The Strain Season One: A Review
In anticipation of the new season, I have recently been binging on season one of “The Strain”, an apocalyptic drama that premiered last year on FX. Television revolving around the theme of total societal collapse has been very popular of late it seems. Whether it is from zombies as on “The Walking Dead” or its campier and crappier cousin “Z-Nation” or disease in “12 Monkeys” or the spontaneous disappearance of electricity in NBC’s the flash in the pan “Revolution”, it appears television viewers these days are obsessed with the end of everything as we know it.
“The Strain” is very much a hybrid of the zombie and disease branches of the apocalypse genres. Without giving to many spoilers its basic premise is that a disease that transforms people into vampires breaks out in New York City, caused by an ancient vampire known only as The Master. “The Strain” centers around the stories of our heroes, two doctors from the CDC, a Holocaust survivor turned vampire hunter, a rat catcher, and a female Julian Assange hacker character, as they struggle to contain the deadly outbreak before it consumes all of humanity.
I know. It sounds absolutely ridiculous but somehow it all actually works.
But what is behind this general obsession with the end of the world, or more precisely what comes afterwards, that we have seen of late. Yes, “The Strain” has an original story and a compelling set of characters, but why is it that it and its brethren have that we viewers seem to want so much?
I think the key can be summed up in one phrase “The first shall be last and the last shall be first, eh doc?” uttered by Fett, the aforementioned rat catcher. Viewers enjoy shows like “The Strain” because some part of them secretly longs for the very upheaval and end of days that it portrays.
Looking at society today, one can almost sense the palatable sense of malaise that has consumed us. At home, the economy teeters on as it has for almost the last decade. Abroad, civil wars and insurgencies tear countries apart. Turn on the news and one sees an endless parade of stories about disease, disaster and sorrow. More than that, there is a growing feeling of absolute melancholy, a knowledge among us that something is just not right.
Under these circumstances is it any wonder that people long to simply see the entire table overturned? Say what you will about the zombie apocalypse, but there is certain simplicity to it. In such a world there are no bills to pay, no rent due at the end of the month, no retirement to save for, and no job to be fearful of losing. Life becomes a simple exercise of surviving one day at a time.
Not only that, but there is also the promise of opportunity. Again, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”. The great bugbears of the world (whether it is the investment bankers of the left or the all mighty government of the right) have no power in such a world. Society after a collapse of such a magnitude becomes a gigantic tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which the individual can draw whatever future they want. No matter how sad and pathetic one’s life is in modernity, the promise of a new beginning is there in the world that comes after the end of everything. Witness the popularity of the character of Glenn on “The Walking Dead”, who goes from a nerdy pizza delivery boy to a badass zombie killer, respected by all and with an uber hottie for a wife to boot. He is quite literally the representation of what every viewer hopes they would become if the dead did in fact begin rising from the grave. In the case of “The Strain”, Fett, our rat catcher turned vampire killer, goes from being a city functionary to an Alpha Male. The power no longer lies with the snotty rich people who pay him to clean vermin from their condos but the rebar he yields to deadly affect against the vampire hordes.
I know I certainly am guilty of such fantasizing at times. When I look at the great, tottering ruin that the world has become, I sometimes wonder if it is even worth saving. Is it even possible? Is there a scalpel sharp enough, wielded by hands skilled enough, that could cut out the cancer that is modernity or has it metastasized too much for it even to be possible. What is the point our obsession of fighting over the scraps of past glories? Would it not be better to simply wipe the whole slate clean and start again?
And then I catch myself and actually think about the implications of such a world. For one, most of us would be dead. Television shows themed on the end of the world by necessity cover the actions of those who survive, but in any such scenario 90%+ of those around us (if not more) would be dead, either from a zombie bite or a killer plague or just plain old starvation. Those are odds I don’t think anyone would willingly want to play.
Then there of course is the question of what life would be like if one is lucky enough to survive. As much as everyone pictures they would be Glenn or Fett in such a world, the reality would likely be quite different. “Revolution”, which features a world without electricity, has a very poignant scene where a character named Aaron, who before the lights went out was a tech billionaire, muses on how life has proven to be a cruel joke for him. As a boy he was bullied on the schoolyard for being a nerd, only to grow up to be rich and influential due to his computer skills, but then the power disappeared “and the world turned back into one big schoolyard”. Most of us, especially the successful ones in today’s society, have skills that would not translate readily into anything of any use in a post-apocalypse world. I certainly have none. At most I could likely scratch out an existing as a bookkeeper for whoever ran the general store in whatever survivor settlement I found myself in. Brute strength and the raw charisma needed to be an after-an-end-of-the-world warlord I do not possess in any degree of excess.
So while the fact that the popularity of shows like “The Strain” is possibility a symptom of the fact that people may finally be waking up to the sad reality of the modern world they have created for themselves, and might actually be feeling a growing sense of buyers’ remorse, it is important to also keep in mind that such popular entertainment is just that….entertainment. I’ll enjoy season two of “The Strain” when it comes out, but will be thankful that it is just a tv show.