Warning: The following contains spoilers for Interview With the Vampire through episode five as well as the Vampire Chronicles books. Read at your own risk.
Additional warning: This review will discuss rape because episode five did too.
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AMC’s Interview With the Vampire is giving me headaches. The fifth episode, “A Vile Hunger for Your Hammering Heart” isn’t helping.
I hate to keep classifying things with “Well it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve seen on television” but I’d really like to be rating episodes by a higher standard. One which, for example, doesn’t require me to keep staring at the number on my “It’s been 0 days since a TV show punished a female character for being sexual” sign.
As you might imagine, much like last week, the issue is Claudia. The short version being they did some things better this week but some things much, much worse (again I refer you to my sign). So may as well get into it.
The Continuing Problem of Claudia in AMC’s Interview With the Vampire
I’ll start out with the good: I think this week they did a better job of giving Claudia moments where she was a sympathetic and tragic character. Her resentfully pointing out to Louis that at least she’d still been breathing when he found her was a great moment. And while it could be argued that the life she outlined for herself wasn’t exactly full of ambition, I actually feel like that underscored her point. The issue wasn’t that she would’ve necessarily had an amazing life but that she would have had a life. She was telling Louis that any life where she was human was better than what Louis had forced her to go through.
I also liked how her desire for a companion was reframed into the idea that she wanted a partner. Not because love is a higher value than sex - I’m getting to the issues with sex in a minute - but because this added some much needed nuance to Claudia as a whole. Put another way, she was saying she wants things for herself. It happened to be a partner but if she’d said “I want to be able to fuck whoever I want same as Uncle Les” I would’ve been just as happy about that too. It’s about her trying to have agency. Part of Claudia’s tragedy, in any form of her, is that being stuck in the body of a child means she’s forever doomed to live in a world that thinks she can’t do things for herself. Her expressing a desire for a long term thing that is something normally restricted to adults was good.
The problem, however, is that the show continues to be a let down when it comes to understanding the character as a concept and the specific changes that they’ve made to her. All of the issues that were inherent in how they set up Louis as a Black man are being compounded by the addition of a character who is Black, female, and in the body of a teenager.
I already talked a little bit about this last week but in light of episode five some issues need revisiting. For example, book and movie Claudia is a manipulative character. However, she has to be because she’s in the body of a five year old. She’s never going to defeat an adult mortal or vampire in a physical fight, so manipulation is the only skillset she has to survive and she applies it to her victims and to Louis and Lestat in equal measure.
AMC Claudia, on the other hand, comes out of the gate being manipulative. And while it could be argued that yes, someone who has had a hard mortal life as she’s had - dead parents, an aunt who abused her, etc - would need to develop hard skills to survive she is still a child. And, as with all the things we mentioned last week, she is a Black child. If you are making choices in the writers’ room to rebuild this character you have to be aware of racist stereotypes about Black children and whether your choices are perpetuating them. AMC’s Interview With the Vampire is very much perpetuating them by having Claudia be a scheming character from the second we meet her.
Kat is a thirteen year old girl who has had a hard life, similar to Claudia. Kat is also arguably an even rougher character than Claudia because Kat, who is human, is shown having done violent things without the excuse of vampirism to explain it. However, at no time does Kat come off as unsympathetic. It’s clear that her acting out is based in her trauma and not because “LOL teenage girls am I right?”
Now some of that is due to Lyric Ross’s performance which helps give layers under Kat’s hard as nails exterior. But it doesn’t hurt that one of the writers was Jordan Peele, who has a tiny bit of experience in understanding how to present issues of race and racism though the filter of horror story tropes.
Not to be too harsh here but the writer of this week’s ep was Hannah Moscovitch. Hannah hasn’t exactly distinguished herself as somebody who understands the nuances of race in her writing. She sure as heck hasn’t managed it in Interview With the Vampire so far and at this rate I’m not holding my breath it’s happening any time in the rest of this season.
Then we get into the issues of sex and just - ARGH.
Look, in the books Anne Rice’s vampires do not have sex. It’s not a thing. Their bodies literally do not work that way. Blood drinking is the sum total of physical pleasure for them. Now I don’t have a problem with AMC’s Interview With the Vampire putting physical sex in because as a concept it doesn’t matter. On paper it’s a quibble about how vampire powers work, it doesn’t make or break anything.
