‘Bottle’ episodes are a great opportunity for television shows, young or old: it essentially forces characters to interact with each other on deeper levels than normal, absent of the normal rhythms of moving from location to location as a story progresses. In a bottle episode, the story has to be about the characters: making it about external events and/or people defeats the purpose (at least creatively) of having the episode: there’s no better way to learn about a group of characters than forcing them into a small space together: that is, unless it is The Strain, where the characters are set in stone and bronzed the moment they step on screen, characters whose behavior would be consistently telegraphed, should the writers ever devise a system of writing them consistently.
That being said, “Creatures of the Night” is the second straight watchable episode of The Strain: as a self-contained little homage to influential, one-location zombie films, “Creatures of the Night” mostly works. It’s not the most exciting affair: the only dramatic moments are those created by characters running outside like idiots – well, that and the departure of everyone’s favorite traitor Jim, dead by a remorse-free gunshot to the head by Fet, the one man willing to do what the women in the room (and Dr. Goodweather, admittedly) weren’t.
Fet is really the star of the episode: “Creatures of the Night” is a showcase piece for the character, an opportunity to show us the brave, decisive side of the exterminator, a little more fun to watch than the misogynist jerk of the past few weeks. One of the clear themes of The Strain is transformation; while it hasn’t worked all that well with characters like Eph and Nora (which, by the way: where the hell is her mother?), watching Fet’s admittedly-instantaneous transformation from self-serving looter to noble warrior is the crux of the episode, a nice contrast to the other, more blood-sucking mutations we’ve seen around the show’s version of New York. Fet is clearly a major character at this point, a man who fits the build of Setrakian’s protege much cleaner than Eph, drawing an interesting, dimensional connective thread between characters for arguably the first time on the show.
Outside of Fet, however, The Strain still struggles to connect characters to each other (and by proxy, the audience); Jim’s departure lacks any sort of emotional impact, a foregone conclusion for the traitor determined to redeem himself in the eyes of his girlfriend and employees, a mantle that can now be taken up by the hacker girl, who also didn’t know that her illegal, shady activities were ever going to lead to anything bad that could possibly affect her (shutting down all communication in New York – or just “slowing it”, to be accurate – was going to bring good things to her how exactly? She lives in the freakin’ city!). And contrasted with the punchline-heavy tone of the rest of the episode, Jim’s Serious Scenes describing just how much he messed up and listing exactly who in his family could be killed by him if he turned, is an obvious attempt to create emotional connection to a character that doesn’t exist beyond simple character archetypes. And it falls remarkably flat: killing Jim is more satisfying than it is emotional, removing one of the show’s weakest elements (the mantle still belongs to poor Gus) in heartless fashion is devastatingly effective, if only at shutting down one of the show’s most laughable characters.
The Strain is still struggling to find its balance, even as it heads int the final stretch of its first season: there are attempts at comedic tones backed up against melodramatic moments, an imbalance of self-aware and self-serious that make for odd transitions during important scenes, none given any sort of room to breathe during the abbreviated, barely-40-minute episode. And those odd tonal shifts only undermine the seriousness of the situation, essentially marking the public arrival of the zombie-vampire invasion in this world with a series of half-baked jokes and nail gun shots. When it focuses on the actions at hand, an examination of what humans do when under enormous, life-threatening pressure, it feels like The Strain is on solid footing: the problem are the characters these events are happening around, something “Creatures of the Night” only occasionally tries to address – and when it does, can only do so in the simplest, laughably telegraphed ways possible.
– why does that kid never leave the counter? He really thinks that is going to keep him safe?
– Nora and Eph must both be CDC shooting range champions… though didn’t Nora say she’s never shot a gun before?
– The Strain loves Setrakian’s nail gun (and chants) a lot more than it should.
– The way the actors feebly shake the UV lights at vampires, it’s not very convincing how powerful of a weapon they can be.
– the vampires-through-the-ceiling bit is very reminiscent of a similar, better bit from The Walking Dead‘s fourth season.
– So The Master is so worried about these people, he’ll send an army of vampire zombies their way and put his plans on hold? Priorities, my man!
[Photo via FX]