Warning: The following contains spoilers for Interview With the Vampire through episode four as well as the Vampire Chronicles books. Read at your own risk.
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You know, I’m ambivalent on Interview With the Vampire’s “The Ruthless Pursuit of Blood With All A Child’s Demanding.” First up because there should be an extra “of” in there. I get that Anne Rice (via Louis) never let anything get in the way of turning the purple of that prose all the way up to Thanos’s personal Fenty shade but by the same token it’s not like worry about coming in under a word count was a factor.
But in terms of the actual content of the episode… eh? I’m coming on eh. I didn’t hate it, but I’m not thrilled about it either.
I started doing what I thought was an introduction to why and then realized it was becoming long enough for its own section. So let’s just get into it by talking about the character of Claudia in the books and the issues with translating her to other media. Then we can break down how the show did specifically.
The Problem With Claudia The Vampire
The thing about Claudia is that she is a hot potato of a concept to handle. Going all the way back to her original format she’s a mix of interesting narrative and philosophical ideas combined with an author who eventually revealed herself to have some questionable opinions on children and sexuality. In fact let’s just get this out of the way right now: the concept of an adult mind trapped in a child’s body and what that might mean for that child to want to have relationships with adults sounds interesting until you see that it became a pattern in Anne’s books to repeatedly write about underage children seducing older men.
Now I am very much on team fiction is fiction. I don’t think writing about Hannibal Lector makes Thomas Harris a serial killer any more than I think writing about Ramses meant Anne Rice knew how to speak Coptic. I’m not saying this reflects on anything Anne ever did or personally believed in the real world. I’m just saying when we analyze the text as the text the ability for Claudia to be an interesting thought experiment gets a huge spanner in the works when you realize the sexual trolley problem Anne was presenting wasn’t “What if you legitimately had someone with an adult’s mind in a child’s body?” so much as “So we all sympathize with characters who believe children both want to and should be able to fuck grown ups, am I right? Wait, why am I the only one holding up my hand here?”
And for the record I’m not even including Belinda when I say this because that’s a genre unto itself.
Point being, if I’m doing the task of trying to translate Claudia into a different medium, my job gets harder when I realize the character is not built on a foundation of “What defines age and self?” so much as “No, seriously, them sexy kids huh?” Like there’s layers of implication here you have to be careful to skootch away from lest you take a wrong turn and come out of it making it look like you think Humbert Humbert was a misunderstood genius.
Then you add in the extra degree of difficulty that AMC’s Interview With the Vampire gave itself by casting Bailey Bass and thus making Claudia Black as well.
The way the movie handled it was by casting an at the time 11 year old Kirsten Dunst to play Claudia as the five year old child she was in the books. Thus, when she gets turned into a vampire, on the one hand she gets a wicked perm but on the other hand she is trapped in what is very much a child’s body. More importantly, the audience can see that.
This then stresses the ongoing tragedy of Claudia’s life: not only has she been turned into a vampire without any say so, but she has no hope whatsoever of ever looking like an adult no matter how old she actually is. Thus, when we get a The Professional-esque scene of Claudia trying to seduce Louis, other than some really creepy people in the audience, most everyone is on the page that this is gross. Sucks for Claudia, and not in the fun way, but gross.
This was also helped by how the movie stuck to the book concept that Anne Rice’s vampires don’t have sex. Blood drinking was their ultimate orgasm. So even the implication that Louis would want to touch Claudia in a sexual manner wasn’t on the table.
I’m not saying the movie handled everything perfectly, but considering the challenge I’d say they straddled the line of tragedy and creepy fairly well.
The TV show goes a few other directions.
First up, they age up Claudia. Which I can see from a casting viewpoint - as of writing this Bailey Bass is 19 years old, which means that even while filming they had good odds of her physical appearance not changing much. You’re not getting that The Umbrella Academy problem of everybody trying to pretend that Aiden Gallagher is still in junior high.
