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‘The Strain’ Season 4 Review: Going out with a Bang

‘The Strain’ returns for the fourth and final season the best it’s ever been.

Just in time for the end, The Strain is the best it’s ever been. After three seasons of build up and more than a little stalling, FX’s pulpy vampire drama has finally arrived at the promised post-apocalypse thanks to Zack’s (Max Charles) nuclear tantrum in the Season 3 finale. Lord knows Zack is the worst, but we should all be thanking the little monster-in-the-making because that tragic act of selfishness is exactly what the series needed to climb out of the narrative rut it’s been stuck in for the last two seasons and deliver exciting new locations, relationships, character development.

Season 4 picks up nine months after Zack pulled the trigger, unleashing a nuclear winter that allows the Strigoi to walk by day, finally fulfilling the series’ ongoing Holocaust parallels with the vision of a world reborn to serve the Master and his bloodsucking ilk. Humanity is forced into “The Partnership,” a one-sided union with the Strigoi in which the humans regularly donate blood in return for food and medical help, trudging terrified through the streets with identifying badges wrapped around their arms while armed Strigoi guards hiss and sneer from the sidewalk. Naturally, the food and medical aid are only enough to keep the walking Happy Meals pumping nourished blood, but the remnants of humanity are in no position to argue. The Justines of the world are gone, there is no Staten Island safe haven and no government support on the way, and the laws of nature have forsaken humanity without the sun to offer them respite from the Strigoi assault.

But there are those who fight. Another clever Season 4 shake up finds our remaining heroes — Setrakian, Fet, Dutch, and Eph — split up and working with new allies. Fet (Kevin Durand) and Setrakian (David Bradley) are in North Dakota, on the hunt for a nuclear bomb that can kill the Master once and for all, along with Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) and Fet’s new lady love. Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) has been captured by the Strigoi and shipped off to a (gulp) breeding center, where she and her fellow fertile women are being impregnated under mysterious circumstances in a sort of post-apocalyptic Handmaid’s Tale scenario where they are valued solely for the contents of their womb. It’s Dutch, so obviously she’s fighting back in her own ways.

As for Eph (Corey Stoll), where do you go after you watch your son nuke New York? Apparently, Philidelphia, where Dr. Goodweather has been leaning into his bitterness, trading his medical skills for booze, and just generally being the kind of curmudgeon we’ve all come to know and love. But after seasons of watching him be insufferable for no good reason, Eph’s bad attitude is thoroughly earned at this point — I mean, fuck it, he raised the kid who ended the world — and unlike his chaffing demeanor in previous seasons, it’s actually quite delightful to watch him grumble and smirk around in the post-apocalypse, utterly unphased but still a genius with a fighter’s spirit.

On the evil side of things, The Master looks the best he has since Season 1. Inhabiting the frail body of Eldritch Palmer, he has a whiff of Nosferatu about him and the wonderful design work from the prosthetics department is matched by the performance from Jonathan Hyde, who gives the Master more menace and range than we’ve seen from the character before. Though Eichorst has fairly little to do in the three episodes that were screened for critics, Richard Sammel continues to steal every scene he’s in with a wink and a smile.

Then there’s Zack. What a fine and infuriating villain he has become. There are villains you love to hate and then there is Zack, who you just hate. The collective rage the character invites could fuel a thousand suns, and it’s not easy to conjure that level of acrid distaste in an audience. This kid has reached Joffrey levels of loathsome, and he continues to be a self-serving little shit in Season 4, in which the Master is grooming the young man to become a proper villain. And Zack’s right around that age, so now he’s got an eye for the ladies, a development that grants the character a new kind level of despicable self-satisfaction.

This is what it’s like to see The Strain firing on all cylinders, finally. In the past, The Strain‘s action has often felt circuitous, a series of false beats that ultimately led back to the same place. The search for the Lumen, Eph’s fight for his family, repeat repeat repeat, without a narrative forward momentum that allowed the characters or the world to grow in interesting ways. After two seasons of hurry up and wait, the final episodes of Season 3 blasted out a path for progress, and Season 4 follows through on that promise. For the first time since the series’ strong start in 2014, The Strain delivers propulsive drama and world building. In the final season, the talented cast, the gorgeous effects, and the singular cinematographic aesthetic are matched bold narrative moves and satisfying character beats. The pieces have clicked together at last, and it’s bittersweet to finally watch the show live up to its potential, just before it comes to a close.

