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An episode focused on Zack represents the worst of The Strain

“Tainted Love”

Episode

Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Before we get to all the terrible Zack stuff, which is the main driver for my negative feelings about this episode, let’s start with something positive. I very much appreciate that “Tainted Love” does its best to draw some parallels between Fet’s relationship with Charlotte and the flashback to Quinlan’s story in 1888. Both are stories about love and sacrifice, and how certain connections with certain people can change us. I criticized the 1888 flashback in last week’s review, and a lot of that still stands, but it’s encouraging to see the show clarify some of its themes.
  • The parallels come in the form of how both Quinlan and Fet must leave their emotional connections behind. In 1888, Quinlan is adapting quite nicely to his life amongst the people, growing closer with Lydia and realizing his humanity. But he’s ripped away from that, as his purpose is to fight The Master. Quinlan may have his humanity, but he’s forever chained to another purpose, and he can’t escape. Similarly, Fet must leave Charlotte behind now that the nuclear weapon has been secured. She’s ready to go live her own life on her father’s ranch in Montana, and Fet, like Quinlan, has a higher purpose.
  • Eichorst being right on their heels adds a nice bit of tension to the episode, and the resulting climax, with Charlotte and her sniper rifle helping Fet, Quinlan, and Roman escape, is packed with emotion. That’s some good, contained storytelling. Now, on to Zack…
  • Where do we even start? This week sees Zack finally make his transformation into a fully despicable person—somehow this is worse than causing nuclear catastrophe—and like so many dudes before him, it’s all because he feels entitled to a woman’s affection. When Zack goes to Abby’s communal home and sees her kissing her boyfriend, he loses it. He tells Abby that she was supposed to be his girlfriend because…well, because she said nice things to him once! And she took his plums! I mean, they’re basically married, right? Anyways, because Zack is the kind of whiny dude who overreacts to even the most basic, inoffensive struggles he faces, he punishes Abby by letting her get stung and turned by his pet strigoi. I can’t tell you how much I hate this storyline. All it does is make Zack look like more of an ass, and that’s already been well established. Apparently causing nuclear winter isn’t enough, Zack now has to punish a woman who won’t have sex with him to show how truly villainous he is.
  • It’s just, are we supposed to feel bad for Zack? Are we supposed to want him to come back from the ledge and find redemption? Are we supposed to think that there’s a meaningful showdown between Eph and The Master in the future, with Zack used as a bargaining chip? The Strain seems to think that Zack can be used as a storytelling piece to challenge ideas of morality within other characters, but there’s really no grey area here. Zack is an unrepentant villain, and we can only cheer for him to get his comeuppance, but something tells me the show doesn’t quite see him in the same way.
  • Getting back to the 1888 flashback, more credit where it’s due: Quinlan realizing that his forever-feud with The Master has cost the lives of two people he truly cared for is the type of emotional gutpunch that this show doesn’t typically execute. It’s effective here, as Quinlan’s cold, distant attitude in the present suddenly makes a lot of sense. Positioning that revelation near the end of the show’s run is still a strange choice, but at least it happened.
  • Zack’s reasoning for thinking Abby should be his girlfriend: “I was nice to you and I gave you all this stuff.” If that isn’t the kind of thinking that leads to a once-innocent kid going on message boards and becoming an advocate for “men’s rights,” I don’t know what is.

Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

The Strain Season 4 Episode 6 Review: Tainted Love

Love is in the air but so are gallons of blood and death as The Strain continues to bring a mega-ton warhead of intensity.

This The Strain review contains spoilers.

The Strain Season 4 Episode 6

Three love stories highlight this week’s episode of The Strain as Zach, Fet, and Quinlan all experience loves won and loves lost in a week of betrayal, blood, and heartbreak. Look, in the world of The Strain, this new dystopian world where the strigoi rule humans like cattle, love is a complex thing. How can one truly love another when one’s lover could be dragged off and made into a veal chop by the strigoi overlords at any moment? But that doesn’t stop a few of our cast from trying. And the results are brutal to say the least.

