Spoiler Alert! Proceed with caution!
The Strain is over. It's done, and The Master was finally defeated by the Professor's gang of vampire hunters. Some of our heroes died, some lived, New York City was nuked again, the world was saved. And in the end, creator and executive producer Chuck Hogan is thrilled they didn't "screw it up," he told SYFY WIRE in an exclusive interview.
FX's The Strain followed the nightmarish events that followed a powerful vampire called the Master unleashing a vampire virus on New York City. A small group of vampire hunters to battle were left to save the city and the world — and as you already know, they wound up doing the job, with a lot of collateral damage. The series, which ended a little over a week ago, ran four seasons on FX and was based on The Strain novel trilogy by Guillermo de Toro and Chuck Hogan.
Hogan broke down the series with SYFY WIRE telling us all about the good, the not-so-good, and about that decision to nuke New York City ... twice.
What do you want to say to fans?
Chuck Hogan: Just a sincere thanks to all who watched ... We've had such a loyal following of people who've been invested since Episode 1. I was really happy that we were given a chance to end the show the way we wanted to. And hopefully it in no way disappointed those people who have been so loyal to us.
I think the only disappointment I had was the Professor wasn't around at the end. I got mad at you. Why did you kill off the Professor early?
David Bradley ... we had a lot of secret weapons on the show. He was one of the biggest and very best. He did a lot of traveling back and forth, and he didn't want to commit. We only had him for a certain number of episodes. We had to figure out how to use him as best we could given that. That's just sort of an explanation. That gave us an organizing principle. I think a lot of people were very surprised. “I didn't see that coming.” Which is good. It set people up for anything goes. Anything can happen.
You and Guillermo wrote a The Strain trilogy before the series. Did you follow the novels? How was the TV show different?
We didn't follow the novels. We really just wanted the TV show to be its own kind of animal. So we mixed in new characters, some familiar characters, and went off on different tangents. Some people just love to see books that they love transferred in the way that they read them. I think other people like that, they had a great experience reading the book and they want to get back into that world with those characters, but have another fresh energetic experience. That's the way I prefer it. And that's the way that we went about it.
What has surprised you most in developing this series?
I guess what surprised me most was that when Guillermo and I were writing the book I thought we could block the TV show like the book and go chapter by chapter, scene by scene. But all of a sudden we were using up so much story just in the pilot alone that I knew that we would be creating lots of story and creating new characters for the show to get going and continue. And that was great. That was exciting to me.
I feel like in a way the TV show expanded the world of The Strain from the novels a bit. More characters and story, and more time with them. So that surprised me the most. I thought that due to convenience of necessity we would stay with the books. But it was evident from the first month that we were going to go way beyond that.
As you look back at the series now, what are some of your favorite moments?
Favorite moments ... this actually came up a lot at Comic-Con, both from fans and from the cast and the producers, but Episode 8 of the first season, “Creatures of the Night,” was really where I felt everything really came together. It's not that the first episodes were lacking, but that's when Fet really joined our crew ... and all of a sudden things kicked up a notch. That was the episode at the convenience store gas station. I was lucky to write that episode. I was on set producing it. We spent eight very, very cold nights in Toronto doing that.
A lot my best memories have to do with being on the set, just watching our actors do what they do. They really from the start stepped into the characters' skin themselves and really took over in a great way. And that energized the writers, and it really went back and forth that way. It was a really good working situation. All good memories.
Were there any bad memories?
Bad memories, just the cold. We were doing a vampire show, meaning you shoot a lot at night, and we're shooting it in Toronto over the winter. That's a tough one. Our crew was great, but there were a lot of very dark, very cold nights.
It must have been great for you to see these terrific actors bring these characters that you've lived for so long with – through the novels and the series – to life.
Absolutely. It was a thrill. One of the first things we did together, we were in preproduction, and some of the actors wanted to go over the scripts. So I found myself sitting there with Corey Stoll and others. Not everyone was there, so I would have to take another character's line. I'm reading through these scripts with these actors and watching them start to find their way into it. It was really exciting.
What didn't work out so well, story-wise.
It's hard to think back. There are characters who came and went and we'd hoped to get more from them. I'm thinking about Dutch's girlfriend, Nikki, is one. The actor was great. It just one of those things where it didn't have the effect that we'd hoped it would. But really they were few and far between.
