[TV Review] “The Strain”: Episode 1.01, ‘Night Zero’!

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Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Strain” has a long history of adaptation with first being a series of novels, being adapted into a comic series, and now into a television series.  The voice of the incredible creator is present in every form, however, as evidenced by the huge scope of the narrative “The Strain” was always meant to be a television series.

The pilot “Night Zero” looks fantastic. It’s got the blue hues of 80’s horror movies, and the deep reds and bronzes of Del Toro’s previous work. It’s visually stunning and evokes an eerie tone right from the get-go.  There is a ton of heavy lifting to do in terms of the plot, and while most of it is incredibly compelling the episode struggles in a few moments. Several false endings, and big moments that feel like the end of the episode cause the narrative to stall in the latter half of this longer episode.

“The Strain” begins with a commercial airliner landing at JFK without a single passenger left alive. This huge event causes literally every emergency team to arrive at the airport eager to get inside. Meanwhile Epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) is at a counseling session in an attempt to save his relationship with his estranged wife and son. He is consumed by work, and is introduced in all consuming fashion. Stoll kills it in the role. He is the right combination of levity and seriousness all at once. In his personal life he seems frantic, but professionally he’s in complete control.

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As the situation with the airliner deepens we’re introduced to the wide assortment of supporting characters. Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) has a cliché introduction that evolves into something deliciously Del Toro. The set design of his pawn shop is filled with amusing trinkets and serves as a love letter to lore of Vampirism.

The pilot has it’s fair share of exceedingly creepy moments that cannot possibly be spoiled. It will get under your skin and refuse to leave. There are moments of pure gore, and others of creeping dread. Everything about this new type of vampire will leave you with a looming sense of terror that doesn’t easily wash off after the credits roll. With a particular scene in the morgue set to “Sweet Caroline” that will have you cringing the next time you hear “touching me, touching you.” It’s a brilliantly stage scene that shows the true horror that “The Strain” is capable of.

Fans of the books will be thrilled to see the fantastic characters of Eph and Abraham come to life with fantastic performances by Bradley and Stoll. Supporting players like Sean Astin’s Jim is nervous and adds a lot of comedy to tense moments, and Mia Maestro as Nora Martinez delivers a laughably wooden performance. Everyone else is pretty fantastic in the short time we spend with them here.

There are genuine moments of pure terror in this pilot, coupled with strong central performances, Ramin Djawadi’s unnerving score, and some fantastic bits of dialogue that make for a great introduction to this world. “The Strain’s” ticking clock is now set in motion. This pilot episode wasn’t afraid to move slowly to introduce the core elements that will come to a head over the next thirteen weeks, but rest assured the rest of the show moves with lightning quick pace.

What did you think of the pilot?

Official Score

  • Cheshire TrollCat

    This is probably my new favorite show. When that TV-MA warning came on, I new shit was going to hit the fan.

  • Jake

    It was alright. I had higher expectations to be honest.

  • Sick_skwerl

    I liked it. I know it will start kicking into high gear as it goes on

  • ThunderDragoon

    For me, it started off very strong, but then somewhere along the line it lost its steam. I might watch next week’s episode. We’ll see how it goes.

    • http://zacbthompson.tumblr.com Zac Thompson

      Stick around until episode four, and you’ll be hooked. Trust me.

      • ThunderDragoon

        Okay, will do!

  • CTHL

    Knowing nothing of the book and little of the premise beforehand (purposely), only the silly marketing campaign… I was rather disappointed. I expected something.. more. It just seems like it’s going to be a tv series of Blade 2 (without the action of course). Still, I’ll continue watching… cuz what the hell else is on?

    • http://zacbthompson.tumblr.com Zac Thompson

      I’d call it Argento-lite if anything. It’s hard to get to that level of insane lighting mastery.

    • John

      Do yourself a solid and read the books.

    • majmomendez

      you’ll get a Blade. Except he’s called Quinlan.

