Last week, The Strain got its third season off to a pretty bland start. We saw our individual team members doing the same old, same old, which really highlighted the show’s flaws. With this season’s second episode, “Bad White,” the show actually seems interested in making some growth, with some new ideas and a resistance to those repetitive, boring arcs that we saw in the season premiere.
“Bad White” reunites our team, catches us up with some of the more minor characters who could have a much bigger impact this season, creates some alliances with potential and makes certain MacGuffins into potential game changers.
Let’s take a look at the latest episode of The Strain, “Bad White.”
After the basic team was scattered in last week’s season finale, “Bad White” reunites the heavy hitters once again. Ephraim, Setrakian and Fet all work best when they’re one unit, playing off each others’ strengths and making up for their weaknesses. Last week’s “New York Strong” showed us just how frustrating these characters can be alone, with Eph drinking his problems, Setrakian’s one track mind and Fet’s way of speaking, frankly just getting on my nerves.
But getting the core trio back together is more interesting than it has been for a while. Having Eph break the news about Nora’s death gives David Bradley at Setrakian a rare emotional moment in this show. Also, Eph’s attempts to sweet talk the Lumen away from Setrakian gives an extra layer to characters that are usually pretty one-dimensional.
Making this dynamic even better is the inclusion of Mr. Quinlan. From the looks of the teaser for next week, we’re going to learn more about his past (and flashback episodes are always The Strain’s best), but for now, the way he interacts with these three makes everything slightly better. Fet’s distrust of Quinlan makes perfect sense and Setrakian seems to think working with Quinlan is a means to an end. But it’s very fun to watch their alliance throughout the episode. For one, it allows Eph to have some humorous moments again, as he questions how someone could be half human/half strigoi. But tearing up this just-reunited group into pro-Lumen and con-Lumen teams at least makes the Lumen a more integral and compelling part of this story.
With the main team back together, it’s time for The Strain to catch us up on its scattered group of secondary characters. Dutch has reunited with her hacker team, which originally wanted to take down companies and make the world equal. Now that the world has been thoroughly destroyed, she sees the childishness of her ways and shows frustration towards her former friends. Maybe it’s just me, but this lambasting of the hacking culture almost felt like it was poking fun at Mr. Robot’s Robin Hood mentality?
Dutch’s raid with her hacker friends through a skyscraper isn’t anything new from The Strain, except that we now see her determination and frustration with her old way of life. But considering that “Bad White” opens with Fet sleeping with Kate and planning on meeting up with her again later, it seems like only a matter of time before The Strain has another love triangle on its hands.
The return of rich pawn Eldrich Palmer has a much bigger impact on the story itself. By episode’s end, Palmer offers to stand down in New York, as long as Setrakian gives him the “white” goop made by strigoi blood, which had allowed him to live so long. Palmer giving this option to Setrakian could create yet another awkward alliance in The Strain, one with decades of bad blood already inherent between the two.
But more important is the reveal to Fet that Setrakian has been using strigoi blood for his own means. Fet already doesn’t trust Quinlan, and Setrakian is still the person with whom Fet has the closest bond with. With this new information out in the open about Setrakian, surely Fet will question his friendship with the man he thought was being honest with him.
But really, c’mon—how did no one actually do the math yet on Setrakian? He was a young man during the Holocaust, yet he still has the power to fight against vampire beasts in New York City? It’s about time The Strain lets this secret out.
Season Three of The Strain seems ready to create a series of uneasy alliances that add depth to this pretty simple story. If it can handle all of these threads well, this could potentially be the show’s best season.
Getting back to those allegiances, “Bad White” shows a distinct tear starting to form between those who believe the Lumen holds the answers for how to stop the strigoi, and those who believe the Lumen’s power lies in its symbolic nature in this fight.
During most of the series, there’s been a pretty focused plan of attack against the strigoi: find a cure, get the Lumen for answers and in doing so, kill as many strigoi as possible. The problem with this plan is that it quickly became monotonous and boring. Finding the cure has led to nothing but disappointments, the Lumen has been a MacGuffin for years now and the fight against the strigoi has been a losing battle since the beginning.
By making the Lumen’s source of power debatable, this otherwise boring item becomes useful in the questions that arise. Fet and Setrakian believe the truth about how to destroy the strigoi is in the actual text, while Quinlan and Eph believe the book can be more useful as a means of negotiation. Either way, at least the Lumen is more fascinating now than ever before.
Even with the world falling apart around him, Zach Goodweather seems to be the most ignorant person in New York City. He still trusts his mother—who is clearly a strigoi—and still seems to want to find a way to live happily ever after with both of his parents. Hey Zach. Your dad is a drunk, your mother is dead and NYC is about to be abandoned by the military, allowing strigoi to roam free. This story isn’t going to end well, so give up your idiotic hope.
And in “Bad White,” Zach finally seems to realize the terrible situation he’s in, kidnapped by his strigoi mother, trapped waiting for his father to show up. He attempts to escape, but instead gives himself an asthma attack while his own mother almost sucks his blood. Even worse, The Master shows up at the wrong time, feeding Zach some of the eponymous “bad white” to heal his asthma attack.
Oh Zach, you were so close to escaping and making some good decisions, but instead you ended up worse than ever before. Just stay locked in your room, shut up, and keep throwing your damn baseball against the ball. It’s better this way.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can find more of his writing at RossBonaime.com and follow him on Twitter.