it, he finds nesting vamps and we get the episode’s one cool moment: one of the vamps wakes up long enough for The Master to speak through it to taunt Setrakian (If only the series would make more use of The Master’s ability to see and speak through his minions; it’s so cool). The whole thing is a trap, of course, designed to give Eichorst and The Master a chance to vamplify Setrakian’s wife. When he finally escapes the well and heads home, not only is she a vampire, but he has to kill her. Oh, and did I mention that she walks with a cane and a brace on her back and leg? Talk about piling it on thick.
So now we know: Setrakian is driven to kill The Master out of revenge. Or is now, at least. Was he hunting The Master while he ran the pawn shop? Maybe the fires of revenge didn’t burn quite so brightly.
Regardless, the episode answers one last question that most people probably forgot about since it hasn’t come up since the first or second episode: the vampire heart in the jar in Setrakian’s basement belonged to his wife. Of course.
This episode was a great example of the way The Strain pushes forward all its stories but can’t get them to cohere into an engaging whole, as well as the way that it hits the most obvious notes in building and motivating its characters. Presumably, with an episode’s worth of build up, the finale will offer some action and some resolution. And if it doesn’t, well, at least the show will be finished for a while.