The Strain executive producer Carlton Cuse was joking when he linked the final season of FX’s bloody vampire apocalypse series, premiering this Sunday, to This Is Us during a chat with Yahoo TV, but he was very serious about two things: his happiness at hearing we hate young Zach, and his intentions to give The Strain “a solid, definitive conclusion.”
It’s been a while since last season’s finale. Catch us up.
We left off with a literal bang. A nuclear device was detonated on Liberty Island, and the detonation of this bomb pretty much foiled our characters’ plan to dump The Master in the sea. We saw the blast waves sweep across Manhattan. We saw our main characters kind of hiding out trying to avoid the blast. We saw Eph separated from Zach, who was taken by Eichorst presumably to The Master. So once again the good guys lost and the bad guys got away.
And where do we find our heroes and villains when we return?
It’s a giant reset, really, when the show opens for Season 4. We take a time jump, and now we are basically picking up several months afterwards, and once again our heroes are separated. They are scattered to the four winds. We get to see what’s happened in this intervening time and how the world has changed since Zach pushed the button. We follow these disparate threads to see how our characters are surviving in what turns out to be a nuclear winter. That’s not a spoiler. I’m just going to go ahead and give that away.
Being a child of the ‘80s, I saw a lot of TV shows, movies of the week, and films about nuclear disaster, radiation, and life after the bomb drops. But it is far less common now. Was it fun to create what that world would look like?
I think there are 450-something TV shows out there, I’m pretty sure there are not any others that are set in nuclear winter. I think we are unique in that regard. Well, it’s us and This Is Us.
Oh yeah, is that how Jack died?
Absolutely. I hear Season 2 of This is Us is also going to be set in a nuclear winter. Now that they’ve blown the secret we’re-all-related family twist, they needed something to really juice the show.
But yes, it is interesting to imagine how everything would change once Zach did what he did. I love the Mad Max movies. The Strain is this kind of wonderful graphic novel, popcorn movie ride, and the idea of our characters living in the extreme conditions of a world in which this Liberty Island [incident] led to an exchange of nukes around the world was cool. It elevates the stakes. We have this supposition that humans are supposed to be at the top of the food chain, but what if that’s not the case? I think that’s the thing we realized at the end of Season 3 that’s really apparent at the start of Season 4. When Season 4 opens, we are living in a world where this strain that started with an airplane ride in the very first episode in what appeared to be a minor epidemiological crisis has lead to a place where humans are not on top anymore. Quite the opposite. The Master and his minions, with the help of a few bad humans and nuclear winter, are now calling the shots.
And boy, how unpleasant that life appears to be. It’s cold. Everyone’s hungry and getting scurvy. Humans are basically slaves and blood bags. There seems to be nefarious pilot programs going on and what seem like mutated Strigoi. The show has always had a secondary storyline about how far men will go to grab power and how terrible they treat each other. Even Setrakian, as he sees people rounded up and processed, says he has seen this before. Often sci-fi projects seem to have an ulterior motive of dialoguing about the evil things men are capable of.
In terms of making parallels about the evils that men do in the show, I agree with you 100 percent. I think that’s well stated. The best science fiction metaphorically speaks to the times we live in or have lived in. In the case of our show, it’s a little bit of both. We’ve drawn some strong parallels to World War II across the show, and in fact Setrakian is a holocaust survivor. It’s not even a metaphor. He’s experienced this reality of brutally oppressive times. As writers, we were all drawn to the larger-than-life popcorn elements of the show. But it feels more powerful and more resonant when you can connect it to something that’s actually a part of real-world experience.
Let’s talk about Zach. I feel bad because he’s a kid, and yet I wish him death constantly. I might even hate him more than I hate Carl on The Walking Dead. And that’s a lot.
I’m so happy to hear your reaction. It feels like in movies and TV shows, the kids are always redemptive and ultimately good. We just thought, what if we flipped it? Our goal was really to make Zach one of the evilest child characters in the history of film, so I hope we succeeded.
Is there hope to save him?
That gets explored as the season goes. It’s the ultimate question for the character: Does what he did have deeper resonance? Has he been moved or changed by the event? Is there something redeeming in him, some shred of humanity left?
As with Lost and Bates Motel, you knew when you were ending the show and definitely had time to prepare for an actual finale. Are you satisfied with how you guys wrapped The Strain up? Do you think fans will be as well?
Yes, I am very happy with the end. We got exactly the amount of time we wanted. One of the great things about working at FX is that they are so tailored to helping writers and showrunners fulfill their visions. The original plan when we sold the show was to do three seasons — one for each book. Then it turned out the second book needed to become two seasons. And then we went back to them and said, “We think one more season will be the right amount of time to conclude our story.” Everyone there was fully supportive of that. The Strain is a story with a beginning, middle, and end. You want to get to the conclusion. You can’t keep having confrontations with The Master where our heroes go one way and he goes the other. It needs to lead to a conclusion. I think this was just the right amount of time in order to make that happen in the best possible way. Everything is very definitive this season.
There’s so much pressure to nail a finale.
It’s really fun to write the end of a show because the end of your narrative is when all the exciting things happen. That’s where you get to show the audience the fate of your characters, whether they live or die. We had a lot of fun with that, and I think there are some surprising moves that happen along the way. For me, the end of the show can be the most compelling and interesting time.
And, in terms of being afraid if people will like the end or not, having gone through the lessons of Lost, I know all you can do is write the ending that you would want to see yourself, the thing you feel in your heart and bones is the right way to go, and you hope the audience comes with you.
For The Strain, the bar isn’t quite as high as Lost. Lost was ultimately a mystery, so there were a lot of giant, unanswered questions. We had to make the cautious decision about what we were going to answer or not answer. Ultimately, we chose a character-based ending to that show and chose to leave a lot of the mysteries to stay mysteries.
The Strain isn’t that kind of show. It’s more of a thriller, and there are good guys and bad guys and there’s the ultimate confrontation or set of confrontations and things get resolved. I think it’s pretty finite.
The Strain premieres its fourth and final season July 16 at 10 p.m. on FX.