‘The Strain’ Season 4: Carlton Cuse Interview on the Final Season

The Strain season 4 poster

FX’s The Strain starring Corey Stoll, Kevin Durand, Ruta Gedmintas, Jonathan Hyde, and Richard Sammel begins its fourth and final season on July 16, 2017 at 10pm ET/PT. Season four picks up nine months after the massive nuclear explosion at the end of season three, with the strigoi now in control and able to walk openly in the daylight. Desperate times call for desperate measures and in the upcoming final season of The Strain, our surviving heroes continue to wage war against the Master and his minions.

In support of The Strain‘s fourth season, writer/executive producer/showrunner Carlton Cuse took part in a conference call to discuss what’s in store (without giving away any spoilers).

When did you know what the ending was going to be? It seems to be going in a different direction from that of the novels.

Carlton Cuse: “The answer to that question is that it evolves across time. You make a television show and the more time you spend in that creative world, the more you learn about the world, the more you think about the world, the more the characters evolve. It’s just one of those things where I think pieces of the ending kind of arose across time. But I would say that during season three, Chuck (Hogan) and Guillermo (del Toro) and myself, we all looked at the amount of narrative that we felt we have left, and it felt like one more 10-episode season was the right amount of time to end the show. In concert with Chuck and the other writers, when we sat down to plot out season four the thing we really focused on at the beginning was really what our ending was going to be. We already had certain ideas about what characters would be doing and where they would be going. At the very beginning of the season four writing process we sort of figured out what our ending was going to be, then we wrote towards that. That was very exciting. It’s wonderful to be in a position to determine the ultimate fate of your characters.”

Is this season basically just all about survival or is revenge the motivation? What’s the overall theme of this final season?

Carlton Cuse: “I think the ultimate overall goal is to try to defeat the Master. Our characters may be down and they may be living in nuclear winter, and they may no longer be at the top of the food chain, but they are still determined to defeat the forces of evil. That’s fundamentally what the story’s about.

At the beginning of the season, we’re starting out more in survival mode. But certainly in the case of Fet, he’s out running around in the Midwest trying to get a nuke, and he’s trying to get a nuke because he believes a nuke is the thing that’s going to be able to bring the Master down. Our characters may be very disadvantaged at the start of the season, but they still have this larger goal of ultimately conquering this horrible, parasitic force.”

What kind of surprises can fans of the show, and fans of the Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s books, be looking out for this season without giving too much away? Is there going to be anything really special, either in regard to Fet’s development or anything else we might not be expecting?

Carlton Cuse: “Well, I mean I think the thing is, most importantly, if you’ve read the books, the show is its own animal and it has its own narrative journey. I don’t think you can watch this final season of the show and think you know what’s going to happen to any of the characters. All bets are off. We allow the television show to be its own creation. Don’t think that if you’ve read the books, don’t think you know what the fate of the characters are. The ultimate thing about the last season of the show is really that you get to find out what the ultimate fate of these new characters is and that’s very exciting. In the case of our show, in a lot of ways, very surprising.”

You’ve had Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro’s involvement throughout the creative process this entire time. Is Guillermo del Toro involved in this final season either as a director or with the look of this season?

Carlton Cuse: “Oh yeah. I mean, Guillermo remains [involved. It’s a] kind of wonderful collaboration and division of duties. As always, Guillermo remains in charge of the creatures and visual effects, and the color timing. Really, the look of the show, particularly this season when our characters are living in nuclear winter, that was all guided by Guillermo. Unfortunately, he was directing this movie The Shape of Water and therefore was not available to do any directing this season, but he has remained very much involved in the visual creation of the show. And, also, he’s very much lent his talents and provided narrative input, particularly as it relates to the ending of the show. That’s something that Chuck and Guillermo and I all discussed in a lot of detail.”

The Strain Corey Stoll Season 4
Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather in ‘The Strain’ season 4 (Photo by Shane Mahood/FX)

Can you describe Zach’s relationship with the Master this season?

Carlton Cuse: “We presume at the end of season three that Zach and the Master have gone off together; it’s kind of a mentor/mentee relationship. Zach is hopefully one of the evilest child characters in the history of television and who better to mentor him than a giant parasitic, vampiric creature?”

Will you be addressing Zach’s remorse – or maybe his lack thereof – over the bombing?

