This What We Do in The Shadows review contains spoilers.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 4 Episode 9
While not quite achingly funny, What We Do in the Shadows’ season 4 episode 9, is about growing pains. “Freddie” is a sad, and somewhat cruel installment in the Staten Island vampire saga. We finally learn who Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) has been covertly sharing stolen moments of cell phone intimacy with, but it brings double the trouble. While a certain freakish draw to Nadja’s (Natasia Demetriou) vampire club Nadja’s wants an increase in pay but grows in size instead.
Nadja’s is so swarming with guests, a denim cape doesn’t cut it at the velvet rope. The vampire club and its resident creepy performer have gotten on the radar of human celebrity guests. Fran Liebowitz is on an upcoming guest list because “she says what we’re all thinking,” according to Nadja, though she may be angling for the New York City icon’s new apartment.
Before the opening credits roll, Jim Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola, and Thomas Mars, the lead singer of Phoenix, who mistakes brain scramblies for French, take a ringside table. The $5,000 price tag on the Celebrity Special is a brilliant ploy made more delicious for Jarmusch fans who know he’s been down by law since coming into filmmaking. The most amusing detail is what a happily functioning drinking fountain a carotid artery makes when daintily sliced.
Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja are currently embroiled in contract negotiations for the performer which crawled out of the abdominal cavity of Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). When the talks lead to a walk out, Laszlo takes Colin on the road. Even more than previous years, season 4 has been on a search for love, with the main power couple in separate stories, the romantic vampire duties fall to Nandor (Kayvan Novak) and Guillermo.
Nandor the Relentless is bored with the one true love he picked from the 37 men and women he’d married while alive, and had the Djinn upgrade to a perfectly agreeable wife, Marwa (Parisa Fakhri). Guillermo finally brings Freddie, a man he met in London while accompanying Nadja in her short stint as International Vampire Council member.
Guillermo, through Guillén’s deft dance between deeply emotional and exasperatingly hilarious turns, has made a dramatic transformation. He is consistently surprising, whether it is with his skills as a genetically-attuned vampire hunter or the self-recriminating excuses he makes for backsliding on promises to himself. Guillermo came out to his family in “Pine Barrens,” who embraced his open secret. He’s been caught hiding conversations all season, so when the audience finally gets the payoff, we are primed to see the love story explored through Guillermo’s arc.
What We Do in the Shadows effectively captures a romcom glow as Guillermo and his visiting boyfriend Freddie, first take in the sights of the city. “Freddie” recalls Disney’s puppy-love feature The Lady and the Tramp, trading meatballs for pretzels, as the romance gets tangled. There is a vapid sweetness behind Nandor’s cruel wish, though it comes with a mustard squirt of ego. Guillermo finds something special, individual, and uniquely his own.
The first thing Nandor lets the audience know is he could steal Freddie away. By the logic of his background, we should applaud his solution. What We Do in the Shadows excels in its ironic mastery. Every outcome is a travesty of any expectation, and usually further twisted in its delivery. The turn of the screw is a twist of a knife in the personal cost to Guillermo, tossing Guillén though a cheese-grater of repressed rage, pain, and outrage which should make Nandor see he went a step too far.
This is, of course, perfect, because vampires are far too self-involved to evolve too far. Novak brings a glimmer of comprehension as Guillermo makes a particularly effective exit, but he also telegraphs a misguided translation to play out.
Which brings us to the mini-tour de force of Mark Proksch’s portrait of Colin Robinson as a growing artist. He remains clueless to his development, even as his voice cracks are as audible as his ass cracks are visible. The final turn is disarmingly heartbreaking, brief as it is, because it comes from someone established as only wanting to entertain. It becomes a moot point, but Colin didn’t care about the contract in the first place.
In essence, it appears Laszlo inflicts the exact damage on Colin he’d attempted to avoid: a boring and energy draining adulthood. It appears an era is concluding, and the true mystery of the energy vampire will be revealed. While we’ve been given a false tease, no one knows what Colin will remember when he becomes whatever he’s on the road to becoming. There may be clues in his insistence on including Papa Roach or Evanescence in future live sets, and they don’t bode well.
The installment is littered with short classic bits. Laszlo’s list of vampire acts who found fame while striking it out on the road peaks just short of perfection, as it could have gone on. Each name from Bloody Holly to the Undead Kennedys exemplifies parody clarity. As opposed to Nadja’s ultimate decision to “fuck all these kids,” and claim the power of a sexy, scary, adult nightclub, booking La Cirque Erotique, “a legendary consortium of sophisticated and deeply carnal vampire performers,” to replace Colin.
Only one player is available on such short notice, and not the most versatile of the troupe. Gustave Leroy, “the clown who can suck himself off,” is a one-trick pony in a three-ring circus, and the ringmistress is a cat and nine tails short of a whip. The performance-interruptus climax follows Nadja’s earlier descent into the depths of drunk blood, which is a joyful mess. The abuse the auditioning child-performers suffer at her dismissals tops any zinger Simon could hurl on American Idol.
“Why are you not stuffed in a locker somewhere,” Nadja asks a chrysanthemum-loving phonetic enthusiast, with no discernable stage presence. “Your bullies aren’t doing a good enough job.” Nadja’s admonition of The Guide (Kristen Schaal) for tarnishing the Nadja brand carries additional traditional weight, as she falls with the grace of Jennifer Saunders’ Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous into the bandstand. But the story of Nadja’s recurring song, about a large bird stealing all her brothers, is a very subtle but deep look into her pre-vampire past. The glee with which she sings it belies a deeply traumatic incident she seems to quite enjoy remembering.
“Freddie” separates the cast for a deeper character dive into all the players and ultimately supplies a final impossible curve which supplies both the complexity and absurdity. What We Do in the Shadows feeds on itself for laughs and has little mercy for its own characters. The episode leaves gaping wounds screaming for salt.
What We Do in the Shadows airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX, and streams the next day on Hulu.