I’m starting to think that Nandor might not be all that bright—either that, or the memory starts to go after seven centuries or so of eternal life. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this week’s Nandor-centric episode; in fact, his quest to become an American citizen produced the biggest laughs I personally have gotten from the character all season. But in one scene, Nandor is surprised and confused when Guillermo brings up the possibility, and in the next, it turns out that Nandor had already started the citizenship process back in 1992, shortly before the Macarena craze—which, as it turns out, didn’t hit America until 1996—began. It could also just be sloppy writing, but this episode had several laugh-out-loud funny moments, so let’s go with the vampire memory loss thing.
As well as revealing Nandor’s love of the Dream Team and personal “dunk zone”—one of the reveals that got a big laugh from me—this week brought back two dangling storylines from the pre-Baron, pre-trial era, namely newbie vampire Jenna and the perpetually downtrodden Guillermo’s irritation over not being turned into a vampire. This week, the former fed the latter, after Nadja decides it’s time to take her stupid little baby under her bat wing and teach her the facts of vampire life. The parallels between vampirism and puberty in this episode were explicit but not overbearing, with Nadja as the doting vampire mom (check out her facial expression when she proudly tells Jenna, “you are going to murder!”) and Jenna as the awkward vampire teen. Also, I’m willing to bet that at least one person reading this lost their virginity in a bush outside of a house party to the singer of a ska band.
Nadja’s motivation in taking on her vampire protegé are interesting. She initially decided to change Jenna after seeing the guys in her LARPing group ignore her, and she’s clearly invested in teaching Jenna her formidable skills in manipulating human males, which means she must on some level identify with this meek virgin. This wasn’t the first episode of What We Do In The Shadows to pass the Bechdel Test, but it definitely had more dialogue between, and screen time for, its female characters than usual. With that in mind, Jenna’s power of invisibility, while a bit on the nose, worked for me both in terms of the character and as feminist commentary; between that and Nandor’s repeated, enthusiastic endorsements of America as an “unholy nation” and an “evil empire,” this is the closest What We Do In The Shadows has come to political humor all season—or ever, really. Deeply silly magical realist political humor, sure, but political humor nonetheless. The only jokes that didn’t really work for me this week were Nandor’s bits about government workers not having souls, which read a bit Dilbert for my tastes. (Only, like, not deeply misogynist.) As for why this episode worked better for me than the similarly bureaucratic second episode, having a strong secondary storyline helped, as did less time in the humorously boring place itself.
While Nandor wins the “line reading of the week” award for his response to the bureaucrat’s question about the length of an American president’s term in office (“1000 years!”), Nadja’s impression of a human male—“ouch my balls, oh, I love to drink beer”—was also masterful in its tossed-off way. She even forced Laszlo into submission this week, insisting that he apologize and take young Jenna out on the roof for a lesson in turning into a bat. Speaking of long-term relationships, Nandor and Guillermo were deeply into their “bickering married couple” dynamic this week. There was a lot of love behind Guillermo’s frustration with Nandor’s lack of pride in his vampire identity, and for a moment I thought maybe Nandor would turn him into a vampire right there in the parking lot of the citizenship office. No such luck for our favorite long-suffering Anne Rice superfan, however.
- How does one spell that name of Nandor’s home country, anyway? Al-kaanaadaa? El-konnadaaaaahr?
- The Wikipedia page for “Macarena (song)” is wonderfully detailed, and includes a delightful little aside about a physics-based parody that was written for the “Strings ‘98" string theory conference in Santa Barbara. You can read the lyrics here.
- “It’s a cologne/aftershave mix, and I found it in the bathroom at work!” If you’re only going to deliver a handful of lines in an episode, make them count.
- Huh, yeah, I never really thought about the clothes thing, either.
- The visual effects in this episode were great, from Nadja’s creepy-crawly up the wall to Jenna’s naked mole rat bat. I thought for a bit that maybe she was a big, weird, naked bat because she hadn’t fed on a human yet, but she was still gangly and awkward in the closing scene on the roof, so apparently that’s just her animal form.
- New vampire mythology alert: The vampires can’t say the word “God,” or else their mouths catch on fire.
- Nandor really should have brought Colin Robinson along to the citizenship office. He could have gorged himself ‘til he puked.
- If you liked Beanie Feldstein on this episode, definitely see Booksmart when it comes out. She’s great in it.
- This episode was a nice little respite from the hellscape of this week’s news. If only we had an army of Nadjas to wave their hands and tell America’s legislators, “you will respect women a lot more now.”