The Strain: "Night Zero"

(Episode 1.01)

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<em>The Strain</em>: "Night Zero"

How are we not tired of vampires yet? Twilight should’ve probably been the conclusion to the fad, but instead, we now have an abundance of bloodsuckers in pop culture. At this moment, I can think of at least five different vampire TV shows that have aired in the last year, and countless books and movies on the subject. Hell, even Jim Jarmusch has made his own vampire film. But what keeps the genre afloat are the occasional productions that twist the lore, and even that has gotten tired at this point.

Helping evolve the vampire idea is where The Strain excels, even if the “V” word is never uttered in the pilot, “Night Zero.” While the genre aspects of the show work quite well from the beginning, the story truly feels cliche and tired as soon as we get to know these characters.

Corey Stoll plays Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, one of the top men at the CDC who has trouble balancing his work and his home life. In case we haven’t seen this trope enough on TV, we’re told that he’s acing his job and flunking his marriage almost immediately after meeting him. On his team are Mia Maestro as biochemist Dr. Nora Martinez, who clearly has feelings for Ephraim, and Sean Astin as Jim Kent, who also seems to be up to no good.

This trio is sent to JFK when a plane lands with absolutely no movement onboard. Once on the plane, the CDC discovers that 206 of the passengers are dead, with four quarantined survivors likely infected with whatever killed the rest of the flight.

As “Night Zero” progresses, we discover there is a hooded beast that was in the cargo hold, along with a coffin-like box, covered in skeletons and filled with dirt and wormy things looking for a host. We also get a flash of a shady organization that looks to be behind this infestation, people who blink sideways and don’t breathe, passengers coming back to life to feast and the aforementioned hooded beast sucking blood mosquito-style before smashing the victim’s head to mush with his bare hands.

While the CDC tries to search for answers, Professor Abraham Setrakian, played by David Bradley of Red Wedding fame, is a Holocaust survivor who claims to know the cause of the outbreak, since he’s apparently fought these monsters before. The “seemingly crazed man who is actually the smartest person on the show” has also been done plenty, but “Night Zero” posits so many unanswered questions that almost all of Setrakian’s actions are exciting due to his intelligence regarding the matter at hand, instantly making him the most intriguing character.

“Night Zero” was written by the two authors of the original book The Strain, Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro, the latter of whom also directed the episode. Del Toro’s direction isn’t immediately obvious, but the dark scenes are reminiscent of the director’s past work, along with his penchant for focusing on the creatures over the actual characters. As exciting as his films can be, most of what is memorable about his movies are moments like the Pale Man scene in Pan’s Labyrinth or the giant Kaiju battles in Pacific Rim. These moments are fun to watch, but can anyone remember any minute details about Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket, the star of Pacific Rim? This same reliance on beasts over story and character does hurt The Strain right out the gate.

“Night Zero” kicks off The Strain out with some incredibly cheesy moments, yet the mysterious creatures and inner workings of this breakout are compelling enough to keep watching. Stoll and Bradley are quite enjoyable, and learning how this infestation grows and differs from what we’re used to when it comes to vampirism is entertaining, but it could definitely use some stronger human characters with better stories to make more than just the mystery exciting.

Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. He’s also 100% against worms in his eyeballs. You can follow him on Twitter.