“You mustn’t fail life.”
Those four words, above all else, are the most important words in Abraham Setrakian’s arsenal. More powerful than any knowledge he brings to bear upon the vampire outbreak plaguing New York City. Deadlier than his silver-forged cane sword, or the silver bullets loaded into his nail gun. It’s Abraham’s burning desire to stay alive — and to make sure that others stay alive — that keeps him in the fight after all these years.
Abraham hopes to pass this wisdom along to a new generation forced to deal with the Strigoi crisis. He compliments rat exterminator (and Jim Kent exterminator) Vasiliy Fet for his “unsentimental and precise” approach to the epidemic, his ability to not be ruled by his emotions. When Fet claims to care about others, Abraham scoffs. “Leave the feeling to others.”
In The Strain, we’re beginning to see a world where in order to survive, and ensure the survival of others, one must detach. Love, quite literally, gets you killed. Unflinching, inflexible loyalty can do you in, as well.
Without Fet stepping in to plug Kent at the food mart in “Creatures of the Night,” he could have turned and assaulted friends Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Martinez. It takes the willingness of a person like Fet to cut down the infected and keep the infection from spreading, no matter who the infected is. Also among the willing is Augustin Elizalde, who capped his own pal Felix when it was clear Felix was no longer Felix.
For their part, Eph and Nora aren’t ready to fail life, either. But they’re not ready to let the state of New York freeze their hearts entirely. After escaping certain doom in the convenience store, Eph’s group drives to his estranged wife Kelly’s home in Queens, and Eph arrives just in time to save his son Zach from Matt, Kelly’s new boyfriend, now one of … them. Eph bashes and burns Matt’s body with almost a little too much glee, but his late friend Jim Kent is never far from his mind.
“When he lifted up his shirt — when I saw his back … that was the worst moment of my life,” Eph confesses to Nora, equally rattled by the loss of their good friend. Eph and Nora are so thrown by recent events, in fact, that they lay down their arms and fall into each other on the floor of Eph’s wife’s home, right in the middle of an apocalyptic event, because rational thinking need not apply in that moment; what they need then and there is a reminder that they’re still feeling, breathing beings with wants and needs, with people to protect, with people to live for. They need to remember that they’re alive.
Eph’s romanticism isn’t likely to set off fireworks for Abraham. Nor is his defiance when it comes to his ex. Kelly is nowhere to be found in her house, and no one has been able to reach her, her own best friend included.
Given the world that’s falling all around him, and everything he’s seen, Eph must know that the odds are not good for his wife. But he refuses to believe she’s dead and/or gone. He refuses to let his young son grow up without a mother. “I will find her,” he tells Zach through gritted teeth. “She’s a survivor.”
Abraham could tell Eph a thing or two about being a survivor. He lived through the Holocaust and faced its innumerable horrors — not the least of which was the blood-sucking Master, who stalked and feasted on Abraham’s fellow prisoners at night. Even then, so many moons before the current events of The Strain, young Abraham was ready and willing to face the Strigoi, even at his own detriment.
Indeed, challenging the Master results in nothing more than broken fingers and a quick trip to a mass grave. If not for the intervention of allied forces, Abraham would be at the bottom of that ditch, and not on the run with his fellow prisoners.
But “calling it quits” is not in the Abraham Setrakian playbook.
“There is no one to help you,” the Master hissed at him during their confrontation in 1944 Poland, and those words seemingly struck a nerve. Perhaps the Master is right. Perhaps there is no one who can help Abraham. But that does not mean Abraham can’t be the guardian angel for others. It does not mean that he can’t save the world now.
There is no acceptable reality where Abraham gives up on his personhood and takes a knee before the Master; that path is for broken cowards like Thomas Eichhorst, who surrendered his humanity in service of his vampire overlord. No, for Abraham, it’s a simple matter of living or dying in service to a different master: Life. He cannot fail. He mustn’t. Life insists.