Warning: The following contains spoilers for Interview With the Vampire through episode six as well as the Vampire Chronicles books. Read at your own risk.
Additional Warning: This article discusses rape and domestic violence.
AMC’s Interview With the Vampire is weird. There are some things it does really well. Then there are others where I sit there wondering how on earth the concepts even made it past the brainstorming stage, let alone all the way to script and film and our TVs.
Six episodes in and the thing I keep coming back to is that I don’t think the folks working on Interview With the Vampire understand genre. Both in the sense that they don’t understand the genre of the book they’re taking their inspiration from and in the sense that I don’t think they understand what genre they want their show to be.
Put these two things together and you get things like tonight’s episode, in which Louis is explicitly the victim of domestic violence, and last week’s episode in which Claudia was raped, and you get a hot mess of what kind of story this show is trying to tell.
Which is a whole discussion so we may as well get into it.
Why Genre Matters in Interview With the Vampire
Among the features of Gothic horror is that, well, things happen that are horrifying. Specifically those things happen because of supernatural events and the impact of actions from the past.
The part about supernatural is key because the supernatural is meant to be a metaphor. Vampires themselves, in the thousands of years they have been part of cultures around the world, are a metaphor. They symbolize the other. Whatever is most anathema to that culture or that story, that is what the vampire will be. There’s a reason why Dracula, written during the Victorian era, represents concepts of sex, sexuality, and even the idea that women could have their own sexual agency.
But the thing is represents. It is not the actual thing. Lucy in Dracula, after becoming a vampire, doesn’t go around having sex with every person she sees. Instead she embodies the idea of someone wanton and unable to control the desires of her body until she is finally stopped in a fraught struggle that ends with a long hard object being thrust into her.
Nobody said it was subtle symbolism but it’s still symbolism.
In writing symbols and metaphors are used to illustrate concepts in a way that helps look at things in a new manner. Sometimes this is because the culture at the time doesn’t allow for the direct expression of the thing itself so sneakier ways have to be used. Other times it’s to provoke thought about what the story is trying to say.
When you’re dealing with a story like Interview With the Vampire the book, vampirism is used as a prism by which to examine human nature. Generally speaking “Is it bad to kill random people you bump into on the street?” is a question that gets an easy yeah, that’s something society would like us all to avoid. However, if you’re a vampire and killing people is the only way to survive is it still bad? Are you sure? What if you only kill people who are themselves murderers? What if by killing people you keep yourself strong enough to battle against vampires you are more powerful than you who do worse things to humans than simply drink from them?
Where on the scale does something flip from good to bad? As Lestat himself says in the books, “Evil is a point of view.”
Now we start having a discussion. The struggle is summed up pretty well in the RPG Vampire the Masquerade: “A beast I am, lest a beast I become.” In that game, one of the mechanics is that you have to sate your hunger for blood or else you will lose the ability to control yourself and you will harm others in horrific ways. Sure an easy solution is to kill yourself but how easy is that to do when all beings long to survive?
I say all of this because while there are aspects of horror and even Gothic horror that AMC’s Interview With the Vampire does well, I think you can guess by now the thing it falls down on. The most horrible crimes aren’t symbolic, they’re just the thing.
To be clear, you don’t have to use symbolism. If you want to just straight up use the thing go nuts. But that needs to be a mindful choice, especially when you’re moving away from source material that was deeply entrenched in the metaphors.
For example, Anne Rice’s vampires don’t need to breathe. They don’t eat food. They do not have sex. They are physically incapable of doing all these things. Now you can, as AMC’s Interview With the Vampire did, decide to change those rules. But then you need to consider the impact. If Louis, as he does in episode six, has to worry about a punctured lung, then why can’t vampires be killed by drowning or suffocation? Drinking alcohol gets them drunk, so can they be poisoned?
And that’s just the headaches you give yourself as a writer once you open that door. Then you throw in sex which is fine. Plenty of shows, movies, and novels have had vampires having sex (that was basically the entire appeal of True Blood, after all). But when you introduce actual sex you need to be mindful of the impact that has on vampirism as a representation of sex. A good example is how on Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Buffy and Angel had sex Angel didn’t turn into a jerk by bragging to other guys in the locker room about being able to score, he did it by turning into a soulless evil monster.
This brings us back to things like raping Claudia, and saying Louis is a victim of domestic violence.
You can do these things. It is a straight up waste of a vampire story because you could just do stories about rape and domestic violence without adding the supernatural to it, but sure go nuts. However, when you’re doing this, particularly when it’s part of adapting a story, you need to change the right things.
