The Strain – “Last Rites” and “The Master”

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Well folks, that’s all she wrote for season one of The Strain. I’m not completely sure what the viewership numbers are like. Are many people watching? For those that are, do they like it? Does the show have its own subreddit? How passionate is aforementioned subreddit? What I know is this. The show has moments that are very good, and equal amount of moments that are very, very, VERY bad. It’s quite the balancing act, but one where I think the good prevails. After all, I’m still watching week after week.

Last Rites focused mainly on “Young Setrakian”. It’s revealed that Eichorst conned his young nemesis by trapping him underground, leaving Mrs. Setrakian unprotected. Eventually Setrakian escapes, but it’s too late. His wife has been turned, eager to reunite with her loved one, leaving him no choice but to sever the head from the body. Hopefully this wasn’t the last of the flashbacks. Any involvement between Eichorst and Setrakian (of all ages) is gold. Plus, I want to find out why there is such vehemence towards The Master. Clearly he’s the reason behind all of this, but on a personal level it seems Abraham should want to end Eichorst just as bad, if not worse. Gus takes his rival Creem hostage, leading to an ambush by strigoi. Just when all seems lost, guess who saves the day? That’s right. Hooded vampire assassins! They make their glorious comeback this episode and give Gus a taste of his own medicine via kidnapping.

Our finale squeezed a bunch of things into the shows final hour. Some important, others not so much. Eldritch Palmer is healed, albeit not for eternity. If he wants to live forever he still has to pay his dues (much to his chagrin). Apparently that starts with killing a woman in the CDC, and promoting, by force, Everett Barnes to “guy who can make sure NYC still will not be quarantined”. Oh, and Palmer’s bodyguard finally called it quits on his boss. Looking forward to him joining with the good guys.

Cool hooded vampires explain to Gus what is happening. Basically there’s a vampire turf war, and Gus has proved to be….resourceful. He’s good at killing strigoi and can move during the day. That’s all you need on the resume to bang with these dudes. Hooded Gus is probably my most anticipated moment for Season Two. Meanwhile the gang go The Raid on The Master. I’ll give them credit, they came pretty damn close. But as it turns out, not even the sun can kill that goofy looking bastard. Setrakian is deflated, Nora is chain smoking, and Eph can’t end his boring ex-wife. I was entertained throughout, which is fairly true for the show itself. Amidst all the bumps in the road I kept driving. So after one season let’s break down some pros and cons.

PROS

  • When focusing on Eichorst, Setrakian, and Fet the show is on another level. As I’ve said in almost every other review, Eichorst vs Setrakian is thrilling television. From the visit in jail to the subway encounter, it’s all been gravy. Then we have the legend that is Vasily Fet. He plays the “Daryl” role for this show, and while it is obvious that’s the shows intent, he doesn’t come off as a cheap knockoff. I’m still not positive on the origin of his accent but I’m assuming Eastern European.
  • The set pieces are fantastic. Both of the attacks on The Master, the previously mentioned subway chase of Eichorst, and of course, every time Hooded Vampire Killers pop up. They are the ultimate clean up crew. Not to mention all the strigoi attacks. From the coroner getting gang-fanged, Gus’s fat friend wreaking havoc in the police van, or that opening with the dumb ass taxi driver. Every attack generates some moderate pumping of the heart. Even if the stingers always somehow miss our main characters.
  • I’m going to go give props to the overall story. Where The Walking Dead feels like it makes up a new direction for the show each season (probably due to the rotating show runners), The Strain clearly has an endgame. The plotting this season did leave for much improvement, but each major event feels like it’s leading to something bigger.
  • Sean Astin

