FX’s The Strain intrigued and confused audiences last summer. This weekend, it returns for a second round on FX and hopefully it will continue to do more of the former and less of the latter. The first episode back, “BK, N.Y.,” isn’t the best hour of television I’ve seen lately, but for fans of the brand of horror that the series presents, it will likely be pretty satisfying.
Events in “BK, N.Y.” pick up just after the end of season one. Abraham (David Bradley) goes looking for The Master (Robin Atkin Downes), while Vasiliy (Kevin Durand) reinforces their defenses, and Ephraim (Corey Stoll) lets alcohol interfere with choosing the right path forward. There’s action and movement on a number of subplots, a frightening encounter with the dark minions, the unexpected return of a recurring character, and a longer look at the scarred face, hooded one.
My problem with this hour, though, is that it does seem to be tossing a lot of ingredients in and they aren’t all necessary. “BK, N.Y.” follows a big encounter, so Abraham’s plot is solid, building upon past progress. Vasiliy’s makes a sort of sense if they’re digging in for the long haul, but do any of them think that’s the best course of action? Ephraim is pretty much off the rails, reminding us of his job, which seems silly to bring back up now, and without a solid hero’s thrust until the very end of the hour. It makes the whole thing feel a little meandering, rather than hitting the ground running after last season’s build up.
The Strain is stalled further by an extended, ten-minute prologue before we even get back to the familiar. We see a young Abraham being told a story by an old woman, so there’s flashback within flashback. The tale is interesting and does inform on current events, but it’s quite long and there doesn’t seem to be an immediate need for it to be, confusing the situation even more. Perhaps it would have been better to tease this out over multiple weeks, or at least present it as fact instead of legend, telling the audience whether or not they can really trust this version of events, the way it is told calling into question its legitimacy, even as it matches up with the main plot.
Another thing The Strain has to deal with in its second season, considering there’s no time jump, and this is an issue many series have to tackle at one time or another, is the character of Zach Goodweather. Being a kid, viewers would notice a huge growth spurt over the mere hours between seasons. Whether because of this or for another reason, young actor Ben Hyland has been let go and replaced with Max Charles (The Neighbors). Max doesn’t really look that much like Ben unless you squint real hard, so perhaps the series is hoping the different look will make us forget about the quick aging. It does not.
Overall, I do enjoy The Strain. It gets one’s adrenaline pumping, and while some of the makeup is hokey, the general look and feel of the show is pretty cool. The acting isn’t bad and the story doesn’t seem like it’s been done a million times before, as many other shows do. However, there are some very, very good programs on right now (Hannibal, Humans, Mr. Robot), and by comparison, The Strain pales. As a genre series catering to a specific audience, I think it works well. But in the larger television landscape, it’s likely to fail to appeal to the masses and really take off like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones has, lacking something vital and hard to quantify. I’ll probably keep watching it, but it won’t make my must-see-as-soon-as-it-airs list.
The Strain returns Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on FX.