This What We Do in the Shadows review contains spoilers.
What We Do in the Shadows Episode 5
What We Do in the Shadows reaches its peak of silliness in episode 5. “Animal Control” could almost be a kids’ episode. Besides Nadja’s (Natasia Demetriou) openly hungry sexuality, everything is rendered all-ages upon Laszlo’s (Matt Berry) animistic incarceration. This plot could have been lifted from a Benji movie, and could have made for an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and only a humorous subplot on the newer, darker Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
The plot is Laszlo turns into a bat, gets locked up in a cage at the pound, and Nandor turns into a dog to save him. It’s cute, really, and for a show like What We Do in the Shadows, that makes it dangerous. These vampires are not afraid to cover themselves in glitter, reference Twilight movies or dip into children’s programming for a giggle. They have no fear. Well, they were a little apprehensive about Baron Afanas’ (Doug Jones) appetite for familiars when he first arrived, but hey, familiars, easy mistake and no big loss. What are you going to do? Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) elicits no concern in this episode either. Bitten by a bat that turns out not to be Laszlo, He worries he might have rabies. “Possibly,” Nandor (Kayvan Novak) assures him. “But not now Guillermo,” he concludes as the running gag of casual disregard for the welfare of familiars plays out.
Turning into a bat is probably the most-used special effect, I mean vampire ability, on the show, so it was just a matter of time before the law of averages caught up with it. Bat transformations are overlooked in the history of horror, mainly because werewolf transformations are so much more cinematic. Vampires turn into a bat in a matter of moments. Both were most masterfully rendered in the horror comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Lon Chaney’s transformation takes twice as long as it did in the original film, with more details, and Bela Lugosi gets treated to an animated take off that loses none of its class. Although I don’t know how the bats both in that film and on this series retains their clothing, hats and all. What We Do in the Shadows’ werewolf transformation was largely done offscreen in the episode “Werewolf Feud.”
Laszlo isn’t caught by the long arm of human policing. He’s ignominiously swatted by a broomstick in a suburban bedroom. At least the bats on The Big Chill were taken down with tennis rackets, and they put up a better fight, even called in reinforcements. That scene in the film never properly resolved. Those bats probably won. Not here though, and that’s what makes it funny. Three vampires, one of them the day-walking energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), can’t get past Animal Control. He is even demeaned, with his recognizably British face, even as a bat, the Greenridge Animal Welfare Services personnel notice. They also notice his little bat penis, erect. I’m not sure if Laszlo would be offended by the size reference or just pleased they noticed.
Laszlo has a great time in stir, though. Telepathically talking with the other animals, telling them they’ve been imprisoned without trial, trying to rouse them to insurrection. His animal communication skills are slightly inconsistent, we learned when he was taking on the raccoons for the Staten Island “City Council” episode. But he is a man of his word. Even if that word was a squeak and the promise was made to a creature who barked. Laszlo is an honorable vampire.
“Animal Control” is about more than bats and dogs, though. Nadja loosens the leash of marriage vows to hook up with an old flame. A really old flame, going back centuries, though the object of her obsession is a young man. In the pilot episode Nadja recognized the most current reincarnation of her great past lover Gregor. He has been reincarnated as the most unfortunately named Jeff who has no recognition of his connections to the seductive vampire.
Nadja bring great romance to her relationship with Gregor, who wore so many identities in his many incarnations. As Gregor, she beheaded him during sex. When he was a horse, she rode him naked throughout the countryside. This new version of Gregor is a boring disgrace with a name she can’t pronounce it’s so mundane. She says she crossed oceans of time to be with him, just like Dracula says in Francis Ford Coppola’s horror romance classic Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Jeff takes Nadja to the New Springville Carnival. She is excited because the thinks it will be the kind of freak show she loved attending centuries ago. He disappoints her by telling her people no longer use that term. Her hopes rise as she warns her new lover he mustn’t kill rude young men. But when he admits the thought hadn’t even crossed his mind she moves beyond disappointment to despair. This was a master archer who wielded a bow and arrow like it was part of his body. What happened to him?
We learn Nandor’s skills of mental persuasion are lacking. He can get the animal control people to turn a blind eye to the documentary cameras, but can’t convince them to let him past the security gates because they don’t want to be break rules at work. Colin points out it’s not really hypnotism if they do something they already want to do. Nadja doesn’t have this problem. She is so skilled at hypnosis she gets Jeff to experience a spontaneous past lives regression. The background music is perfect for the scene. Jeff not only remembers his past lives as a knight and as a horse, but he steals a horse from a cop and shoots a disrespectful kid in the head with a bow and rubber-tipped arrow.
We get more than a glimpse into what happens when vampires eat human food when a tongue of popcorn prompts full projectile vomiting in Nadja, much more than a kernel appears to warrant. This episode gives quite a bit of time to the mythological restriction vampires have to be invited in to an establishment before they can enter. That didn’t stop Richard Chase, the Vampire Killer of Sacramento, California, who saw unlocked doors as an invitation in the late 1970s. Funny guy, but not funny enough to be documented on What We Do in the Shadows.
The episode ends with Colin pointing out the one advantage of his condition. The thing with nightwalkers is “a little bit of sun and poof, they go up in flames,” he chuckles. After the running display of vampire clichés feeding the show, this is something to look forward to. What We Do in the Showers isn’t anemic when it comes to the laughs tonight, even if the episode is sweeter than a diabetic’s blood.
“Animal Control” was written by Duncan Sarkies, and directed by Jackie van Beek, who played Deacon’s Familiar Jackie in the original film from 2014.
What We Do in the Shadows airs Wednesdays on FX.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.