WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
FX’s The Strain concluded its first season last night, and true to form, it was a bit of a snooze-fest. It just doesn’t seem that much happens on the show; there’s no real sense of the chaos into which NYC has been thrown, and Setrakian’s band of strigoi slayers advances, retreats, and regroups again and again with minimal tension or forward motion. The world may be on the brink of apocalypse, but the stakes never seem very high. This is in large part because the characters are so two-dimensional that you can’t really invest in their fates; I find myself thinking about who I would next like to see die (Dutch or Nora, right?), rather than rooting for anyone to win the battle against the Master.
Actually, the only thing I really enjoy about the show is the vampires. I’m not talking about Eichorst (although his back story was the most nuanced part of the whole season), or even Quinlan and his mysterious SWAT-vamps (although I’m interested to learn more about them, the Ancients, and the origins of their “turf war” with the Master’s posse). And I certainly am not referring to the Master, who looks too clownish and fish-mouthed to be frightening. I simply mean I delight in how disgusting The Strain’s vampires are. We’ve been bombarded with so many beautiful, charismatic, sexy vamps over the years, that shuffling, sickly, gross vampires are, oddly enough, positively refreshing.
During their transformation from human beings, these strigoi lose their hair and human features; Eichorst has neck gills but doesn’t have a nose, and they all lose their genitalia—it just falls right off, sometimes directly into the toilet! Rendered sexless and devoid of humanity (with the exception of the intelligent “chosen” vampires, who can speak and pass as humans with the help of prosthetics), these vampires look and behave like rats (a similarity of which exterminator Vasiliy Fet perpetually reminds us).
More specifically, however, they are like some rodent-tick hybrid. They tend to spray a noxious ammonia-laden liquid—because they defecate through their CLOACAS while they feed. They latch onto their prey with a retractable “stinger,” a long proboscis that they vomit out of their mouths and through which they inject their victims with the worm parasite that stars on the series poster (and that squirmed right into poor Kelly’s eye). When these vampires strike—or when they are injured or decapitated—they spew/ooze a viscous white fluid. It’s interesting that for vampires devoid of sexuality, their attack mechanisms are so evocative of sexual organs: the flaps through which the stingers emerge, the phallic stingers themselves, the goo they leave behind. Even the language of the show reflects this parallel; dialogue is not one of The Strain’s strong points, but last night, Eichorst delivered my favorite line of the series when he explained to Eldritch Palmer that the Master had healed him but not granted him immortality: “He gave you the white, yes, but not the worm.” Okay then!
I admit that I enjoy this take on vampires as a counterbalance to the pretty, brooding vampires that have become so popular, but I don’t simply revel in gore and effluvia. I think the vampires of The Strain perfectly demonstrate vampirism as a parasitic disease that violently penetrates and infects human beings and decimates them until they are sub-human; the hordes that have turned are pure body, driven to attack and feed, without pause or consideration, by their mutated biology. These vampires may essentially be a version of Walking Dead zombies, and ugly, unappealing vampires have been done before (e.g., Nosferatu, the shark-like vampires of 30 Days of Night, and the lovelorn Radu of Subspecies, a series of B-horror movies to which a friend recently introduced me). Still, they are entertaining enough to have kept me watching The Strain through a lackluster season and viscerally compelling enough to maintain the shudder factor when scares in The Strain were few and far between.