Episode Analysis Interview With the Vampire: "Is My Very Nature That of the Devil"
Episode three of Interview With the Vampire brings strong story highlights and reveals the real life madam Louis is based on.
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Warning: The following contains spoilers for Interview With the Vampire through episode three as well as the Vampire Chronicles books. Read at your own risk.
Those of you who read this site on the regular know my trust issues have been reignited with hellfire. So when episode three of AMC’s Interview With the Vampire (”Is My Very Nature That of the Devil”) keeps the quality of the previews two eps I get twitchy.
Like I’m appreciative! I am! I am particularly starving for not only good television but great after spending nine weeks with a show I tried to love so hard and which ended up -
No, no, I’m fine. This is the IWTV article. I will focus.
Anyway point being it was nice to see the quality continue on Interview With the Vampire even if my belief in the long lasting nature of said quality is something I need to discuss with my therapist.
May as well get into it. As is the habit now we’ll break this into talking about the show and talking about New Orleans history. Because I will stop doing the latter when the show stops teeing up super obvious things for me to talk about, such as the madam Louis’ new life is based on.
Here we go!
Why Episode Three of AMC’s Interview With the Vampire Was Good
I want to come out of the gate (the wrought iron gate, if you will - eh? EH??) and give props to director Keith Powell for wrangling what could’ve been a hot mess of an episode considering the various aspects at play. The layers of Louis and Lestat’s relationship alone could’ve been a minefield, never mind when you add in the aspects of the racial tension that was in the city as a whole as well as how Louis himself felt being at the center of it.
Of course the story comes from the writers (Rolin Jones and Hannah Moscovitch this week) but a good director helps bring that story to life.
For example, I love how Keith Powell continues the show’s tradition of letting information be in the background. Lestat only brought white soldiers back to the flat at Rue Royale. This could’ve been stressed by shoving it in our faces but instead it was allowed to be part of the atmosphere. We in the audience felt the same quiet tension of that choice that Louis did when he came home and saw it.
Then, later, Lestat makes a show of power by mentally commanding the soldiers to leave. Which first of all was wonderfully creepy in its execution. I do love how the show adds in those moments to remind us that these guys, for all their humor and good looks, are still monsters. But again what are the quiet details here? One, that if Lestat could command all those men for Louis he could just as easily do it against Louis. Also that doing this was very draining. Lestat grew pale and blood was coming out of his ear, but again we’re not getting jarring closeups to be all “Did you notice? DID YOU???” it’s there, we see it, the story keeps going but we know.
I also like that the show has made it explicit that Louis is an unreliable narrator. I meant to mention that in previous episodes so my thanks to the show for giving me a better jumping off point for it like I waited until now to talk about it on purpose instead of simply forgetting until after I hit send.
Now you know me, I adore a TV show with tight POV and unreliable narration. So I was wondering if part of the reason why Lestat, even though his book self defines flamboyant, is more of a background character is because to Louis he’s a background character.
Of course this doesn’t quite work. Especially when Louis is telling us that Lestat is the most fascinating person while the show turns Lestat into background noise. Which could mean that maybe some directors don’t know how to handle tight POV, it happens to the best of shows after all. We’ll have to wait and see how the season shakes out before we decide.
Regardless, it’s still good that they’re alerting us to this because one, it is important information that we wouldn’t know until the show tells us, but two because it ties nicely to the novels. The Vampire Lestat was written with the premise that Louis’ story in Interview With the Vampire was highly biased and painted a picture of Lestat that might not have been a wholly accurate one.
I also liked how this week’s ep actually used the premise of “We’re having an interview because we had an interview” to do something with the story. Granted the fact that they immediately set the old interview on fire suggests that maybe once they got past the pilot they realized it was an unnecessary setup. But if shows have to course correct - and many do, there’s no shame in it - I tip my hat to the effort to write the weak spot better. So Daniel being able to refer to old audio clips and contrast what Louis said then vs now was good.
Which in and of itself continues the show’s tradition of using book references not as Leonardo DiCaprio pointing meme delivery devices but for things which further understanding of the characters. Fifty years ago Louis clearly hated Lestat and had a grudge against him. Now Louis is straight up dictating porn about him. What happened since then? We don’t know, but based on the show’s quality so far we can trust we’ll eventually find out.
