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In the first season of FX’s The Strain, most of the narrative was spent following the citizens of New York as they stood by in denial about the vampirism that was slowly but surely overtaking the city. As such, it was up to Eph (Corey Stoll), hunter Setrakian (David Bradley) and their ragtag group of hunters to eliminate the threat and warm the world.
When the second season returns Sunday with “BK, N.Y.,” the general public is now fully aware of the vampire threat, with containment and elimination taking over as the predominant themes. As such, the series opens with a special prologue directed by co-creator Guillermo del Toro that traces the Strigoi back through history, before skipping back to real time where the Scooby gang is back to hunting and killing.
To get the scoop on crafting the prologue, whether the group was able to harm the Master in the cliffhanger season finale and to preview this year’s body count, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Carlton Cuse.
What’s the allure of starting season two with this prologue?
We held that very purposefully from the first season. We thought it would just be cool to save that critical piece of mythology, and it felt like the start of the second season was the perfect place for it. It contextualizes everything that’s going to happen this year — and it actually has more relevance than you will be aware of in the first episode. We’re telling this epic story and to start with this epic historical prologue, as directed by Guillermo del Toro, was the best way to come out of the gate. And then we transitioned into the rest of the episode, which was very nicely directed by Gregory Hoblit.
Why not have Guillermo direct the whole episode?
It was just kind of impractical. Guillermo is extremely busy and it just wasn’t possible for him to do the entire episode with all the things he’s doing. He’s deep in the middle of making Crimson Peak. It was possible for him to spare a few days to do the prologue, but not the full length of time it would have taken for him to do the full episode.
Last season we saw Eph turning back to drinking; did you take measures to shy away from his House of Cards character, who was also an alcoholic?
The big narrative turn that starts the season is that Eph and Nora (Mia Maestro) come to the decision that they’re going to take all of their epidemiological knowledge they have as scientists with the CDC and turn it on its head. And so they use it to try and figure out a way to hunt these vampires and kill them. As for the drinking, the spin we put on that is that the character is more gregarious and animated, and sometimes even a little more manic, as a result of his drinking. It’s a different affect than the Peter Russo character in House of Cards.
On the flipside of that, will the natural hunters, Setrakian and Fet (Kevin Durand), spend more time together this year?
We’re going for them to be bonding, that’s for sure. They both place value on the powers of extermination. They end up working together this season to find this mythical book that may or may not exist, but that they hope will kill the master and his vampires. So their quest this season is really about is this book. Their relationship has such terrific character and dynamic to it that all of us in the writers room wanted to write more stuff for them this year.
If Nora and Eph are teaming, and Setrakian and Fet have their thing, where does that leave Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas)?
Dutch finds herself in a bit of a romantic quandary. She is a very important character this season and Ruta did a fantastic job. She has a great arc and some tough choices to make as part of it. My favorite episode of the year pretty much centered around a story involving her. She’s a big part of the season.
Why switch in Max Charles for Ben Hyland as Zach this season?
There was a range of things we wanted Zach to play this season. Characters sometimes evolve and change, and we felt we needed something different this season. Ben was fantastic and he has a certain kind of quality as an actor. We just needed in change in terms of what we were expecting from Zach as a character.
Are you able to confirm or deny that the vigilante vampire from season one is Quinlan from the books?
I can’t answer that, but I think that’s a great question to be asking and it will get resolved in the first few episodes. Then you’ll have a better understanding of what we’re doing here. The fact that we don’t know if he is or isn’t Quinlan is very intentional.
Did last season’s attack on the Master have any lasting effects?
The Master was definitely injured as a result of his encounter with Setrakian, and that battle has consequences. We’re playing the story forward. It would be wrong to think that just because the master escaped at the end of last season, that nothing was achieved by that whole thing. Something significant from that will play out in the season.
Now that Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) has a healed body, what’s in store for him?
There’s a great story arc for him this season. All I can say is that Mr. Fitzwilliam (Roger Cross) quit last season and that’s a void in his life that has to get filled. The person who fills that ends up having a significant impact on Palmer and his life. One of the things I love the best about the show is the wonderful competitive and sometimes petty competition between Palmer and Eichorst (Richard Sammel) and there’s plenty more between those characters this season. It’s one of those story areas that all of us who write on the show really love and really wanted to see more of.
Speaking of Mr. Fitzwilliam, will Roger Cross be back?
Roger Cross will be back this season, but that’s all I want to say.
What does this year’s body count look like?
We play out how the city of New York is falling into decline and what happens as a result of this vampire apocalypse. We also ask, will people just stand by and let vampires overrun them, or is someone going to fight back? Those are two fundamental questions the show asks … and the body count is appropriate to those questions.
The Strain returns Sunday, July 12 at 10 p.m. on FX. Who do you think will kick the bucket in season two? Sound off in the comments below.
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