This What We Do in The Shadows review contains spoilers.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 4 Episode 7
What We Do in the Shadows’ season 4 episode 7 “Pine Barrens,” is the most regressive and progressive of the series. Stylistically, the episode benefits from dipping into the manic and impromptu energy of both its earlier seasons and the original film it was based on. The forward motion is propelled by Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), who comes out as gay to his family, something they never had a problem with in the first place. If only the same could be said about his vampire tendencies.
The de la Cruz family are a warm and loving unit, supportive of each other, and united in purpose. Yes, they still think Guillermo is working at Panera Bread and one of his uncles has an annoying habit of reminding him there is a menswear option to style choices, but they stand together. The slow boil of the Van Helsing blood is expertly done, like an itch that can’t be scratched, which rises in the presence of the godless undead. You have to love the family. Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) does, which surprises even herself. Her introductory scene sees her luxuriating in a bathtub of blood. Yet she sits at a family dinner to support Gizmo.
The mere idea that Nadja would assist Guillermo for any kind of mundane purpose is itself evidence of immense growth in the characters’ relationship. This bond can revert at any time, of course, such as later in the episode, when Nadja sarcastically tells Gizmo that she’s caught up with the plot, but she shows his family respect and mercy, begrudgingly, because that’s how she flies.
Guillen is solid throughout, bringing a palpable longing for the two families to get along, as well as a very real relief to his acceptance. The scene is very sweet, more so because of the offhand way which the de la Cruz family all admit they’d already known. “Familia es familia, homie,” his uncle says. Nadja’s reaction goes beyond understanding to a universal truth for vampires, when she asks “Who isn’t gay?” Guillermo may think she’s throwing shade, but his shrouded vampire life was the main ingredient to the family’s confusion.
Guillermo’s mom had been trying to set him up with her church friends, forcing him to say Nadja was his girlfriend, and the lies grew upon lies. Filling in the false spaces is comic gold for Nadja, who adds insult to every perjury. Guillermo’s realization that, if he has Van Helsing blood, of course his grandma and the rest of his family does, is enough to give you goosebumps.
The episode splits the vampire contingent. The group’s Staten Island human neighbor Sean (Anthony Atamanuik) takes Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nandor (Kayvan Novak) and the creature which crawled out of the abdominal cavity of Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) out for a hunting trip. Nandor is excited to use his echolocation skills to hunt humans in the most dangerous game, but his sonar picks up the well-endowed nature of the monster of the week.
The title of the episode comes from a travel destination. Of course Sean’s family would have a cabin in the woods, and not just any woods, the Pine Barrens. It is a horror and comedy mecca, bewildering Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) and Paulie Gualtieri (Tony Sirico) on The Sopranos, and home to the Jersey Devil.
“Sean may be my best friend but, like all humans, doesn’t realize when he’s been fucking had,” Laszlo says of the mythological creature in the dense woods of the Garden State. Of course there is no Jersey Devil, that’s just something vampires made up to explain all the dead bodies they leave in the world. Subduing the monster with “Jersey music” is inspired, and going for Bon Jovi not only saves a fortune over licensing a Springsteen song, but fulfills the contract Jon Bon Jovi signed on 30 Rock, an appropriate use of his time and talent proving he is more than a one-joke Jerseyite with big hair.
In the car ride over, Sean makes the mistake of asking Colin a question, to the abject horror of Laszlo and Nandor. This sets the stage for a running gag trip through the wilds of the internet forest which stumbles over Polish cataracts and Daria Pająk on its way to driving the vampires toward each other’s throats.
Nandor and Laszlo begin bickering the first time the camera captures them, and the pair are well matched. They should be. They’ve been at this for 80 years. Nandor is passively aggressive, weaponizing guilt and hurt feelings. Laszlo is aggressively passive, putting his feet up and offering no help and only condescending chatter flippantly tossed over his shoulder. The arguments, petty grievances, and ultimate understandings build character, the stated purpose of these kinds of trips, and allow the sequences to feel more off the cuff.
While the basics of the main characters are different, the approach in “The Pine Barrens” is very similar to the film. What We Do in the Shadows has been exploring the TV sitcom possibilities more fully this season. There have been montages, and moments where the spur of the moment documentary feel has given way to more traditional comedy. The series and all the players do both well, but the return to its messier form is welcome.
Nothing is dirtier than a “sloppy girls’ night,” as Nadja calls it, and the fun spills over to include The Guide (Kristen Schaal), Nandor’s wife Marwa (Parisa Fakhri), and Doll Nadja, who does the Limbo in a particularly inspired visual gag. The guilty pleasure of the evening is a screening of Mamma Mia!, and includes snippets of vampire house renditions of “S.O.S.” and other ABBA favorites. The sequence is glorified irony, parodying the very human tastes of decadent immortals, in service to a punchline.
As any comedy should, the installment has enough pathos to make us forget the other two musketeers, the most modern weapon Nandor ever handled. There is an obviously emotional closure in Guillermo’s relief, but also in Nadja’s admission of her own death-filled human past. Nandor and Laszlo admit they are sad because they never hang anymore. They even agree on something, even if it is only the vastness of the Jersey Devil’s member.
“Pine Barrens” is an extremely enjoyable return to form, which moves What We Do in the Shadows forward in character development and overall charm. It is a well-paced comic outing with several hysterically dangerous sequences. We get the promise Guillermo won’t start calling Nadja “mommy,” and a chance to marvel at the trophy of a very rare and elusive creature’s head on a wall before it goes on the endangered species list.
What We Do in the Shadows airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX, and streams the next day on Hulu.