Recap: “The Third Rail,” The Strain, Season 1, Episode 11

Can a show be scary when the audience can’t take the villain seriously? That and the outcomes of bad special effects in this week’s recap of The Strain.


For these first 10 episodes of The Strain, our heroes have been mostly reactive. You can’t blame them, really. In the face of a city-wide pandemic, the collapse of communications, commerce, and some aspects of society, and honest-to-gosh real, live vampires, anyone would be forgiven for trying to ride out the craziness rather than take control. In this episode, though, Goodweather, Setrakian, Fet, and Martinez have stabilized to the world’s new reality enough to start making some more forward-looking plans. And chief among them is one mission: kill The Master.

They arrive at this plan after Setrakian has, more than once, suggested that killing The Master will end the vampire virus. Sounding too much like superstition, Goodweather’s never believed it before. That’s changed now. Why isn’t clear: I don’t remember any particular scenes that would make us believe that Goodweather’s been convinced that this makes any sense (how could it, in epidemiological terms? Killing the Patient Zero of any outbreak can’t squeeze the rancid toothpaste back into the tube). Nevertheless, the plot requires this change of heart, so Goodweather’s now dedicated to killing The Mater to save the city.

Armed with Fet’s homemade UV light bombs, some larger lights, some blades, and not much else, the quartet leaves Zach and Martinez’s mom behind at Setrakian’s pawn shop and heads into the tunnels to track and confront The Master. They get what they want, but in doing so one of the series’ greatest flaws is exposed.

As the gang draws nearer The Master’s lair, Goodweather’s wife—now vampified, remember—begins calling to him, luring him into paying attention to her voice and not the presence of The Master. As he allows himself to become distracted, The Master appears from the darkness and seizes him. The scene—which is perhaps the longest time we’ve seen The Master up close and in enough light to really make out the character design—deflates everything. The Master looks absurd. No work of horror can truly succeed when its villain looks this bad.

As I’ve mentioned before, the makeup effects for The Master include the hand-prosthetic equivalents of clown shoes. To make matters worse, Robert Maillet (the actor who plays The Master) insists on waving the floppy, foam appendages in front of the camera, never allowing us a moment to forget how bad they look. Compounding that are the oversized bat ears and strangely over-wide mouth. I’m far from an effects connoisseur (but I have watched a few episodes of Face Off just this month and liked them!), but the look of The Master is uninspired at its best, laughable at its worst. And how can we, as an audience, be afraid of a character we can’t take seriously?

Fet and Setrakian rescue Goodweather before The Master can “take everything from you,” as he promises. There will be another confrontation before this season ends. Even if it’s more definitive than this one, it’s hard to look forward to another appearance of the series’ rubbery, risible villain.

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1 Comment

  1. I have to agree: The Master is a comical grotesque that completely destroys the viewers momentum and the credibility to the series. With Guillermo del Torro’s name attached to this project, I am deeply disappointed.

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