There really is no substitute for Taika Waititi, is there? This week’s What We Do In The Shadows took the plot in the direction I thought it might go after The Baron’s unceremonious second death last week, and while yes, I am happy that a lifetime devoted to consuming as much narrative storytelling as humanly possible worked out in my favor this one time*, Waititi’s typically sprightly direction on “The Trial” ensured that it was never boring, even if I did see it coming. In other words: Tilda fucking Swinton, y’all!
If the collection of vampires on the council seemed a bit random, try thinking outside the Dracula box. We’ve got the trio of vamps from the original film version of What We Do In The Shadows, played by Waititi, Clement, and Jonathan Brugh; Evan Rachel Wood, who played Sophie-Anne Leclerq, vampire queen of Louisiana, on HBO’s True Blood; Danny Trejo, who played vampire bartender Razor Charlie in the original movie version of From Dusk ‘Til Dawn; Paul Reubens, who wasn’t the big bad but had a pretty great death scene in the original film version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer...shall I go on? I won’t, because you’re all smart people who probably even saw Only Lovers Left Alive, the film that earned Swinton her vampire wings. (Pretty sure that’s also a Hell’s Angels thing, but I digress.) Making Swinton the head of the vampire council also had a nice ring of David Bowie-as-the Sovereign about it, if only because the two of them share a certain otherworldly je ne sais quois.
Unusually for this series, “The Trial” picks up immediately after the events of last week’s “Baron’s Night Out,” and Nandor, Laszlo, and Nadja are still out of their gourds on drugged blood. One of Waititi’s greatest strengths as a director is his impeccable comic timing, and that started early on this episode with the impromptu funeral the Staten Island vampires throw for The Baron once they crawl out of their K-holes and into their coffins for a day’s sleep. The contrast between the ceremony with which they give him his last drink of blood and the casual way they tip the tray into the grave was hilarious, as was the masterful little beat between Nandor’s line about ravens meaning that “bad luck is approaching” and Colin Robinson’s cheerful, “hey gang!” Colin’s motivations in this episode—saving his roommates so he can continue to torture them—also made a lot of sense for his character. And as for Guillermo, well, he tried.
That sense of rhythm continues throughout the episode, both in the back-and-forth of the dialogue and in more physical comedy bits like the Spectacle of Judgement, which I would like to see performed at my funeral, please and thank you. Again, the detail in that sequence was on point; it was hard to make out all of the dancers’ faces, but I definitely spotted goofy, dramatic expressions from Waititi, Clement, and Brugh as they passed by the camera. There were even several contenders for line reading of the week this week: Berry set the bar high by finding a wholly new way to pronounce the words “absolutely messed up on drug blood” at the opening of the episode, and Reubens’ “the Skype seems ... glitchy” was laugh-out-loud funny.
But I’m going to give the honors to Kristen Schaal as The Summoner (I don’t think they ever actually said her character’s name), who, while she did have a bit of an assist in the form of voice modulation, consistently killed it with her overdramatic vampire faces and line readings. There are many to choose from: “WE SENT 500 RAVENS!;” “Watch your step. I don’t have to. I glide;” “you could hang ... here until the trial starts.” But I honestly think “There’s no way we could have fire. The fire marshals would have a fit” is my favorite line of the entire episode, both for the way Schaal delivered it and for that extra-tasty blend of the fantastic and the banal we all enjoy so very much about this show. All in all, this was a fantastic episode that worked in some fun new elements as well as bringing back some of my favorite bits of the season so far—the vagina garden, the familiars’ lounge, a succession of funny reveals in the form of introductions—and I look forward to finding out if and how the storyline continues next week.
- “Baron, such wonderful filthy times we did have. What a way to live your life after death, and what a way to die ... did we murder him?” The bell in that beat between those two lines is a mini-masterclass in sound effects, as well as in timing. Just perfect.
- Turning a baby into a vampire is indeed a real dick move.
- If there were any in-jokes on the sign listing the other businesses in the Temple of Blood-Devourers with the vampire council, I didn’t pick up on them. Here they are, if you’re more clever than I am: Hubert Lavoix Health & Beauty, Nordshall Staten Island Distributor, Valtex Medical Sciences, Chen Cavanagh Gilmore Law LLC, Tenement Developments Inc. (yeah, okay), Barnes Chavez Architects, Lenox Hill Real Estate, Mitushi Design, Quisley’s Food & Beverage Inc., and Ameridelta Bank Branch.
- “Why does this hallway never end?” “It’s just a freaky long hallway.”
- A very special hello to the MCU’s own Dave Bautista, who is always recognizable even with a bunch of latex crap on his face.
- How much defiling is “too much defiling,” exactly?
- Once again, the amenities in the familiars’ lounge suck. But this one has a veggie tray, at least.
- Loved the Skype jokes with Wesley Snipes—which were extra funny if you’re familiar with his ongoing IRS issues, which led him to leave the country for a bit in the mid-’00s. Layers!
- Did you hear about the British researchers who claimed to have found the true identity of Jack The Ripper based on some DNA from a semen-stained shawl back in March? That’s not a What We Do In The Shadows joke, it’s a real thing.
- “I wish I had made more of my leadership skills. I could have ruled many more countries, instead of dying in a well with two perverts.” Amen, buddy.
*Don’t get used to it. My Game Of Thrones predictions are usually way off.