The Strain: The Last Stand Review
The Strain, season 4, episode 10, ‘The Last Stand,’ was less of a last stand, more of a last trap; less of an ending, more of a wrap-up; and, ultimately, less of a satisfying total, than a relief in passing. I’d say it didn’t quite add up to a last straw; but for some of us, the straws ran out a ways back. This review’s for you fallen-by-the-wayside viewers, who couldn’t (wouldn’t) make it this far.
One of the very first things The Strain asked of viewers was to suspend some disbelief. Once it became clear that this was a condition without limits, some of us took to asking questions – a way to point out plot holes, and the like, without singling ourselves out for cushion pummeling, trolling, and viewing party un-invites. Well, just for you guys: a few parting questions.
Was it any good?
The last thing I usually say being the likely first question anyone would ask, lemme just say that it wasn’t terrible. That said, I still somehow managed to hope for better. That’s on me. It could’ve been much better – not because the climax fell short, but because that climax came with filler; not just that the episode crammed in more filler, but it was relatively mundane filler.
In previous seasons, the Showrunners would get all the details set up, squared off, and out of the way, before ending with a bang. This time around, when a bang counted the most, we got more set up within the episode. We got a rousing climax, sure; but (bad pun warning) when the steaks are this prime, you get a little miffed at being deliberately filled up on bread.
Our featured appetizers: Ephraim (Corey Stoll) v Zach (Max Charles) v Master (Jonathan Hyde/ Robin Atkin Downes), aka who’s your daddy; Fet (Kevin Durand) & Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas), aka Fetch! Fetch, stupid (“ahh, no wonder you’re extinct”); Gus (Miguel Gomez) & Roman (K.C. Collins), aka “Operation Get Behind the Darkies;” and our best-selling Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones), aka the GOAT gets you in the throat!
There was even some sauce, to go with that bread, but spreading out the action just seemed to expose more episode (and series) underbelly to poke at.
What’s the point of a noble suicide, if the people you’re buying time for just stand & watch?
The last stand was already in progress, when the episode started; so kinda awkward, there. Gus & Roman bonding, last episode, pretty much telegraphed Red Shirt outfitting; so Gus volunteering himself – and every newbie left – was about as close to as advertised as the episode got. It was a fine start; but then one of those typical things happened, where someone does something to buy time, only to have most of that time used watching the deed. Heroics that don’t really help can be like walking & chewing gum at the same time, for some writers – it’s a skill that keeps you both occupied, and on track to where you need to go – so that real last stand feel remained in effect.
That would’ve been fine, too; but when it started to be clear, that it had already been decided who would be walking out of this, much of the suspense went out the window. Remember when full mobilization meant the Master could stop a moving train? Yeah, well certain characters were plot armored up, already; so Strigoi hordes weren’t up for that sort of thing, anymore.
How do you brace for the likelihood of everybody dying, but not allow for a sacrificial solo suicide play?
With action logic already a non-starter, the episode gave equal time to the show’s emotional investments. Besides the obvious, this boiled down to Fet & Dutch. Despite having made a run for it, several times, Dutch has had her fair share of fatalistic bravery moments. Fet – we all know Fet’s been the rock of the series, and willing to do anything for cause & comrade… and his women. I was prepared to call Dutch out, for drawing a line where Fet’s final solution was concerned; but then it occurred to me: Dutch would rather die with him, than live without him.
How tragically, beautifully, dysfunctionally… typical of the character.
I suppose Dutch was being as true to character as Fet was; which is why that tension wasn’t just an emo patch, and why the fate of Fetch – while not exactly what everyone would’ve hoped for – still made sense (anyone else notice a common interest moment, involving a female jogger, between Fet & Dutch – or was that just my dirty mind? “I’ll be in my bunk”).
Still, it was probably one of those things that should’ve been settled before hand, and not taking up valuable final showdown space. Some millennia’s worth of Master mayhem still needed to be addressed.
Did the Master seriously want these people dead, at a safe distance, or just annoyed?
Besides being an insult to Quinlan, the handful of Strigoi regulars left to deal with him didn’t even amount to target practice (I was actually kind of hoping Q would bend a single bullet, to take them all down with one shot). For a city being rolled over by its entire Strigoi population (but as background noise – we never see it), having a couple dozen show up, at a time, seemed like a stingy approach to his resistors-in-the-open problem (and where were the Spider-Kids, Mongrels, and Honor Guards, anyway?). I mean, sure, maybe he did just want to rile Quinlan – get in his head, mess with his game – but he had more at his disposal than what he brought to the kill-box.
So no one noticed Zach falling into the trap, or just didn’t think that would be the kind of thing to get a knee-jerk reaction from Eph?
Okay, so once again, Ech had to happen – a sad reality, once you realize that Oedipus Complex had been built into the show’s mythology. That said, the long Fetch goodbye must’ve seemed that much longer, to anyone who understood how things would end. Once Zach got in the mix, however, even Fetch should’ve seen it coming.