I’m going to focus on Claudia’s rape because it’s the most egregious part of it. Claudia’s rape last week was a complete and utter genre violation. It was not only a violation of Gothic horror because it wasn’t symbolic, but it was a violation of the horror genre as well. In horror sex is punished with death. Why? Because again symbol and metaphor. There’s a direct through line from Lucy getting staked to the kids at Camp Crystal Lake getting stabbed. The fear is death, the fear is doing things that could make you die, especially if you’re naughty enough to want to do something for pleasure. Raping someone is a completely different animal, and when you’re talking about a trope that even folks on Reddit can’t stand that says something.
I already talked last week about how gratuitous Claudia’s rape was so I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already said. But episode six makes the rape even worse by saying Lestat was the one behind it.
It feels ironic that back in episode one I was saying that the show hadn’t changed Lestat enough, but woo boy did I not mean this. Why? Why?
Look, in the books Lestat is an asshole. He is capricious and occasionally cruel. He does a lot of things for the lols, which is part of how he earns the nickname the brat prince. He’s even a rapist, though that only happens in Tale of the Body Thief when he’s temporarily human (because remember? Anne’s vampires are physically incapable of sex acts).
But what he isn’t is a straight up walking example of a How to Tell if You Are In An Abusive Relationship pamphlet. And by doing this to him the show has made Lestat a completely unsympathetic character because he has no redeeming qualities.
(I know, I know, there’s people in fandom who worship this version of Lestat anyway. He’s a skinny white European dude, of course they’re clotting around him no matter how awful he is. The only thing he’s missing is black hair that looks like it’s never met shampoo.)
In the books, even in Louis’ biased version of events in Interview With the Vampire which cast Lestat in the worst possible light, the tension comes from the push and pull of who between Louis and Lestat is worse? Yes, Lestat has his moments of being outwardly cruel, no question. Louis and Claudia in the books ultimately want to kill him same as their TV selves do and you can’t blame them. But in the books it’s clear Louis is no prize either. Lestat does horrible things because he thinks they’re funny. Louis does them because he’s too wishy washy about his own morality so he ends up hurting people whether or not he means to.
Also, yanno, let’s not forget that Louis in the books was a slave owner.
Louis and Lestat then become the perfect embodiment of the question of what is good and evil when you’re talking about monsters. Is Louis good because he’s kinder to Claudia than Lestat is or is Louis worse because his needy love of Claudia is part of why Claudia forces herself to stay alive in the body of a kindergartner?
When you change that to make Lestat a straight up abusive boyfriend and father, and you add that on top of making Claudia old enough that for all that she’s supposedly 14 she looks like a young 20something, you remove all debate. Lestat’s a dick. He’s a dick with no redeeming features. Yeah, Sam Reid has some fun campy moments with it but not enough for it to make it worth watching.
And I hate to keep ragging on Sam when he is, honestly, doing a great job with some parts - I loved his monologue about Lestat’s history, for example, it was wonderfully acted (and shot with that slow closeup) - but dude is not charismatic enough to pull off Lestat. Since episode one we’ve had Louis insisting how captivating Lestat is and I’m sitting here like… him?
He’s okay! He is! If all they were trying to do is say Lestat was reasonably handsome and occasionally romantic enough that he was able to draw Louis in I’d be fine with it. But the show itself keeps saying he’s supposed to be setting everyone’s panties on fire and Jacob Anderson is right there. It doesn’t work.
And you can tell the show knows that because it keeps hedging its bets whenever it’s trying to sell the idea. From episode one where Louis did voiceovers instead of letting us hear the supposedly irresistible sales pitch Lestat made about being his vampire companion to last night when Daniel himself calls out how unbelievable it was Louis went back to Lestat and Louis says it’s a “vampire bond.” C’mon. That’s just lazy.
What gets me is that they have horror with Lestat and they have it well. I loved the scene in the train with Claudia. Well - let me make it clear, I didn’t love the setup. It was utter bullshit that Claudia, the rich vampire with mind controlling powers, couldn’t swing herself first class accommodations or even her own private car. Again we’re falling down on the symbolism: Claudia as vampire should be better. The tragedy of her life is supposed to be that all the advantages of being a vampire are hindered by her being in the body of a child. This isn’t the kind of vampire story where being a vampire means she’s literally sitting with the animals.
Frankly to me that setup read more as “Shit we need a reason for why she’s alone when Lestat shows up and also why there’s animals around. Uhhh…. I know she’s in freight for reasons!” than an actual mindful choice about how Claudia would travel.
