This What We Do in the Shadows review contains spoilers.
What We Do in the Shadows Episode 7
What We Do in the Shadows, episode 7, “The Trial,” finds the Staten Island trio judged by a tribunal the transgression of dispensing with vampire royalty. The episode is yet another high point in a series which seems to pick up speed with every installment. The proceedings themselves are quite perilous, and the charges rather dire, but the implied menace works well for the humor, disarming the sentencing to a toothless threat. Now that Baron Afanas (Doug Jones) has met his second, final, death, someone has to pay.
Also adding to the suspense is that the accused vampires at the center of the suspected vampicide have no recollection of the murder itself, which is how the episode opens. Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nandor (Kayvan Novak) took the Baron out for a night on the town in “Baron’s Night Out” last week, and the last thing they did before hurrying home to be beat the sunrise was partake of drugged blood at a neighborhood rave. The vampires’ shared amnesia is a perfect set up for noir horror, as there have been some classic mysteries which begin with missing time. Martha Vickers’s Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep was in a drugged stupor during a crucial homicide, George Taylor’s World War II vet comes home from the war with no memory in Somewhere in the Night, even Detective Pikachu wakes up in the middle of nowhere with a heavy case of amnesia and no clues to his past but whatever is written in his hat in the live action Pokemon movie. To add to the mock suspense is the fact that the one person who knows exactly what happened is never taken seriously.
The Baron’s burial scene is fraught with the wonders of horror foreshadowing. Long before any threat is even realized, it is perceived. In this case, it happens when the Baron is given his last drink at the graveside before he is unceremoniously halved and buried in an attempt to cover up any evidence. We know the evidence will not be buried when a flock of ravens declare the secret shall be contained nevermore. The raven shitting sequence is a direct nod to Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety. The scene in that film is itself a classic homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
The Staten Island vampires are summoned before the Vampiric Council at the Temple Of Blood Devourers. Kristen Schaal, who plays the floating woman who issues the summons must come back to this series. Her deliveries are spectacular. Nandor tells her she could have just called, and she sweetly says the council sent ravens. But when she explains they sent 500 of them her voice echoes throughout the tri-state area with her impatience. The way she says it, you can picture the council sending them out, one by one, each time expecting an answer, feeling ignored, and worse yet, disrespected. Her entrances, exits and false leads also increase as the episode moves forward. “Watch your step,” she tells the accused as she brings them to the council. “I don’t have to. I glide.”
The vampiric council is a very ancient, powerful organization of international sanguine talent. It is rightfully feared by the Staten Island bloodsuckers. Laszlo already stood before the council after pulling a Claudia on a bored whim. Like the young vampire in the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles, he turned a child into a vampire. It’s kind of cruel to inflict eternity on what looks like a six-year old. So Laszlo left it in the Bronx. He uses the word “it,” because it is such an abomination vampires mete out final judgment for creating one. The vampires put on their most serious faces for the council only to find that they prostrated themselves to Basilica the Defiler and Garrett, two vampire prisoners, one of whom is imprisoned for turning a six year old mortal into a vampire and ditching it in the Bronx, poor kid.
The “spectacle of judgment” sequence is inspired. Not so much because of the expert dancing, it doesn’t have any in spite of the fact the gliding guide says they’ve been practicing for decades. This gets funnier as we find out who the grace-challenged dancers are, a circle of well-known special guests who have each played vampires in memorable horror films. The council is led by Tilda, played by Tilda Swinton, who I believe is playing herself, along with the other celebrity council members. They include Danny Trejo, Paul Reuben, Evan Rachel Wood, and watching them hiss is worth the episode in itself. Lost boy Kiefer wanted to do show up to mete out judgment, but couldn’t come. Tom and Brad weren’t interested. Wesley Snipes, who plays Wesley, a half-human, half-vampire vampire killer, shows up via Skype.
This time the familiars get a boiler room. But they also get carrot sticks. This seems to be an allegorical reference to how they will spend their lives as vampire slaves while waiting for eternity to be made into one. Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) is quite the vampire killer. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, or talk with him, but he’s racking up quite the body count. He does it with the superpower of inadvertence. His first victim, the Baron, was good-naturedly done in by sheer accident, and his second through the knee jerk reaction which comes with abject fear. Like Captain Parmenter on F-Troop, he retreats to, well, not quite to victory, but to a future where he can retreat some more. Nandor the Relentless’s familiar may earn his way to true vampire nature if he keeps this up. He’s no less capable of being a fearsome vampire than his master, who was a great warrior in the past only to be a leader through appeasement now.
It turns out Nandor has a little bit more regard for his familiar than we’ve been led to believe. No, the vampire doesn’t care about the mortal’s well-being, but he is quite appreciative of his use as a patsy. Guillermo takes either credit or blame for his past misdeeds, and is about to become a midnight snack for the visiting vampire contingent, when Nandor offers up his own confession. This of course wouldn’t stop the other vampires from opening on the familiar’s jugular, so why does Nandor put his life in peril when a perfectly suitable excuse becomes available? Because he either cares for his pet or he is jealous Guillermo actually gets credit for something actionable. It appears totally out of character for the vampire, but Nandor is a mass of contradictions.
Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) turns out to be the cruelest of all the vampires, and I love him so much more for it. First he sits on the jury judging his vampire roommates, then he feeds off them when they are helplessly trapped by the daylight hours, and finally he rattles the cage they’re in while he saves them like a trio of rescue pets. All the while he is laughing and truly enjoying himself. It is absolutely infectious but it breaks one of the cardinal rules of the psychic vampire: it invigorates the scene and the episode as a whole.
What We Do in the Shadows‘ “The Trial” may end in a mockery of justice, as no one liked the victim to begin with, but the verdict for the episode is final and damning. It is the best episode since last week and probably will remain so until next week.
What We Do in the Shadows‘ “The Trial” was written by Jemaine Clement, and directed by Taika Waititi.
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.