This What We Do in the Shadows review contains spoilers.
What We Do in the Shadows Episode 10
What We Do in the Shadows, season 1 finale, “Ancestry,” ends on a note of true menace under the most innocent of facades. This makes for a muted, but satisfying sense of comic suspense. Because the vampires at the center of the series live in a slightly skewered reality, their sense of peril is as off-kilter as the Addams family’s take on dangers would be. The Staten Island vampires are afraid of things like churches, nuns and gardening tools. Here, impending doom comes from the most unthreatening source, or at least from what the vampires have witnessed themselves.
What We Do in the Shadows season 1 finale, “Ancestry,” ends on a note of true menace under the most innocent of facades. This makes for a muted, but satisfying sense of comic suspense. Because the vampires at the center of the series live in a slightly skewered reality, their sense of peril is as off-kilter as the Addams family’s take on dangers would be. The Staten Island vampires are afraid of things like churches, nuns and gardening tools. Here, impending doom comes from the most unthreatening source, or at least from what the vampires have witnessed themselves.
It all begins innocently enough, and with yet another gag worthy of the classic spy sitcom Get Smart. Guillermo, who has been getting the house in order for his master, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), is very excited by a package which came in the mail. Nandor, who knows he is on camera being filmed for the documentary series What We Do in the Shadows pretends to be, insists on reading the post in his coffin. It takes quite a bit of time and maneuvering to get the letter into the coffin without lifting the lid, and when it’s finally in, the relentless Nandor complains it’s too dark to read it. His all-powerful vampiric pride takes the place of Maxwell Smart’s insistent officiousness when he insists on using the “Cone of Silence” to discuss all matters of national security. The results are pure ego driven silliness.
The least ego-driven, at least apparently, characters are the non-sanguinary ones. Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) enjoy wonderful short bursts of explosive comic chemistry. Probably the most subtle of the comic pairings, their exchanges turn understatement into major statements. The premise of the episode is Guillermo sent the DNA of everyone in the house to be tested by an ancestry site and when Colin’s comes back as 100 percent white it doesn’t make sense to the house familiar. There are thousands of countries, nationalities, ethnicities which go into Caucasian blood. But no, the energy vampire’s blood comes up all white, plain white. Guillermo’s downplayed reaction is a full-on snort-inducing laugh getter, though.
This reviewer wonders if maybe Colin has no red blood cells and only leukocytes. Laszlo (Matt Berry) congratulates Nandor on his red-bloodedness and strong sperm, but Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) only sees the dangers of the running joke, a tool which drips like hemoglobin on the series. For years, she confirms, witches have been stealing vampire semen to make refrigerator magnets or something. And now, because of a brownnosing, former-Panera-Bread-counter-boy-familiar, they know where to get the mystically imbued vital fluid on tap, or at least a few taps.
During the whole season, What We do in the Shadows has splintered the tried-and-true legends, myths and long-held canon of vampire lore. Every bit of vampire canon, from folklore through Universal pictures, up to Interview With the Vampire and beyond, is represented and skewered. They producers have to have the vampires appear on camera because without the element, there would be no vampire. Without Amazon, Guillermo would never be able to procure wooden garden stakes. Laszlo once sidestepped the question of what happens to his clothes when he turns into a bat. Don’t overthink it. Overthinking is the last thing we have to worry about in What We Do in the Shadows. The very title says they’re going to throw light on the shadows. Nandor consistently beats dead headless horses, he doesn’t even come up with new phrasings, just nagging reminders. He’s relentless.
Vampire powers, like gliding into the air, are shown to have consequences, like scaring children and giving the elderly heart attacks. Driving a motorcycle headlong into a topiary chain will indeed take off someone’s head as easily as a wooden stake through the heart will kill a topiary-loving, gardening vampire, or anyone for that matter. Even the power of extreme suggestion has blowback, whether it’s a homicide record or chipped teeth from eating bricks. The consequences are real and that makes them funny. Human are dragged off to the bushes to be drained of blood. Granny-looking great, great, great, granddaughters are carted away in ambulances. Vampires feel something akin to grief because humans are so frail.
Poor Nadja, possibly the strongest of the vampires, cannot keep her beloved Gregor lingering in any lifetime. She has great power over him considering his strengths. “They say a madman has the strength of twenty men,” we’ve been taught in films like An American Werewolf in London and crazy Jeff, as he is known in this lifetime, is positively inspirational. Ripping off his hand straps after but one telepathic summons from the eastern European seductress, Jeff flees the psychiatric ward after killing an orderly and taking his shoes, keys and car. He leads cops on a high speed pursuit which is so fast, sparks shoot out of the tires and even the sky cams can barely keep up. The sequence is as hysterical as the spellbound lover, and it ends with Laszlo proving himself a far more romantic antihero than we’d suspected, though the clues have always been there. He ruined an orgy over his obession with his wife last week. An orgy. Nadja’s mental control bits are some of the sexiest sequences of the series.
The vampires-in-church sequence is a brilliant piece of macabre comedy, my personal favorite scenario of the premiere season. It’s got everything: blood dripping from the eyes, fire erupting from the nether regions, that Jeebus fellow. The scene is as horrifying as it is humorous, but we don’t notice because we laugh through it. Every character brings their worst. Nandor’s Staten Island bloodline is ruined by the death of a childless offspring. Nadja’s eyeliner is ruined by blood. And the ever-bountiful psychic feast of the funeral setting is ruined by, well whatever’s better on TV for Colin.
Churches are scary to vampires and the comic undertone it brings up makes for wonderful subversive humor. But the biggest progenitor of the vampire legend remains Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which brings us to the almost cliffhanger of the season. Guillermo’s character arc has the most room for growth, mainly because he doesn’t have the historical backstory of the ancient characters he serves. By finding his murderous Dutch heritage and the implications it hints at, What We Do in the Shadows, ensures a future by plundering the past. Guillén has a wonderful almost-solo scene played with an unseen cameraman as he ponders whether a fictional character in a horror novel could be as real as the fictional monsters he lives with. He is truly searching for an answer he doesn’t want to find.
What We Do in the Shadows season 1 kept itself from bleeding out and moves forward with a new infusion as vampires and humans both accept the debt the owe their “Ancestry.” Nandor truly loved 35 of the 37 wives who left him when he made the transition to vampire in the 1200s. That’s about the percentage of the jokes that land well on the series, which perfectly mixes traditional sitcom humor with the modern experimentation. Sometimes the jokes don’t land on purpose, giving them the weight of the flaws of the reality TV genre the series also satirizes. But Guillermo’s last stake toss bodes well for the bad intentions to come in season 2. It’s a good thing Guillermo probably doesn’t have any serious thoughts.
What We Do in the Shadows‘ “Ancestry” was written by Jemaine Clement, Stefani Robinson, Tom Scharpling and Paul Simms, and directed by Taika Waititi.
What We Do in the Shadows aired Wednesday, May 29, on FX.