I also like how the show is leaning into the changes from the books. I really feel this show is at its strongest when it’s telling its own story and not trying to recreate the novels word for word. Lestat is slowly getting more depth to him as we hear mentions of things like him having 20 kids and again that reference from last week when we hear he’s 200 years old. A Lestat alive and awake for 200 years before he meets Louis is a vastly different Lestat from the books. And while Lestat in the books certainly wasn’t against scattering his seed like a lawn sprinkler, book Lestat pretty quickly hooked up with a boyfriend while young. So, assuming Lestat isn’t lying about the 20 kids, that again implies significant changes to his backstory and who he is as a character.
(Also worth noting, if Lestat is 200 years old that puts the date of his turning into a vampire in either the early 18th or even late 17th century, which would be another not insignificant change from the books.)
(UPDATED NOTE: I've been told by @catladylife_nyc that the 20 kids was a reference to Bach, whose music Lestat was playing. That makes much more sense. Shout out to her for letting me know!)
Three episodes in is also giving us enough evidence that learning about Lestat’s changes slowly but surely is a purposeful choice, and I’m okay with that. This does tie in well with how it’s Louis telling us his story so of course the details about himself and his life will be primary and details about Lestat will be secondary. Which again goes to the skilled writing: lesser writers would’ve made the changes to Lestat’s story glaringly obvious because they are changes. Instead the show remembers that these are details about Lestat’s life which should only be significant if they are significant to Lestat, not because they are significant because of meta knowledge about the books. It’s an easy trap to fall in and they’re avoiding it, so kudos.
Then we get our bigger changes, which is to Louis himself, and I like how they are using the updated timeline to give us things about Louis that the books never did, specifically the periods of history that he’s living through and how they affect him. I don’t want to get too far down the history rabbit hole in this section but suffice it to say I hope next week doesn’t do a House of the Dragon style time jump because the Depression in particular had a huge impact on the French Quarter and the city of New Orleans and I’d love to see Louis’ reactions to that.
I don’t know that the show has fully sold me yet on Louis’ issues with killing people given his personality before he was turned. I was there with them last week, when it seemed like they were suggesting him nearly eating his nephew might have been the catalyst for him pulling away from humans as a concept. And maybe we were supposed to intuit that it was and we didn’t see that because of the small time jump between last week and this.
Even so, I feel like they’re doing a tiny bit of saying Louis in the show doesn’t like drinking from humans because Louis in the books didn’t like drinking from humans. Though this could also be me not liking it because I see a lot of wasted opportunity for tying this belief into Louis’ new backstory. For example, a Black man living in New Orleans who was most likely descended from the enslaved would probably have more issues with the concept of treating human beings as cattle than the white son of a French aristocrat would - or, for that matter, a white slave owner like Louis’ book self was. Likewise imagine how much could be mined from the concept of which group does Louis’ most feel he belongs to if Louis is biracial. (Which goes right back to the question of gosh it’d be nice to know if Louis’ great grandfather was white or not.)
I will say one scene which didn’t work for me was the discussion with Louis and Daniel about Louis being in an abusive relationship. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no question that Louis and Lestat’s relationship is toxic but I don’t know that we’ve seen enough evidence on the show to say that it’s abusive. Yes, toxic and abusive relationships can have a lot of overlap, which I sadly know from personal experience. But this feels like another moment where they’re either pulling from the books, where Lestat was more manipulative and a dick, or possibly from things that might happen in future episodes which will prove this out. (Which is not a spoiler as I have no idea if that will be the case.)
Maybe what was meant was that since Daniel had heard the first version of the story he felt from that that Lestat was abusive? And this was Louis putting a rosy light on it all? But even so the scene felt out of place to me. When so many other details are beautifully subtly handled that moment in comparison was a clunker. But bear in mind this is a quibble of a comment. I’m not saying it was the worst thing to ever happen on television, just that when everything else was so good this stood out as being slightly off.
Now let’s get into the history. And yes I once again have a visual aid.
