You know what hope is? Hope is a bastard. Hope is a liar, a cheat, and a steal. Hope comes near you. Kick it’s backside. Got no place in days like these.
– Ben Folds, “Picture Window.”
Toy Story 3 should’ve taught me not to let my expectations rise too far. I fully expected to exit the theater with a new favorite movie. Not surprisingly, it failed to even come close to the first two, both of which reside permanently in my top twenty. Inspired by that as of yet unparalleled feeling of disappointment, I’ve attempted to stop my hopes and expectations from clouding things up to too great of a degree, to enter into each movie, book, etc. with an open mind ready to be swayed in whichever direction it wishes to take me.
Clearly, though, I’m not always up to task, as you can tell from my reaction to The Fall and, now, to The Night Eternal. Between reading The Strain and its sequel, The Fall, I lost all memory of the warning signs I’d highlighted in my review of The Strain, then was shocked to see them reach their next level of progression in The Fall, which is to say they, like the Master, began to spread like the parasites they were. Hindsight tells me it was inevitable. The Strain was no more fit for a trilogy than The Hobbit. Each can only be stretched so far, making filler a necessity, as something has to patch over the resulting cracks in the foundation.
I recognized the story’s limitations from the start. Wondered aloud how there could be two more books worth left in it. And, as much as I wish I could say that it made me cautious of The Fall, it didn’t. Nor did the harshly negative reviews that cropped up in greater numbers for The Fall. I saw only the promise the first book presented, not thinking they’d renege on the unwritten agreement that promise seemed to make with me, the reader, that they would act (and build) upon it.
Beyond The Strain, I doubt there’s a short story’s worth of narrative to be culled from those 600 or so pages. To give you a comparison, it’s season two of The Walking Dead with vampires instead of zombies and more time spent on filler and recapping what’s come before than moving the story along. The characters grow less sympathetic with each passing moment, its plot is driven partially by stupidity on the part of those characters (two trends which continued into season three of The Walking Dead, while we’re on the subject), and compelling plot developments are rare and interspersed between long stretches of tedium.
The Fall doesn’t skimp on the vampires like that season of The Walking Dead skimped on zombies, but that’s a strike against it, not for it. Similarly to how The Walking Dead struggles to let two black people coexist on its show at any one time, The Fall had trouble introducing a new character without killing him or her off pages later. To be fair, we got to know more about these characters in the span of a couple pages than we learned about T-Dog over multiple seasons. It still wasn’t enough to make me care one iota for any of them. Put simply, they were as expendable as the zombies themselves on The Walking Dead, which is why I was so resistant to becoming invested in them.
Moreover, they way in which they were killed befitted their vampire-fodder status. Whereas The Walking Dead at least knows how to mix its zombies and zombie kills up, the violence in The Fall runs together. No matter the age, size, appearance, whatever of the characters and their pursuers, it’s all about the same to me. Yet I took this as all as a necessary evil, biding time before the conclusion I still hoped would be epic, and satisfying the gore hounds vampires and zombies often attract. Again, I so perfectly set myself up for disappointment that you’d think I craved it like zombies crave brains and vampires crave blood.
The Night Eternal plays out more along the lines of [REC]2, at least in so far as it tries to use religion to explain everything, causing many to balk. The thing is, though, [REC]2 was successful in tying in religion, while The Night Eternal, conversely, does it hamfistedly. In [REC]2 it felt a natural progression of the story, as if it’d been part of the plan all along, while in The Night Eternal it felt more along the lines of a retconning of the entire story. Yes, it was gradually built up to from one book to the next, but those sections always felt to me like an afterthought, inserted to cover up the truth, that this wasn’t what they’d had in mind in the earlier stages.
Outside of the plotting, it’s more akin to [REC]3, which I will forever think of as a false sequel. Both bring their respective series crashing down as fast as the satellite that del Toro and Hogan should’ve branded with the name Deus Ex Machina, because that’s precisely what it was. Mainly, this is a fault of the writing in both instances, and especially with The Night Eternal. As if they weren’t unlikable ignoramuses already, the main characters in The Night Eternal are borderline unrecognizable.
Eph turns into an unrepentant, unreliable, alcoholic douche. Zach into a little dickwad who’s brainwashed with alarming ease. Nora into a woman who’ll fall into the arms of any guy who happens to be nice to her. Etc. Then there are the mind-numbingly stupid decisions they each routinely make. Nora refuses to dispatch her mother, either by killing her or leaving her to die, even though she’s holding Nora back and is no longer the person Nora knew or loved, at least most of the time. Similarly, another character, whose name I can’t be bothered to recall or look up, won’t let go of his own mother either. Did I mention she’s also a vampire and that, unlike Nora with her mother, he never even loved her to begin with? Oh, and rather than banding together, these imbeciles are splintered. What caused this divide? Like everything else, their own pettiness and stupidity.
But they still somehow manage to get their hands on a nuke, even with The Master attempting to snatch up and hide all the world’s nukes. In other words, The Master is as ineffective at quelling potential uprisings as your average villain. He frequently inserts himself into the heads of our main characters, and sends forces after them, yet you get the feeling he doesn’t actually want to stop them. He’s no snow leopard; he’s as meek as a housecat. Hiss and posture all he wants, he’ll remain a pretender. A far cry from The Master as seen in the first two books, the one that seemed more or less invincible. It’s not until the very end that he truly makes a proper stand, and it’s over almost as soon as it began.
Probably because Eph and the rest of his rag-tag group might as well have a mystical force-field surrounding them. Or simply the world’s best luck. Time after time, they manage to squeeze out of every situation they find themselves in, no matter how perilous. Where’s the tension in that? Oh, who am I kidding? All hints of tension disappeared after The Strain and never came back. The Fall and The Night Eternal were just 600 or so pages of dilly-dallying around prior to the inevitable victory. “Spoilers!” I can hear you yell. Look, you and I both know that there’s no other way this could end. The least del Toro and Hogan could’ve done, though, is made that victory satisfying and the sacrifices it required seem noble as opposed to avoidable, given the lack of a real threat.
The least I could’ve done, however, is known this was coming from the moment I started The Fall, the title of which now seems peculiarly apt. There was a fall alright, and not just of the human race. From that book on, del Toro and Hogan’s trilogy plummeted from grace, leaving me regretting starting the series to begin with. Was The Strain good enough to make up for this disappointment? I’m not so sure it was. So don’t hesitate to stop after The Strain if you, like me, sense problems may very well lie ahead. Sometimes, a series is just best left unfinished.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.