New characters and renewed characters: Carlton Cuse and Guillermo del Toro on that big episode of The Strain

Spoiler Alert: The following discusses major plot details from last Sunday’s episode of The Strain on FX.

Hopefully you’ve caught up with last Sunday’s episode of The Strain, because it was a biggie. The Master is now a rock star, and the vampire war has a new ninja ally – in the form of another ancient vampire, Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones). Plus things get deadly in D.C. for Eph while Natalie makes a big play with her Feeler army. 

During my visit to the Toronto set of The Strain last April, I discussed the big events of this episode – Quinlan’s entrance and The Master’s body transfer to Bolivar – with executive producers Carlton Cuse and Guillermo del Toro. I also grabbed a quick comment from Richard Sammel, who plays Eichorst, about his character not getting the worm transfer. And, finally, Natalie Brown weighs in on her character Kelly, and what she might do if she finally got her son Zach back.

A lot of book readers made the leap to believing that Stephen McHattie was playing Quinlan, instead of Vaun. Then Vaun died, and we met Quinlan. What was the thought process on the “bait and switch”?

Carlton Cuse: The books are sort of a wonderful guide for the show, but the show has its own life and its own sort of narrative path, and it felt like it would be a cool reversal for the audience to make that exact assumption that McHattie was playing Quinlan. But then we discover he’s actually playing a guy named Vaun. I think, you know, sort of by convention, that character’s not supposed to die right away; that character’s meant to be around. So that was a cool story turn that happens in the third episode of the show.

Guillermo del Toro: And then Quinlan arrives.

CC: And then Quinlan. And then we discover Quinlan is a lot more formidable, and it just felt like a great way to sort of build Quinlan up into … in a way, Quinlan is the guy that trained Vaun. We saw that Vaun is efficient -- Quinlan must be super-efficient. And we kind of got more out of the introduction of Quinlan by delaying his arrival into the narrative …

Quinlan will be a big part of the show going forward; I think it was the right thing to do to kind of delay his entrance and give him a different turn.

As this world gets bigger, are some of these new characters more knowledgeable than Abraham and Eph, people that might be a little better at this vampire business?

GdT: Yes. The trick in the books and the series is that there is a part of the lore that nobody knows, that exists in a book called the Occido Lumen -- the Fallen Light -- and in order to get that part of the knowledge, everybody is after that book. So it’s The Master himself — and they were birthed not knowing where their origin’s site was. And it’s sort of a chess play between them, because the Master wants to get them all. And it’s very … It’s basically a mob story.  It’s like trying to get to the secret stash of each mob boss and rob it, you know? So there’s a huge part of a mystery that comes with that book.

CC: It’s refreshing in a story like this to not have one character that knows everything. There isn’t a Yoda or an Obi-Wan character who possesses sort of ultimate knowledge. And I think that’s a rich and interesting way to tell the story.

So far the ancients have kind of been in the shadows. How is their presence going to be felt going forward?

CC: Their course of action is … they want to stop the Master. So they initially enlist Gus [Miguel Gomez] and Vaun to do that, and then Vaun gets wiped out; and that’s kind of a surprise. And then Quinlan shows up. And Quinlan really is the first guy who kind of approaches the ancients as an equal. He’s not intimidated by them, he’s not afraid of them.

GdT: Or respectful even. He says, “You f----d up.”

CC: Yeah, exactly: “So now I kind of have to clean the case up, and I’m going to take care of it, but I need some human hunters.” And they put him on to Gus. So the ancients are, you know, they’re kind of peripheral; they’re important, they are significant, but really we see mainly this season the initiation of Quinlan as their advocate kind of fighting the fight for them.

Can you talk about Gus’ journey a little bit? Why is he so important in Season 2? 

CC: What’s kind of wonderful is we’ve been following Gus’ story parallel to our main characters. He’s intersected briefly with Setrakian, but not with our other characters. But that will be the same for most of this season. 

I think what was interesting to me about this entire story and one of the things that I loved about Guillermo and Chuck Hogan’s books was that it was this kind of this mosaic of different characters in New York kind of experiencing this apocalyptic event. And it felt like that was something that we needed to retain in turning it into a TV show …

I also love the fact that it’s this wonderfully, kind of richly drawn Latino character. And kind of sprung from Guillermo’s books. And it’s just not a guy that we’ve necessarily seen a lot of in television. He’s really a heroic guy -- he’s a very flawed guy, he’s been in prison. He’s not accomplished much positive in his life, and suddenly here he’s actually given a chance to play a significant difference in the fate of the world. And just watching that journey for the character is really interesting.  

