The Strain Season 3 Episode 5 Review: Madness
Come, explore a world of madness as the war with the strigoi escalates on The Strain.
This The Strain review contains spoilers.
The Strain Season 3 Episode 5
This week on The Strain, it’s all about madness as our characters must overcome their own inner demons in order to push back against the strigoi now that the Master has temporarily been removed from the game board. It should be stressed that The Master is gone for now, reduced to a fat red worm hidden in the sewers of Manhattan (here’s hoping no one gets the old evil, primordial red worm of vampiric death up the pooper while they’re sitting on the throne and voiding themselves of a gyro at three in the morning). With the Master gone, each of our major characters are trying to figure out a way to take advantage of this absence and take the fight to him.
First we have Eph and Dutch. Man are these two fun together. I really feared that the death of Nora would rob the series of a strong female presence and rob us of some awesome interactions between Eph and his always staunch lover and confidante. But Dutch fills the Nora roll nicely and brings a whole new dynamic to Eph.
First off, Dutch doesn’t tell Eph to stop drinking, she out drinks him which is funny but not really advisable during a vampire apocolypse. Two enablers, that’s our Eph and Dutch! There’s a great deal of Marion Ravenwood in Dutch and it’s fun to watch. Their mission this week is to figure out a way to block the psychic link that binds all strigoi.
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Let me tell you, you think you’ve seen gross autopsy scenes before? Well, the gleeful, worm-riddled autopsy that Eph performs on a captured strigoi takes the cake. For real, when Eph removes a cluster of brain worms from a strigoi skull, the pulsating mass of parasitic organisms almost made me blow my crackers. The Strain has continuously brought gru-heads the best gore on TV for three years running now, and the effort is appreciated. Add an extra layer of ha-ha as Eph gleefully slices and de-worms the lumpy mass of death on his lab table. So where’s the madness you ask? Well, this experiment brings Eph to a Doctor Frankenstein place of obsession. His experiments fail to produce a result for now, but Eph’s obsession might be the very thing to defeat the strigoi. Eph brought the science and Dutch brought the engineering and the strigoi communication code was almost cracked using science and microwave emitters. It is all very Bill Nye, but with more dry heaves.
Then we have Setrakian. This week, the oldest of vampire slayers must work on cracking the code of the Lumen with the daywalking vampire Mr. Quinlan. We are also treated to a Setrakian flashback to the 70s where the younger Setrakian hunts an on-the-run Eichhorst. Setrakian doesn’t find Eichhorst but he does find a high level strigoi Nazi who also worked in the death camp where Setrakian was held.
What happens next exposes the level of Setrakian’s madness for revenge. Setrakian discovers a death chamber in the Nazi’s home, a room filled with recently removed body parts and tubs of rotting skin (what was I saying earlier about awesome gore?). He puts that room to good use and makes the strigoi Nazi sorry he ever heard of Hitler. Setrakian doesn’t just torture the vampire, in fact, the vampire might still exist to this very day, but Setrakian does remove his limbs, chain him in a silver chest, and drop him, still alive, still aware, onto the bottom of the ocean. Yikes.
This flashbacks and some passages in the Lumen give Quinlan and Setrakian some insight into how the Master might be defeated as the series suggest that the only way to defeat the strigoi plague might be through unthinkable torture and madness. Before any of this can occur, Setrakian must make a deal with the devil, Eldritch Palmer, to help locate the Master. Madness indeed.
Before we go, let’s check in with Vasiliy Fett, who also suffers from a form of madness, the madness of complete dedication. This week, Fett works alone to tag strigoi with GPS trackers. He follows these munchers back to their layer and finds thousands of strigoi nesting beneath Central Park. A big brouhaha is coming, kids, this should be good.
Come, explore a world of madness as the war with the strigoi escalates on The Strain.
The Strain: “Madness” Review
The Lumen finally reveals its secrets.
The most immediate and noteworthy change this week involved the leap forward in time. For most shows, seeing the narrative skip ahead 14 days isn’t especially remarkable. But the entire Strain saga has unfolded over the course of a few weeks, so those 14 days are far from insignificant. The opening narration and montage made that clear enough. When you want to convey the gravity of a viral outbreak becoming a true pandemic, David Bradley’s gravelly voice is a wonderful tool to have.
