Episode 6: “Occultation"
by Dan Tomasik
Both sides make their final preparations as the eclipse begins.
Fresh off the pulse-pounding “Runaways”, “Occultation” is the kickoff for the 4th of July festival that is the outbreak. Except instead of a show, we get a firework that sputters out a few sparks and then dies. All the buildup from the previous episode runs into a brick wall of pointless distractions.
To be fair, it starts on a good note. Picking up where last week’s episode left off, Abraham goes after his next target, Eph goes on the run, Blink stocks up on another poor victim, and Nora tries to flee town with her mother. But each and every one of them becomes distracted by completely unhelpful annoyances. Everyone in this episode has their priorities in the wrong place.
Abraham realizes that maybe storming basements filled with the undead is a younger man’s game. Or at least, younger than him. It’s not exactly a surprise that old age is slowing him down; if he was in his early 20’s in 1944, that puts him at least in his 90’s. He needs pills, medication, rest, assistance even. Watching him slowly shuffle his way up the stairs while vampires follow, none putting in any serious effort to bite him, staring at the nail gun that pumps silver nails into their bodies, it’s a saddening display. Equally saddening is Abraham asking his taxi driver to aide him in his crusade. Asking Eph was sudden but logical, he could actually help. A cabi, on the other hand, is just desperation.
Eph runs to warn his family, tell them to flee the city now while they still can. They’re actually letting him talk and listening to what he’s saying.... until the new boyfriend shows up and starts showing off just how insecure he is. Typical, useless “why should we listen to him” and “the government would never lie to us” arguing. Followed by ratting him out to the FBI so new boyfriend can feel like he’s defending the family. Then there’s the FBI, who still have no inclination to believe vampires are running around NYC because one hasn’t tried to kill them yet. These agents who interrogate Eph and slap him across the face when he tries to see what time it is. As if they’re disgusted that he should have the gall to touch them, him, a filthy liar under questioning. Eph is being more reasonable than he has any right to be, given the threat he knows is approaching, but still these guys are close-minded as they come. In a series like this, the only cure for stupidity is death.
Blink has a fun opening scene sans-makeup with the snack he’ll be living on for a short while, but then it’s right back to episode one antics. Talking to the two guys (Gus and Jim) who owe him, hanging their weaknesses over them, and loving every second of it, all while clearly being not-human. Both characters are also right back where they started, running errands for the weirdo. Except the errands seem even less “interesting” than they were the first time. Yes, less interesting than driving a van over a bridge and letting a van through security. Gus has a quick but cool scene in a boxing ring, showing some serious skill and speed, but 5 seconds later he’s helplessly on Blink’s call. Even after being lifted two feet off the ground with one arm by a skinny German gentleman with rub-off skin, he continues acting like nothing is outrageously bizarre. Hell, when he and his buddy take out a turned mortician during the apocalypse, remove diseased worms from a hand, and are arrested by cops; they focus on the cops before anything else. Apparently, getting in a few “cops are never around when you need them” comments is higher on Gus’ priority list than “dear mother of God, there are monsters killing people”. Jim, fresh off a heroic act of redemption, is back in deep debt to Blink, unblinkingly doing whatever task is asked of him.
For Nora, her coming around, believing Eph, taking her mother and running plan gets about as far as her apartment. Then it runs into the brick wall of having to remind her dementia-stricken mother where they are, why they’re running, what not to do, etc, etc. At least with dementia, Nora’s mother has an excuse for constantly needing to be reminded what they should be doing.
Vasiliy has probably the best arc of the episode. He knows what’s coming, he’s trying to spread the word, he’s fighting it even when it means frying his friends and coworkers, and he even manages to warn his estranged family as well. Why can’t more people be like Vasiliy? The world needs more Ukrainian architecture students-turned-rat exterminators.
Then there’s the eclipse that’s been quietly building up since the series began. An eclipse that seems to have no larger purpose than a brief, 15 minutes of slight darkness during the day. The eclipse begins covering the sun and starts uncovering the sun over the course of the episode. It barely even got dark. Vampires are attacking people in the streets, but they were already doing that last episode before the eclipse. What is the point of waiting for the eclipse then, can anyone say? Because in an episode full of disappointments, it’s probably the most disappointing.
The concept for The Strain was showing how a vampire threat could be realistically portrayed. That’s why they use words like “contagion”, “outbreak”, “strain”, “infection”, etc when referring to the people coming back to life and sucking others’ blood. It keeps things grounded in believability, much more so than saying “the vampires are attacking New York”. The main character is a CDC scientist who studies infectious diseases and prevents them from spreading all over the world. The rest of the cast are ordinary people from all walks of life, connected by an outbreak of apocalyptic proportions. So why do they all act just as stupid as every other character in horror movies? Once you’ve seen a human with a 6-foot-long stinger come back from the dead and try to suck your blood, what more convincing do you need to start changing your priorities in life? Once you’ve seen a German gentleman whose eyes blink in two directions that asks you to transport mysterious cargo, how long does it take to say “screw this, you’re a monster”? For all the bizarreness, monstrosities, and “end of days” signals since this series began, no one seems to be taking it seriously enough.
A few struggles, blood all over every vampire, stingers sticking into peoples’ necks, etc. Also, Eph gets slapped for trying to see what time it is. Nothing too violent that hasn’t been seen before.
See vampires. See vampires lunge. See stupid people. See stupid people move towards vampires lunging. See stupid people die.
Vasiliy frying his coworkers. It’s the right thing to do, but the lack of any hesitation is a bit unsettling.
WIBTOVE (Why It’s Better Than Other Vampire Entertainment):
At least the vampires don’t sparkle.
Episode Score: 5.2/10