The Real Life New Orleans Referenced In Interview With the Vampire Episode 3
Oh so many things to dig into!
Let’s start at the top. Lestat isn’t wrong that Jackson Square was modeled after the Place des Vosges in Paris. Likewise he’s right that it used to be the Place d’Armes. Louis, for his part, is also right that the location was heavily featured in the slave trade. The docks where the enslaved would be loaded and unloaded from boats were right there. They’d be put in holding pens also right there and then bought and sold at auction at an auction house a couple of blocks uptown.
Where the show misses a step is when it implies that the architect, Louis Pilié, was the one solely responsible for creating Jackson Square. Actually the responsibility for that lies with the Baroness Micaela Almonester who is so god damn interesting I wrote an entire article about her years ago and I have no shame about recommending that you read it.
The tl;dr version of Micaela’s story is that she survived being shot at and she’s the reason why the French Quarter looks the way that it does. Basically she’s the one who made the concept of wrought and cast-ironwork so fashionable. She brought the idea over from Europe and everybody else copied her because who wouldn’t want to be like a Baroness?
(And the skilled artisans who could actually make that gorgeous ironwork? You know this one: the free people of color.)
Again I strongly and shamelessly encourage you to read all about Micaela because her full story is fascinating. But of particular note for show purposes is that the architect she hired to design the Pontalba buildings which surround Jackson Square was James Gallier Sr, aka the father of James Gallier Jr, the man who designed - and in the real world lived in - the flat at Rue Royale. Small world, huh?
Moving on to Storyville. The show is correct that Ordinance 4118 signaled the start of the end of the district. Now come on, y'all, I know, I know you have listened to me say it again and again and again so when they dropped that fact that they were pushing Louis to move to the other side of Canal Street you immediately said “oh no they did NOT” right??
Shoving anything to the other side of Canal Street was a huge insult. They did it to the Americans after the Louisiana Purchase and were happy to do it to anybody else who was considered someone who didn’t belong. And if you want the full historic implications here the French Quarter was the original city of New Orleans. Canal Street is and was one of its borders. So pushing people to the other side of Canal Street said you were not welcome in New Orleans proper, even when the actual boundaries of what was considered New Orleans grew to where they are today.
This ties in to a small quibble about vocabulary, which is that in this episode the show equates Creole with person of color. That’s not correct. The definition of Creole is someone whose parents were born elsewhere and they were born in Louisiana. Now obviously the slave trade meant that a huge number of people who met this definition were the children of the enslaved. But this applied to anybody. So for example Louis in the original novel was also a Creole because his parents came from France but he was born locally.
I say this because people who were Creole also overlapped with the higher classes in New Orleans, which meant the folks living in the original city of New Orleans. As you already know, that upper class included both white people and free people of color, which includes Louis’ family in the show. So Louis being told to take his business to the other side of Canal is an insult on a ton of levels. He’s not just being sent in the direction that all the unwanted are, but he’s being treated as though his family’s status means nothing. Sure he’s a Creole but he’s not the right kind of Creole. It’s an insult both to his race and to his entire family history. Frankly Louis’ retaliation for all this was kind.
A nice part about this week’s episode is that it dropped enough details about Louis’ brothel that we now know who Louis’ new story is based on: Willie Piazza. Willie was the madam and owner of one of the higher class brothels in Storyville. Notable tidbits about that brothel are that it allowed interracial pairings, Willie paid it off in two years, and it was the Storyville brothel where Jelly Roll Morton played.
If those details aren’t familiar enough there’s also how Willie was the brothel owner who actually tried standing up to the government’s attempt to shut down Storyville. Though the methods aren’t the same as Louis’ shared ownership, she did try her best to find loopholes in the laws such as by attempting to pass herself off as white and by successfully arguing to the Louisiana Supreme Court that the ordinance overstepped itself by also regulating where prostitutes lived and not just worked.
Unfortunately attempts to hold things off only lasted so long and Storyville did shut down in 1917. And while I side eye how between this and overlooking Micaela means this is twice in one episode that the contributions of women to New Orleans history have been elided, I do appreciate the confirmation about Willie because that means we can add in some new details to our handy dandy map.
