While the second season of The Strain has struggled to find its direction, the first two episodes excelled when the show focused on certain world building aspects. The origins of The Master and the history between Setrakian and Palmer were glimmers of hope in what were otherwise mediocre episodes. Instead of continuing to add depth to this world, “Fort Defiance” spends most of its time focusing on characters that could not matter less, seemingly getting rid of some of its most compelling people and bringing down some of the show’s best characters to disappointing depths.
The episode begins by reintroducing us to Gabriel Bolivar—once a famous musician, now just one of The Master’s strigoi henchmen. For no good reason, we get an opening scene where Gabriel is arrested, then kills the cops that captured him. It holds no bearing on the rest of the episode and is connected to absolutely nothing else, other than highlighting the fact that, for some reason, the cops are still surprised that the city is filled with vampires.
“Fort Defiance” is filled with moments like this, where basically just reminding the audience that these characters are still hanging around. Remember Reginald Fitzwilliam? No? Palmer’s former assistant? Still not ringing any bells? Well don’t worry, ‘cause he’s back! And getting racially discriminated against while trying to visit his brother! How about Dutch’s former girlfriend Nikki, who abandoned her at a gas station? Well now she’s officially missing!
Focusing on these characters wouldn’t be a bad idea if the show had any grasp on what it was doing with its main characters. For example, Nora still doesn’t really have any defining characteristics that aren’t related to the men in her life. We know she’s Eph’s partner and girlfriend, but that’s about it. In “Fort Defiance,” she gets yelled at by Setrakian for attempting to save his life after finding him blacked out, then worrying that he’s bleeding from the freaking eyes, only to have Setrakian put her down for not questioning the fact that he doesn’t look older than he is.
Now, why would a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor and former pawn-shop owner be bleeding from the eyes? Because he’s taking dead strigoi goop, melting it down and dripping it into his eyes to make him live longer, of course! Setrakian has apparently been doing this for years, but who can keep track of a nonagenarian putting liquified worms into his eyes when there’s a vampire apocalypse happening in New York City?
Two of the most interesting and fun characters to watch on this show are Dutch and Fet, who are trying to take back New York, block-by-block. During a plan to blow up the subway to block vampires from getting back in, Dutch notices a missing poster for her former girlfriend Nikki. To find out what happened to her, Dutch and Fet take a visit to Nikki’s mother, who clearly didn’t approve of Dutch. This is fine and all, but when Dutch returns to Fet’s van, she immediately starts hooking up with him, making the best relationship in this show almost seem like a rebound after Dutch lost Nikki.
Then there’s that idiot Zack. Why they ever leave this kid alone, I will never know. First he tries to run away to find his mother, then after Eph has a heart-to-heart with him, Zack immediately starts destroying Eph and Nora’s lab. I don’t mind that Zack is understandably emotional—a vampiric mom will do that to you. But the inconsistency in his emotions is insane. One minute you think he’s going to quit being a douche, then he just goes back to his normal, destructive ways. The Strain has had particular trouble figuring out what to do with Zack since the beginning. They’ve tried timid Zack and now always-irritated Zack. Maybe they should just let him roam the infested streets of New York so he can find his damn mother already.
There’s a glimmer of hope within “Fort Defiance,” as we see Gus and the strigoi army working together to kidnap Palmer. This starts off as a potentially great plot, as this show could use some excitement outside of the typical vampire killings. Of course this heist doesn’t take off quite as planned, leaving the strigoi heroes (maybe the most compelling group in the entire show— looking like they’re going to slowly die in Palmer’s office, while Gus is trapped alone. Maybe this situation isn’t as dire as it seems, as it rarely is on this show, but it does feel like the series is closing an intriguing door.
The Strain still has a lot of core work it needs to do, so using this third episode to focus on characters that no one cares about (and bringing down the ones we do care about) doesn’t feel like a step in the right direction.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.