This What We Do in the Shadows review contains spoilers.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 2 Episode 3
What We Do in the Shadows Season 2, Episode 3, “Brain Scramblies,” observes a sacred event. The vampires of Staten Island are invited to the venerable celebration of the Superb Owl. Conspiracy theorists might think they recognize this from reports of the billionaire parties at Bohemian Grove, where a statue of such a wondrous bird guards with the warning “Weaving Spiders come not here.” Spiders drink blood just like vampires, so you can imagine the honor of getting such a coveted invitation.
Bloodsucking vampires respect the owl’s predatory nocturnal existence, much more than energy vampires respect their sanguine counterparts. Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) lets his housemates – Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Colin Robinson – go an entire opening segment believing in this winged demigod in their self-indulgent delusional glee just to suck the life out of it. This opening sequence defines the characters and the humor on What We Do in the Shadows. All the vampires look out of touch, especially Colin, but he’s the only one with some kind of grasp on the present. Not always, of course, but the ancient vampires are only kidding themselves. Sure, they would look quite contemporary in any pre-social distancing nightclub on Goth night, but they think the football on their Superbowl party invitation they got from their neighbor Shaun (Anthony Atamanuik) is an owl egg.
Ancient creatures always have a hard time keeping up with the times, even El Cuco got caught on Candid Camera on Stephen King’s The Outsider. But the Staten Island vampires have cluelessness down to an art and a science. The vampires are understandably paranoid. They are, after all, killers and supernatural creatures of the night who hide in plain sight trusting their myth outweighs their reality. So, they take any threat seriously, even the least serious and especially the most humorous. It’s not that vampires can’t take a joke, they don’t always get it. Sean makes a joke about never seeing his neighbors during the day, “like they’re vampires or something,” and Nandor and Laszlo immediately take him far too seriously.
The Staten Island bloodsuckers have learned nothing of the nuances of human behavior in all their time on the planet and it is a goldmine for the most traditional of comedy performances, the lame-brained character. It is even funnier because they think they know everything. The combination of cluelessness and paranoia combine to give meaning to the title, “Brain Scramblies.” It’s phase three of the dangers of vampire hypnosis, especially Double Vampire Hypnosis, after the “weak brain” and “thoughtless Sallys.” Nandor and Laszlo don’t know their own strength. They are not quite adept at the finer points of mesmerism as Nadja, the true mistress of it.
When Shaun’s wife Charmaine (Marissa Jaret Winokur) calls Nadja aside to join the wives at a separate party having nothing to do with football, the vampire’s first reaction is “Shaun has more wives?” It is a small moment, which you might miss, but it’s brilliant. It shows both her unfamiliarity with normal human rituals, she is still waiting for the Superb Owl, and it reveals exactly what she thinks of her host. Not much, if at all. Nadja sizes up everyone from a vantage point skewered by time and the de-evolution of man as a physical creature. She’s had several lifetimes to measure the measure of the male form and what she sees in the new generation is disappointing. We saw what the “Jeff” life did to her dear Gregor, and watching her size up the housewives of Staten Island is bitingly funny. Nadja’s side glances and not so subtle eye-rolling are devastating. But when she runs into an old friend, Shaun’s mother Joanie, the air turns lethal.
The older you are the more enemies you accrue. Nadja probably doesn’t even remember all the people she’s tortured in her lifetimes of playing with her food. But she stops to appreciate Joanie’s very brief time as a young beauty. We sense the nostalgia Nadja feels for the life which passed so quickly in her plasma-prolonged existence. Nadja teeters towards sweetness before she goes for the old lady’s throat. Nadja wouldn’t feed on such a wrinkled prune of a snack. This comes from true sentimentality, a jade necklace which contains the screams of her dead mother being torn apart by wild bears. It’s touching, really.
The bloodsucking vampires can’t stomach their neighbors’ food and can’t very well munch on their neighbors, so they are relying on Guillermo to have a snack waiting for them when they get home. We learn their vampire-hunting-inclined familiar is quite a good baker in this episode, like many Van Helsings before him. But the vampires prefer their food raw. Guillermo’s main job as Nandor’s familiar is to secure the virgin blood his master prefers, and spends a lot of his time trolling the internet looking for tasty tips. He hits native pay-dirt when his mouse clicks on the Mosquito Collectors of the Tri-State Area.
What We Do in the Shadows finally takes on Vampire Slayers, and there’s not a Buffy among them. These young moral zealots know how vulnerable they are, as virgins, something they ensure at every meeting they attend. One of the wannabe slayers even brings up how they member should all sleep with each other as a pre-emptive measure against vampire attacks. The head underground amateur vampire hunter is Claude, played by Craig Robinson of The Office and Brooklyn Nine Nine, and he is an imposing figure.
One of the best sequences is where Guillermo gets vetted by the bug collectors. What is his interest in mosquitoes? Doesn’t he think an insect that drinks blood is disgusting? You know what else is disgusting? Bloodsucking humans with sharp teeth and European accents, but you didn’t hear that from the group. Guillermo has never been more fun to watch, cowering and cringing as the trap tightens around him. The other amateurs, except Derek, who only goes to the meeting to get laid, look like the hyenas in The Lion King. The scene builds the comedy like suspense, dripping it out, letting it linger and just when you think Claude is going to pull a murderous Lalo from Better Call Saul and stake the familiar right in his heart, he veers into the happy Lalo offering him a sip of the strong stuff. The group accepts Guillermo, not only because he dared utter the word vampire in their presence, but because it looks like he’s the only person to show up.
And boy have they been waiting for someone to show up. The group gets to do its big reveal, all the secret weapons, jugs of holy water with “do not drink” signs, wall panels and red lights. The care which these amateur vampire hunters put into the presentation is inspiring, to virgins, because we know this further guarantees a life of enforced chastity.
“Brain Scramblies” is a revelatory episode. The vampires continue to make the epic discoveries in the most mundane of circumstances. Ancient questions are asked again, like why fierce and vicious women marry wet potatoes, and why vibrant men become such lazy sacks of shit after marriage. The ending is surprisingly sweet. The vampires team to do the humane thing, ripping the head off a mind too feeble to notice. But the brain scrambly is largely redundant on the already dim Shaun.
“Brain Scramblies” was written by Jake Bender and Zach Dunn, and directed by Kyle Newacheck.