The Strain: Night Zero
July 14, 2014 7:11 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

In the series premier, a plane lands in New York with most of its passengers mysteriously dead. Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, of the CDC, is sent to investigate with his team.
posted by codacorolla (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was really surprised by how much I liked this, especially since I'm not a huge fan of Del Toro. It has a lot of genre cliches that I'd typically be annoyed by (like the father who's losing his family because he's so dedicated to work), but on the other hand it's a genre story and it's done well.

Very well shot, good performances, and nice visual effects. The end scene with the little girl coming back was actually pretty creepy as well. I'm excited to see where it goes in the future.

A few other thoughts:

I thought everything was very believable and well scripted, except for when they pull the grim reaper inscribed box that's not on the manifest out of the cargo hold and then don't take any precautions to open it. That made me roll my eyes a little bit.

The overarching plot with the cult / secret society was well done. I sort of wish I hadn't watched the season trailer that was shown afterwards, since it seems like there're a lot of nice surprises lined up.

The brief shot of the monster was absolutely brutal! I was surprised at how well done that was, and the build-up to it was awesome.
posted by codacorolla at 8:27 AM on July 14, 2014

I liked it to, but I have to wonder: Can you have horror without plot stupidity? I mean, you find a strange worm in the cargo hold and you don't immediately call the morgue to see if any of the 200+ bodies there have them too? In fact, the autopsy guy wasn't wearing a clean suit, when they didn't know what had killed those people. You could probably come up with a dozen questions like this.

The episodic nature of shows like this is what's at fault here. (This could have been an episode of Fringe, and while I loved Fringe, I don't mean that in a good way.) The events in this pilot - this first night - should have been stretched out over three episodes, with the airport investigators and various agencies jockeying for control. The layers of confusion and emergency would have made for better drama. The CDC hero we've met seems like the least interesting guy to me. The early custody battle/control freak scene had NO payoff later. That horrible scene with the press should have been cut out completely, because he didn't need to make a statement. He should have been dealing with the crisis and there should be more than just the three CDC (plus plenty of faceless hazmat suits) there dealing with this.

I love del Toro. But if you've got ten years of development in a project, can't you tighten up the writing? Can't you have someone sit down with old vampire hunter guy and have him explain everything and then have the guy taking his statement chuckle to himself before dying horribly? You could have spent half the second episode dealing with this, all the while the bodies are in the morgue waking up slowly. And meanwhile it's 4am and the all of the people at the airport are still arguing about protocols and we, the audience are enraptured as to how it's going to play out.

But instead we got a lot of dumbness. Our heroes one minute are in the cargo hold in clean suits, the next they are dressed in their street clothes and running through a corridor. They have radios and more people on site, so why why why does it need to be the two heroes running? See the problem here?
posted by Catblack at 8:54 AM on July 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

Haven't watched it yet, but I read the books, and am looking forward to sitting down with this episode tonight. This show has to be absolutely brutal in order for it to be successful for me. Trying not to get my hopes up, but, codacorolla, you actually used the word brutal, so I can't stop myself.
posted by MsVader at 8:56 AM on July 14, 2014

Catblack: yep, I noticed that stuff too. I'm hoping it's a function of this being a set-up episode, and that the writing gets tighter as the action starts rolling in.
posted by codacorolla at 9:09 AM on July 14, 2014

I was really excited for this, but I found the dumbness so distracting. Re-using all these old horror cliches felt out of date. The domestic plot around Dr. Goodweather is typical sexist shorthand. One medical examiner will handle 200 autopsies alone because they're scared of a press leak? Despite the old man knowing specific anomalies about this contagion, they're just going to laugh him off? Actually, Setrakian is one of the cliches I enjoy. You can do genre cliche well, and David Bradley's performance is solid.

I thought Corey Stoll was one of the only good things about House of Cards in its past two seasons, and this show had me on the verge of hating him just about the time he's lecturing the security guys outside the plane about how he needs to be first inside.

The creepy moments are great though, and I agree the return of the little girl was fantastically spooky. The production values are very good too. The show has a size and scale that feels appropriately big. But all the dumbness of the writing made this seem so campy in places, and that totally undermined all the wonderful creepy moments.
posted by gladly at 9:46 AM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thank you, Catblack, for describing the show I had hoped this was going to be.
posted by tyllwin at 11:37 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ooh, randomly caught this on FX last night and was surprised to see no Fanfare post...but now there is!

