The following contains spoilers about “The Strain” series finale.
Cryptic endings have become all the rage in TV, as if viewers can’t bear to let these relationships go when the cameras stop rolling. So credit “The Strain” with making a clean break, having built up to its ultimate showdown throughout its fourth and final season.
Although the FX drama based on Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s novels was never a huge hit, the series generally delivered the pulpy attributes of a solid action yarn, while adding layers to its characters through flashbacks, some dating back centuries. At its best, that elevated the material beyond being a mere vampire show.
Serving up satisfying doses of payback and revenge, this season peaked several episodes ago – when Setrakian (David Bradley) ingeniously dispatched his one-time concentration camp tormenter Eichhorst (Richard Sammel), right-hand man to the Master, the ancient being who unleashed a vampire plague upon the world.
The finale couldn’t match that operatic high, but it got the job done, and actually allowed the good guys to enjoy a decisive victory. The episode also saw noble sacrifices in pursuit of that objective, as the vampiric Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) engaged in one last battle against the Master, while Ephraim (Corey Stoll) joined him in a suicide mission, experiencing a fleeting father-and-son moment with Zack (Max Charles) before a bomb detonated, incinerating all concerned. (In this case, the term “explosive ending” wasn’t just hyperbole.)
There was surely plenty to nitpick about the finale, from the Master being so easily baited into such an encounter to the back-and-forth involving Zack, a character who, even on the spectrum of TV’s teenagers, had been too annoying for too long to qualify for redemption, however much the writers tried.
Nevertheless, the fourth season represented a solid bounce back after the third, and there was an old-fashioned quality to the unambiguous triumph of good over evil without a wink or question mark. After a stretch in which many series finales have opted for dangling clouds of doubt and cynicism, such a flourish felt refreshing, and almost quaint.
Despite rough patches, “The Strain” has in many ways been more consistent creatively speaking than its higher-profile genre cousin, “The Walking Dead,” which also deals with an undead peril in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Perhaps that’s because the FX show set up a chess-like battle between the plucky humans and slavering Strigoi, while AMC’s juggernaut has lurched about exploring man’s inhumanity in a lawless world, turning its zombies into a shadowy afterthought.
Written by Hogan and showrunner Carlton Cuse (“Lost”), the finale’s closing narration about love conquering all, delivered by Fet (Kevin Durand), was a little trite. Still, “The Strain” proved rewarding in its finality, allowing characters who had endured the threat, lost loved ones and bravely faced a supernatural foe a hard-earned ray of hope – and sunlight – at the end of the tunnel.
And this time, thankfully, nobody was left in limbo.