The Strain Review: “The Third Rail” (Season 1, Episode 11)

the strain the third rail

I guess there’s no reason not to say it straight up – The Strain totally kicked ass this week. After two lackluster installments punctuated by some of the most wooden acting that we’ve yet seen from this show, “The Third Rail” hit the ground running and found all of The Strain‘s best components working in tandem to create a truly gripping and  surprisingly cinematic hour of television. Even Gus had a great storyline – and that extraneous character actually working is cause for celebration indeed.

Like with the other great episodes of The Strain thus far, which include “Occultation,” “For Services Rendered,” and “Creatures of the Night,” “The Third Rail” puts a premium on action and suspense. This series has never been about the deep emotional connections between its characters – it may advertised as a high-concept horror-thriller, but The Strain is mostly just midnight movie-style fun, complete with severed heads, grotesque vampires and plenty of ridiculous dialogue. The series works best when it embraces that essential truth of its construction. And this week, the show doing just that paid off in spades.

As the episode opens, chaos has descended on New York City, with strigoi roaming the streets and looting becoming increasingly widespread. Hidden away beneath the pawn shop, Vasiliy, Eph, Setrakian and the rest of the group are plotting an all-out assault on the Master’s lair, which they have discovered is hidden in the subway systems beneath the city. It’s a ballsy move but also a desperate one – with the outside world falling into disarray, all of them know that they have only a small amount of time to kill the Master before his army is such that he will be untouchable.

The pressure seems to be taking a huge toll on Eph, who is terrified of orphaning Zack by dying in pursuit of the Master but also determined to restore order by killing the strain’s source. He’s extremely on edge and brusque with the other group members, pushing Nora to stay behind and watch Zack then clashing with Vasiliy over their differing backgrounds. The tension between Eph and Vasiliy seems a little bit old hat at this point, but it does make sense that the two men used to being in charge make a habit of stepping on each other’s toes. And so, as the group (minus Zack and Nora’s mother Mariela, who are left behind in the basement) heads underground, the promise of threats, both from the strigoi and the group’s internal friction, hangs heavy.