CONS

  • For the most part the special effects were what we come to expect from Guillermo, but every time we see The Master it’s just…awful. I can’t stress this enough. He’s goofy as hell. Alan Sepinwall made a good point. In this show less really is more, akin to Jaws. His face is ridiculous. His nails need to be cut. He needs a new look. Maybe adding Eph’s hairpiece will help…
  • …speaking of which. Yeah I’m still not over his hair. It’s killing me. Can we sign a petition for it to be removed for Season Two? Honestly, I don’t think people will care if Eph is just suddenly bald at the beginning of next season. A quick, “Hey, summer in New York is hell”, and boom we’re in.
  • I know I just praised the set pieces, but the actual fighting of strigoi is pretty offensive. When you watch Daryl one shot zombies it looks bad ass. So when I see Setrakian swipe and strike heads like a seventy year old man would, it comes across poorly. The only one who looks like he is realistically killing them is Gus, which I suppose makes sense since he was chosen as part of the Hooded squad.
  • The family storyline sucks. Enough with Eph, his kid, and ex wife. They should of gotten out of town. Too much time is spent on those characters when we want to see more of the previous three I mentioned. I’m fine with Eph, but why can’t it be about his struggle with what’s happening to mankind. All he ever knew has been rocked, scientifically and religiously. This is a man that’s never killed before, why not spend more time on that? I loved the contrast between him and Fet, and who would be better off leading. I’m okay with Nora being the love interest for now. Don’t spend too much time on it, kill her off sooner rather than later. The British chick is a stronger female character, anyways.

So that’s it. A solid first season for FX’s vampire drama. It’s been bumpy but there’s no reason those bumps can’t be smoothed out for the Season 2 premier. If there were many fans of the show hopefully they all check out the books. Reading!

 

The Easter Parade

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If there were an NCAA style tournament for the title of “Most Depressing Author”, my money would be on Richard Yates. You’d probably get great odds considering how under appreciated he is. To his credit he’s not writing about world hunger, two teens with rare life ending diseases, or the death of a pet. His novels tend to deal with what most people would consider their aspirations. Getting married and having a family. Owning a house in the perfect neighborhood. Making good money at a job you spent a good portion of your life going to school for. These are goals for most people. Yates takes those goals and molds them into the bleakest periods of his characters life. His books are not for the happy go lucky. But god dammit is it good writing.

Sarah and Emily are sisters from a splintered family. Their parents divorced  while they were in grade school. From the start you know it’s going to have lasting effects into their adulthood. Sarah would grow up marrying the first person she has sex with. while Emily goes through men like I went through tissues in high school (disgusting, I know).

The story is told through Emily’s point of view, with periodic updates into the lives of her mother (named “Pookie”) and sister. Pookie is never the same after her divorce. Over the course of the book she goes from depressed single mom to delirious grandmother. Sarah seemingly has the perfect life. A successful husband. Three healthy boys. A house with the white picket fence that every girl yearns for. But it’s not long before those proud talking points at parties wear off. Her husband beats her throughout their thirty year marriage, two of her sons show her no respect at all, and she doesn’t ever leave that “perfect” house of hers. It’s more of a prison when you think about it. Not to mention her failed writing career and the slow depreciation of her body.

Emily, in my opinion, had the right idea all along. She went to university for four years, sleeping around as she pleases. While her sister resides in the suburbs, Emily has the pleasure of living in the greatest city in the world. She’s looked upon favorably by her superiors at her job, in the world of advertising no less. Neither of the sisters were destined for a fulfilling life, though. As the years go by so do the men in Emily’s life. Each one predictably leaves her, whether after a year, or ten. And as much as she wants to be a strong, independent woman, the thought of being alone terrifies her. That sweet apartment in the city eventually becomes a home for her sorrows and the older she gets the more expendable she becomes in the workplace.

Yates seems to have a simple message. Alone or together, life is one depressing marathon. The pursuit of happiness is a worthless endeavor. I can’t imagine any optimist ever enjoying this novel, or any of Yates work for that matter. Whether you’re a cynic or a believer there’s no denying the man has talent. Call me pessimistic, but I don’t think we’ll ever have another author like Richard Yates.

