The Strain: Season 1, Episode 1 – Night Zero

UK Pace Review – Broadcast on digital channel Watch
The Strain: Wednesdays at 10pm
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WARNING this review contains SPOILERS.

From writer/director/very busy man Guillermo del Toro comes a new horror series, based on the book series of the same name (authored by both del Toro and Chuck Hogan).

Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather heads up a branch of the Center for Disease Control in New York and gets called in to investigate the aeroplane which has just arrived; apparently with all it’s passengers and crew mysteriously deceased.  The call comes in during a family counselling session for his failing/failed marriage to Kelly, while their son Zack waits outside, as does Kelly’s new boyfriend Matt.

Eph meets team mates Nora and Jim at the site, drinks some milk, and after the usual “this is my crime scene” altercation with the local police, the CDC group get to be in charge.  Eph and Nora board the plane and Jim monitors the equipment from outside.

At a local pawn shop, an unassuming old shopkeeper foils a robbery attempt with striking efficiency.  Then disappears into the secret back rooms/basement to reassemble his walking stick/concealed sword, and feed his own blood to a pet wormy-thing-infested human heart (?), which he refers to as “dear”.

We learn that Eph and Nora possibly had a “thing” at some point in the past.  They suit-up to enter the plane and declare all the occupants to be dead (without actually checking them all).  They detect high levels of ammonia in the air and by using UV light reveal huge amounts of splashing/staining from some unknown biological source.  Several of the passengers, and the pilot wake up and scare the crap out of them – they’re not all dead!

The Stoneheart Group.  A shady company whose top brass appear to like the cold, blink like lizards, and some of whom don’t breathe any more.

Meanwhile, the CDC insist on implementing “quarantine” (and I’m using that term loosely here – see below).  The survivors don’t remember anything useful.  There is however a mysterious box in amongst the cargo, it’s decorated with ornately carved skeletal figures, and is filled with dirt.  But it’s not on the cargo manifest and shouldn’t be there.  Is it a coffin?  There’s a latch on the inside.  They wrap it in plastic.  Bishop, the guy from the airport, is still on hand sorting through the cargo and hears a strange noise.  He goes to investigate, and comes across what looks like a guy in a huge cloak lying on the ground.  Actually it’s some huge ugly creature who promptly “bites” him on the neck, snaps his neck and beats him into a pulp.  Bye bye mister!

Eichorst, from The Stoneheart Group, hires a Latino gang-member Gus to pick up a vehicle from the airport, in return the company providing some legal assistance for his mother and brother.  He is warned not to look at the cargo, and “be back across the bridge before dawn”.

The old guy (Abraham) from the pawn shop, turns up at the airport.  Easily evades the security and insists on talking to someone in charge about the plane.  Eph talks to the family of the passengers, one of whom is looking for their young daughter, who died.  The medical examiner finds a strange incision on the necks of the dead bodies.  The blood of the dead is also white – there are no erythrocytes (red blood cells) left.

Abraham speaks to Eph and reveals that he’s seen this before.  That the bodies have to be destroyed, decapitated and burned; even the survivors!  He knows about the box, the coffin.  But is still dismissed as a crazy old man.

Eph and Nora dig around in the plane’s cargo hold and find lots of little wormy things and more dirt.  They put a couple in a box (what about all the rest?) and go to look at the coffin – it’s vanished!  It was pinched by something that moves very fast.

Gus finds the van he’s been asked to pick up.  The coffin is (quite prominently) in the back.  But all big vehicles are being stopped on the way out, and he’s no exception.  Until Jim arrives and lets him go – he’s been bribed too by shady Stoneheart!  Duplicity abounds.

The medical examiner is still slicing and dicing late into the night.  There are “new organs” in the bodies, which move on their own, and are full of worms!  One tries to bury itself into his hand, but he pulls it out.  However, several of the dead are now up and about… entrails dragging on the floor… and they all attack him at once.

The CDC have lost the coffin, but still have their worm samples.  Abraham has ended up in the drunk tank, where a guy points out his old holocaust tattoo.  The creepy Stoneheart guys remark on Abraham’s presence at the airport.  The van is on it’s way across the bridge.  Gus speaks to his family on the phone (who are cooking breakfast and drinking beer at 4am?!) – his brother was the one who held up the pawn shop earlier in the day.  And the father who was looking for his dead daughter at the airport reaches home and breaks down in tears… until she appears at the door… and blinks like a lizard.

First Impressions:
I’ve not (yet!) read the series of novels, so I’m coming to this show cold.  I can immediately see a few small nods to del Toro’s previous movies.  The “creature” which appears in the guise of a hooded figure is reminiscent of Mimic (1997), and cursed objects giving some semblance of immortality features heavily in Cronos (1993).  In addition to the more obvious references to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with the “coffin” full of earth and the vampiric nature of the virus (or is it a parasite?) and it’s transmission.  With the infected themselves becoming a cross between vampires and zombies, I can foresee a lot of characters ending up “dead: but won’t lie down”…

Unanswered Questions:

  • What’s with Eph’s milk obsession?
  • Why did The Stoneheart Group arrange for the box and it’s contents to be smuggled to the US?
  • What happens at dawn?

Spurious Quarantine Procedures:
I truly hope the real CDC have more robust quarantine procedures than are depicted here!  If there really were a contagion, it’s not just the survivors who would need to be confined, but EVERYTHING; all of the deceased, the cargo, the plane itself.  The medical examiner performing the autopsies would be in full hazmat gear, and in no way would you be allowed to carry samples of the wormy things – one of the sources of infection –  in your pocket?!  If I were a gambler, my money would be on the monsters to win this one..

My Favourite Bit:
The creature going all “the mountain and the viper” (you know what I mean!) on that guy Bishop.  Messy!

Overall Rating:
Empty Star_76     4 out of 5 Stars

Fun and engaging storytelling, even if their scientific method could do with a refresher course!

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