  • thedragon803

    It was good, but I’m being generous. Rare is the premiere episode of a series that is perfect and this one was certainly wasn’t. What was great was just about everything having to do with the plane, the Van Helsing character, and the vampires themselves. What sucked was everything else. I cringed at the cliches that clearly display network TV’s limited understanding of storytelling. How many times have we heard a wife character criticize her husband for “not being there” or being “distant.” Apparently women are incapable of shouldering any weight in a relationship without a man constantly around to tussle their kid’s hair and drink wine with them. (I’m being sarcastic before anyone flips out.)

    The “goth rocker” who wears a wig and is only in it “for the pussy” – the Marilyn Manson jokes were lame when he was popular, and they’re even worse now.

    Lastly, the guy who is hired to transport the coffin – it made me seriously wonder what it must be like for a Hispanic actor these days. How many times they must audition for a role where they are told “you’re gonna be playing a Latino gang member who – ” and how many times they read dialogue with words like “puto” and “white boy.” Playing up these stereotypes of women and minorities doesn’t make your story inclusive, it’s patronizing and stupid. These elements could’ve been eliminated from the story all together because I seriously doubt it would make much difference considering where the story is heading. Not to rant but it just bugs me when these cliches continuously show up in what would otherwise be a great show. It reeks of the kind of disconnect usually reserved for Michael Bay movies. I hope we see more stuff having to do with vampires and less shit like that in future installments.

    • WoepWoep

      Yes you are right with the cliches. It’s unnecessary. But to be honest, almost every tv series/movies are full of cliches nowadays.

      The thing that bugged me the most were the false endings. I was watching it and I was like this is the ending, nope another scene and another. Could’ve been better.

      • Weresmurf

        Yeah the false endings threw me a few times, the one in the tunnel for example at 41 minutes. If it were a standard ending, that would’ve been the end of ep1. Then it kept on… but, I loved the ep, so the longer it went the happier I was lol.

        • WoepWoep

          Couldn’t agree with you more! I loved the first episode, can’t wait for the second episode.

    • Nix

      I understand the gripe about stereotype but if you read the books (so far I am only on book 1), you’ll realise his character was written to be a cliche or stereotype. He even mentions something like that in the book. I haven’t seen this episode yet so I can’t comment on whether they made this obvious.

      As for the others, I don’t know but hey, at least there’s no sparkly vampires.

  • Taniwha

    Meh… weak dialogue, terribly stereotyped characters and dumb plot holes.

    Sean Astin’s character arrives on the scene *just in time* to see the secret symbol held by the Latino van driver?

    Stoneheart leaves the fate of their most critical operation in the hands of a 3rd-rate thug?

    The coroner sees a heart start to beat on it’s own and crawl with worms, so he picks it up with his hands?

    A vampire is secretly loaded onto a passenger plane, and decides to attack everyone onboard before it lands…to attract the most attention possible?

    A rich organization like Stoneheart uses a commercial passenger flight to deliver it’s most valuable cargo? They can’t use a private jet… or at least DHL?

    A public official addresses the families that are waiting, doesn’t have a prepared statement and instead blurts out 200+ are dead and 4 are alive then doesn’t name the survivors, then promises it will be solved in 48 hours and wanders away?

    Del Toro is an incredible visual designer and director, but it’s impossible to stay ‘in’ the story when the characters behave like they have downs syndrome.

    • brit1664

      Some of your comments are a little unfair and as the show goes on you will realise that. There is a reason events happened this way and you will see this as the series and hopefully 2nd session unfolds.

  • Weresmurf

    Personally, I loved it. A lot of the complaints from people, while I understand their gripes, I think people need to really get back in touch with the idea of ‘letting go and watching something’ rather than picking it to shit. That’s not to say you sit there and accept crap, but that it really feels a lot of people actually watch stuff these days with the sole intent of picking something to pieces rather than with the intent of enjoying it.