Making Claudia 14 also sorta kinda handles some of the ick factor because at least she’s not barely out of being a toddler. If Claudia is questioning and exploring her sexuality, well that’s what 14 year olds do.
But this brings back more difficulty. Because the show, unlike the books and the movies, has said that sex for vampires is sex. We’ve got throbbing members all over the place up in here. Which is fine when we’re talking about grown ups like Louis and Lestat, but when we’re talking about underage kids (which 14 year old Claudia still is) we’ve lost a protective layer of symbolism.
Which you can do but you have to be careful is all.
Then we have the issue of making Claudia Black. And on the one hand I liked how this combined with things like Louis and Claudia being able to speak to one another telepathically but not with Lestat to create some nice symbolism about how Louis and Claudia have many things connecting them which Lestat would never be able to be a part of or understand.
But there is that flip side which is that traditionally Black children are frequently viewed as being adults long before their time. And Black girls in particular are seen as more sexually mature than their white counterparts. Which I think can be a very interesting conversation and one where the genre of fantasy and scifi can provide great avenues for exploring. But when you’re doing so you have to be careful that you’re sending the right message.
For example, I think the idea of Claudia’s first experience with sex being as a 19 year old who looks younger than she is is good. There are lots of teenagers who physically age at different rates and the struggle of where they fit in in the spectrum of child to adult is a real one.
Likewise I think the concept of Claudia’s first time with sex and first time with her boyfriend resulting in a permanent, unalterable change to their relationship and Claudia’s life is a good one. As I was watching I was thinking how this is the flip side of the idea that Buffy having sex with Angel made him lose his soul.
In the case of Buffy and Angel it was meant to symbolize the guy who treats you wonderfully until you sleep with him, at which point he acts like an asshole. With Claudia in the TV show I think there was an element of symbolism of how Claudia tried to have agency in her own sexuality and pleasure but unfortunately she wasn’t yet mature enough for the consequences.
Which isn’t bad per se but… when you take a step back it’s not great either? Because what we have is a Black 19 year old girl who is so focused on sex she turns into a man eater? Which means now we’re veering into Jezebel territory, and making Claudia far too close to that stereotype of Black women being “predatory” - especially since in Claudia’s case it’s literal.
The episode was directed by Keith Powell, who also did last week’s, and I don’t want to discount how I’m sure he was bringing his lived experience to his directing choices. At the same time fantasy and horror (which the Vampire Chronicles straddle the line of - urban fantasy in some ways, but fantasy all the same) has its own symbolism and you have to be mindful of that when you’re working in those genres. (Which is something that writer Eleanor Burgess also lacks.)
Put another way, I would much rather see this take on Claudia done by somebody like Jordon Peele or Nia DaCosta, which is to say people who have shown they understand how to create stories around the convergence of horror and Black characters. I think this episode of Interview With the Vampire maybe wanted to do that, but I don’t think it succeeded.
Which gets to the quality of the episode as a whole.
Why The Fourth Episode of Interview With A Vampire Struggled
It wasn’t horrible, I do want to stress that. We’re still in the realm where a bad episode of Interview With the Vampire is still better than best episode of far lesser shows. But it wasn’t a strong episode either.
The problem starts, again, with Claudia. And I’m hesitant to point the finger of blame at Bailey Bass’s acting when the script and directing weren’t doing her any favors. I’m also really really hesitant to ever say anything about child actors. I realize Bailey is 19 now but she wasn’t while she was filming. That’s still too young for me to feel comfortable with.
So indulge me as I skip right on past any analysis of her performance, good or bad, and focus on what the grownups did.
And what the script and directing did, first and foremost, is not make Claudia in any way sympathetic.
Think about it, we meet this poor girl when Louis rescues her from a fire. She’s seen her aunt die. She’s horribly burned herself. She gets turned into a vampire and…. immediately becomes a brat.
