This What We Do in the Shadows review contains spoilers.
What We Do in the Shadows Episode 8
What We Do in the Shadows, episode 8, “Citizenship,” continues to expose vampire myths to the sunlight of mocking documentation. Although, tonight they only do this in short bursts, not the fully lethal way the series dispensed with Baron Afanas (Doug Jones) after his night on the town.
“Citizenship” opens with Jenna, played by Beanie Feldstein who costars in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart, moving between worlds. The young Staten Island community college student is becoming untethered from her human limitations only to get stuck in vampiric ones. Feldstein looks like she’s having a ball as she undergoes the indignities of this dual citizenship. This isn’t true of the head vampire in the Staten Island band of bloodsuckers whose national allegiance inspires the title.
At the outset of the episode, Nandor (Kayvan Novak) finds himself a man without a country. While spelling out simple rules for the vampire house, like releasing any humans who aren’t bled to death and blowing out candles, he is pressed on his background as a former head of state. When asked which state, he comes up with a name of a country that sounds made up. Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) surprises us beating Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) in finding the country’s history on the internet. It might seem the energy vampire would want to be more annoying about new gadgetry than a familiar who is eager to please. But Colin apparently found new technology is a surefire way of causing the annoyance he needs to feed. His introduction in the episode is a hellishly awful smelling aftershave lotion he found in the bathroom at work. He wears it only to drive the other vampires to maddening distraction, he does with the relentless head of the house.
Nandor was the leader of the country of Alcalidar, it was located in the south of Iran. Apparently, 200 years after he was driven out in the 1200s, the country was dissolved. Nandor is distraught and has a wonderful scene where he allows us to see him at his most vulnerable. Like Dracula before him, Nandor carries a bag of soil from the homeland he pillaged and subjugated. It is all he has of his origin, and as he lovingly displays it for the camera crew he drops it, subtly pricking the vampire myth. Guillermo points out Nandor could finish out the forms he started when he began to apply for citizenship in 1992.
Nandor’s desire for citizenship in the nineties came when he got caught up in “Dream Team” fever. He identified with the American Olympic basketball team as it rolled over its rivals like the army of an old world war lord. He never finished the forms because he got swept away by the Macarena. His chance of finishing the process now is even less likely. Nandor’s answers to the immigration test are very telling. Asked what a democratic government does for its people, he answers “oppresses them.” He went into the office intending to hypnotize the paper-pushers into quick approval, but finds there is no power strong enough to battle the malaise of immigration stagnation.
Nadja’s (Natasia Demetriou) hypnosis is very effective, both psychologically and humorously. With only a few words she can make anyone her slave, but with even fewer she can tell them to eat bricks. Jenna’s superpower has always been evident. Even before she was turned into a vampire she was barely visible. That is what drew Nadja to her in the first place. Whether Jenna is climbing trees or hissing at passersby, she’s an absolute mess. The newbie’s entire transition is hysterical. She develops skin sensitivity, but also sight sensitivity and it is taking a toll on her art appreciation classes. Her eyes feel pain when she looks at religious works of art.
The casual blasphemy of the modern vampire is ribbed good-naturedly in the series. It started out with Nadja’s suggestion of a nun-free zone to the Staten Island City Council, and has been growing. This culminates when Nandor is trying to recite the oath of allegiance to his new country and fire comes shooting out of his mouth on the word “god.” The soulless immigration official was nonplussed before this display, but he finally gives in to a real reaction. Kayvan Novak lets loose with a scream that’s part pain and part shock. It goes on a millisecond or two longer than expected and gets funnier because of it.
“Citizenship” has some fun with the special effects of vampire existence. In the very opening scene, the fledgling vampire looks at herself in the mirror. It still reflects her image, but not her actions. It doesn’t follow her as Jenna turns her head to look at the camera, and the reflection sometimes blips out. It is exactly what I would do if I were a mirror reflecting someone whose reflective status is in flux. There is also an early scene when the Jenna, who isn’t having an easy time of her transition, is levitating on her bed. Her college roommate notices and starts to take shots on her phone but the body drops. The documentary style of the series makes it look very realistic, but remains very funny.
Jenna’s bat-form is not very realistic, which is tortuously problematic and sadly silly. It has always bothered me, as it apparently does Jenna, that vampires don’t lose their clothing whenever they turn into bats. They turn while fully dressed and revert to form unruffled. At least Bela Lugosi’s Dracula cape became the backdrop for the bat wings in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, giving the illusion that even his evening wear is an illusion. Laszlo (Matt Berry) finally gives a definitive answer to how this is magically taken care of: don’t get bogged down in the details.
Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) has a very interesting arc this episode. He is obviously hurt over learning that Jenna has been made into a vampire, a random thing that bugs him no end, and he winds up being both insubordinate and inspiring to Nandor. “Citizenship” is an inspired and fun episode as the two tales of transience play out against each other.
What We Do in the Shadows‘ “Citizenship” was written by Stefani Robinson, and directed by Jason Woliner.
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.