Let’s begin with Vasiliy Fet and his lady love, the sharp shooting Charlotte. The Strain has pulled off some impressive story gymnastics with Charlotte this season. After all, the Mid-Western badass crackshot kind of came out of nowhere. It was like, the season opened, and there Charlotte was. Fans discovered her backstory on the run, and somehow, despite her shoehorned inclusion, Charlotte has become a vital part of the team that dreams of taking down the strigoi. For a few seasons, the show’s central romance was between Dutch and Fet (and then Dutch and Eph), but Charlotte just stepped in, and she has been so effective and compelling, that it seems like the Dutch/ Fet romance never really happened.

I’m sure it helps that Dutch is locked in a major life and death struggle in New York, but really, the loving focus has been on the warriors Fet and Charlotte, and it has worked. Sadly, Quinlan knows that love cannot survive in the face of the Master (we’ll get to Quinlan’s romance in a bit), and encourages Fet to let Charlotte go. This week. Fet, Charlotte, Quinlan, and their plot convenient pal, the expert on all things nuclear, Roman, are able to secure a plane and take their nuclear payload to New York. Hot on their trail is the recently arrived Eichhorst who chases his pray with the diligence and hunger only a former Nazi can muster (again, let’s review now, kids- Nazis are bad). Before Fet and company take off, Charlotte proclaims that she’s leaving because she doesn’t want to take part in the NYC suicide mission. Fet must let go of his lady love, and Quinlan approves because the immortal knows that love has no chance of surviving in the face of the strigoi.

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As Eichhorst is about to bring down the plane, Charlotte snipes the Nazi (which is a good things my fellow Americans, because, lest we forget, Nazis are always bad) which allows Fet and company to escape with their nuclear payload. So let’s unpack that. Fet and Charlotte let their romance go, they bid each other farewell, and they have somewhat of a happy ending. Yes, they are no longer together, hunting, staking, kissing, and killing, but Charlotte’s actions allowed her beloved to escape and complete his mission.

Little Zach Goodweather’s romance does not have a happy twist. In fact, his love for Abby ends so brutally that it leaves the character of Zach completely irredeemable. I know what you’re thinking, how can Zach ever be redeemed? The little shit blew up New York? But the series often reminds the viewer that Zach did not press the nuclear trigger that gave the strigoi their victory out of evil or ambition; he did it in a rash state of fury over seeing his mother killed by his father. Okay, I can buy that a little. No kid will be able to watch daddy kill mommy without some huge psychological damage, and in this case, that psych damage manifested in a nuclear explosion. But this week, when Zach discovers that his crush Abby has a boyfriend, he responds by first confronting her and then by feeding her to his little skittering bodyguard.

Yeah, Zach feeds the innocent young girl to his personal strigoi pet, much to the delight of the Master. So Zach willingly murders a vital young girl, feeds a young woman to his pet knowing that Abby was charitable and kind. Instead of dealing with rejection and moving on (after all, Zach is the most pampered human on the planet), he feeds Abby to his monstrous babysitter. Now, Abby is a strigoi in service to Zach. There is no coming back from this. Zach is now as big a monster as Eichhorst and the Master. That’s some deft horror and family drama right there.

Our final tale of love in the time of the strigoi is the continuation of Quinlan’s flashback. Last week, we learned that Quinlan once fell in love with a woman named Luisa. Luisa helped Quinlan rediscover his humanity and using pancake make-up, a wig, and kindness, Luisa brings Quinlan back to the light. This week, the Master catches up to Quinlan and we must endure the moment where Quinlan discovers his twitching beloved and her daughter drained by the Master and almost transformed into strigoi. So when Quinlan slowly removes his make-up, – his mask of humanity- he is leaving his human side behind for the final time. Because without the love of Luisa there, is no hope for humanity.

Quinlan knows while the Master still exists, there is no chance for love to thrive, and he brings this realization from the past into the present and shares his heart aching insights with Fet. When Quinlan convinces Fet to let his love for Charlotte go, because love never can survive in the shadow of the strigoi, Quinlan sets the stage for Charlotte’s shooting of Eichhorst and Fet’s escape. Since Fet abandons love, hope in the form of a nuclear payload survives. Awesome.

So Fet lives to fight another day, Quinlan is by his side using his tragedy as a weapon, and Zach continues to be a Joffrey level of little prick. Through all that, a nuclear bomb is on its way to New York to deliver death to the Master so love can live again! Great stuff this week on The Strain as the final battle ramps up.

Love is in the air but so are gallons of blood and death as The Strain continues to bring a mega-ton warhead of intensity.