 

The Strain – “Loved Ones” and “The Third Rail”

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The Strain is not a good show. The actors are putting in some of the worst work of their career (I want to support my fellow “Bald Brother”, Corey Stoll, but him and his wig are making it difficult), the dialogue has more cheese in it than any calzone I’ve ever ordered, and much as I trust Guillermo when it comes to special effects, I can’t help but laugh every time I see The Master.

Yet I keep coming back, Sunday after bloody Sunday. If I don’t find out what happens at the end I’ll go crazy. As terribly written as they are, I’m invested in all the main characters. Eph, Fet, Setrakian, and Gus at least. I look forward to the showdown between Eph and his, now Strigoi, wife. I want Fett to live up to his true potential in this new, infested world. There are bigger plans for Gus whether he knows it or not, and I’m eager to see where his path leads. And most of all, I want to witness the end of Setrakian’s story. I want to continue seeing into his past and living in his present. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and Abraham has two dishes reserved especially for Eichorst and The Master.

You can’t change what you love. When it comes to post apocalyptic disaster stories, I’ll always support it. Even the amateur hour that is The Walking Dead maintains appeal. There’s nothing like seeing humanity have their world turned upside down.

Kelly is the new pupil of The Master, Gus has gone nomad, and the “Old Jew” wants to take on a nest full of Strigoi. Bring on the last two episodes.

Watership Down

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What a treat it is to find a book like Watership Down. Richard Adams wrote for the child in me while simultaneously exploring mature themes. If you told me a book about nomad rabbits would teach me more about being a leader than a John Wooden autobiography, I’d slap you square across the face. But it’s true! It’s not all eating carrots. Well, there is some of that. Watership Down is the story of courage during the unknown, facing down animosity, and putting others before yourself. Yes, with rabbits.

A group of rabbits decide to leave their warren when one of their own, Fiver, has visions of doom and gloom. He doesn’t know exactly what will happen, but the queer buck insists on leaving. Fiver and his brother Hazel, along with Bigwig the ex-military rabbit, and a few others, set upon a dangerous journey. They all put their faith in Fivers visions and Hazel’s leadership.

On the way they encounter other rabbits, mice, foxes, cats, dogs, rats, birds of prey, birds of the sea, both friends and foes. During the hard times Dandelion, the fastest of the bunch, tells stories about rabbits past. Specifically the trickster, El-ahrairah. It’s those accounts that are my favorite parts of the books. I could relate to being told tales of Robin Hood when I was younger.

The story is simple yet flowing. You can tell that Adams lives in England. He paints a beautiful picture of the English countryside. His most impressive feat is the way he breathes life into these characters. These rabbits. As I said before, look no further than Hazel for a course on leadership. The ups and downs, the pros and cons. With Fiver there is a magical element implemented into the story. He is the rabbit who has the mysterious premonitions of bad, and good. Then there is Bigwig. There’s a part of the story where he infiltrates a hostile warren. From his perspective you understand what it is to put your faith in someone, while also not letting down the people you care about. He has some of the most courageous acts in the book, and the end will not leave you disappointed. Maybe a little teary eyed, but that’s never a bad thing.

As over used as magical is, there’s no other way to describe this book. It’s right up there with Lord of the Rings as one of my favorite journeys. I might even appreciate it more just for the sheer simplicity of it compared to the Tolkien’s fantasy epic (rabbits moving to a new home/saving Middle Earth), yet I’m still as moved.If you’re in the market for a book that will inspire, hop no further.

 

The Strain – “The Disappeared”

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Bad things are coming, and much like Gus in this episode, all we can do is run and never look back.

Jim is officially gone, along with Matt. Eph saved Zach just in time before the man he hates most (though Fet is trying to take that honor) had a chance to turn his son. The gang splits up for the present time. Eph and Nora stay at his ex’s house to wait for her, while also disposing of Matt. Zach hangs out with Setrakian while having a good heart to heart with the man. Fet and hot hacker chick go back to her apartment. There we get to see classic Fet in action, giving her stoner neighbor a nice blow to the head. Although I’m not sure how he didn’t get nicked during the attack. Again, the creatures have terrible aim when it comes to main characters. Most people get a direct hit to the neck, while the closest they came to our heroes was a nick to Jim.