Remember when Strigoi had guns? The Master didn’t. Remember when only silver weapons had any real affect on Strigoi? The Showrunners didn’t.
The only thing worse than a story that sputters/ stumbles, for its final act, is a story that conveniently chucks long-odds set-up, just to allow the protagonist(s) better odds than the set-up would otherwise allow. One of my biggest complaints, this season, has been over the seeming post-victory downgrade of the Master & his Strigoi.
The Master was always several steps ahead – not just in the first three season, I’m talking all the way back. His Strigoi were immune to anything that wasn’t silver, decapitating, or explosive/ incendiary, and were everywhere he needed them to be. He had the hive-mind going for him, adding to the steps ahead thing. He also had eyes (if not a grip) on his Human confederates, and a useful understanding of how to manipulate the inner workings of his opponents. Heck, by the time season three wrapped, he had Strigoi with guns (soon to be a folk ballad by Denis Leary, God willing)!
All these qualities culminated in a win, at the end of season three. What came next just flew in the face of all-of-the-above. I think I’ve itemized these downgrades enough, during the course of this last season – there’re a few more couch questions to pitch.
Can we agree that, somewhere between loving & hating his dad, Fallout Boy really loves punctuating his emo declarations with mushroom cloud emojis?
So there was a hint of irony to the final twist; but, to be honest, I liked my father-dunks-on-son idea better. Why? Besides being petty, I just wanted years of series sentiment sediment purged by thermonuclear fire. Eph owed us a spanking of the Boy Tedious, Fallout Boy deserved to have his personal worst spat back in his face, and neither of them deserved reconciliation. I mentioned being petty about this, right?
Do I have anything nice to say about the finale?
Well, I suppose the best thing I could say about The Strain, overall, is that it kept away from one key element to its source material. Trust me – anyone eye rolling through this series would be left staring into their own skulls, after seeing the original ending (and series mythology behind it) applied to this adaptation.
I won’t get into all those differences here; but let’s just say that, as the original ending had it, every time a Master gets nuked, a Red Worm gets its wings.
Solely out of comparison to the source material, I declare that the more interesting father/ son match wasn’t entirely anti-climactic; the attempt at an ironic twist, for the less interesting father/ son match, wasn’t entirely a cop-out; and the hey-it’s-the-sun-and-it-makes-me-smile footnote better suited the show, than the original ending did the books.
I also liked that one last call-back to Setrakian (David Bradley). That was sweet. I also never really held out for any of the walk-out characters to return – or even be mentioned, in some way – so I was fine with settling for Setrakian.
None of that changed the fact that ‘The Last Stand’ failed to redeem the show’s hard-wired shortcomings, however.
The episode hammered home the Oedipus theme – for anyone who never caught on that it was there – and resolved it in neat fashion; but there were just too many bad memories, regarding Ech, to warrant a deathbed conversion. Fanservice, to be sure (’cause Zach’s dead – we’re all at least thinking it), but not proportionate to what the series had
wasted on invested in these two.
Heck, the finale, itself, wasn’t proportionate to everything that had come before; so (shrugs)….
Quinlan did not get the end he had been going on about, this whole time (it’s Quinlan – people actually paid close attention to the character); but I’m willing to accept this as the execution wildcard, that the rest of the action lacked (the Eph substitution being telegraphed, as it was).
Is it wrong that not having the bridges up & running, after five years, seemed to be one of the few details that seemed right?
Most everyone else did get the end that they wanted. So why not smile along? Because the wrap-up was handled with the same level of shoulder shrug as so much of the series’ other major happenings. Then: crashing the Net being enough for NYC’s decay to be in complete isolation; Federal authorities being stingy with resources, then pulling out, once open conflict began; multiple nukes going off, and all we get is global sunscreen & change-in-management. Now: that’s all passed – let’s get back to the way things were.
Anybody else found that to be the biggest waste of all? If you think about it, the way things were was the reason the events of the series even happened. Vermin are a given, meaning back to business for one original; but why would another help rebuild one of the crutches that was so easily kicked away, making us all go splat? One newbie was never developed beyond an opportunistic survivor; but a guy that escaped from being cooped up in a silo should appreciate the modern metropolis as a death-trap – as proven by this series. Real estate, then?
At least one original was left with a mission to help the masses (and only personal hopes for a happy ending) – not just restore the way things were – but I’m hoping the irony, to some Government interest in the strain, was deliberate. The more things change saying implied as a criticism of the show’s own resolution, rather than just the inception of a sequel backdoor.
(Final question stumped – replaced by shoulder shrug)
…I guess the ultimate question would be whether I’d be willing to sit through this series, knowing something about its end, and the answer is: likely not. I’m still going to recommend it to some people I know, however, because it wasn’t terrible. I just didn’t find it satisfying, as a whole. Of course, I don’t have the same sense of irony as some; so maybe it’s just crotchety critic syndrome – a strain, if you will.
So have at it, and make up your own mind – I’m gonna see what else is on….
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