★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television

The Strain‘s final season premieres Sunday, July 16th on FX.

‘The Strain’ says goodbye with a strong finish. Haleigh Foutch reviews the fourth and final season of FX’s post-apocalyptic vampire series.

User Reviews (308)

I’ll start off by saying that this series compelled me to create an IMDb account.

There are many things that makes this show one of my all time favorites: 1) The intense, noir setting 2) No unwanted random scenes (Everything contributes to the plot) 3) Fast paced (the beginning is a little slow but it’s very gripping) 4) Del Torro and his direction 5) Great animation and CGI 6) Very believable and rational story line 7) Dark atmosphere and background 8) Apocalypse and survival strategies

I’m a person that enjoys dark, intense setting with good story line and action I love shows like Death Note (anime), Lost, Game of thrones, the 100, etc

If you like any of the above mentioned shows or a thrilling, dark themed apocalyptic series, you’re going to absolutely love this!

People who are asking so many questions right at the beginning of the show and are calling this stupid, are dumb AF. Literally everything is explained as the show goes on!

The first episode is captivating to say the least. It’s a little slow after that, but it picks up pace real quick and from that point on wards it’s one crazy ride with some kick-ass characters and a dark, apocalyptic atmosphere.

* Some mild spoilers ahead *

There has been no shortage of modern vampire stories lately, but surprisingly – at least to my knowledge – a modern day version of the ONE vampire story (in more than just the name) has not been among them. Although Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ is one of the most famous and influential novels in English literature of the Victorian era, it took Mexican producer/director Guillermo Del Toro to finally attempt an update (or rather an “expansion” on the theme) for a modern audience of this beautiful, Gothic tale.

It’s probably meant more as an homage than a retelling (I haven’t read Del Toro’s novel ‘The Strain’ upon which this show is apparently based), but judging by what I’ve seen so far, there are many elements in the show’s storyline (at least during the first episode) that remain surprisingly faithful to Stoker’s novel, and at the beginning there’s even the modern equivalent of the doomed ship ‘Demeter’.

Del Toro cleverly plays with the expectations of those who have read ‘Dracula’, and knowing the story doesn’t really spoil anything. Quite on the contrary: it’s even more fun to watch this show and suddenly recognize nearly exact lines from the Victorian novel, but spoken to a member of some Latino drug gang (who answers the elegant words with the very modern “F*** You!” and “S*** my D***!”).

The production values are – as was to be expected when the director of ‘Hellboy’ and ‘Pacific Rim’ is involved – pretty good. The visual effects and the make-up are quite OK also, but they do leave room for improvement. Alas, the writing and the acting leave a lot to be desired which was very unexpected in this day and age of great Television shows – especially when someone like Del Toro serves as a producer. Still, overall I’d say there’s yet hope for this new show (IF the writing gets better). My vote so far: 6 stars out of 10.

***UPDATE***: I’ve stopped watching after the 4th. episode – it still puzzles me how so many talented people couldn’t come up with better writing. What a missed opportunity.

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SPOILERS . I am so disappointed.

I kept with it for the first season, even though I didn’t like the arrogant stupidity of the main character. But at the final of the second season, where Nora stops when Zack yells “stop” was it for me.

To create drama, the characters are doing very stupid things. Zack, who saw his mother try to kill his dad, attack them, etc is still what? confused? I don’t care if he is a kid, he would be over it by now. And Nora, who has beheaded and killed quite a few vamps, for some reason has problems with Zack’s mom and then stops knowing her life is in danger cause the kid yells? No, No, and Just No. There had to be a better way to write this that didn’t require such silliness from the characters.