Poor Gus. Had to do his best friend between the eyes. Even worse is that he doesn’t know the severity of this plague yet. He’s not aware that the person he shot was not his buddy, it was a whole different creature entirely. I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time before he meets up with our motley crew. That is if he can survive the night by himself. The kid can box I’ll give him that, but fists don’t do much against these stingers.

It was a strong episodes for flashbacks. Young Setrakian gets his first crack at The Master, which leads to his hands being crushed, a small victory if anything. It would have been a death sentence considering he’s useless without his woodworking ability. Eichorst had no choice (and an easy one I’m sure) but to send him to the executioner line. With imminent death facing down on him, a little luck came his way. One of the allied forces bombed the German camp at just the right moment for Setrakian and his fellow prisoners to escape. He would, as we obviously know, live to fight another day. 

Say one thing for The Strain, say how it knows how to end its episodes. We get our first full glimpse of The Master. As Del Toro-ian as I’d imagine. He seems to rejuvenate a wavering Eichorst, by putting a large worm into his arm. I’m not totally sure what it means, but something dark is on its way. Whether it’s The Master, New Eichorst, Eph’s ex, or more scenes with little Zach, things are heading for the worst.

Random Thoughts

  • Fet pays homage to Arnold with his, “I’ll be back” line.
  • Eph’s wig was pretty bad this episode. Especially during the sex scene with Nora
  • So yeah, not a huge fan of Zach. Makes Carl from The Walking Dead seem like Daniel Day
  • Not only does Eph dislike Fet, but we see Fet trying to connect with Nora. Will the time come where Nora needs a man a little more like the big exterminator?
  • What’s up with that cop transporting Gus? He witness his partner get killed by something as they crash, and doesn’t call for back up or anything. It’s like the people in this world keep ignoring there are STINGERS COMING OUT OF MOUTHS.
  • I miss the hooded zombie/vampire gang

“The Broken Eye” – What Middle Book Syndrome?

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It’s no secret reading is my favorite hobby. Day and night, shine or snow, it doesn’t matter. My preferred genre of books is fantasy, and to be specific epic fantasy. There’s nothing better than four to six thousand words focused in one world, with characters evolving every step of the way. It’s a glorious journey. There is, however, a drawback to this format. The middle books are almost always the worst of the bunch. The story drags or there’s no growth to the characters. The pacing may be off. Anything could go wrong. When you write such an ambitious story, over x amount of books, there will inevitably be garbage in the middle. It’s certainly not always the case, but there is a sample size. Personally I can think of The Wheel of Time, Mistborn, The Lord of the Rings, Thomas Covenant, the last few books of A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s all personal preference, but there is a stigma out there. I’m glad to inform Brent Weeks fans, this is not the case in his Lightbringer series. Weeks goes three for three as The Broken Eye may just be the best in the series yet.

The Blinding Knife left off with Kip as Zymun’s captive, Gavin now Gunner’s slave, Karris as Mrs. Guile, Liv still with the Color Prince, Andross more powerful than ever, and the after effects of the Battle at Ru on generally everyone. It was a cliff hanger that nearly destroyed me. We catch up with all of the characters except most notably Liv. She only has maybe three or four chapters in the whole book. I was actually fine with this, as I never thought her POV chapters were the most interesting. Scenes with her father were missed, though. We do get one great scene between the both of them, and it’s worth the wait.