    • Kevin Mckenna

      On the Money mate.

    • Taboo

      Well said!

  • Don Patterson

    I read the books. The first one was the best, the ones that followed got weaker in story. While reading, I felt like I was reading a project aimed directly for television. No surprise when I saw the trailers for TV. I will watch down the road after I have recorded 6 or 7 episodes on DVR. Hope they get the FX right. Wish the books had been a tad more original in story, style and concept. Read too much in many other books and movies. A bit redundant. My two cents.

  • Matt Saracen

    What a sycophantic review, obviously written by a fanboy. “Genuine moments of pure terror”. Bhahahahahaha. Are you five years old?

    • http://zacbthompson.tumblr.com Zac Thompson

      Thanks for your thoughtful input. It is possible that we’ve had a difference of opinion. I thought the scene in the morgue was terrifying for example…

      • Matt Saracen

        Wow. Now I feel like a dick. I take my comment back. My sincerest apologies to you.

        Best,

        Matt

    • John

      Bhahahahahaha. Are you an asshole? I think you are, sir.

  • Fantasma George

    I liked it a lot but yeah the acting was terribad, and it also left me wondering if FX has a thing for unsupportive wives.

  • Kevin Mckenna

    Looks Excellent, Loved the books but they do get weaker as the go on. My worry for it, quality aside is that Gotham and Constatine already look very strong it they may trample The Strain in the long run. Just now it has a good slot, i hope it gets stronger as The Walking Dead has shown people like to be frightened. Bring it.

  • K-Dogg

    I was disappointed….what a terrible lead actor, and female lead who I could never buy works for the CDC. (Denise Richards as a Nuclear Physicist anyone?? ) I will still watch, as most other shows are on break, and the gore was top notch, but they needed to land a strong male lead, and they failed there big time.

  • shadowcub

    Lead actor is annoying and a cheater so no sympathy for him and his female assistant who has no shame or sense of professionalism about her job while every comment to to anyone is just more ass kissing for her ex lover.

    I do not want to see a damn romance I want to see a vampire story everyone else was great but this storyline between these two need to be dropped.

  • dirtyghettok

    I disagree with the last two comments on the needing of a strong male and female lead because, we just got it. Both are not perfect, they make mistakes. It’s reality at its core there. Plus they got plenty of back-up from the old man (forget his name), Sean Astin (I think that’s his name), and of course on the other side of the coin we got our nice mysterious villains. To me though, there was no gore, would like something harder. But that’s just my opinion and I may be wrong. So I’m going to take 100 cc’s of vodka and rethink this with a clearer head.

  • juice1701

    I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting much but I really enjoyed the Pilot episode. I thought a couple of scenes were a little bit longer then they needed to be. And I definitely saw a little bit of the original Salem’s Lot in it also. But coming from me that’s a good thing, because Salem’s Lot was definitely one of my top 3 Vampire movies of all time. So I am definitely looking forward to the remaining episodes now with high expectations. And I believe it will deliver.

  • http://mitchmacready.blogspot.com/ Zombie-Killa

    I really enjoyed the premiere, BUT I have a few complaints.

    1. Yeah, the part with the main character (I already forgot his name. lol) announcing the death toll & the list of survivors for the passengers on the plane at the airport & the father of the little girl breaking through the crowd to slap him? Yeah, pure BS. That whole scenario would NEVER happen in real life. I know we’re watching a show, but you’re REALLY pushing suspension of disbelief with that scene. On top of that, the scene was way too melodramatic and over the top

    2. I know it’s the premiere, but if I’m going off of first impressions, the main character is way, way too cliched. The father/husband, who neglects his family, because he’s too obsessed with or dedicated to his job? Come on now. We’ve seen the “job first, family second, but I have a good heart!” character too many times now.

    Still, with all that said, I believe there’s a lot promise for The Strain. Genuinely intrigued to see where the story goes next, and I’m looking forward to next week.