I have always loved vampire stories, and so I was very intrigued by the premise, rather a cross between ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ meets ‘Underworld’. This series never lived up to the hype, but it was interesting for the first little while. There has to be some suspension of disbelief involved (unless you believe in vampires?). What rapidly becomes apparent is that the logic chasm just keeps opening wider and wider. All of the main characters do things that are so incredibly stupid that you start to actively dislike them. I watched through to 13, in the vain hope it would get better. It doesn’t. 😛

All shows have a main character doing something that ends up turning out not the way they want it. However, this show telegraphs it ahead of time, then expects us to be surprised when it happens? (As an example:) I just finished watching ep.12. The main characters decide to go to the main hive, where they know hundreds of the vampires will be. Then they are surprised there are so many there, and they expect the viewer to be surprised as well?

The protagonists fail to protect their partners, parents, children, and each other AGAIN AND AGAIN. In New York (the most populous city in North America) hundreds if not thousands are infected and still it appears that not a single person has tried to leave or document what is going on. Where are the police? The FBI? the US National Guard? Other citizens? What about the REST of the CDC? (I may be wrong, I’m Canadian, but isn’t it the National Guard who the US sends into disaster areas?)

Synopsis of Characters: the Good: (4)

Setrakian – I hope in real life David Bradley is in much better shape than his character, because you wonder how Setrakian stays upright at times. He has a suitably tragic background that is well written, believable and would actually be interesting. The consummate coward, his fears set all the wheels in motion. He is supposedly the main hunter but although his mind is willing, his flesh is weak. This character actually shows the most possibility of all, and I would be interested in his story if it wasn’t for the rest of the idiots. Vasiliy – If I had to pick one character I liked, it would be Vasiliy. It is played extremely well by K. Durand. He is tough and capable, unfortunately following the idiots instead of leading them. Reggie – I liked how he was played as someone that was born into a system that he believed in. Slowly this belief erodes until he just walks away. I thought this would be great for him to come back on the protagonist side. but that (apparently?) doesn’t happen. He just leaves, end of character. 😛

F – Supposedly a brilliant man who stumbles through scene after scene of ineptitude. His actions make little or no sense, even to himself, apparently. Nora – the most ‘human’ of the characters, is often confused and annoying. Eichorst – very transparently you are supposed to hate Eichorst, and this character does everything possible that ‘evil’ could do. Too bad it is so obvious that you just groan. Everything he plans goes off perfectly until he inexplicably fails at the end of the season. Big surprise. I think this character is well played by Jonathan Hyde but very poorly written. Gabriel – is a main character for the first bit but degenerates into a bit player in later episodes. Rather poorly written, he seems to die several times but always shows up later. Kelly – F’s wife, she does stupid things until she gets taken. After this she shows up several times, seems to die several times, but always shows up later. Dutch – One woman brings down the Internet. Not just locally. But the whole world, apparently. And cell phones no longer work. Logic behind this? There is none. She is rude and arrogant. This has to be the worst written character of them all, except perhaps for.. Gus – Plays an Mexican who lives off of the streets, and can’t seem to get out of his own way making stupid decision repeatedly until he is recruited to be humanity’s champion by other vampires? (Why? How? Why would you or I care?) Yet another reason why ep.13 remains the worst I have seen so far (and I wasn’t planning to watch further)

And the Unfortunate: (2 (+every vampire.))

Eldritch – At times pathetic, at times arrogant, he is sympathetic again until the last few episodes where we see a side of him that we have never seen before as a typical corporate head (arrogant, amoral, self-centred). The change actually reduces this character to just a generic stereotype. Zack – Kelly and F’s child, Zack is at times very smart and mature and at other times totally stupid and in needs of constant home care or a straitjacket. In other words, a typical child. 🙂

The end of season 1 brings ridiculous to a whole new low, and dropped my rating to 4. The master is located (they entirely gloss over how) and surprise, it is above ground in the middle of the day! (because vampires secretly want to be out during the day, even knowing it will destroy them) The main protagonist takes his son on the vampire hunt (to get the master, of all things!) and with a clip of handgun ammo and a nailgun they get all the way through the nest to the very end, and find that what they were most counting on doesn’t work on the Master. (go figure, it would end the series (blissfully).

I find TV is getting actively more generic all the time, but wouldn’t it be nice if we found a series that actively engages our imaginations?

Reviews: Штамм