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How ‘The Strain’ Is Redefining Itself in Its Final Season

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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday’s season four premiere of FX’s The Strain, “The Worm Turns.”]

It’s been nine months or so since The Master let off the major nuclear bomb that essentially allowed the Strigoi to come out and play in the daylight, effectively changing the game in this final season of FX’s The Strain.

In Sunday night’s premiere, viewers began to learn where certain characters have wound up since that time, while others remained conspicuously absent. Fet (Kevin Durand) and Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) had set off on a mid-western road trip in search of a nuke to strike back at Setrakian’s (David Bradley) request, where they were joined by new character Charlotte (Rhona Mitra). Meanwhile, Eph (Corey Stoll) was wallowing and performing illegal tasks in order to get by in this new world order of The Partnership, where Strigoi roamed the streets and humans either abided and donated blood or else faced a swift death.

To learn more about the game plan heading into the rest of this fourth and final season, THR caught up with showrunner Carlton Cuse. Here, he talks about dramatic endings, departures from the source material, and the challenges of depicting a nuclear winter on television.

How are you approaching structure heading into this final season. Does the gang stay split or are you eager to reunite them?

The idea was to take a time jump between seasons and give the audience the enjoyment of playing catch-up a little bit in terms of what stories these guys had experienced during that time jump. It would probably be unsatisfying if they didn’t all cross paths at some point during the season. Definitely it would make a lot of sense if they figured out a way to interact. The exciting thing about doing the last year of a show is that all bets are off —whether characters live or die, what they ultimate fates are — all those kinds of things are very much at stake. We leaned into that. We wanted the show to feel changed up for the final season and to really put the pedal down a little bit more. The actors and everybody felt renewed that the show could redefine itself in the final season.

Given that there are so many storylines to wrap at this point, why add a love interest for Fet?

It felt like there was opportunity to create a new relationship for Fet that would ultimately create a dilemma for the character where he had to make a decision… a Casa Blanca, love or duty decision about what matters most to him. It’s a fair and tough decision in this new world order. Does he choose to help rid the world of the scourge given that it hasn’t been very successful in the past, or does he just try to hide out and survive with her? That storyline creates an opportunity to put the character in a situation where he’s tested and has to make a tough choice.

Setrakian shows up in a dream sequence but not in real life — are his whereabouts supposed to be a bit of a mystery right now?

Yes, it’s fair to say that what’s happened to Setrakian during the time jump is very much a question that the world explores.

In creating The Partnership were there any political influences or real-world events you looked at?

It’s funny, I think all writers are heavily influenced by the world in which they live. Sure, myself and the other writers were kind of influenced by the current political climate, but it’s more sub-textual than overt. We didn’t set out to make some political statement, it was more of a general commentary on how morality and justifications can kind of push people to being okay with very extreme versions of society in order to just get by and get along. It felt in the sort of graphic comic world of The Strain that The Partnership was a reasonable proposition and that a lot of people would make that trade-off. Donate a little blood now and then in order to survive in a world that seems to be stabilized and where they can have a place. The question ultimately is, is that true? Is it possible to co-habitate with these other creatures?

The other thing that was interesting to explore is that we have this foundational notion that we sit on top of the food chain, but in this epidemiological thriller at the top of season four, we’re now in the situation where we’re not at the top of the food chain anymore. This parasitic force that was released into the world has successfully outmaneuvered Homo sapiens. Is that an inevitable scenario and is there a way back from that? We had fun dealing with that narratively.

How much did you consider the source material when wrapping this story?

We parted ways with the book significantly starting with the first season, but this was done with the full blessing and participation of [authors and exec producers] Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro. We all collectively felt that the books exist and tell a wonderful story but the show needed to be its own thing. We didn’t actually think in terms of trying to align ourselves with the book’s ending or matching the mythology. We looked at how to end the story that we spun out. There are new characters, new narrative elements. All of those things were really significantly unique to the television series and we wanted to make sure the ending was right for the story in our medium. If you’ve read the books, you will still very very surprised and hopefully enjoy the ending of the TV show.

There’s something of a happy ending in the book; is that on your docket as well? Are you of the mindset that somebody somewhere has to have something of a happy ending?

The Strain is a pretty dark story, but ultimately it explored the power of humanity and how humans are vein, self-centered and capable of making bad decisions. But at the end of the day, there’s a tremendous amount of humanity and a tremendous amount of spirit. There are all sorts of good things that connect us and lift us up. The ending is a fair exploration of both those things.

If all bets are off the table and death is imminent on a series like this, how do you pace your story?

Things will happen. We don’t resolve these stories in a half-assed way. Everybody gets a pretty dramatic ending and you don’t have to wait until the final episode for that to happen.

Visually, there are a lot of special effects and action-based scenes in the premiere, especially now that the Strigoi are out in the daylight. Do you have to reconsider budget when writing these shifts?

I don’t think anybody who is making film or television doesn’t have budgetary concerns in the world we live in. I would say that FX has been incredibly thoughtful and generous and has provided us with a budget that allows us to put the vision of the show that Guillermo, Chuck and myself wanted to put on the screen. Our producing director, Miles Dale, really ran the show in Toronto and was a genius at taking all sorts of crazy ideas and figuring out how to execute them. He was a huge asset for us in the making of the show.

So the last season won’t be visually wanting.

Absolutely not. You can see from the first episode back that we’re literally depicting our characters existing in nuclear winter. Our ambitions were pretty great. It’s fair to say there may be 450 shows on TV but we’re the only one where our characters are living in nuclear winter. Although I could be wrong — I haven’t watched them all.  

The Strain airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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Twitter: @amber_dowling

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