Your heroes are so fascinating and flawed. But in the end they're all willing to give their lives. No characters are more different than Eph and Fet, Eph being a once-respected CDC doctor and Fet a rat catcher. And yet they are both heroes who fought side by side and, in the end, have this Armageddon moment where Eph takes Fet's place on the suicide mission to nuke the Master. Tell me about those two characters.
That was something that we wanted to get starting with in the books, the sense if something like this happens to the city, it wouldn't be the people at the top who would save us. It would be the everyday heroes. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. So to have a rat exterminator rise and apply his skills to a new kind of extermination to try and rid the city of this infestation, this idea excited us right from the get go. And then Kevin Durand is fantastic. He completely stepped into the role, made it bigger. He was funny when he needed to be. He was heroic. He just totally embraced the character.
[As for Eph,] we thought of him as a flawed family man and flawed father, but with good intentions, but all of of a sudden he's faced with the ultimate custody battle of all time. And he has to figure it out.
The Master was such a wonderful villain who took over different characters throughout the series. Each actor brought an interesting dynamic to the character, I thought. And yet it was fun to see him ultimately end up in Eldritch Palmer.
I remember very clearly the moment where we were in the room and we were thinking about where the story was going and the Master had jumped bodies a couple of times. And it was suggested by someone that he might go into Eldritch Palmer, and that got us very excited. Because Jonathan, I just knew that he would take that opportunity and run with it.
So that became a fun element of the show that we were careful not to overuse. But I liked that the Master wound up residing in his human partner's body for just about all of season four. It was fun to watch Jonathan do what he does.
You nuked New York twice. Why go there?
That's a good question. I was definitely expecting to nuke it at least once, but I'm not sure if you told me when we started making the show that it would happen twice I probably would have asked why. But it was absolutely the right thing to do. Yeah, we nuked New York twice. Once didn't quite do the job. We had to come back and tidy that up.
It was a really interesting story element. When the first nuke goes off and the sun gets blocked out and everyone knows what that means, it was a great story point.
In the writers' room we thought viewers would think, “They're not going to go there. Zach's not going push the button.” There's no way they'll do that and blow up the show. And that's exactly what we did. Those kind of risky maneuvers are really energizing. But then you have to wait almost a year before that plays out. People and the viewers react, so that's the only hard part is waiting.
Yeah, you guys should have just done all four seasons all at the same time. I'm sure that wouldn't have killed you.
(Laughs) Your right. Next time.
As you go into season four, you've got The Partnership and all this other stuff going on with the Master's sham that the humans and vampires are co-existing. Developing that story to get to that end point where you nuke the Master underground, what was involved in putting together the final episodes?
There was a lot involved. I was not as day-to-day involved in season four as I was in previous seasons for family reasons. I had to spend more time at home. But I was there to get them started and I definitely came back again towards the end where it was actually pretty tricky. It's a privilege and opportunity to be able to end a television series the way you want to, but at the same time you don't want to screw it up. That was a real challenge, especially figuring out the last three to four episodes and how we wanted those dominoes to fall. So it's one of those things where you get the great opportunity. You get to end things the way you want and you have to figure out what you want and how you want to end it, and when and where.
And don't screw it up.
Yeah, that's it (laughs). That's really it. You get what you want... But I feel that we landed the plane safely there.
What has this series meant to you as a writer and a producer?
It's been hard. Literally I never stepped foot in TV writers' room or anything before this. So for me the learning curve was super steep. It was a fantastic experience. It was great to work with Guillermo again, and great to work with Carlton Cuse. You can imagine how much I learned from him. When we wrapped in April, it was sad but it didn't feel like it was over yet. We were at Comic Con and the cast and crew all came together. It really felt like one last time. It's really a great group of people. Corey Stall set the tone for everyone else.
For those who've never seen The Strain, why should they watch the series now?
We tried to make a small graphic novel-like movie every week... It had some humor, it had a lot of scares, it had horror, it had fun stuff, it had crazy stories. It's a fun graphic novel retelling of the fall of a city and how people might cope and deal with it. It's a great visual show too. There isn't any other show that looks like it. Forty-six episodes. You can do that in two days (laughs).