The Strain Series Premiere – “Night Zero” Review.
Season 1, Episode 1
Air date: Sunday, July 13 at 10PM on FX
The Strain is a visually stimulating and visceral series. The production value and cinematography are film quality. It’s as if you are watching a one hour movie and not a weekly television series. The series premiere, “Night Zero,” sets up what will be an intense first season, beginning with an unknown contagion that brings a Regis “767 wide body” air jet, and all its passengers and crew to a dead stop.
If you’ve become tired of the fluffy, sparkly, gorgeous vampires, then The Strain is perfect for you. Del Toro and Chuck Hogan created “The Strain Trilogy,” a series of books that re-imagine vampires as horrifying creatures who don’t care about how the world has changed over the centuries. The Strain brings to life what Del Toro and Hogan wrote — vampires that will scare your pants off. What intrigues me about The Strain is how it incorporates various vampiric folklore, from the Asian Aswang, to Bram Stoker’s earth loving vampires. What Del Toro and Hogan dreamed up is terrifying and gruesome yet, powerful and captivating in its menacing presence. These vampires have something innately different than what we’ve been fed over the last decade with sparkly vampires and vampires on television who seem to forget their vampires in the sense they don’t fully utilize their abilities as immortal beings—super strength and speed, heightened senses, etc. Vampires aren’t human and when you are a creature of the night that needs blood to sustain you, you shouldn’t have any humanity left.
From the moment “Night Zero” begins, the intensity of the episode increases exponentially until the very end. Everything in the middle is something you cannot miss. There are too many factors that beg your undivided attention. As much as you may want to cover your eyes when you see tiny worms wriggle around in the heart encased in a watery jar, you just can’t look away.
“Night Zero” introduces us to several characters, most notably Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather (Corey Stoll), an “epidemiologist” who heads the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Canary Team in New York City. Eph is also a bit neurotic and a control freak, but his job is quite demanding as you soon find out. Stoll is a perfect choice for this role. He is believable as the cocky yet endearing Dr. Goodweather. Stoll convinces you he is part of the actual CDC. You cannot help but believe his response as he skillfully and empathetically checks the passengers of the grounded Regis airliner for causes of death.
As “Night Zero” progresses, we learn a great many disturbing things about what may have happened to the passengers. 206 of the 210 people on board are dead…or are they? The opening scene where two flight attendants investigate the cargo hold is a nail biter. Then you have the unusual circumstances surrounding how the plane suddenly falls off radar and ends up sitting ice cold on the JFK tarmac after an international flight from Berlin also poses a mystery unto itself. The four survivors—pilot, Captain Redfern (Jonathan Potts); musician, Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy); attorney, Joan Luss (Leslie Hope); and a family man, Ansel Barbour (Nikolai Witschl), are put into quarantine but it won’t contain what has already been unleashed.
Another key character is Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley). By all appearances, he’s a frail old man who owns and operates a pawn shop in Spanish Harlem. But the saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ definitely fits the bill where he is concerned. Setrakian is a mysterious man who knows far too much about what’s happening on the tarmac than the CDC team working it. And his cane holds a secret too.
Of the many very unique and important characters featured in “Night Zero,” two of them play major roles in how the creature came to the United States in the first place. Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) is a very wealthy gentleman who isn’t in the best of health. His caretaker Mr. Fitzwilliams (Roger R. Cross) isn’t wholly involved in his employer’s shady dealings with the uber creepy Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel), but I think he knows something is awry. Sammel is absolutely amazing in the role of Thomas. Although he has very few scenes, he commands them with a subdued malice. He’s definitely someone I’d stay far away from.
Eph isn’t working alone. Along with his partner Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) and their trusted assistant Jim Kent (Sean Astin), Eph takes on this mammoth case battling not only the unknown origins and elements of this strange virus, but the bureaucracy of the government’s involvement, or rather, interference with this case. They also deal with Setrakian’s crazy rantings.
Families are desperate to find answers, especially Gary Arnot (Steven McCarthy), the father of the youngest passenger, little Emma Arnot (Isabelle Nélisse). Gary is outraged, as is everyone who’s lost someone on board the doomed flight. But this virus does something odd to its victims. Let’s just say love is the bond and home is where the heart is. All roads lead back to the ones you love. The opening narrative, spoken by Abraham Setrakian, is quite revealing in hindsight. “Hunger, a poet once said, is the most important thing we know, the first lesson we learn. But hunger can be easily quieted down, easily satiated. There is another force, a different type of hunger, an unquenchable thirst that cannot be extinguished. Its very existence is what defines us, what makes us human; that force is love.”
“Night Zero” is filled with mystery, surprises, betrayal, and extremely violent and gruesome scenes. The Strain delivers, combining the lives of its characters, the people in their lives, and the monstrous creature’s plans to dominate. It isn’t for the faint of heart or those who are easily grossed out. A scene toward the end of the exciting 90 minute premiere will possibly make you queasy. Tip: I wouldn't have spaghetti for dinner while watching.
Tune into The Strain, Sundays at 10PM only on FX.