“What’s in the box?”
The horrible, pained words of Detective David Mills come to mind when reflecting on the latest episode of The Strain. Just as Brad Pitt’s Se7en cop knew his wife’s “pretty head” was inside the package delivered to his remote desert location, so too does the viewer and ailing Eldritch Palmer know what’s contained in the nine-foot-tall box that arrived in New York by way of Regis Air Flight 753 — and what’s inside is even gnarlier than Gwyneth Paltrow’s severed head.
But for all of his head-crushing and word-snarling ways, the monstrous vampire who slumbers in the ancient box of dirt is only one form of evil. The murder and mayhem he’s already wrought in his 24 hours in New York City is even further-reaching than what his lethal tongue and fists can accomplish on their own. By the end of the second hour of The Strain, titled “The Box,” it’s become painfully clear that an unimaginable horror is no longer confined to one single comically-sized coffin; instead, all five boroughs of New York City, if not the world at large, are this evil’s new tomb.
Blood-drinking creatures of the undead aside, “The Box” deals in other forms of sin: Doctor Ephraim Goodweather confronts his history as an emotionally negligent father, husband, and alcoholic; Regis passenger and attorney Joan Luss allows her pride to value her own personal freedom over the safety of everyone around her; Joan’s fellow survivor, the gothic rock god Gabriel Bolivar, gets a little kinky and bites off more than he can chew; and CDC administrator Jim Kent still holds onto the secret that he helped smuggle the ancient coffin out of John F. Kennedy Airport.
The darkest confrontation of all comes in the form of a reunion between Professor Abraham Setrakian and the Stoneheart Group representative Thomas Eichorst, the man who no longer breathes or ages. Eichorst pays Abraham a visit in prison, posing as his lawyer. It’s quickly clear that Eichorst’s connection to Abraham goes far beyond the law, and far into the past. He refers to Abraham only as “Jew,” or by Abraham’s Holocaust number, 8230385. The Javert to Abraham’s Jean Valjean (that’s a Les Miserables reference, for the uninformed), Eichorst, on the eve of an irreversible change in the course of human history, can’t help but gloat at his old enemy.
“The great game is over, Jew,” he snarls. Abraham refuses to back down. “Not while I still breathe,” he tells Eichorst. Eichorst, who up until this point in the series has been entirely devoid of emotion, can’t help but laugh. “Amazing,” he says. “Despite all evidence to the contrary, you cling to the delusion that you will prevail.”
“It’s good for you that you are in here,” Eichorst continues, pushing his finger against the window that separates him from Abraham, the glass on the cusp of cracking into pieces. “It’s the only place you can feel safe. Safer than the streets will be very soon. You might survive a little longer. I want you to watch it unfold, unable to do anything to stop it.”
Eichorst leaves, with other, more pressing matters to attend to. Abraham remains behind bars, trapped in a box of his own, waiting for someone — anyone — to let him out, to get back to work, to thwart the unspeakable threat that’s silently slithering through New York.
After two episodes, The Strain is painting a grim portrait of humanity’s future. But perhaps there’s hope yet; “The Box” opens up an entirely new storyline, led by an exterminator named Vasiliy Fet, played by Lost veteran Kevin Durand. Through Vasiliy’s line of work, we learn that even the prettiest boxes of high society have rats in their woodwork — and that no matter how far they run or how well they hide, the vermin is always squashed.