Monday, July 14, 2014

'The Strain' Recap: Series Premiere 'Night Zero'

Courtesy FX

Fans of the book and graphic novel, "The Strain," rejoice! Your long nightmare is over; the Master has made his move and he is here.

A trans-Atlantic airliner inbound from Berlin is on the final approach to JFK in New York when a huge figure lunges out of the cargo hold, killing all passengers and crew the moment the wheels hit the tarmac. Sufficiently creeped out by the deadly silent plane, the airport personnel call in the CDC. Alas, the head of the CDC's New York Canary Team, epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, is otherwise engaged at the moment, trying to prove to the family counselor and his ex-wife that he too should be granted custody of their son, Zach. Eph's night is about to get worse as when he makes his appeal, his phone will not. stop. ringing. Succumbing to its siren call, he heads out to JFK and meets up with the rest of his team, Dr. Nora Martinez and administrator Jim Kent. Huh, never thought that airports would have the CDC on speed-dial.

Out in Queens, a charming antique/pawnbroker shop is visited by a couple of punks looking to make a fast buck fencing counterfeit stolen merchandise. The old man running the shop, Abraham Setrakian, is more than just a kindly old man. We know this because when one of the punks tries to steal some money, he jacks his arm up, basically daring they guy's partner to draw his gun. The kid displays an ounce of brains and removes the ammo clip. Dismissing the bros, he turns back to his television which is showing the news about the plane. A feeling of great foreboding overtakes him and he descends to the basement which wouldn't look out of place in a Slayer's training room. He's also crazy because he starts talking to a heart in a jar about how it's beginning again. The heart doesn't care as Abraham shares some of his blood with it and an army of worm-like things attack the blood like a school of piranhas. Mmm. Lunch!

Back at the airport, Nora and Eph suit up to investigate the plane with Jim on the outside looking over the passenger manifest. Time for some geometry here folks: Nora and Eph have a 'thing'. Eph wants to still have a 'thing' with Kelly but she's having a 'thing' with her new friend Matt. Take notes; there'll be a quiz later. Finally they get on the plane and it is dead silent. All of the passengers are dead but there are no signs of a struggle. Blacklight, however, shows ammonia everywhere. Okay, all aboard are dead except for that one guy whose hand moved. Eph investigates the cargo hold and everyone clenches up real tight. While Eph is at the back of the plane, Nora makes her way up front through the open cockpit door. Which isn't supposed to be opened. Checking the pilot, he suddenly gasps and opens his eyes. Understandably freaked out, Nora turns to see four more survivors wondering what is happening. Yeah, us too. Get these folks a paramedic! And a Tic Tac.

Next we're introduced to the head of the Stoneheart Group, Eldritch Palmer, who is not only rich, but also harbors some serious resentment against anyone with halfway decent health. I'm sure this will end well.

Back at JFK, it's pretty damn bad. The survivors need to be quarantined; but boss man Everett is against it. It might open them up to lawsuits and such. Clearly, political favor is more important than making sure that whatever killed the majority of the passengers and crew does not escape into the general public. See, this is why non-medical professionals should not be making decisions on how medical professionals actually do their jobs. We meet the survivors, the captain, Joan Luss, rock star Gabriel Bolivar and some other snivelling guy whose name I didn't get though it's probably important. Unloading the cargo hold, a giant, ornately carved box is discovered but it doesn't appear on the shipping manifest. It's a 500 lb box of dirt. Let's stick our hands in it! Oh, the TSA is gonna have a field day with this one.

Some guy whose name I didn't get calls Berlin about the unlisted box of dirt. He starts hearing things so what does a cargo manager do? Goes following the disembodied voice into the back rooms of the hangar of course. His persistence is rewarded when a large clod of dirt rises up and attaches itself to his neck like a demonic lamprey. Sated with blood slurpee, the monster smashes the guy's head to smithereens before flying away. Which came first, the Master or the Dementor? There shall be no second rise for the poor fellow, he was clearly not worthy.

Hey, it's our favorite humiliated thieving street punk, Gus. His street fighting lessons are interrupted by the arrival of Palmer's business partner Eichhorst with a little job for Gus to do. After a lot of threatening and posturing on both sides, he takes the gig but not before receives his instructions: Once you get the van, 1) do not look at the cargo. 2) Do not make any stops. 3) Cross the bridge back into Manhattan before sunrise. Shockingly, Gus doesn't like rules.

Abraham is on the move but he needs to find someone who will listen. He fakes a heart episode to get to the CDC person in charge. This would be Not Jim. But Jim can put in him touch with Eph but not right now because he's giving a press conference that goes smashingly well: 206 dead, we don't know why. Four are alive, we don't know why. For god's sake people, he's a scientist, not a press secretary. The families of the victims are at their breaking points but really, there's nothing more he can do until results start to come in. Finally, some luck - the CME has some preliminary results that all of the victims have an identical incision in their necks and stranger than that, no blood..

Jim introduces Abraham to Eph; the old man delivers a warning, he has seen and faced  this disease before. They must contain it by destroying the bodies and quarantining the living. 'He' is counting on them not doing so. Eph doesn't believe him but thanks for coming. Abraham knows the bodies aren't decomposing but just as it appears that Eph might start listening, Jim finds a sword hidden in Abraham's cane. He's taken away but not before making an impression on Nora who seems to heed his words to find the coffin.

Back in the hangar, Eph and Nora discover a little worm-like thing that seems to be looking for a 'home' where 'home' in this case is a host as it's a parasite. Eph is entranced and immediately decides to keep it as a pet. Not really, but it is evidence. They dig through the dirt and find more worms but what they can't find is the giant box. It's gone. Examining the video footage, a huge blurry shapes swoops in and appears to fly off with it, so, Dementors again. But that bears repeating: something flew off with a 500 lb box filled with dirt.

Gus is at airport to take his delivery; any guesses as to what it is? As he's leaving, Eph shouting orders to Jim to put the airport on lock-down; no vans, trucks, or any vehicles large enough to transport the box are allowed off the airport grounds. And it would have worked splendidly if Jim wasn't compromised too, authorizing Gus and the van to leave. Dammit Jim!

Back at the CME's office, he's autopsying one of the victims. Hearing something crash and break he goes to investigate and sees a scale swinging with the telltale heart. Latex gloves are no match for these parasites and before he knows it, the worms have taken over. That's not the worst part though - behind him the dead rise up and join the worms for a late-night snack. He was a big man but I doubt it was enough to satisfy 15 of them.

Abraham's in jail where we learn he was in a concentration camp, Gus calls his mother on the way back home, Palmer is reveling that everything is going according to plan and in a grieving house, a bereft father is visited by his 'dead' daughter Emma who is cold, so cold. And that is the beauty of the plan: "Love is our grace and our downfall. Love is going to guide them all back. To their homes. To their loved ones."

So, quite a series premiere, eh? What did you think? Tune in next Sunday, July 20 at 10 p.m. ET on FX for "The Box."