This show is dumb as hell IMO but I still feel strangely compelled to watch the next episode.
posted by threeants at 12:30 PM on July 14, 2014

also, maybe it's just because I only watched it a few weeks ago, but the whole plane plot is shamelessly ripped off from the Fringe pilot, right? right?
posted by threeants at 12:34 PM on July 14, 2014

Oddly enough, I was in an airport last weekend looking for something to read, and I came up with the first book. So I've just read it, and then saw that the show was premiering like... damn tomorrow night. So I watched that.

I liked the book, though I didn't fall wholeheartedly in love with it. I wasn't as impressed by the pilot. The dialogue just seemed laughable half the time. None of the characters seemed to get enough time to develop as interesting people because there was such a fuckton of plot to get through. That meant either they seemed utterly uninteresting (e.g.., Nora - though honestly, that's pretty true to the book) or else their key characterization element was yanked out very amateurishly in one scene that amped it up to 11 and threw it at you to be sure you got it (e.g., Setrakian, who was developed slowly and very well in the book before ever getting directly involved in the plot, but here has to be introduced with this "I might look old and weak, but I am a super badass!" scene, which isn't in the book at all.)

My big issue, though, is still the sloppy worldbuilding. It's like they want to have some kind of science-y explanation for their vampirism, but it's very uneven. Having read the book, I'm still not entirely sure what the disease actually is, or why there seem to be so many different kinds of vampires, from what amounts to zombies in play, to the more traditional suave and sophisticated villain type, to the rotting ugly mess that is "The Master." They kind of took a subset of the large cloud of vampire rules in the mythos and decided which ones they wanted to be real in their world. They explicitly dumped the rest as legend and hearsay. Then, for some of those rules, they come up with explanations that stretch the science to be sure, but are within the realm of suspendable disbelief in a story about vampires.

For others, it seems like they just couldn't come up with a good explanation, but they kept them anyway. The apparent telepathy (and occasional but inconsistent suggestion that all the vampires are part of a hive mind) and the idea of not being able to cross running water without help. That stuff is just, "well, we don't know why." So it's like they started out to make a kind of Michael Chrichton vampire based on a disease with explainable effects, but they couldn't get all the way there, so they just filled in the gaps with supernatural woo. It doesn't really hang together very well.

On a smaller scale, the book, perhaps because it could take the time, did a better buildup of the scary. We don't get anything from inside the plane until folks on the ground start poking around - none of that business with the stewardess in the back of the plane, or the pre-landing introduction of the four survivors. That part just generally worked a lot better in the book.

Overall I guess what I saw last night was a somewhat clumsy adaptation of a book that was okay, but not spectacular to begin with. Not sure I'm going to stick with it.

On Preview, Threeants: I've never seen Fringe, but the plane bit is a pretty blatant ripoff of Dracula, where he arrives in London on a ship that drifts into harbor with the crew all dead.
posted by Naberius at 12:39 PM on July 14, 2014

I don't normally like horror anything, but I thought this was pretty good. It will be interesting to see if they manage to keep it thrilling, or if it will devolve into the "zombie kill of the week" that the previews seem to indicate.

On the other hand, the one thing I said to Dad is I can just picture the pitch meeting, "Hey! It's vampires and its zombies. The kids love that stuff! It's sure to be a hit!"
posted by ob1quixote at 1:25 PM on July 14, 2014

I'm seriously disappointed. With Del Toro directing and writing the pilot, I expected more.

Some of the dialogue was so terrible I had to adjust my mental viewing dial from FX/AMC series to lesser SyFy show. The fx were pretty, but they existed in service of a snooze-worthy plot packed with horror cliches.

And the characters, omg, the characters. Standard Rock Star B from central casting on the plane. The air traffic controller who is surprised at how big planes are in real life, as if he's never seen one. The milk drinking CDC stud who's so consumed by his job that he can't keep his marriage together (more central casting at work). Standard spooky magical old man who knows the secret. Standard evil corporate overlords.

None of them with names I could even remember.

And there was zero tension. Even if I cared about the fate of nameless traffic controller Number One (who was suddenly interesting because he spoke German), his death is telegraphed immediately when he walked into a room filled with a giant pool of blood and acreature-sized bundle of rags in the middle of it.

Oh oh, yeah and milk drinking CDC guy, you want answers to this mysterious threat in 48 hours? Why don't you pull off every medical examiner and leave one to cover 240 bodies? That's a fantastic idea. I can see why you're shit hot at your job dude.