But I will, however, side eye the fuck out of you if one of your decisions after “Wouldn’t it be fun if they actually had sex?” is “Hey, let’s use that ability to rape the female character!” Why? WHY?
There’s no need for it! I cannot stress enough that this entire plotline does not exist in the books in any format whatsoever. Again: Claudia is in the body of a five year old. There’s no way she gets to bop around on college campuses on her lonesome, not the least of which is because her story also took place too early in the founding of America for her to have enough campuses to visit.
But point being it’s not like there was some version of Claudia out on her own and getting into trouble that the show had to figure out how to translate for the story of a vampire in the body of a 14 year old. They invented this out of whole cloth. And while I liked, genuinely, the part where Claudia told Louis and Lestat to get fucked while she went to find herself any points the show would’ve earned from this are gone by the decision to rape her for no god damn reason.
(And not that it matters who did it but for us book readers I think it’s an extra insult that as famous and important a character as Claudia gets raped by a fifth tier nobody like Killer from the Fang Gang. Like fucking hell Baby Jenks was more interesting than that dude and he’s the one who turned her.)
Now I’ll grant the argument could be made that Claudia could learn that once she’s out of the dubious sphere of Lestat’s protection the world gets much more dangerous for her, especially when it comes to other vampires. But that in no way needed to involve her being raped. There is a multitude of ways that a stronger and older vampire could’ve gotten Claudia to be afraid without sexually assaulting her and we know that because that’s what Lestat’s been doing this entire god damn time.
(Also, was Killer stronger and older? He's really more Claudia's contemporary at best and you can't tell me somebody who learned sadistic killing from Lestat personally couldn't have handled a peer using her experience and intelligence alone.)
Writing in a rape is frankly just straight up lazy. And then lazy turns into insulting and frankly racist when it’s done by a random nobody white male character from the books tricking a Black girl into the woods so he can tell her she’s not mannered enough and then follow it up by raping her.
It’s great that we didn’t actually see the rape happen but frankly that combined with Louis’ insistence that it isn’t going to be talked about just makes it worse. Because that means plot-wise it didn't need to happen and also the only person we see affected by this is Louis, and not Claudia the character it happened to. All of this is “How not to write sexual assault scenes” 101 and it’s amazing how easily the show got BINGO on this particular scorecard.
And I realize this is a much lesser offense but I’m also going to heave a heavy and tired sigh over the part about Claudia’s hymen growing back. If I got into all the symbolic implications of this stupidity we’d be here for a month. So suffice it to say that while yes, I get that from Claudia’s perspective she might not be educated enough to know that this is not a thing, no really the hymen thing is a bullshit myth with no basis in reality, from a storytelling standpoint it’s stupid and also lazy because it’s been done before so it’s not even bringing anything new to the table.
There’s another head desk with their handling of Claudia but it gets into the reality of New Orleans so let me toss that into its own section.
New Orleans History in Interview With the Vampire Episode Five
Here’s the thing: New Orleans floods. Not once in a while, not every few years or so. It floods and floods often.
The reason why most people aren’t aware of how often New Orleans floods is because it is so common place. Do you hear about every time it snows in Alaska? No, because it snows all the time up there! Same for New Orleans flooding. It only makes the national news when it’s particularly bad, like Hurricane Katrina.
New Orleans floods so often because it is below sea level, with the occasional spot being as nose bleed inducingly high as a whole six feet above sea level. The floods affect everything in the city, such as the way the buildings are built, why a whole ass pumping system was invented to get rid of the flood waters, and also how things are handled in cemeteries.
To say that Claudia, a child of New Orleans who lived near St Louis No 1 had no idea that bodies put underground come back up and float is akin to saying that a child who grew up in Manhattan doesn’t know Central Park has trees in it. It is not a thing.
And I know “the river is RIGHT THERE” is becoming kind of an inadvertent catch phrase around these parts but if she’s hunting in the Ninth Ward no, seriously, the river is right there. Like this is even less of a walk than from Rue Royale which, as you’ll remember from my handy maps, is the long trek of… two short blocks.
I know Killer made his comment about why you can’t put bodies in the river but he was talking about the Missouri which leads into the Mississippi. And remember New Orleans is basically the last stop before the Gulf. Seriously, you could drop elephants in that thing and the only beings who would ever notice are the alligators.
