Previously on The Strain: Night Zero & The Box
Last week, I complained that The Strain wasn’t getting to me the way I wanted it to, that it was bland and wasting its time on plotlines that only weighed it down and actually — ironically — made it harder to connect to these characters.
This week, I’m still complaining about that. I’ll try and make it brief.
This custody hearing thing with Eph and his son, Zach, just wanting the best for him and Eph flipping his shit because he’s fooling himself into thinking he’s fit for full-on joint custody: it bores me so much. I don’t care about this guy’s control issues, ok, because his mental instability is only brought up when it’s convenient, when it’s easy to use to ruck up some family sub-plot drama. But it is, curiously, not affecting his work, because, oh Lord, he’s so good at his job. And that’s supposed to be his one redeeming quality.
I will say that, so many times, the private lives of my favourite characters become more important to me than the Case of the Week. It’s certainly true for Elementary, it’s true for Sherlock, to some extent, it’s true for Almost Human and Sleepy Hollow. But those are, mostly, procedurals or adhering to a very specific format. Especially in detective fiction, the characters’ personal lives have taken an ever greater role in the narrative, simply because we all already know what an episode is going to be like on a fundamental level. There’s the mystery, the investigation, the solving of the mystery, and the more or less happy ending. And often enough, the underlying arcs that tie the individual episodes together are rooted in the protagonists’ personal lives and/or problems. Either that or it’s trying to prevent the Apocalypse — which, for some characters, would be more or less the same thing. So.
Why do I have so much trouble with Eph’s personal life sub-plot?
It’s because this isn’t a procedural series. It’s a serial, with each episode furthering the solving of the mystery, none of these episodes are in any way self-contained. There are shows where this works. Sleepy Hollow has a rather serial-like narrative character, and we frequently delve into Abbie and Ichabod’s personal lives — and I don’t mind, on the contrary. But that’s because I like those characters, like them immensely. These characters, I don’t like. Eph’s character — which isn’t really character, just building on a trope of the overworked, absent father who does something really important and thus we should all forgive him everything. The show may not think that, but it’s what Eph thinks, and it’s clear the show generally wants us to identify with him. Anyway, I like flawed characters, that’s not it. But I’m tired of this trope that is particularly often attributed to men. I’ve seen it once too often, and the narrative, at the end of it, doesn’t seem interested enough in making me care about Eph. This shorthand trope seems to have to suffice, and it just doesn’t. Eph is a former drunk with too many issues to count, but we’re to believe he’s performed well at his job so far, well enough to not have been suspended or gotten into any other trouble?
It’s the same with the other two: oh, there’s Jim, his wife has cancer and he let himself be bribed into doing what he did in order to get her into a Stanford drug trial. Boohoo. And Nora is just… there. She doesn’t get anything to do, she doesn’t get anything meaningful to say. None of them do. So I’m banking on the vampire thing to actually pull me along and make this exciting, but it’s just not happening.
Tropes, tropes, tropes — too much telling, not enough showing
The thing is, I want to see this vampire thing solved. I want to know why what is happening is happening, and how the team deal with it. What I’m seeing instead is penises shrivelling up and falling into the toilet. Bolivar is so bland I could cry. Ansel is rather involuntarily funny in his deadpan way of dealing with what is happening, I’m scandalised that his wife hasn’t called an ambulance yet while he gobbles up the raw meat before going back to bed. The kid is creepy, but utterly nondescript, the pilot was endearing in his earnest wish to be treated and let the doctors use him to figure out what’s wrong, and we haven’t even seen the lawyer again yet. I don’t care about Bolivar’s dick falling off. I wanna know why the rats are fleeing the sewers.
Then again, I’m not sure if I believe the show capable of delivering an exciting conclusion. It’s burdened itself with too big a supporting cast too soon, trying to fit too much into too little time, giving the sub-plots too much screen time while actually not saying anything at all. Just like Eph, this series is doing a lot of telling, but next to no showing.