When we announced that FX’s The Strain would be our third summer podcast selection, I was hoping for a scary, fun show. The Leftovers, while enjoyable, would never be described as fun. And True Blood can certainly be fun, but no one would ever accuse it of giving them nightmares.
The Strain delivers on both fronts.
A plane lands at JFK airport with no communication coming from the inside. Fearing a biological terrorist attack, the CDC’s New York field office sends over agent Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll; House of Cards) and his team (Mia Maestro; Alias and Sean Astin; Lord of the Rings). They find the passengers and crew dead, but no obvious cause of death. Something very bad happened on that plane and we know just how bad from the terrifying cold open when something fast, large, and nasty busted into the cabin from the plane’s cargo hold. When they discover four passengers are alive (one of the pilots, a famous rock star, a high power attorney, and an anxious husband), Ephraim (Eph for short) and team have them quarantined while they search for more answers. Meanwhile, Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley; Game of Thrones), an elderly pawn shop owner/badass watches the news of the mysterious plane and feeds a heart in a jar drops of his blood.
Speaking of creepy, Eldritch Palmer, a rich, powerful, and ill man behind The Stoneheart Group seems to have been expecting this and he sends his henchman, Thomas Eichorst (who doesn’t breathe!), to arrange transportation for the coffin that held the creature inside the plane. Thomas hires a petty criminal named Gus to pick up the cargo with the promise of not just payment, but the expunging of his brother’s criminal record and a change in his mother’s illegal immigration status. Ephraim promises the scared and outraged families of the passengers that he will get them answers in 48 hours, but when Abraham arrives at the airport talking about coffins and beheading/burning the dead bodies, Ephraim has him escorted out and when Abraham throws a fit and a sword is revealed to be inside his walking cane, Abraham is arrested.
Early medical examinations of the corpses reveal all of the passengers had the same incision and their bodies bleed a milky white substance when cut. The ME doesn’t get to dig further because he’s attacked by silvery worms that came from the organs of the deceased, and then he’s eaten by the deceased after they rose from the dead. Ephraim heeds Abraham’s warning about the coffin too late. Whatever was in it already attacked and killed an airport worker in a scene that was reminiscent of the trial by combat between Oberyn Martell and The Mountain on Game of Thrones. He calls for a shutdown of the airport, but it doesn’t matter because Gus has already made off with the coffin with a little help from the inside, Jim Kent (Sean Astin). And those bodies that feasted on the medical examiner? They’re headed home to reunite with their loved ones.
Honestly, this premiere was a lot better than I thought it would be. There were several jump-out-of-your-skin moments and not too many scenes where a character did something stupid just to advance the plot; the latter being a pet peeve of mine and a trope often employed in the horror genre. I’m not invested in Ephraim’s failed marriage and subsequent custody battle with his ex-wife, though I did find her new boyfriend lame in an amusing way. I’m most interested in the relationship between Abraham (a holocaust survivor), this creature, and Eldritch Palmer, who knew who Abraham was when he heard about the Jew with a sword arrested at the airport.