The Strain 1.13: Season Finale “The Master”

Looking particularly well following the Master’s visit in last week’s installment, Eldritch Palmer pays a visit to Abraham’s pawn shop. He views everything with a proprietary air, of course; he’s the sort of asshole who sees the entire world as his own personal toy. It’s a disgusting little underscore on how Palmer believes himself to be above morality and law.

And this makes it all the more satisfying when we see Eichorst puncture his happy little balloon. He hasn’t been turned—only temporarily healed. The clock is still ticking for Mr. Palmer.

Hope the sound of it drives you mad, you selfish bastard.

While Eph and Vasiliy set off to do some recon on the place where the Master might be nesting, Gus is getting to know the hooded man with the machine gun and SWAT team. It’s clear that whoever this stranger is, he’s not human.

But unlike most of the Master’s ilk, this Mr. Quinlan still has a great deal of intelligence and self control. He cuts away Gus’ bonds and only gets physical when the erstwhile captive tries to attack him first.

You’re here for a reason, Gus.

Gus has been brought there for a purpose. And not to be on that day’s menu.

Now that Palmer’s no longer wasting away on his deathbed, he’s rather miffed about what’s been going on. Eph’s emergency broadcast has driven the Secretary of Health and the CDC to begin setting up a quarantine around all of Manhattan.

Well, that obviously won’t do. “I need to have a serious chat with her. Bring the car around,” Palmer orders faithful manservant Fitzwilliam. But the joke’s on Palmer, because Fitzwilliam’s once ironclad faith in his employer has been too badly shaken. He stood by his side while all of this madness and death unfolded, but this is where he draws his line in the sand: he’s done doing his pseudo father’s dirty work.

“You made a devil’s bargain and you’ve pulled me into it. Your sudden resurrection is an affront to nature. And to God. Part of me thinks I should kill you right now. Restore the natural order of things,” Fitzwilliam says. “But I can’t. …Consider my debt to you paid in full.”

Interesting that Fitzwilliam couches it in such religious terms, given the Master’s placement as the dark god of a new world order: rewarding his faithful with immortality and his enemies with emotional torment, physical pain, and death. And significant, too, in that Palmer has always been treated like a god among men—only to now be reduced to a subservient apostle watching his once trusted disciple turn his back on him.

Eph and Vasiliy arrive at the location indicated on their map and find Gabe Bolivar’s opulent theater-cum-loft. They need to be sure the Master is hiding within, so Vasiliy calls upon his encyclopedic knowledge of New York’s storied past to find the secret tunnel connecting the loft to the building across the street.

Inside are enough vampires to confirm their suspicions—and the shattered remnants of the Master’s coffin. The two make a quick getaway and Vasiliy, using his noggin again, opens a manhole to prevent more vamps from slipping into Bolivar’s theater.

While Dutch is downstairs drinking and throwing things at the TV, Nora is up on the roof smoking her mother’s cigarettes and singing in her mother’s tongue. We’ve seen her upset and grieving before but never this raw—Mia Maestro really makes you feel how shattered Nora is following her mother’s death.

So when Eph tells her he can’t go with them on the attack because he can’t leave Zach behind, she doesn’t budge. Where she grew up, people disappeared all the time. There was nothing to be done to stop that. But here, now, they can at least fight. They don’t have the luxury of turning away and ignoring what’s happening. The best thing he can do to keep Zach safe is to go on the offense; and keep him by his side for as long as possible.

The Secretary of Health and Eph’s former boss from the CDC are discussing their options to quarantine New York when Palmer and Eichorst arrive. Secretary Pearson refuses to be swayed by Palmer’s charming words, sticking to her guns about declaring martial law and containing the plague.

Uh oh. This ain’t gonna end well…

Sure enough, Palmer promptly throws her over the balcony. And the cowardly Everett just as promptly switches gears and promises his new “boss” that there will be no quarantine. Eph’s broadcast will be entirely discredited. Things will “stay the course”.

Meaning the vamps can continue to pour from New York like pus from an infected wound, contaminating the rest of the country unhindered.

Taking Nora’s words to heart, Eph sits down with Zach and Abraham. It’s time for the boy to get a makeshift lesson on sword etiquette. As I’ve said before re: The Walking Dead, I fully support the arming of kids in post-apocalyptic survival scenarios—it just makes sense, as much as our modern sensibilities might rail against it. Kids can die, or defend, just as easily as adults. It sucks that such a thing is necessary but in this sort of world leaving children defenseless is even more dangerous.