Kip is where the majority of the story comes from, though there are about seven different characters who have POV chapters throughout the book. We really witness Kip coming of age. He gets in better shape, accumulates more confidence, and is slowly beginning to understand the responsibility he bears. He realizes how alone he is without Gavin, and at the same time that he isn’t truly alone. That didn’t make sense, but it kind of does. He doesn’t have Gavin to save him from the dangers abound, he is aware of that now, but there are people who care about him. He’s not truly alone, but he is responsible for his life and others. Kip, to my joy, becomes less of an annoying, self loathing  child. He’s no Thomas Covenant on the irritating hero scale, but he was close. He still pokes fun at himself but it is toned down.

Gavin’s role is significantly reduced in book three. Not as much as Liv of course, but we are used to seeing him all the time in the last two installments. And make no mistake, this is not the Gavin of old. As we know, his powers are vanished. Clearly due to the Blinding Knife. He is now just a mortal man. Superman without his powers. It’s the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen him and it’s hard to watch. The mighty has fallen, and oh how far he fell. Have to say though, he was my favorite character to read about in the book. I can’t wait to see his rise back to the top in book four, or if in fact he rises to the top at all.

The character who I would give the “Most Improved Award” if this were a sports league, would be Teia. I ate her chapters up, and there are many. She is a vital part of the story now as we find out how powerful paryl really is. Being able to draft paryl is like hitting the assassin jackpot. And that’s pretty much what Teia is turning into. Her story arc introduces us to one of the more intriguing characters in recent history, Murder Sharp. Yes, his first name is Murder. Weeks did a wonderful job with Teia and she’s just as big a character as Kip going forward.

Overall there weren’t many big battle scenes. Everything happened more on a personal level, save for a long escape scene near the end of the book. Certainly nothing like the Battle at Ru. There’s plenty of politics, though. It’s so much fun to see Kip and The Red go at it. Equally as beautiful are the conversations between Karris and The White.

If I had any complaints, it’s how at times it felt a bit repetitive. All of the Blackguard training specifically. But hey, when you write a book over six hundred pages it’s bound to slog from time to time. Other than that, The Broken Eye was near flawless. As usual, Mr. Weeks leaves us thirsting for more. Get excited for one of the best cliffhangers in recent years. We find out who is the real puppeteer (supposedly), discover a whole new side to a character, and finally, return to an all too familiar place. “Color” me excited for The Blood Mirror!

The Strain – “Creatures of the Night”

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Our eighth episode has a Stephen King vibe to it. Where our heroes are trapped in one location attempting to get out. On top of that, one of their own has been infected. It was a mix of Stephen King/Dawn of the Dead/Old School (Come on, it had “Here I Go Again”). Really it’s like a mini horror flick.

Eph, Nora, Jim, and Setrakian, meet Vasily Fet. He claims to work alone at first, but was quick to learn he needs help to survive. And that the old man is a total bad ass. The group came up with another way to kill these vermin, using UV lights to simulate sunlight. It’s an efficient way of killing the Strigoi but unfortunately led to Jim getting nicked by a stinger. The episode deals with trying to escape the gas station but truly it’s about Eph coming to grips with having to do what needs to be done. Jim had to be put down.

The dynamic has changed a bit after this episode. Eph was the uncontested leader of the group. Sure, Setrakian was the most knowledgeable but he is also old and frail. There is only so much he is capable of. The group’s introduction of Fet brings up some issues. He sees all of the Strigoi as vermin. Even the ones who haven’t been fully turned yet. Eph is still in the midst of seeing them as people who can be treated. People and friends, and I’m sure later on, family. He has hope for curing this disease yet, and the mere fact that he still thinks of it has a disease and not a plague says a lot. Setrakian is trying to make him see what this epidemic really is. Fet is more easily swayed, but Eph will have to buy in eventually.

We learn The Master can see through all of the vampires. Making them do his bidding. That’s unfortunate for our protagonists as they are number one on his shit list. In the end we lose Jim (in cold blooded fashion thanks to Fet), but gain the hot hacker chick. As much as I love Sean Astin, I’ll take that switch. No Eichorst. No Gus. No hooded vampire slayers. Still an intense episode with a deadly finish. Eager to see how the group evolves over the next handful of episodes.