Though “For Services Rendered” isn’t exactly a great episode of television – constructed around Setrakian’s idiot plan to nail Eichorst in Grand freakin’ Central Station, it really can’t be – it certainly takes a few steps in the right direction, the most obvious of which is people in New York slowly realizing that their cell phones don’t work, and weird things with “six-foot frog tongues, yo” (Gus, always so eloquent) are running around the city murdering people. At the very least, things are starting to happen on The Strain, which means we can move away from the terrible character-based material, and into the slightly-less-worrisome plot of eclipses, vampires, and the threat of new world order.
Still, a lot of “For Services Rendered” is set up for the future: Jim is still being verbally assaulted by both Eichorst and Eph, throwing into question the “I’ll do anything for my wife” statement he made previously. He knows helping Eph is going to get his wife killed – he’s literally been told this in previous episodes, but it doesn’t stop him from playing both sides of the fence, driving Gus and his stereotypical overweight/religious Mexican friend to dispose of a tentacle-laden body, if only to destroy the credibility of Eph even further. A dramatic wild card is always interesting: but with Jim, it feels like the show’s setting him up for some kind of noble death in the future, even though it’s not one his soft, flip-flopping character really deserves.
The one character who the show’s gone lengths to improve is Eph – or maybe I just like seeing him unable to convince anyone of the things he’s seen and done, be it the FBI (who wants him for “murdering” the plane pilot) or his own ex-wife, who suddenly isn’t so sure she wants to be an ex of the crazy Dr. Goodweather anymore (at least it seems that way, doesn’t it?). Watching a series of scenes where Eph spits all this gibberish about vampires and contagions and getting out of the city, the more an audience is able to believe in the gravity of the situation: vampires are taking over the city, and thanks to the fact that vampires are fictional entities in this reality, nobody believes it (though one would think they’d notice the lawyer’s darkened eyes on national television, no?). Sure, it’s only a slight twist on the classic “righteous, flawed protagonist who isn’t crying wolf” trope, but it’s effective in both giving logi to the world The Strain is set in, and FINALLY gives us a reason to cheer for good ol’, kind-of-not-really-single-but-still-wishes-he-was-married Dr. Eph.
Unfortunately, there are parts of “For Services Rendered” that bogs down some of the interesting parts: watching minority characters do either the most stereotypical things possible (Gus remains a rampant stereotype, even though he “doesn’t do drugs”… the way he wears his fake hospital scrubs is just appalling), or the dumbest things imaginable (why is the babysitter bringing those kids back to their parents’ house???). Even Eichorst isn’t able to escape this trap, running off at the mouth with the same tired Nazi schtick we’ve heard/seen in so much media after seventy years: the cruel Nazi who murdered innocent people for no reason, while saying the word “Jew” as often as possible,with as much hatred as possible. Try as the show might with flashbacks, the relationship between Eichorst and Setrakian works better without the historical context: as one man trying to prevent the evil of the other (and The Master, the greater evil lying behind Eichorst), the cat-and-mouse game being played by these two men provides some of the most entertaining material of the show.
Again, this doesn’t automatically make The Strain must-watch television: but seeing these small improvements crop up during the last two episodes gives me a glimmer of hope for the recently-announced second season set to air next year. There may only be a few of them, but there are interesting storytelling avenues opening up for the show as the eclipse sets into New York, and The Master’s very, very, very well-thought out plan for world domination (or at least, domination of the city) begins coming into play. There’s still a lot of kinks to work out (like how dumbed-down its characters and their mental capacities can be sometimes), but with at least another 19 episodes to go, there’s plenty of time for The Strain to perfect its craft as it slowly elevates itself above Under the Dome-goofiness (and with next week’s episode being penned by co-creator Chuck Hogan, that time could be sooner rather than later).
[Photo via FX]