The Strain: “Madness” Review
The Lumen finally reveals its secrets.
The most immediate and noteworthy change this week involved the leap forward in time. For most shows, seeing the narrative skip ahead 14 days isn’t especially remarkable. But the entire Strain saga has unfolded over the course of a few weeks, so those 14 days are far from insignificant. The opening narration and montage made that clear enough. When you want to convey the gravity of a viral outbreak becoming a true pandemic, David Bradley’s gravelly voice is a wonderful tool to have.
That montage nicely set the tone for this episode. As much as our heroes scored a major victory in beheading the Master and leaving his vast army adrift and leaderless, the overall conflict has not turned in humanity’s favor. Far from it. Instead, life in New York has only grown more desperate over the course of those missing two weeks. The city has effectively been abandoned as the government shifts its focus to more easily defensible territory. With other countries rapidly being consumed by the strigoi plague, the situation seems more dire than ever. This show, with its limited budget, doesn’t always do a great job of conveying the scope of the outbreak. But this week was a significant exception. That late shot of Fet emerging from the bowels of Central Park and looking upon a city wracked by death and chaos stood out as especially memorable.
This episode was notably coy about the Master’s status quo or what’s going on with Kelly and Zach. Has the Master taken a new host body? Could Zach turn out to be his new host? There’s no way of knowing yet, but it does seem like the writers are building towards a major reveal soon.
Instead, this episode focused mainly on our scattered band of heroes as they continue their individual quests. For Eph and Dutch, that means bonding over their shared misery and teaming up to find a new tool against the strigoi to replace Eph’s failed bio-weapon. I was extremely leery of that partnership at first. Dutch tends to be the most poorly written character on the show, and the prospect of a romantic entanglement between the two doesn’t sound the least bit appetizing. It still looks very likely that a hook-up is inevitable, but the good news is that the waters don’t seem intent on making a huge deal out of it. Dutch’s love life is now secondary to her efforts to help Eph and find a weapon against the strigoi, and that’s exactly the shift her character needed.
So it was that the two characters developed a pretty solid chemistry this week. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get more of the Eph/Quinlan partnership, but Dutch is turning out to be a solid substitute. There was a nice element of comedy to their research with microwave radiation, but also a very tense scene as the two discovered their crude new weapon wasn’t quite as effective as it seemed.
Fet is back to working solo.
As for Fet, he seems to have wiped his hands of his brief romance with Dutch and thrown himself fully into his one-man crusade against the strigoi. That led to some creepy scenes in the tunnels of New York as he tracked the strigoi and inadvertently stumbled across the mysterious construction project that Stoneheart has been spearheading. I do think this episode missed some opportunities when it came to exploiting the claustrophobic nature of the tunnels. What better way to up the horror factor than to leave Fet scrambling for his life deep underground while the strigoi stalk him in these narrow tunnels? But I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt and assume that we’ll see more of that next week when Councilwoman Feraldo unleashes her full might against the massive strigoi nest under Central Park.
But the star of the show this week was undoubtedly Setrakian. In the present, he finally appeared to crack the secret of the Lumen with his discovery that its pages contained hidden writing made visible only by sunlight. Apparently, showrunner Carlton Cuse wasn’t joking when he said that Setrakian might resort to photocopying the Lumen. But as it turns out, photocopies are useless in this case. At long last, Setrakian and Quinlan have a real lead in their hunt for the key to the Master’s defeat. Hopefully this means the two will be back in the thick of the action soon.
That discovery also led to a crucial moment for Palmer, who is now much closer to death’s door after the two-week time jump. If Palmer wasn’t already coming to terms with the fact that he was serving the wrong side in this war, Eichorst’s gleeful “It’s been a pleasure” sealed the deal. Luckily for Palmer, Setrakian reconsidered his offer. It’ll be interesting toes how much Palmer’s betrayal will upset the Master’s plans and whether this sympathetic villain can find some measure of redemption.
Setrakian also featured prominently in the flashback sequences, a welcome addition to an already enjoyable episode. Some shows rely entirely too heavily on flashbacks, but if anything, The Strain doesn’t use them enough. It’s always a treat to see glimpses into Setrakian’s younger life and a period when he wasn’t quite the irascible old grump he is today. In this case, we saw him on a mission of revenge, using the Lumen as pretext to hunt down the former Nazis who once made his life so miserable. He didn’t find Eichorst, but Setrakain did have the opportunity to exact vengeance upon Dr. Dremerhaven. In the process, this episode reminded viewers of how thin the line between hero and villain can be. It’s impossible to think of Setrakian in the same way knowing that he once doomed a man to an eternal hell being trapped (limbless, no less) in a tiny box at the bottom of the ocean. It begs the question, is Setrakian any less monstrous than the immortal tyrant he’s spent so many decades hunting?
“Madness” is easily the best episode of Season 3 to date. The two-week time jump seems to have given this series just the jolt it needed. And for once, all the various story threads were satisfying, whether it was Eph and Dutch’s unorthodox research or the glimpse into Setrakian’s dark, tragic past. And with any luck, this episode will set up a gruesome, action-packed follow-up next week.
As the vampire apocalypse spreads, Setrakian continues searching for the key to defeating the Master.