The Strain: The Traitor Review
The Strain, season 4, episode 9, ‘The Traitor,’ was the last stop, on the way to blowing up a series mythology. Unfortunately, that stop was mostly spent trying to convince us that Zach (Max Charles) was redeemable. Hopefully, some of you still had uncracked/ unsmeared screens, by the time this attempt was over; but, yes, the Showrunners attempted it, anyway.
It was also Ephraim’s (Corey Stoll) last chance to dump some luggage, before the final destination; and while there was clearly signs of pragmatic growth, to his approach to the Ech dynamic, the outcome probably cost a viewer or two a wager.
You’d think that a global nuclear event is the kind of thing that promotes personal evolution – demands it, even – but then you hear lines like “I want to trust you,” and you find yourself cradling your head, and slumping into a fetal position.
Not me, though. There’d be no point to this reunion, if Eph wasn’t going to have an exploitable blind-spot, to begin with; so Ech was going to happen – emo whining & all – sooner or later.
There was also little point to reasoning with Desai (Cas Anvar). Valuable intel was gathered, and tied to the Ech thread, while Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) got the provocation she needed to get hands on with him; but no one should’ve expected a last-minute moral epiphany from the man. For all intents & purposes, the title applied to him, as well – and his grip on alternative facts should’ve made it clear where the whole titular theme was going.
Unlike Fallout Boy, however, Desai actually had some points, to his argument. Points most might disagree with; but they come from an entrenched, historically enduring point of view, that may always be with us (’cause history repeats sorta deal).
So it was kind of a shame, when Desai was reduced to a worm even Strigoi can’t stand. With no time left for further debate, the Showrunners sort of put a stamp on that argument – the Master’s (Jonathan Hyde) remarks coming across as the last word on Desai’s World view.
Interaction between Gus (Miguel Gomez) & Roman (K.C. Collins) wasn’t just good for Roman’s profile, it reminded that Gus was a lot more than just street-wise muscle, once. There was even a throwback mention, to when he had a love interest – which was a hopwful touch; but that can often be the kiss-of-death, for climactic set-ups like this episode (whatever you do, Gus, keep off the subject of retirement).
The throwback mention did leave me wondering if any of the show’s other disappeared would at least get a mention, by the end. Anybody remember Palmer’s like-a-son-to-me bodyguard, or Bolivar’s assistant? Walking away from pre-conflict NYC was one thing; but they’d have to have gotten pretty far, to have escaped Illumination. Just one-a-dem things I think about, whenever series loose ends flutter past….
Alright, I’ve stalled enough – let’s get to it. Before anyone starts crediting Eph, for getting over himself & making the necessary call out, one principal detail needs to be pointed out.
If Max Charles didn’t play this part horribly, then he did a damned good job of making Zach play his part horribly. Does anyone think that Eph was too far gone to see what I’m pretty sure they were all seeing? Plot convenience does that sort of thing, yes; but Eph being wary enough to spot Zach’s marker suggests he could’ve at least noticed the bad acting.
I mean, I’d like to think the same was true of everyone else – they just didn’t want to tell Eph that his son was a terrible actor. Genocidal prat, selfish prick, emotionally stunted putz – any number of things – but not a bad actor. Eph had to figure that one, on his own.
Ever, at at least once in your life, just wish a parent would bring some lasting, biblical discipline to some kid that was acting out? What if that kid had killed thousands, and was responsible for the deaths of millions more? If your answer is no, then the episode’s one, true What The Eph moment didn’t hold for you that special something it did for the rest of us. Not judging – those tracking eyes you feel are just making sure you cross by us safely.
Suffice to say that ‘The Traitor’ was big on rationalization. From Desai’s social Darwinism, to Fallout Boy’s mommy issues, it may have been the show’s way of admitting that it was okay to write certain characters off, and just wait for some kind of blanket retribution – free from second guesses or sentimental hesitation.
Hell, I’m sure most viewers checked out of that camp as far back as season 2, and would’ve been happier about the show had Showrunners figured on getting to this point around the same time.
If Eph & Zach was all there was, to this episode, then it would’ve been a complete waste of time. I imagine few people would publicly own up to being fooled by the redemption play; so the title was about as deep as the matter got.
Fortunately there was more to it.
More may have been made of playing into the Master’s hands than necessary, for the intended showdown plan; but you can’t go into a last stand without setting yourself up for one, I guess. That self-awareness should’ve lent itself to an exit strategy – in case the Master remembered to flip the hive-horde switch (which he did) – so they didn’t loose the one egg in their basket; but, again: last stand scenario.
Having too many loose ends in mind kept me from seeing ‘The Traitor’ as anything more than time wasted on characters with no redeeming prospects. It may have been the most expedient way of getting Eph over himself; but a more final resolution would’ve certainly saved the Resistance some last stand headaches – in which case: thanks for nothing, to both Eph & the episode.
If it was all meant to set up some ironic reversal – Eph gets to call out rot of his loins, then pushing the doomsday button – then fine, chalk it all up to dramatic license. On its own merits, however, ‘The Traitor’ was a last breather, instead of the first step, to a final sprint to the finish. I would’ve preferred that first step; but all that matters now is that finish.
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