That being said, the scene with Lestat himself was great. I particularly loved the tension of him playing with the dog. Because the audience gets to sit there the whole time worrying that he’s going to kill it, then it’s made even worse when he puts the dog safely back in its crate. Lestat is quietly showing his power (he could hurt anything he liked but in this case he’s choosing not to) and then following it with an insult and implied threat to Claudia (he will hurt her and her well being means less to him than an animal’s.)
But then the show took this wonderful scene and ruined it by having Lestat be responsible for Claudia’s rape. Why? There is no need for it! He was terrifying as is. Claudia never needed to be raped in the first place and she definitely didn’t need it to be because of Lestat.
Lestat being able to keep tabs on Claudia’s location via other vampires was scary enough on its own, and a great supernatural representation of one of the reasons why abuse victims find it hard to leave: their abusers often track them down. Lestat would be telling Claudia it didn’t matter where in the world she tried to escape, she’d never be able to hide from him.
Also note how much worse it would’ve been if Claudia had been in a position of power. Here she is, with her freedom, in a first class train car all of her own, thinking she’s finally able to have something of a good life, and then boom! Lestat comes in. Even when Claudia is at her best, he’s always going to be able to take it from her.
Instead she’s already cowering behind crates barely able to hide from humans. The fact that Lestat found her isn’t even that remarkable.
I have more thoughts about all this, particularly how the lack of understanding about genre is hurting the show in much the same way as their lack of understanding about race, but I’ll hold off to see how episode seven goes.
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else
- Book readers knew that Lestat wasn’t going to hurt the dog because it was a mastiff, the kind of dogs he had as a human and which he considered his only friends. That continues the show’s trend of knowing how to include book references while making them serve the story.
- Related, Louis asking if Lestat was responsible for Paul’s death relates to a fan theory that some had about the books.
- There’s not enough New Orleans specific stuff for this week but I’ll note that Ponchatula, where Antoinette was living, is currently about 34 minutes away from Rue Royale by car.
- Algiers, on the other hand, is across the Mississippi.
- Another episode highlight was an excellent use of POV. As I watched the scene of Lestat and Antoinette together I wrote in my notes this scene shouldn’t be possible because we’re in Louis’ POV, so if Louis didn’t see it we shouldn’t either. Sure enough, camera pulls back and there’s Louis. That was nicely done.
- The story of Lestat’s origin is pulled directly from the books. I’m scratching my head a bit though at how they’re writing Claudia’s reactions to it. She’s right that Lestat isn’t trustworthy but when she’s presented as not only disbelieving Lestat but mean about it it makes her come off as unsympathetic. I’m not saying she should be giving him hugs about his abandonment issues. It’s just that when she is only shown needling him about the things that are true it undercuts the idea that she’s any sort of moral voice in comparison. I get why she’d play her knowledge of Antoinette close to the chest but they should’ve shown her trying to poke holes in his other stories as well.
- Also why wouldn’t Claudia believe Nicki is a nickname for Nicolas? She knows Lestat and Louis are together and she calls Lestat “Les.” Both the male partner and the name shortening shouldn’t be the things that are throwing her here.
- Much like with Claudia, I don’t think they understand that they’re not keeping a through line on how much we’re supposed to be listening to Daniel as a voice of reason either. I don’t need him to be a voice of reason, I just want consistency in what his point of view is supposed to represent.
- The episode was directed by Levan Atkin and written by Coline Abert and suffice it to say neither one of them appear to have the lived experience to be trusted with a story wherein the Black characters are making comparisons about what their current life is to slavery.
- Louis tossing Lestat’s coffin into the street like it was his leftover clothes was funny.
- I have so many thoughts about costuming on this show but I’m holding off until the final episode before I make any conclusions. For now I’ll just say there’s a lot of staring and wondering what, if anything, is being done on purpose.
- Louis confirming that his name comes from Pointe du Lac Plantation does suggest that Louis’s great grandfather was white and Louis and his family started as enslaved and became free people of color. I’m also inclined to believe this is the case because it’s clear that the show didn’t put any thought or research into the history of slavery in New Orleans and this progression is the most obvious with the least amount of effort.
- I know Louis said “great great grandfather” to Daniel but I’m assuming he added a generation there to hide his true age.
- Finally we get confirmation that Rashid is more than he appears.
And that’s all for this week! See you next week for the hopefully thrilling conclusion. Thanks for reading!