We have a love story for Gus this season with Aanya Gupta, who’s the daughter of this Indian restaurateur. So Gus teams up with Angel [Joaquín Cosio], which is kind of astonishing to him, because Angel is literally his childhood hero from watching these old luchador movies.

GdT: It’s like finding Spider-Man as a janitor. For a Mexican, it is. For me, he’s like, he’s a real super hero.

CC: And he’s got a great love story, and ultimately, you know ends up at the end of the season, very much at the centre of the narrative of the show, and we’ll get to a point where some of our main characters intersect, and I think, in a cool way.

Does The Master see Eph or Abraham as more of a threat?

GdT: I think the guy that lasts the longest is the guy… the rivalry is definitely between Setrakian and The Master. That’s why Quinlan is such an important force. Quinlan actually has an older rivalry — and a personal one — with The Master. He’s basically he has a personal grudge of the highest caliber with The Master. So I think from now on, the balance is Setrakian and Quinlan more than … I mean, he thinks humans he can take, but Setrakian has proven very resilient. 

What makes Bolivar the ideal candidate to host The Master? And is that a narrative device, you’re going to be using in the future of the series -- that The Master might flip more frequently?

CC: Yeah, I think that it seemed like a really fun and cool idea and that we wanted there to be some results of what happened at the end of the first season. So, if The Master wasn’t defeated, at least his body was ultimately destroyed and so it kind of represents a victory for what Eph and Setrakian do at the end of the first season, and it also seems like a cool and formidable power that The Master has. If he can actually change bodies when necessary, that just seemed to us to be a really cool device. I think the show is this fantastic mash up of a lot of genre elements. And I think the goal, my goal always, is kind of keep the show both serious and fun at the same time and I think it’s one of those devices that I think is such a great genre device and really fun for the show and, yeah, it’s entirely likely that he won’t stay in Bolivar’s body for the rest of the series.

When he does body jump, does he take on any characteristics of Bolivar the rock star?

GdT: Actually, yeah, Jack knew that he needed to play both because the driver only has -- the body stays the co-pilot. This season we explain that The Master can give you or take your will. We call it “The Leash.” The way that we describe it, we came up with the idea of The Master Bluetooth-ing with the bodies. The eyes go red and then the guy that he’s controlling goes red and that’s the release or The Leash. We saw it at the end of the first season …

CC: He’s struggling to write a top 40 song, though…

To Richard Sammel, who plays The Master’s second-in-command: Is Eichorst disappointed that he was not chosen as the new host for The Master’s uber-worms?

Richard Sammel: Becoming the Master would mean losing completely your own identity. Eichorst would be gone! There would be no Eichorst anymore. There would be the body of Eichorst, but then there would be only the Master. And all I’m proud of, it’s this part of being me, not just kind of one of the masses, would’ve been gone.

And the other thing is that Eichorst is not a leader. He’s not a king; he’s a prince. He’s not the emperor; he’s the best general of the emperor. He doesn’t follow the Master in order to become the Master as he didn’t follow Hitler in order to become Hitler. He follows them because they have a strong message he can hold onto and this message is a perfect compensation for all he lacks. So he continues to hold onto it. 

And of course, he considers it the absolution, the final absolution to become the Master: the biggest honor because he wasn’t even expecting it. So once he thinks that is to come, he thinks that’s the biggest wow! Then when it doesn’t happen, it’s a big deception nonetheless. But I think he gets over it quite efficiently, yes.

To Natalie Brown: The Feelers are aiding Kelly in getting Zach back; does she want to consider them as part of the same family?

Natalie Brown: No, they’re definitely helping her along. It is the brood that Kelly always wanted that Eph never wanted to give her. Kelly, in the books, always wanted more children but Ephraim was a little bit resistant to that idea and focused on his career. Now she finally has the large family she’s always wanted. But they are really only there to aid her in her quest for Zach. 

What would she do if she got Zach? Is it a nurturing kind of custody or a dinner kind of custody?

NB: It’s to turn him; it’s not to drink him. I think, along the way, anyone she drinks is to nourish. Ultimately she just wants to have him, be with her, become like her. But yeah, we haven’t seen that yet, and what happens if you get to turn your loved one. Then what? Do you go hang out? Do you play? Do we have play dates with other vamp children? I’d love to have Zach to meet the Feelers because I can only imagine the fun they’d have together! 

More from around the web