THE STRAIN 1.01 ‘Night Zero’ Review

The Strain 101

THE STRAIN Season 1 Episode 1

Episode Title: “Night Zero”

Writers: Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Television needs “The Strain.” More importantly, vampires need “The Strain.” Twilight, “True Blood” and Anne Rice novels have romanticized vampirism to the point where we’re no longer afraid of the children of the night. Our monsters can’t be monsters if we’re not afraid of them.

Back in 2009, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan released the first novel in their vampire trilogy, The Strain and both men return to adapt their property for television. The smartest thing that “Night Zero” does is that it keeps most of the initial vampire attack off screen. Del Toro is so adept at building up the suspense that it’s a welcome release when the vampires finally do show up.

Del Toro’s direction of the pilot also lends it a cinematic feel. When a passenger plane is found stopped on a runway with almost the entire crew and passengers dead, “The Strain” is actually a pretty convincing bioterror drama for a few minutes even though we’ve already glimpsed the monster in action.

In theory, the main character is Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), a CDC scientist who is among the first to enter the plane of the dead alongside his colleague and former lover, Dr. Nora Martinez (Mía Maestro). Eph is also the driving force behind the investigation of the apparent outbreak or attack, although he hasn’t jumped to supernatural conclusions yet. And why should he? It’s perfectly natural for Eph to assume that this attack was built upon science instead of superstition.

However, del Toro and Hogan try so hard to make us care about Eph and his strained relationship with his soon-to-be-ex wife, Kelly (Natalie Brown) and their son Zach Goodweather (Ben Hyland) that it just falls flat. Fleshing out the main character is a very necessary step, but it can’t be this forced. The conflict between Eph and Kelly seemed artificial, especially when events conspired to make Eph look bad in her eyes when he had to answer an emergency CDC call about the plane.

“Doctor Who” and “Game of Thrones” veteran David Bradley gets a better debut as Professor Abraham Setrakian, a Holocaust survivor who has a history of fighting the forces behind this vampire outbreak. One of the most genuinely funny scenes in the pilot occurs when Abraham forcibly acquires a gun in his shop and he adds it to the pile of guns that he’s taken in the same way.

Bradley also pulls off one of the more twisted feeding scenes in a while, as Abraham addresses a part of someone whom he was once close to. Abraham is basically the Van Helsing of this show, and I kind of loved his choice of canes.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn’t register quite as strongly. I didn’t care about Augustin “Gus” Elizalde (Miguel Gomez) aka the guy who was hired to smuggle something from the plane or Eph’s colleague, Jim Kent, as played by Sean Astin in a very Sean Astin role. We do briefly meet two of the architects behind this outbreak: creepy billionaire Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) and the not quite human associate, Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel). Palmer and Eichorst certainly look evil enough for their roles, but they need a lot more development.

Regardless, this was still the most exciting pilot I’ve watched in a while. I don’t expect subsequent directors to be able to match everything that del Toro provided here. But if the other directors are even in the ballpark and the scripts flesh out the main characters then this could be a really great horror show. At the very least, I want “The Strain” to be fun to watch. So far, it is.