Much like its first season, The Strain’s second season seemed to be building to an anticlimactic conclusion. Both seasons promised that the exciting material was right around the corner, only to fizzle out by the end of its thirteen episodes. What seems to be the problem with The Strain at this point is that the show looks like it knows for itself where it wants each season to end, but doesn’t ever know how it’s going to get there, or at least an effective arc to get from each premiere to each finale. “Night Train” ends The Strain’s second season in a potentially interesting direction, but we’ve heard that song and dance before.
For the first time in this show’s history, The Strain’s strength comes from Setrakian finally getting that damn Lumen! Following a moderately intense bidding war between Setrakian and Eichorst, Setrakian wins the Lumen, after thirteen episodes of him desperately trying to find it and spending an entire season wasting Setrakian. “Night Train” is smart to have Eichorst stand in for Palmer in this auction, since Eichorst is far more fun to watch than Palmer, especially when facing off against Setrakian. Also, great choice to finally have Coco die, for real this time, since the Palmer-Coco relationship was never going to get any less creepy.
After Setrakian gets away with the Lumen, he is then attacked by a herd of Eichorst’s strigoi, who are then fought by Quinlan’s army of convicts. Despite trying to rip off the Ancients and Quinlan, by the end of the episode, Setrakian and Fet make an unholy alliance with Gus, Angel and Quinlan. There’s an uncertainty about how this grouping will go together and the potential for shifting alliances does seem promising. After leaving Gus to his own devices for two seasons, and mostly abandoning Angel and Quinlan this season, it’s a step in the right direction to have these five characters together for once, all with a combined mission.
Last episode, we had the slightest hope that Eph could finally get rid of his shitty, douchebag son Zach once and for all. His grandparents are in Savannah and safe, so it sounded like Eph and Nora would get on the train, drop off Zach and we’d finally all be able to live in a Zach-free world, empty of brooding and pining for his clearly dead mother.
But, we couldn’t be that lucky, now could we? As Zach, Nora and Eph get on the last train out of New York City, the train tracks end up being filled with strigoi, standing in the way to make the train go off the rails. Nora and Zach escape and conveniently find Kelly waiting for the two of them. But right when it looks like Nora is going to get the best of Kelly, Zach screams for Nora to stop, allowing Kelly to infect Nora. Great. Thanks a lot, you little asshole.
This story ends up being both a blessing and a curse, as poor Nora finally gets free of being on The Strain. This season has relegated Nora to being an occasional assistant to Eph and a permanent babysitter to Zach, until the bitter end. Even her relationship with Eph has been mostly abandoned, with the exception of the show reminding us that Eph still loves Nora last week, only as a way to make her end even more bitter. Nora has been little other than a source of guilt for Eph and now a way to motivate him even further towards taking out the strigoi. But that’s it. Nora’s entire purpose has been to push Eph in various directions, so if the show isn’t going to do one of its only female characters justice, I’d rather them just kill her off anyway.
But this plot also means that going into the third season, Eph’s story is going to largely focus on getting Zach back, for what reason, I do not know. Zach has been even more of a problematic character than Nora, only existing to piss off or lead our characters—mainly Eph and Nora—into dangerous situations. He’s a plot device and nothing more, so having Eph go after him is problematic from the get-go. I say let Kelly have him and let’s move on to a bigger issue.
As always, The Strain hints at the fact that it knows what this show should do, but still flounders it in practice. For example, when Fet’s car is hit by the strigoi army, it should be more surprising than it actually is. Or when Nora kills herself by touching the third rail, it should be more emotional than it actually is. The Strain knows where the emotional beats should be, but fails to make them actually work in any effective way.
The Strain’s second season ends up heading in the direction of a potentially intriguing strigoi story, since Gus and his crew are finally teaming up with Setrakian and Fet against an enemy that seems ready to create a human processing plant. Yet, the show remains far more interested in the smaller, interpersonal stories than it should be. Eph trying to save Zach is a bad idea, and it’s only going to frustrate more than it will excite. The first season also ended with promise, then ended up giving us an incredibly mixed second season that was all over the place. By combining forces and killing off characters it didn’t know what to do with (although with two dead women, this show now needs more strong females immediately), maybe the third season of The Strain will right itself finally. But after seeing promise in the past and having The Strain falter in embarrassingly bad ways almost every step of the way, next season should be met with the lowest of expectations, just in case.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.