Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by one of Vox's many experts in subjects other than television to discuss the new vampire series The Strain. These articles are for those who have already seen that week's episode. If you are looking for a more general overview, here is our pre-air review. This week Todd and culture writer Alex Abad-Santos delve into just how much it sucks to become a vampire on this show.
The episode in one sentence: Kelly is a vampire now; are you happy?
"Loved Ones," outside of a mostly superfluous Vasiliy/Dutch subplot that could be basically summarized in one sentence — Fitzwilliam, Eldritch's guard you probably forgot existed, is sort of a good guy! — is another episode that mostly focuses on one story. That story is Kelly's metamorphosis into a vampire, told in flashback, even as Eph searches futilely for her, finding some of her personal effects and staring balefully at them. It wasn't the show's best episode, thanks to all of that staring, but it was sort of interesting for being so different.
So with that in mind, let's look at some of the ways becoming a vampire in the Strain universe is just the worst.
1) The worms, dear God, the worms
The worms are by far the most effective gross-out/horror device on this show. Years from now, long after the show is canceled and the image of Corey Stoll in a hair piece has faded from memory, the show's creative team can rest easy knowing it gave roughly 2 million people per week the shivers by showing all the different ways worms can get into the human body.
Back in June the show came under fire for having a billboard that was too gross. Rising high above Los Angeles was an image of a woman with a parasitic vampire worm burrowing straight into her eyeball and undulating underneath her skin. That billboard was eventually taken down. But the show finally made good on its promise of worms-in-your-eyeballs on Sunday as Kelly gets one whip-tailed worm right into one of her peepers.
It's really hard to say why this idea is as gross as it is. Some of it may be that this is based somewhat in reality. After all, there are worms that really do live underneath people's skin. Another factor may be the whole idea of a parasite living inside of you.
But perhaps the nastiest thing about an infection spread through worms burrowing into people's eyeballs is that taking them out is an equally nasty process. For a second there, it looked as if Kelly might force the worm out the way you would a wily whitehead. But it would have been no use. If she had, our brains would have just blocked out the traumatic experience.
2) You're suddenly becoming another species
The Strain keeps circling back to this idea of people turning into vampires, filling in a little more of the puzzle with every episode. The reason for this is simple: The show's vampires are largely personality-less, so it needs to get us to feel something for them by coasting on our prior feelings about the characters. The idea of your own body turning against you is an old one in horror, and The Strain is leaning on it as much as it can.
Kelly is by far the most prominent character to become a vampire (since Jim was killed before he could turn), and even if she largely fell into the "complaining wife" stereotype before all of this happened, the show still lavished so much time on her transformation presumably because it knew we would have more of a connection to her than, say, Felix.
And it almost sort of worked! The best moment in this regard was when she came upon those two other vampires and started stumbling along after them as they went in for a kill. She was just human enough to know something horribly, horribly wrong was going on, but she was just vampire enough to not be able to stop it. Who hasn't worried they have something dark and terrible inside of them that will someday just rise up and take over?
3) You can't communicate
When humans change into vampires on this show, they gradually lose their ability to talk. Victims can mumble a few hazy sentences here and there after being bit. As time passes, these sentences become splintered words and eventually devolve into creaks and clucks. It further drives home the idea that you're turning into a different species, and it underscores the idea of just how human it is for people to talk to one another. Further, most of the humans who have turned into vampire meals are often the ones that just aren't paying attention to the clucking, creaking vampires they have just let into their house (e.g. Kelly's friend).
There's been a running theme of communication or the lack of it — in this episode alone we see a lot of iPhones, more talk about bringing the internet down, and missed calls and voicemails — throughout the show. And the reason the vampire outbreak is so bad and so many people don't know about it is because the characters' primary source of communication has gone offline. That's also the reason why Dutch and Vasily believe that trying to restore the internet will be the first step to beating these vamps. Bringing back communication is key.
4) You just start killing people you love left and right
By far the hokiest part of The Strain's mythology is the idea that the vampires first target those they loved as humans, because love is both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness (not even David Bradley can make this sound like anything other than bullshit). "Loved Ones," however, makes as much of this as it really can by showing first Matt's attack on Kelly and then her desperate search for her son, presumably so she can vamp him up, a search that culminated in her draining the blood of her best friend and best friend's son.
And look: The final scene where Zack watches the video of his mother on his birthday is all kinds of cheesy and trying far too hard to get us to feel something for a character who wasn't terribly well developed. But there's still something terrible about this notion of suddenly turning against those you love the most. The Strain doesn't have the depth to really give this idea as much weight as it needs, but it's still close enough to get a contact high.
5) You have to start hanging out with The Master
The Master, so far, is kind of a flop as the season's Big Bad. He struts around in his cape and occasionally lets giant worms out of his arm. But he mostly just hangs out behind the scenes and lets others do his grunt work. Eichorst is far more engaging as a villain at this point.
But there's something intriguing in the idea that The Master is 75 steps ahead of everybody else, and that gets some added fuel in the scene where he calls Kelly to his side so she can behold her glorious destiny. (She mostly stands there and wobbles back and forth.) But this obscures the true awful thing here: Once you're a vampire, you apparently have to start hanging out with The Master whenever he wants. And this guy seems like a really self-involved boor! Imagine running into him at a family reunion, where he can't stop talking about his plan to ... well, what is his plan anyway, besides kill all humans?
For The Master to feel like anything other than the boss monster in a video game — the bigger, badder version of the regular monsters that just takes more shots to kill — he's going to have to develop something like a character. Instead, he just prattles on about his own gloriousness to a newly born vampire. C'mon, dude. Let it go.