Carlton Cuse: “I think that’s a really good question which you’ll get more on that as the season goes along. Ultimately, I guess that’s the ultimate question for that character is really does what he did have some deeper resonance and effect? Is he moved or has he been changed by that event? And, ultimately, where is that going to lead him? I think the question for Zach really is is that character ultimately redeemable? As bad as he is, is there still some shred of humanity left inside of him? That question gets explored in great detail as the season goes along.”

Is there one character in particular you’ve really enjoyed writing over these four seasons?

Carlton Cuse: “Gosh, that’s a very tough question. That’s a little bit like asking someone to choose the favorite among their children. I really love them all. I would say though that in some ways it’s always more fun to write antagonists than protagonists, because of their lack of morality and their unpredictability. I think Eichorst is really fun because he is loyal and dutiful, but he’s also petty. I think it’s really delightful to see him be this scary force of evil, but also to be highly annoyed when other characters seem to be getting stuff that he doesn’t get and things like that. I really love all the characters, but that would be the best I can do for you.”

You brought a couple of series to conclusion now – Bates Motel and now The Strain. Could you talk a little bit about the process of bringing a series to a conclusion and the feeling of bringing a series to a conclusion?

Carlton Cuse: “Oh yeah and don’t forget Lost. When we did Lost, Lost was the first time in the history of television that someone was able to negotiate an ending to a network show. That was just unheard of. Network shows would just go until they ran out of gas. But to negotiate a conclusion while the show was still very successful was something that hadn’t been done before.

Obviously, it’s a challenge to know how to end a show well. But, I think you ultimately have to rely on your gut and your heart, and really think about what is it that the audience is expecting. What are really the unresolved issues in any given show? In the case of Bates Motel, Kerry Ehrin and I always saw that as this wonderful, romantic tragedy, and the sort of Romeo and Juliet metaphor of how can two characters be together. Ultimately, only in death can they find their place with each other. We thought about that very early on and worked towards it.

In the case of The Strain, it’s this larger than life graphic novel, epidemiological thriller, and there’s this very larger than life force of antagonism, this Master and his parasitic minions, and all these wonderful good guy characters that are trying to bring him down. I think the right and proper ending is one that’s sort of an ultimate conflict between those forces and tells us what the fate of the characters will be. That’s what we set out to do this final season. It’s kind of great because there’s no more stalling around. Everything is pretty definitive this season. I shouldn’t say pretty definitive – it’s very definitive this season to see what the fate of these characters ultimately is.”

When did you know that you were going to park the Master in Jonathan Hyde? Was that because Eldritch Palmer was the logical repository or was it because you thought Jonathan would be really scary?

Carlton Cuse: “The honest answer to that question is a combination of both things. No one makes a successful television series in a vacuum, and if Jonathan Hyde wasn’t as outstanding as he is we probably wouldn’t have done it. That said, as we were talking about that earlier over the seasons of the show, it became pretty clear to us that that was a really interesting, logical progression of where the Master would end up.

It’s particularly delightful because of how annoying it would be for Eichorst. Ultimately, Palmer as a character, combining his innate human evilness with this evil, parasitic creature felt like we wouldn’t be able to do much better than that. The answer is it’s really both. But it really required not just the conceptual idea, it required also a conviction that the actor was extraordinary and would be able to really pull it off, which Jonathan absolutely did. He reveled in it. It was great. It was a really fun thing.”

Can you tell us a bit about Charlotte’s backstory?

Carlton Cuse: “She’s a woman who grew up in that part of the world. She’s very confident and self-reliant. She really exists to create a dilemma for Fet, and that dilemma is there’s a scenario where he could just retreat into some little enclave in the woods out there on the great northern plains and live out his life in happiness and contentment with this beautiful woman. But, he’s also compelled by this sense of duty. He’s out there because he’s got a mission, and that mission is to find a nuke and to try to use that nuke to bring the Master to an end. The characters are torn between love and duty and that’s something that felt like a really compelling thing to explore for Fet.”

Are we going to see flashbacks in this final season?

Carlton Cuse: “Absolutely. There is even a flashback in the final episode. Yeah, it’s always been a good way for us to really provide some resonance about these characters, and something that we’ve done since the beginning. We are going to continue to do it in this last season.”