This show comes off like SyFy's Helix with better effects.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:05 PM on July 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm going to keep watching this because I loved the books and this kind of thing is right up my alley even when it's sort of dumb, but: yeah. I agree with all of you. I tried to ignore my inner complaints but then the van driver called home to talk to his mom at 4:55am - just to say hi, you know - and she was scrambling some eggs while his brother watched TV and drank beer? What?
posted by something something at 5:12 PM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

eyeballkid: “Even if I cared about the fate of nameless traffic controller Number One (who was suddenly interesting because he spoke German), his death is telegraphed immediately when he walked into a room filled with a giant pool of blood and acreature-sized bundle of rags in the middle of it.”
That was the one thing that really bugged me. I mean, who wanders into a room, finds blood and a weird looking pile of rags moving around, and gets that close to it? Any rational person opens the door, sees all that, closes the door, and calls the cops.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:13 PM on July 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I enjoyed the reveal of the ammonia spew under the blacklight on the plane.

And then it was kinda downhill from there. Master of Rags wasn't nearly creepy and brutal enough. And I'm with eyeballkid that this felt a lot like Helix (and that's definitely not a good thing).

I'm pretty disappointed overall, but I'll stick with it to at least see the carnage unleashed on the city (thanks to Samwise Gamgee who must've been smoking some serious pipeweed to have missed the enormous coffin in clear view in the van).
posted by MsVader at 8:46 PM on July 14, 2014

The Strain Is The Most Aptly Named Show On TV: "del Toro has tried hard to make FX's The Strain every type of horror at once. It wants to be supernatural horror, basic suspense, a medical outbreak tale, a zombie story, and also a straight-up '80s-style monster movie. The Strain is, humorously enough, trying way too damn hard."
posted by homunculus at 10:26 PM on July 14, 2014

That recap was as poorly edited as the episode itself.
posted by MsVader at 7:03 AM on July 15, 2014

I am getting tired of 'nobody in horror movie knows what horror is' in movies/tv. It's a lazy cliche and should only be used with specific purpose.
posted by Strass at 8:57 AM on July 15, 2014

I have to wonder: Can you have horror without plot stupidity?

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:18 PM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was sort-of looking forward to this show, but the premier left me feeling pretty "meh" about it. I came away with the feeling that I'd seen it all before...that every plot point, twist and conceit had been cribbed from many other shows and movies and just mashed together. There just wasn't anything novel or new I could hang onto. It all just seemed...tired and predictable. I'll pass on this one.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:35 AM on July 16, 2014

Vampire nazis, viral outbreaks, and creepy worm infections creating zombie children over NYC?

I'm IN!
posted by Riton at 8:42 AM on July 16, 2014

I was sort-of looking forward to this show, but the premier left me feeling pretty "meh" about it.

I actually came to the opposite conclusion -- the premiere revealed that it's trash, but good silly fun trash that embraces being trash. Like a good old disaster movie. I'm looking forward to the next several weeks of Vampires vs Complete Morons, and just hope Samwise sticks with the dark side or gets turned into Vampire Samwise, or that Walder Frey invites a bunch of vampires to a wedding.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:15 AM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I actually came to the opposite conclusion -- the premiere revealed that it's trash, but good silly fun trash that embraces being trash. Like a good old disaster movie. I'm looking forward to the next several weeks of Vampires vs Complete Morons, and just hope Samwise sticks with the dark side or gets turned into Vampire Samwise, or that Walder Frey invites a bunch of vampires to a wedding.

Yep, I feel the same way. It's a horror genre piece that's pretty much just a straightforward horror genre piece (albeit with good production values). That's what I want.
posted by codacorolla at 10:46 AM on July 16, 2014

Can you have horror without plot stupidity?

About the third time someone went to go handle/investigate something without a respirator or even so much as goggles, I started calling it I'm Going to Go Stick My Face in That: the TV Show.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:32 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Subject Delta didn't notice the heart in a jar in King Pawn?
posted by unliteral at 6:15 PM on July 17, 2014

This was kinda awful. I think I'm going to brave the spoilers and just read the threads on the next few episodes so I can see of it gets better without gambling much more time on it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:18 AM on July 22, 2014

Just finished opened interestingly enough, but then just seemed to get to lots of "characters acting stupid for the sake of the plot." Some nice creepy moments, but I was hoping for more.

I'll keep trying it (mayhaps) for the sake of Samwise and Walder Frey, but I'm not holding out hope.
posted by nubs at 8:41 PM on July 22, 2014

I watched the first episode tonight, and I have zero interest in watching any more. Vampires and zombies aren't horror archetypes I have much interest in anyway, and these ones weren't particularly well employed.
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