The episode in one sentence: Everybody's screwed.
With just one episode left to go in the season, The Strain undertakes the unenviable task of showing just how boned all of the characters are, perhaps in time for them to rally, perhaps not. Obviously, since the show is coming back for a second season, the vampires aren't going to go away next week. This isn't going to suddenly become a straightforward medical show (though that would be hilarious). But it seems likely the characters will get some sort of victory next week, to be able to end the season on a "win."
But to get there, we have to have the episode where we realize everybody is pretty much screwed, and that's what "Last Rites" is. It gives us the tragedy of Setrakian's back-story, while simultaneously playing out the horrors of the present. It's not the show at its best, but there's a certain darkly enthralling nature to it.
Here are the four ways the characters get screwed over in this week's episode — and the one way they might have saved themselves.
1) Eichorst lays siege to the pawn shop
It was inevitable that the pawn shop would eventually go away at some point in the series, but it was rather surprising to see the vampires lay waste to it this early in the show's run. It had turned into a surprisingly great fortress for our heroes to plot and plan from, and the moment when Eichorst led a team that broke into it did a solid job of bringing something terrifying into the midst of a space we'd previously considered "safe."
Every story has to do this bit, the part where the safe space is invaded, and the heroes are scattered to the winds. Our heroes haven't scattered just yet, but the pawn shop is no more (and Eichorst spots the heart Setrakian has been feeding all these years, taking the old man's last remnant of his wife). And there's also a human cost to the sequence because ...
2) Nora's mother loses her life
Mia Maestro's work on the show hasn't always been the series' strongest performance, but she's very good in the scene where Nora raises a sword to behead her own mother, after the woman was fed upon by Bolivar. (Remember him? It kind of feels like the show forgets it has as many characters as it does.)
Now, in terms of characters who could lose their lives at this stage of the game, Nora's mom isn't exactly a huge surprise. She was never going to be a vampire hunter extraordinaire. But Maestro's open despair and the darkness of a child having to care for her parent by keeping said parent from the ultimate horrible fate is darker stuff than the show usually goes in for, and it works. The Strain hasn't just upped its horror in recent weeks; it's upped its grimness too.
3) Gus finds vampires at the docks
Gus's story has already been full of heartache. He escaped prison only to return home to find his mother had been infected and then had to kill her himself, which was entirely disheartening.
In this week's episode, Gus attempts to extort a friend of his for money and safety by holding a gun to his head and making him take him to the docks and hand over plenty of ammo and money in the process. Opening one of the storage containers, however, reveals that his friend has been accidentally smuggling vampires, which is disgusting. The gun battle that ensues is one of the show's better action sequences.
At the end of the episode, Gus disappears into the front seat of a mystery car, driven by those weird assassin vampires from a few weeks ago.
4) The grim story of Abraham Setrakian
The back-story of Abraham Setrakian, which we are granted in this week's episode, is maybe the most depressing of the series so far. Not only does it show us why Setrakian became obsessed with hunting the Master, but it gives depth to the old man's obsession with hunting down vampires in general and the Master more specifically.
Setrakian's vampire craze could have been easy to discount, but in this episode it becomes obvious that it was born out of grief for the fact that the vamps transformed his wife and forced him to kill her. This also gives background as to why Eichorst and Setrkian have such a heightened rivalry. Setrakian's story reeks of heartache and loneliness, and this episode certainly ends on a note of complete desolation, as he is forced to leave the last link he has to his wife behind.
5) Is Palmer a vampire now?
Elditch Palmer has been bedridden with a horrible sickness until this episode when the Master finally deigns to travel and visit him in his sick bed. Every scene with the Master is pretty disgusting, but this one is particularly gross because of just how simple it is.
The Master visits Palmer in his sick bed and drips some sort of magical liquid off of his gross fingernail so that Palmer can be cured of his sickness. This , however, leads to all sorts of question. Is Palmer actually cured? Is he a vampire? What does the rain have to do with anything? Why is he left alone afterward? In particular, it's curious that when the Master turned Eichorst, he shared one of his worms with him, but he only dripped liquid into Palmer's mouth here. Something is up, and we suspect Palmer won't be too happy when the season finale rolls around.
6) But maybe help is on the way
If there's a note of "hope" here, it's that Dutch is able to hack into the emergency broadcast system and use it to send a message from Eph to the world: the vampires are here, and they're coming for everybody else, too. So far, The Strain has played close to its vest on just what the rest of the world knows and whether it will be able to do anything to stop the vampire menace. Thanks to Eph's warning, maybe the cavalry will arrive in the next episode.
But c'mon. You've seen this show. Nobody's getting out of this alive.