Down in the tunnel leading to Bolivar’s loft, Vasiliy’s intuition proved correct: they find a knot of vamps held back by the light shining from the manhole he opened earlier. A couple sticks of dynamite—“common exterminating equipment”, Eph says dryly—and the munchers go “boom boom”.

If only it was always that easy.

Our heroes reach the theater and spread out as the vamps attack. Everyone gets a badass moment—I particularly liked seeing Vasiliy shoot some silver nails into Eichorst’s waxen face and Nora chopping off Bolivar’s tentacle tongue—but the real action is happening upstairs where Abraham, Eph, and Zach come face to face with the Master.

Using his brain, Eph starts breaking windows to let in the light. Abraham gets a few jabs in. And then

What the hell? The Master actually leaps out a window and into direct sunlight. He’s sizzling and steaming like a roast in the oven, but he’s not charring or disintegrating like other vamps. With a screech, he skitters down the building and disappears.

Talk about a morale crusher. Turns out sunlight is an irritant to the vampire more than a lethal weapon. And now he’s escaped again, taking his horde with him.

(It was pretty damn cool, how they filmed the vampire retreat, at least.)

Leaving Eph and Co. to wallow in their disappointment for the time being, we return to Gus and the mysterious Mr. Quinlan. Every attack the former makes, the latter easily rebuffs. Knowing he’s not in immediate danger, Gus is more confused than frightened. Why him?

“You worked for the German,” Mr. Quinlan says, which Gus is quick to counter.

“I did a job for him. And I’ve regretted it ever since. It cost me my mother. It cost me my best friend. It cost me everything.”

“Bet you want revenge,” says Mr. Quinlan.

And when Gus tries to give him the slip, he comes close to slipping in a giant puddle. We all know what it is before the lights click on. But the three vampires in the throne-like chairs are a bit of a surprise.

“You are standing before beings of great dignity, honor, and power,” Mr. Quinlan tells him. “The Ancients.”

As he explains, the Master’s attack on New York is a declaration of war. A truce has been broken and the Ancients now need a human soldier “who can use the power of the sun to massacre the unclean”. Gus, being perceptive as always, notes that this all sounds an awful lot like a vampire gang war, and wants to know why he should do what they want.

Revenge, of course. And the pay will be good—Mr. Quinlan has definitely taken the measure of Gus, offering him the two things that have always motivated him. Looks like the Ancients have themselves their mortal warrior.

As night falls and Eph’s group leaves Bolivar’s, Zach is having trouble breathing. So they make a quick pitstop back at Eph’s old house to pick up the boy’s inhalers. Except it was all a ruse; Zach just wanted to get family photos.

What he gets instead is a rude awakening when the now turned Kelly appears. Eph fires but only manages to wing her. She won’t stop until she gets what she wants, Abraham warns. Meaning Zach, of course. The vampires will follow them to the ends of the earth if necessary.

Eph just pours himself a bourbon, downs it, and dares them to try it.

So we close the season as we opened it: with Abraham’s voice. The vampires have not been checked. They will continue to spread across the world, using humanity’s love and fear against it, taking advantage of all of the ways we’ve connected places and people. The world is a much smaller place than it used to be because we’ve made it that way, and in this modern age the old evil will only be more insidious and quickly dispersed.

The world was a different place a week ago. What sort of world will it be in another week?

As finales go, this one felt rather anticlimactic. After the build-up of the previous twelve episodes not all that much really happened. With all of the bloodshed and death and tragedy leading up to this, I fully expected at least one of our heroes to die—Dutch being the most obvious choice, as she doesn’t exist in the source material—and ending on such a quiet, uncertain note was pretty unsatisfying.

In terms of emotion, drama, and action, “Last Rites” felt much more like a finale than “The Master”.

But then, Guillermo del Toro does like to subvert expectations. The show was guaranteed a second season. The first novel is definitely smaller in scale compared to the sequels. And the stage has been set for some really dramatic changes next season.

The first season may have had some shaky moments, but overall it was an interesting take on the vampire mythos. We’ve had great characters like Gus, Vasiliy, and Abraham, an amazing scene-chewing villain in Eichorst, and some really tense action and horror.

Anticlimactic finale aside, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where season two takes us.


Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”

Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.

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