That montage nicely set the tone for this episode. As much as our heroes scored a major victory in beheading the Master and leaving his vast army adrift and leaderless, the overall conflict has not turned in humanity’s favor. Far from it. Instead, life in New York has only grown more desperate over the course of those missing two weeks. The city has effectively been abandoned as the government shifts its focus to more easily defensible territory. With other countries rapidly being consumed by the strigoi plague, the situation seems more dire than ever. This show, with its limited budget, doesn’t always do a great job of conveying the scope of the outbreak. But this week was a significant exception. That late shot of Fet emerging from the bowels of Central Park and looking upon a city wracked by death and chaos stood out as especially memorable.
This episode was notably coy about the Master’s status quo or what’s going on with Kelly and Zach. Has the Master taken a new host body? Could Zach turn out to be his new host? There’s no way of knowing yet, but it does seem like the writers are building towards a major reveal soon.
Instead, this episode focused mainly on our scattered band of heroes as they continue their individual quests. For Eph and Dutch, that means bonding over their shared misery and teaming up to find a new tool against the strigoi to replace Eph’s failed bio-weapon. I was extremely leery of that partnership at first. Dutch tends to be the most poorly written character on the show, and the prospect of a romantic entanglement between the two doesn’t sound the least bit appetizing. It still looks very likely that a hook-up is inevitable, but the good news is that the waters don’t seem intent on making a huge deal out of it. Dutch’s love life is now secondary to her efforts to help Eph and find a weapon against the strigoi, and that’s exactly the shift her character needed.
So it was that the two characters developed a pretty solid chemistry this week. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get more of the Eph/Quinlan partnership, but Dutch is turning out to be a solid substitute. There was a nice element of comedy to their research with microwave radiation, but also a very tense scene as the two discovered their crude new weapon wasn’t quite as effective as it seemed.
Fet is back to working solo.
As for Fet, he seems to have wiped his hands of his brief romance with Dutch and thrown himself fully into his one-man crusade against the strigoi. That led to some creepy scenes in the tunnels of New York as he tracked the strigoi and inadvertently stumbled across the mysterious construction project that Stoneheart has been spearheading. I do think this episode missed some opportunities when it came to exploiting the claustrophobic nature of the tunnels. What better way to up the horror factor than to leave Fet scrambling for his life deep underground while the strigoi stalk him in these narrow tunnels? But I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt and assume that we’ll see more of that next week when Councilwoman Feraldo unleashes her full might against the massive strigoi nest under Central Park.
But the star of the show this week was undoubtedly Setrakian. In the present, he finally appeared to crack the secret of the Lumen with his discovery that its pages contained hidden writing made visible only by sunlight. Apparently, showrunner Carlton Cuse wasn’t joking when he said that Setrakian might resort to photocopying the Lumen. But as it turns out, photocopies are useless in this case. At long last, Setrakian and Quinlan have a real lead in their hunt for the key to the Master’s defeat. Hopefully this means the two will be back in the thick of the action soon.
That discovery also led to a crucial moment for Palmer, who is now much closer to death’s door after the two-week time jump. If Palmer wasn’t already coming to terms with the fact that he was serving the wrong side in this war, Eichorst’s gleeful “It’s been a pleasure” sealed the deal. Luckily for Palmer, Setrakian reconsidered his offer. It’ll be interesting toes how much Palmer’s betrayal will upset the Master’s plans and whether this sympathetic villain can find some measure of redemption.
Setrakian also featured prominently in the flashback sequences, a welcome addition to an already enjoyable episode. Some shows rely entirely too heavily on flashbacks, but if anything, The Strain doesn’t use them enough. It’s always a treat to see glimpses into Setrakian’s younger life and a period when he wasn’t quite the irascible old grump he is today. In this case, we saw him on a mission of revenge, using the Lumen as pretext to hunt down the former Nazis who once made his life so miserable. He didn’t find Eichorst, but Setrakain did have the opportunity to exact vengeance upon Dr. Dremerhaven. In the process, this episode reminded viewers of how thin the line between hero and villain can be. It’s impossible to think of Setrakian in the same way knowing that he once doomed a man to an eternal hell being trapped (limbless, no less) in a tiny box at the bottom of the ocean. It begs the question, is Setrakian any less monstrous than the immortal tyrant he’s spent so many decades hunting?
“Madness” is easily the best episode of Season 3 to date. The two-week time jump seems to have given this series just the jolt it needed. And for once, all the various story threads were satisfying, whether it was Eph and Dutch’s unorthodox research or the glimpse into Setrakian’s dark, tragic past. And with any luck, this episode will set up a gruesome, action-packed follow-up next week.
As the vampire apocalypse spreads, Setrakian continues searching for the key to defeating the Master.