Which I mean okay, sure. Teenagers can be obnoxious at times. God knows I’ll never hold being bratty against somebody (ahem). But Claudia is introduced to us not as a person but a problem. She’s pushy, she’s hyper, she’s annoying, she’s disruptive. Which again: children and teenagers can be! I don’t doubt Louis and Lestat had many shared long suffering looks while trying to raise her. But her story is supposed to be a tragedy. We in the audience aren’t supposed to be sitting here breathing a sigh of relief when Louis finally busts out a “was” to let us know at least at some point we’ll stop having to deal with her.
And Claudia not being sympathetic has a couple of problems from a writing perspective. First of all it comes off that Eleanor Burgess didn’t know how to write a young teenager. Let’s remember that Claudia, at 14, is only one year older than the protagonist of Turning Red. Turning Red brilliantly managed to show how Mei could be old enough to have hormonal crushes yet young enough to still want to sleep with a stuffed animal. Mei had moments of being hyper but she was still human (and, you know, occasionally a red panda, but still a person inside.)
(Shameless plug: I reviewed Turning Red for Krewe of Best Tea members. Just saying. Ahem.)
I don’t have a problem with the idea that Claudia would be leaving macrons on the furniture and literally bouncing all over the place, but I do raise an eyebrow at her doing that while sounding like she’s actually well into her 20s. Which isn’t helped by how the actress playing her doesn’t come anywhere close to looking 14. (Which I’m blaming on hair and makeup as much as anything. I’ve seen much older actresses than Bailey be made up to plausibly look much younger.)
Then we get into the next problem which is that this is meant to be Claudia’s diary.
You know me, you know I will sing the praises of tight POV when we have it but I’ll call it out when we don’t. This episode fumbled POV.
To be fair, in spite of last week’s episode explicitly saying Louis is an unreliable narrator and demonstrating we in the audience can’t trust what we see is the truth, I don’t think this show intends to have the laser focused POV work that Moon Knight did. Moon Knight built the entire show around the idea that the audience was either in Marc or Steven’s POV and never the twain should meet. Interview With the Vampire isn’t doing that.
That being said, when the show does switch narrators from Louis to Claudia, that should still somehow be reflected in what we’re seeing. And thus Claudia should not come off as annoying.
We’re getting the story from her own diary! Now I was a teenage girl, I remember what I wrote in my journals. I’m not saying she wouldn’t ever put down her moments of despair. But she wouldn’t present herself as bothering people either. In her good moments she’d be the hero of her own life. This should’ve been reflected more in the directing choices. Even things like how often we cut to Louis and Lestat reacting shows it was a miss. We should be seeing Claudia’s reactions to them.
Consider the difference of the montage of Claudia bouncing around the house until she gets into the coffin with Louis vs the moment when the white girls make fun of Claudia’s grown up clothing. In the montage we see Claudia in maximum irritation mode and it ends with Lestat in particular calling her out for bothering him… but not her reaction to how she feels about it. This happens again and again whenever she’s around Louis and Lestat: she misbehaves somehow, they react, that’s it. Which yeah, means that some scenes end on a punchline and that’s funny but it’s not telling a story from Claudia’s POV.
Compared to the girls where yes, they make fun of her, but then you see Claudia being upset by it and what she wants to do in response to it. She remains the protagonist even if she’s not the hero.
This should’ve come up again when Louis joins Daniel later and offers his opinions. This should’ve colored what we were seeing. In fact, we could’ve had some really good work on the tragedy of Claudia’s life if the episode led up to a moment first from Claudia’s POV and then from Louis’.
Take what happened with Charlie. I don’t dispute that this was horrible for Claudia, but imagine how much more horrible it looked to someone like Louis who was able to see the long term consequences Claudia wasn’t able to? Or what if Claudia, with the heightened viewpoint of a teenaged vampire, cast her relationship with Charlie in an entirely romantic light only part of the problem was that she wasn’t aware of how much her powers played a part in it? For example, when she was wishing he would look up at her on the gallery I was thinking well she has mind control, she could make him look up. Imagine if she had?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unaware of how doing that would increase the problematic aspects of her killing Charlie in the first place. I’m just using it as one example of anything we could’ve seen as being wonderful from Claudia’s POV but horrific from Louis’. That, in turn, would’ve helped to show that there are horrors to Claudia’s life even she isn’t aware of, and would’ve in turn helped show how tragic her existence was.
