Three episodes were provided for review purposes.
From day one, The Strain always felt like a bit of an oddly mixed cocktail. A pandemic thriller that attempted to balance ancient monsters with modern medicine, its first season was torn between Midnight Madness craziness and jargon-heavy, scientific rationality, which more often than not left the show feeling bloated, so weighed down by its desire to combine two disparate tones that it didn’t fully succeed in capturing either. The series improved over the course of its freshman run, particularly around the time a strigoi SWAT team showed up circa episode 7 – once sharp-toothed vamps start forming military squadrons, there’s really no salvaging your show’s believability, no matter how many grave voice-overs are employed.
Luckily, showrunner Carlton Cuse and creators Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan are aware of this, and the second season of The Strain arrives as an improvement over the first in how clear-minded the series finally is about what it’s trying to be. The first three episodes are filled with comic-book action, Romanian folk tales, steamy swimming pool sex, horrendously ugly vampire minions, bloodsucking carnage and more decapitation than you can shake a stake at. In other words, The Strain is finally starting to be the kind of show it should have been all along – and now that its growing pains seem to be diminishing, the series is increasingly a great deal of gory fun.
Technically, the second season doesn’t miss a trick. One darkened action sequence in a storage facility is impeccably executed, and the grotesque manner in which the vampires feed is still horrifically transfixing every time it’s shown. In terms of action, The Strain knows exactly how to turn our stomaches while demanding our eyes.
The plot is less of a sure thing. Setrakian (David Bradley), stunned and dismayed by his failure to slay The Master, is searching for an ancient book that may hold the key to finally killing the all-powerful vampire without many leads. Eph and Nora (Mia Maestro) continue to develop a strigoi-killing virus, but they’re still two of the most conflicted and frustratingly distracted CDC scientists to ever grace the small screen.
Elsewhere, the villainous and now rejuvenated Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) is being as vaguely evil as usual, and he’s up to no good with some scheme involving buying up large amounts of real estate. The new season introduces an enigmatic new assistant (Lizzie Brochere) for the villain, though hints at a blossoming romance between the pair seem ickier than a strigoi‘s tongue-lashing.