    • ohitsmerenz

      I know, the main character is really cliched, but that was on the book

      • http://mitchmacready.blogspot.com/ Zombie-Killa

        Ah, didn’t know that. Thanks ohitsmerenz!

        • Anthony Abbate

          I think a lot of people are judging the show not knowing that the source material is where it is all coming from. Del Torro is doing fan’s of his books a service by sticking with it.

  • Christina Jones Hausey

    My complaint is sean astin. He covers for the van driver who is taking the coffin out but then he tells the main guy he needs to listen to what the old man has to say.

    • Anthony Abbate

      Sean Astin’s character didnt know what he was doing per se. He just knew that when the time came and he saw that little card, he was to do something. He just didnt know what.

  • bw

    The radio commercials sounded awesome, so I was looking forward to it.

    Letdown. WAY too CBS with the exception of a few “shi*s” thrown in here and there. Poorly acted. Poorly written – “We’re going to open a huge box that we just took off of a plane where everyone died of a suspected virus- and NONE of us is going to wear any kind of protective clothing- EVEN THOUGH we work for the CDC”???? – SERIOUSLY?

    Why do TV shows continually rely on STUPID character quirks?
    “Got my milk?” totally dumb. The reason shows like Walking Dead and American Horror are so good is because they don’t follow idiotic formulas. And yeah, the main character’s situation with the wife/kid/divorce was just ridiculously cliche.

    • Kagutaba

      I was like, do you need that milk to dip your animal crackers in?

  • JeanHBurdette

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    . She has been unemployed for 6 months but last month her payment was $19402
    just working on the internet for a few hours. go right here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

    • Anthony Gulino

      your buddys sister has chlamydia !!!!!

      • Anthony Abbate

        and Gonorrhea!

  • Simon Houston

    This is nowhere as bad as people are making out, it’s extremely faithful to the source material, the pacing is spot on and the cinematography and set design us up there with del toro’s films. I think everyone needs to realise that de toro write the book as an intentional b-movie love letter, much like pacific rim’s Kaiju influence. It’s meant to have cheesy subplots and cliche characters, that’s the point. The acting might at points be sub par, but when you consider this almost didn’t get the green light, we should be thankful we got it at all.. Too many people expect high calibre actors etc on shows ever since boardwalk, thrones etc, the fact of the matter is we are spoiled and so smaller shows with moderate budgets struggle to make it, I for one am happy they went with design and the general look of the series over high class acting.. And as mentioned previously by others, events speed up in this story fast.. I doubt you will care about the pilot by seasons end. Oh and if you want to enjoy this series more, here’s a hint.. Learn to read

  • Rudyinbama

    Love the two leads, the Doc’s family, but what is it with all these ridiculous Batman style villains?

    • Anthony Abbate

      The villian in the pilot wasn’t written that way for the show, it was like that in the comic as well. Not sure about the book though as I didnt read it.

  • markajacoby

    I think I was mildly disappointed… but not enough to turn off the show. Agree with most of the naysayers (poor acting; unbelievable scenes; etc.) but I’m willing to give it a chance to build and get better. Fingers are crossed.

  • Anthony Gulino

    There are some shows that the quality is so outstanding that you actually forget your watching TV and not a feature film.. Unfortunately “The Strain” is not one of them at least not by what I saw on the pilot.. But it did keep me interested enough to not turn the channel so maybe there is room for the show to improve…. Standards are higher than ever in regards to TV series.. Shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead have seriously upped the ante…Thats not even getting into the premium channel series which in some ways have surpassed feature films…. Network exec’s seem to be scrambling to air as many of these horror-lite series as quickly as possible to see if they can conjur up some of that Walking Dead type hysteria….

  • lalwow

    I’m gonna be glad when these stupid background character stop being developped and start getting slaughtered! they’ll be way more interesting as bloodthirsty vampires.