As it is… meh. Not terrible, but not great.
As always, things which don’t fit anywhere else:
- I forgot to point this out last week but the insult of Louis being told to move to the other side of Canal Street is even in the text. Louis gets told to go to uptown of Canal Street while the white brothel owners are allowed to go riverside of Basin Street, which is the French Quarter. So you don’t even have to take my word for it, you can just look at the map to see that Louis and other Black business owners were being treated as unwanted in the city.
- Back on this week’s episode, I sadly do not have the skillset to do this but I’d love to see an analysis of the concepts of language and code switching in the dynamics with Louis, Lestat, and Claudia. For example, we have Louis and Claudia, the two Black members of the family, able to read each other’s minds. On the other hand we have Louis and Lestat, the two queer members of the family, able to shut Claudia out by speaking in French. There’s a lot to dig into there and I hope people smarter than me do it.
- “This is a book” - yes, yes, we get it, thank you, Daniel.
- Between lines like “electronic mailbox” and “Dubai is a child” we’re clearly building to Rashid being something not human, though him hanging by the doorway while Daniel is out in the sunlight implies he’s not a vampire either.
- I continue to say “the river is RIGHT THERE” every time they deal with a body. Especially when it’s a body they have to haul all the way the fuck home from somewhere else. You know what else is right next to the water? Every fucking thing in New Orleans! Seriously! Just chuck it in! You’re making work for yourself!
- Speaking of making work for himself, fishing? Really, Louis? You’re getting that much out of that tiny fish that it’s a good return on your investment of time? Never mind all the rats that are around, go get yourself a farm or something! Raise chickens in the courtyard!
- There was some nice acting on the part of Sam Reid and Jacob Anderson this week. In particular I liked the face journey Sam did when Lestat silently decided he would turn Claudia for Louis. Likewise in the entire episode Jacob always conveyed the idea of being devoted to Claudia as a father even as in the back of his mind he never forgot what a horrible idea this was.
- Seriously, my only objection to Sam’s casting is that he doesn’t manage to be the sexiest and most charismatic person in the room as long as Jacob is there. And honestly if the show continues to stop bringing that up - which it has for a couple of episodes now - I’m fine for pretending that’s not supposed to be part of Lestat’s description and moving on.
- I did love Louis and Lestat debating Claudia’s outfit.
- It also adds something to the tension in the family that Louis and Lestat are in a physically sexual relationship. Part of the dynamic in the books and the movie was that Louis and Claudia had a bond that Lestat couldn’t challenge - which is symbolized on the show in many ways, including their shared race. In the books, Claudia managed to drive a wedge between them because Louis was more devoted to her than to Lestat. Making it more explicit that Louis and Lestat are a couple - a couple in a toxic relationship, but a couple - makes the push and pull around Louis much more even and thus more interesting, if you ask me.
- Daniel knows that Rashid hacked his computer and yet is still keeping notes about Rashid on there? Dude, at least put it in the multi-level deep folder labeled “Old Tax Files 1992” just like you hide your porn, sheesh.
- I know opinions differ among curators now about whether it’s better to touch old things with special gloves or better to do it with freshly washed hands so I won’t get into that debate. I will, however, kill Daniel on sight for eating a sandwich by the artifacts.
- Lestat being 160 knocks a few decades off his claim of having two centuries under his belt. Since he said this in the early 1920s that puts his creation around 1760, which gets closer to the books.
- I will never call him “Les” and you will never make me. I do weep for you fanfiction readers having to put up with it though because you are never scraping that off, woo boy.
- I am nerd enough to hold out hope that next week does give us more glimpses of the history of the era because times are about to get interesting for New Orleans whether or not our vampires want them to.
And that’s all for this week! Catch you next time and thanks for reading.