Perhaps the major thing that has kept The Strain from cohering into a consistently entertaining show this season has been its lack of structure. Each episode dutifully attends to its A story, its B story, its C story, but the show pushes each forward like individual sliders on a control console. They move similarly, and in the same place, but never in unison. In “Creatures of the Night,” that changes. The introduction of some structure—as well as another element that has been sorely lacking—combine to create perhaps the most enjoyable episode of The Strain so far.
The structure that’s imposed on this episode is familiar—a mismatched group of friends, colleagues, and strangers penned into a confined space, trying to figure out how to survive and escape the monsters on every side—is familiar to horror fans; it’s the setting for Stephen King’s The Mist (though, of course, you’ll find it in The Purge, Assault on Precinct 13 and the film it’s an homage to, Rio Bravo, among others). But just because it’s a familiar trope doesn’t mean it’s worn out. Instead, confining so many characters—including some that hadn’t met before—to a small environment nets exciting results.
We pick up with Goodweather, Setrakian, and gang in the subway tunnels below Grand Central Station, seconds after Eichorst’s escape last episode. Faced with what to do next, they realize that night in New York is primed for vampire attacks and that they must find a way to generate artificial sunlight (bonus intertextuality points for the thematic parallel with “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”, an episode of The Simpsons in which Mr. Burns blots out the sun; The Simpsons has been running in a marathon on FX’s brother network, FXX). In this case, that means breaking into a warehouse to steal artificial UV lights. There, they meet Vasiliy Fet, who’s also looting the place (it’s not too often that lighting design gets a chance to joke around, but in this case it does. The dominant colors during the looting are red and green; it’s like Christmas for the heroes, you see, as they stock on up supplies and weapons).
Together with Fet, the group then heads to a gas station convenience store where they’ll spend the rest of the episode. While they wait for Jim Kent’s debit card to process (because communications networks are either down or deeply slow, it’s a long wait), vampires encircle the building. When they realize what’s happening, the gang barricades themselves to await the coming siege.
When the siege does come, the other element that’s been missing from the season arrives with it: action. So much of the season has been devoted to conversation and flashback, to bureaucracy and machinations, to family drama and the occasional killing. But come on: this is a show about vampires taking over New York (and perhaps the world). There ought to be a lot of fighting and killing. In this episode, we finally get it and it’s a lot of fun. Fet caving in vampire skulls with a stray piece of rebar is a good time. Setrakian pumping vamps full of silver nails is a hoot. The pair of them sizing each other up as valuable allies is exactly the kind of uniting of dangerous people that last episode’s paramilitary team promised.
Actions do have their consequences, though, as both Jim and Dutch Velders, the female hacker hired by Eldritch Palmer in episode 4 to bring down city-wide communication, learn. Both of them are trapped in the convenience store during the siege. One of them learns the true cost of their actions, while the other is condemned to live with the consequences.
Beyond the action, this episode adds a really cool twist to the way the vampires work. The Master can see through, and control, each individual vampire, so they function for him like sensors spread throughout the city feeding data back to a central consciousness. The notion that the vampires can act in such concert, and that The Master can be virtually anywhere at any time, promises some interesting scenes and what could be some tremendous visuals. I hope the series capitalizes on those possibilities.
Putting the characters together in the small space of the convenience store ratchets up the tension and brings the entire situation into focus. Adding some mayhem and violence amps up the excitement. Together, they make “Creatures of the Night” a lot of fun. If upcoming episodes can be this much fun, the rest of this season and the series’ second (ordered by FX a couple of weeks ago) will be something to look forward to.