We’ve got a few notable locations pointed out in this ep so I’ve updated the map from last week with red markers for the new stuff. The horse is Jackson Square, and you can see how close it is to the flat at Rue Royale (the house in purple) as well as to the water where shipments would come in.
The red XXX is the location of Willie Piazza’s brothel. Based on the fact that we now know for sure that Louis’ brothel was based on hers and that Louis can see the all white brothels across from his on Basin Street, we can say with pretty good certainty this is where Louis’ brothel is meant to be as well. Also again note how key locations are: it doesn’t matter what street you’re on if you’re on the wrong side of it.
To the left of the brothel I’ve got an H marking the former location of Charity Hospital, which is referenced on the show as somewhere people would go to get treated for STDs. In the real world Charity was exactly what it said on the tin: a hospital where you could get treatment even if you couldn’t afford it. Sadly it was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina and attempts to rebuild it never panned out.
Moving clockwise from there we have a red line marking Claiborne, which is where Louis mentions owning shops. Given that these are listed as respectable businesses of his my guess is that the ones he owns are in Treme but it’s possible he has some in Storyville as well.
Finally the show tells us that Louis’ family lives on Esplanade. And since we learned last week that they live a half mile away we now have a red house marking the location of the de Pointe du Lac family home. You can see it’s not that far from St Augustine church and not a horrible walk from the flat at Rue Royale either.
Which then gets us into our last bit of local information which is pronunciations. I forgive Lestat for getting it wrong but Louis would know better. My guess is that indoor scenes were filmed before the scenes on location with locals who could correct them because there’s no excuse.
So, for the home crowd, Iberville, the real name of the area Storyville resides in, is EE-bear-ville not EYE-bur-ville. And Esplanade, the street Louis’ family lives on, is ess-plan-AHD, which should rhyme with “odd” instead of ess-plain-AID like lemonade.
The more you know!
As always, things which don’t fit anywhere else:
- I’d say I hope Daniel had those original interview files backed up to the cloud but he’s a pretentious hipster so it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t
- Related, while I’m glad the show didn’t make it canon that Lestat inspired Jelly Roll Morton, this version of Daniel is 100% the guy who would whitesplain jazz to a Black man who lived during its creation.
- Loads of great lines this week. “The gods of easily attainable dreams” was a great Lestat line in particular and “I’ll let you reload” was a beautiful line for Louis. I love this version of him so much. (Book Louis would never.)
- “You haven’t accepted your place in the world” was a great line to be aimed at Louis, especially this version of Louis. Like I said before I’d love for the show to really dig in to the various layers of how this interpretation of Louis belongs to many worlds while feeling like he isn’t a part of any of them.
- Kids who want to actually understand concepts like foreshadowing and parallels should study Louis’ mentioning the slaves being hung in Jackson Square with what Louis did to the alderman, and Louis kicking in the door of his family home to see Grace vs Louis kicking in a door to save Claudia.
- Louis, you live in the French Quarter and you’re getting your rats delivered? Just go into your own courtyard and grab some, you lazy sod.
- I cannot imagine having sex in the Bayou. Never mind the mud, the bugs.
- Related, it doesn’t matter if it was raining or not. They live in swampland. There’s no such thing as dry ground.
- I have no need for the show to mimic the books’s assertion that vampires can’t have proper sex, but it does amuse me that them not doing that raises questions like what exactly is Louis shooting into Jonah’s mouth? (They cry blood so I think we can all assume the answer here, but still.)
- Much like last week’s practical shot of Louis’ coat change to indicate the passage of time, I loved the practical shot of Louis appearing in the alderman’s bedroom.
- Related, we had some wonderfully done shots this week. For example, check out the picture at the top of this page to see how the framing shows Louis and Lestat being together but divided. Shout out to Jesse M Feldman for the cinematography.
- I’m still undecided on the costuming and soundtrack, but things that I’m keeping an eye on are the use of piano motifs vs violin (and when we hear both together) as well as when we see Louis and Lestat wearing anything that resembles color. I’m particularly interested to see how both are going to be affected by Claudia entering the picture.
And that’s all for this week! See you next time as we find out what else the show tees up for me to nerd out about.