Now the first season of The Strain has completed and its second season on the way, we can look make some kind of judgment regarding the show as a whole. More, we might as well compare and contrast it with the trilogy of novels upon which the series is based.
When Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan wrote the three books titled The Strain, The Fall and finally The Night Eternal, they wrote in a literary mode. Small wonder, since their product ended up as books. Originally, the premise was for a t.v. series but the networks rejected it. Now, the bestsellers are a t.v. series and that changes the nature of the story-telling experience. How could it not?
So now instead of reading a trio of long novels at our own personal pace, pausing or retracing our steps as we will, each segment of story comes at us, at 24 frames per second, in fifty minute chunks once a week–for a time. Instead of three volumes the plan (if it follows through and ratings remain high enough) currently is for five seasons. Half a decade. But apart from the medium–the moving image as opposed to the passive page–there’s also the way actors change the roles they play. Also, television audiences probably do need more continuity along with a more episodic format to make this kind of epic in some sense cohesive. Hence various changes in the translation from page to small screen.
Foremost among these derives from a need for some kind of tangible antagonist. The books have the villains of the piece almost entirely hidden in shadows, at least at first, with only one real exception–namely Eldritch Palmer, the elderly multi-millionaire with enough selfishness to commit ten Holocausts if it would buy him one more hour of life. But in the t.v. series he takes much more of the stage, the avatar of all human pettiness the Master of the Strigoi depends upon. More, he is joined by another antagonist, one who in the books didn’t even appear in volume one! Eichorst was a vampire who as a human being ran a Concentration Camp in the second world war. As villain concepts go, vampire nazi makes a magnificent combination! The fact he has a personal history with our Van Helsing surrogate Abraham Setrakian only makes for juicier possibilities. Hogan and del Toro, who act as co-executive producers, clearly saw the possibilities and brought both these characters much more to the forefront. The Master is still there, but far more mysterious for so rarely being seen.
Along the way some vampire lore, naturally enough, evolved. The single biggest one was giving the show’s strigoi the ability to speak. In the books they cannot, lacking the apparatus, but instead project their thoughts. Having them talk frankly feels much easier to grasp.
Likewise certain events changed, some vanishing and other, new ones ended up added to the story. One whole episode included arguably the best setpiece of season one–the siege of the gas station, in which one character (a friend of our heroes) realized himself infected. Jim had betrayed them all (without realizing the consequences) in order to save his sick wife. Admirable? No. Understandable? Hopefully. But knowing he would change and seek out his wife to feed, he begged for death. How that resolved itself demonstrated a lot of character detail as well made for plenty of intrinsic tension/drama/conflict.
Along the way, we’ve seen two new characters become part of the story. One of them, Mr. Fitzwilliam (Roger Cross), wanders in the background of the novels but never takes on the dimensions he does in the series. Palmer’s security chief and in some ways almost nanny, by the end of season one we see him deciding to take a stand against his employer. The final confrontation between them held lots of promise. “What will you do without my protection?” scoffs Palmer. “The question is, what will you do without mine?” is his former devoted employee’s reply.
Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) on the other hand is brand new. She is a hacker extraordinaire, one hired by Palmer to crash the internet in an effort to sow confusion, disrupt communication and generally interfere with society’s ability to defend itself. She thought it part of some vague corporate jockeying for money and power. Now that she knows its real purpose, she has become part of The Team. Joining forces with the other characters like Eph, Setrakian, Vasily and Nora. Among other reasons, I myself am glad to see another female character in the mix. Some have noted the great chemistry between her and the character of Vasily Fet (Kevin Durand), assuming the two will become a romantic item. I hope not, and not simply because Dutch has been established as a lesbian, but because that short-circuits stories to come.
But the greatest changes are likely to start showing up in the second season, because while the first thirteen episodes seem to have followed book one with a reasonable degree of faithfulness, to really tell the rest of the story will require a lot of fleshing out of detail. Along the way, the two new characters must become integrated into the main story. Arguably the most horrific plot turns were barely described in the books, but must be enacted in the series (which presumably will not jump a few years in time). How the secrets of the vampire origins might become revealed–and how different individuals respond to those–remain matters I eagerly await seeing!
How about you? What did you think of the t.v. series?