Now I’ll grant that Claudia was on a destructive streak so an argument could be made that she wanted to be caught. But to me the show was not presenting that. When Louis reminded her about the next storm (which, again: would not have been the concern. Regular rain can cause flooding just fine!) she acted like it never occurred to her. Which then is just dumb because she’s making more work for herself doing that digging! Also because she took victims from the Quarter to the Ninth Ward and again, can’t stress this enough, river is right there.
Also Louis and Lestat never noticed her muddy clothes?
But that’s getting into Lagniappe. Point being that it’s another example of bad writing because it makes Claudia look stupid when really it’s the writers who fell down on the job.
As far as other tidbits go, it’s a - I don’t want to say fun point of trivia given the topic but when it comes to the idea of whether Louis and Lestat would’ve stood out on Rue Royale for having an incinerator with dead body parts in it the answer is probably not. You see, they live next door to the home of Delphine LaLaurie who was infamous for torturing her slaves and interring some of their bodies under her home. However, Delphine was a contemporary of book Louis and Lestat, not AMC’s version. However, I can tell you that many a New Orleans tour guide would point out the juxtaposition as to why Louis and Lestat might have stayed under the radar as long as they did in the novels.
Finally, the scene with Louis and his sister with all the candles in the cemetery might seem weird but actually makes sense if it took place around All Saints Day, which it would have if Grace invited Louis over not long after he’d been marked as dead on Oct 18, 1930. All Saints Day, November 1, is one of the many holidays in New Orleans where families visit with their dead loved ones, take care of the tombs, leave gifts, and even have picnics. Lighting candles on the tombs was a particular habit and would’ve been done during Louis’ time. These days the candles aren’t as popular as taking care of the tombs and leaving flowers or other gifts, but the tradition of visiting the tombs on All Saints Day is still very much a thing.
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else
- I respect - genuinely - that the staging of the fight between Louis and Lestat was done in such a way as to save money. And I cannot stress enough that I find no fault or blame with that kind of decision. You can do offstage fighting. Some shows turn it into a feature instead of a bug and others shows really, really should have done it and sadly didn’t. However, I think the soundtrack did a lot of heavy lifting in keeping the fight even vaguely on the side of dramatic. For me the fight fell way more on the side of Looney Tunes than horror, at least until we saw Lestat dragging Louis by the throat. That was cool.
- Daniel, stop eating food around the old books.
- How did Louis and Lestat never smell the body parts in Claudia’s room? New Orleans is hot and humid. Humans would’ve smelled the body parts in her room.
- Why was Claudia even collecting body parts in the first place?
- What was the purpose of Louis and Lestat talking to the politician and the cop separately? What were they trying to accomplish? Neither of them were with their respective humans long enough for anything to happen.
- Likewise, why did Lestat mark the politician’s cheek with a cross? Why did Lestat do his time stop trick in the pub but not in his home while the cops were there and it would’ve actually been useful? To say nothing of how we know Lestat can mind whammy large groups of people into leaving his home without thinking twice about why they were there. I get that it was shown that trick is exhausting for him but you’d think when it came to the safety of his home and vampiric lifestyle Lestat would’ve been fine for the ear bleed. To say nothing of how it would’ve been a terrifying show of power to Claudia in her attempts to screw him over. Again just sloppy writing.
- “She wasn’t held enough between ritualistic murders” - I hate that I agree with Daniel here but, well, yeah. It’s horrible that Claudia was turned as a child but that’s not fixed by letting her live period, let alone when she’s killing so many and putting Louis and Lestat in danger. I mean I get why Louis wouldn’t want to kill her because he loves her, but I’m firmly team Lestat here on how this is a problem that is easy and quick to solve and frankly should be.
- “She’s the single-shooter, Xbox, mouth-breather shit they all crave” is possibly the worst written line in the entire history of the English language and frankly it swings back around to being impressive because of it. I can only assume Hannah’s keyboard fell to the floor while she was working and she didn’t notice that autocorrect turned random letters into phrases. Because wow.
- “Once you put it out there they decide what it is” - has a few layers of meaning to it considering Anne Rice and her history with fanfic.
- Speaking of which, yours truly was interviewed by The Daily Beast regarding Anne Rice and fanfic so check that out if you haven’t yet.
And that’s all for this week. Two episodes to go for season one. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle it.