Back when I was a weekly newspaper editor, I visited the library to cover a story and found an interesting-looking paperback called The Strain. I read the first 100 or so pages before more pressing duties called, but I always remembered the book. Now it's been adapted into a television show and going forward, I'm going to recap the episodes for you.
So here goes...
"The Strain" Season One, Episode One: "Night Zero."
The episode begins a narrator discussing hunger and thirst before we see a flight attendant making her rounds as the plane comes in for a landing. I like her--she puts the obnoxious Marilyn Manson-esque shock rocker Gabriel Bolivar in his place and deals compassionately with a young girl traveling alone. Then another flight attendant reports something moving in the cargo area. She goes to investigate and something bursts out of the hold. Soon after the control tower finds the plane dead and uncommunicative on the runway--"like a dead animal." Nice and ominous.
Cut to CDC scientist Ephraim Goodweather, who's undergoing custody counseling with his estranged wife. He self-sabotages a fair bit in the meeting. His wife Kelly comes off as more sympathetic given how Eph is never around. Eph offers to quit his job to save their marriage, but she thinks it's too late for that. She's taken up with a new fellow named Matt, whom Eph had unknowingly met sometime earlier (and exchanges cross words with later on the way out). He arrives at the airport and after some of the other public-safety people try to warn him off, he makes an excellent speech about the nature of a virus that, knowing what I know about The Strain's macro-plot, has got some major foreshadowing going on.
At the twenty minute mark we meet Dr. Abraham Sertrakian, an elderly pawnbroker. Two thugs try to sell him an obviously stolen watch and then try to steal money from him when he's not looking. He deals with them masterfully in a scene that was fun to watch. Upon seeing the news about the dead airplane, he descends into living quarters under his shop where he has an old heart in a jar. He opens the lid and cuts open his finger to drip blood into it--and a bunch of worms emerge from the heart to feed on the blood. This is an awesome introduction.
Thirty minutes into the episode we see Goodweather and Nora Martinez, another CDC scientist, suiting up to enter the plane. Here we learn that Goodweather had been unfaithful with her, but had never revealed it to his wife since she filed for divorce first. They board the plane to find everybody dead--well, almost everybody. If you want a jump scene, the revelation that not everybody on board is dead--including a young man who'd been creepily watching the flight attendants in the prologue--provides this.
Meanwhile, a tall skinny man whose eyes do some creepy stuff I can't quite describe is coming to meet with sickly billionaire Eldritch Palmer--now that's a scary name there--at the office of the Stoneheart Group. The man--named Eichhorst and obviously German--reveals that the ball is rolling to Palmer and jut before the forty-five minute mark, he drops this lovely bomb. "I miss breathing sometimes."
Back at the New York airport, 48 minutes in, the survivors of the airplane are being quarantined and a huge box carved with images of death is discovered in the cargo. It wasn't on the manifest. Somebody isn't very subtle, now are they? Our intrepid CDC investigators, who went into the plane in full biohazard gear, open the box in the street clothes. We're getting into Darwin Award territory with that one. It's full of dirt.
Native soil? Uh oh. There's a latch on the inside of the coffin too.
And at fifty minutes in, things get real. One of the lead airport personnel starts hearing voices in his head. He wanders off into another room where he finds pools of blood on the floor and something big feeding on something on the ground. When he gets close, it rises to its feet--it's taller than him, tall enough to fit in that box--and rams a proboscis into his throat. The proboscis is full of worms and we see them getting into the man's bloodstream through it. Once it feeds on him, it smashes his head to mush before retreating.
Meanwhile, we see Eichhorst conferring with some thugs, including the two who'd tried to rob Sertrakian. He orders Augustin "Gus" Elizalde to bring something out of the airport, something that has to be over the river before daybreak. He offers to fix Gus's mother's immigration status and his brother's criminal record and Gus, with much profanity and threats, agrees.
Next we see Sertrakian on the move. He infiltrates the airport--now crowded with Bolivar fans--and manages to get to Jim Kent, Eph's assistant, by faking heart trouble. Meanwhile, an unprepared Eph--his boss Everett Barnes let him think he was speaking to the passengers' families only--reveals that most of the people on the plane are dead and there are only a few survivors. One of the passengers, the father of the little girl from the prologue, is upset and slaps him.
At around an hour and eight minutes it, we see the bodies taken from the plane being dissected. They all have incisions on their necks and when they're cut open, their blood is white and foaming. Sertrakian finally encounters Eph and demands the coffin be destroyed along with the bodies of the dead and the survivors. If the coffin is still there they have a chance. Nora is interested--Sertrakian knows a lot more than he should--but Eph isn't. Sertrakian gets arrested.
At an hour and sixteen minutes we meet the worms again. They're in some soil that had come from the coffin. Eph and Nora realize that the worms are the vector for what's killed the passengers and the coffin is full of them. Security cameras reveal the coffin has been stolen--and slowing the footage down reveals it's our huge cloaked friend who's done it. Eph orders trucks, vans, anything big enough to get the coffin out of the airport be prevented from leaving. Meanwhile, Gus leaves the airport with the box. He's stopped by police, whose dogs freak out upon smelling the truck, but upon recognizes the Stoneheart insignia Gus carries, tells Gus to tell them he's through with them before letting Gus and the coffin out of the airport.
Back in the morgue, our friend the medical examiner has opened up the bodies and found they're looking rather different inside. He initially refers to them in the recording as abnormal growths, but amends his statement to call them, "New, fully functional organs." Some movement in the morgue alerts him and he finds a heart he'd removed beating in a metal box. He picks it up, only for worms to erupt from the heart and get onto his hands. One burrows into his flesh and he manages to pull it out with a metal tool--only to be set upon by the reanimated passengers from the plane, who now have proboscises of their own. He's made lunch as "Sweet Caroline" plays in the background.
At an hour and a half in, we see Sertrakian being dropped off in the holding tank at the jail. A man who's clearly been in a fight asks him if he's a librarian--I laughed--and upon seeing his Holocaust tattoo, asks what the "ink" means. Soon afterward, back at the Stoneheart headquarters, Eichhorst is informed that an old man with a sword was arrested at the airport. He refers to Sertrakian as "the Jew" and expresses surprise he's still doing what he's doing. He then makes some comment about how New York will be purified and Palmer summons his aide to go on a walk with him. A sentimental old man, he wants to go for one last walk around the city before "the fall."
Meanwhile, Gus talks with his mother on the phone as he brings the coffin across the river in his truck. He talks to the coffin and tells it that whatever it is, it's brought him good luck.
The episode ends with Sertrakian--the narrator from the beginning--talking about the nature of love as the father who had freaked out about the possible death of his daughter returns home. He soon discovers his daughter is there and rushes to embrace her. She returns his hug, but we see that her eyes do the same creepy thing Eichorst's do.
Overall, a well-done first episode to what will hopefully be an excellent series. 8 out of 10.
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