Content warning: sexual assault, domestic abuse, brutalization, racialized violence
The initial strength of AMC’s Interview with the Vampire adaptation came from the decision to torque the story into a romance. The central relationship in this version is, undoubtedly, the one between Louis (Jacob Anderson) and Lestat (Sam Reid). As the show progresses through the book’s plot to Interview With The Vampire Season 1 Episode 5, however, this emphasis raises some thorny issues.
As I mentioned in my recap of the premiere, it’s Lestat (in The Vampire Lestat) who says he was in love with Louis. In the first novel, Louis says no such thing. By and large, he simply tolerates Lestat because it’s the path of least resistance. In Louis’s telling, there’s little strong feeling between the two of them at all, besides the occasional flash of hatred on Louis’s part. When he and Claudia leave Lestat, it’s Claudia’s revenge, not Louis’s.
But AMC’s Interview with the Vampire adaptation has set up an entirely different dynamic. First of all, no matter how messed up their relationship is in the light of day, Louis and Lestat do love each other. They’re definitely not good for each other, and Lestat, even before the violent events of Episode 5, undoubtedly abuses Louis. It’s not a healthy relationship by any definition, but the feelings between Louis and Lestat are intense.
With Interview With The Vampire Season 1 barreling toward the couple’s inevitable breaking point, one question arises: what will it take for Louis to realize that he needs to free himself from Lestat? Episode 5 potentially provides an answer, but I’m not sure I like it. Although the final ten minutes of the episode have dominated most of my thoughts, I suppose I have to summarize the rest of the episode, too. So let’s start at the beginning.
Episode 5 opens with Louis, in the present day, sucking greedily from Rashid’s (Assad Zaman) neck while Daniel (Eric Bogosian) looks on. The journalist reads aloud from one of Claudia’s (Bailey Bass) diaries. He’s found a kill list, wherein Claudia briefly describes her victims and records their last words. Daniel judges the list gruesome, but Rashid jumps in to call Daniel a hypocrite. “You are chronicling a suicide,” Rashid accuses. He goes on to explain that the other vampires of the world will surely come after Louis once Daniel’s book is published. So what’s the difference between Claudia writing down her victims’ last words and Daniel documenting Louis’? Louis dismisses his defender before things get too heated. After a little back and forth, he returns to recounting his tale to Daniel.
In 1923, we find Claudia in serial killer mode. Louis remains in denial about it until Lestat shows him proof. Claudia’s coffin, where Louis assumed she was languishing, lies empty. Inside remain only her diaries, which Louis and Lestat promptly read like the bad parents they are. When Claudia gets home, Louis and Lestat confront her about her recklessness. Both worry that Claudia’s killing spree will draw undue attention to their vampire household.
Claudia, relatively amateur murderer that she is, buries the bodies in a part of town below the waterline. Soon, the water rises, the bodies surface, and scrutiny ensues. Louis and Lestat must scramble to clean up Claudia’s mess and keep themselves far from suspicion. When Louis and Lestat meet with a politician acquaintance at a speakeasy, they learn the extent of the damage: Over fifty bodies were found, each with a “soft part” missing. After soliciting a bribe for his latest campaign, the politician gives Louis and Lestat a heads-up that the police will soon be knocking at their door.
The police do eventually come knocking, and what follows is macabre slapstick. Louis and Lestat distract the cops while a visibly drunk Claudia attempts to clean up her room of horrors; in addition to her “souvenirs,” Claudia also has a half-dead man tied up in her wardrobe. Eventually, the cops leave, but only after threatening Louis and Lestat.
Lestat immediately turns on Louis and Claudia, blaming them both for the situation. “You wanted her, you fix her,” he snarls at Louis. Claudia finally cracks and expresses the source of her suffering. She laments that she has no one, that she will forever be alone because she does not and cannot have a romantic partner. Claudia has, unsuccessfully, been endeavoring to make herself a vampire companion. She crudely asks how Louis can fix her predicament, demanding, “Which one of you gonna fuck me?” Book-Louis routinely calls Claudia his “lover” and describes her in oddly sensual terms; however, show-Louis is explicitly homosexual, which circumvents this particular thread of the novel. Lestat, as usual, shrugs off the question with a devastating insult.
Claudia, incensed, asks Louis point blank why he puts up with Lestat. She reveals that she’s been trailing Lestat and monitoring his activity. Trying to jolt Louis into action, she dramatically exposes Lestat’s continued affair with Antoinette. “He’s gotten tired of us, Daddy Lou,” Claudia says. “The housewife and the mistake.” Despite Louis’s protestations, Claudia packs up and leaves the townhouse.
To avoid being implicated in the discovery of Claudia’s victims, Louis and Lestat go underground for seven years. When they rejoin the world, it’s 1930, and the Depression is well under way. Like the economy, Louis, too, is deeply depressed. He incessantly calls out for Claudia with his mind, he neglects the house, and he ignores Lestat (and his “considerable considerables”). This is our first glimpse of the show’s version of the classic-flavor, morose Louis de Pointe du Lac.
In a nice riff on what was just a brief passage in the novel, we get to see how Claudia spends her seven years away from Louis and Lestat. In the The Vampire Chronicles, Louis describes a stretch of years in which Claudia retreats into her studies, effectively abandoning him. Because this adaptation of Interview with the Vampire ages Claudia up, it can get away with Claudia actually being on her own for a little while – a fourteen-year-old skulking around by herself is a lot less remarkable than a five-year-old doing the same. And so Claudia spends her years of freedom searching various university libraries for information about vampires, looking for others like herself as well as answers about where vampires come from.
Unfortunately, Claudia does accidentally find another vampire while she’s away. After Damon Daunno‘s motorcyled, mysterious Bruce (no, not that one) saves her from harassment, then flashes his fangs, Claudia knows he’s in the club. She leaves with him and the two of them swap vampire stories. But the encounter goes sideways when Bruce appears to sexually assaults Claudia.
The sexual assault is only implied, because the pages in Claudia’s diary that contain her account of the rest of the night have been ripped out. Daniel makes a point of requesting the missing pages from Louis, stating that he can’t take Louis’ word for what happened. Louis refuses to acquiesce. In fact, Daniel’s insistence so angers Louis that he attacks the journalist mentally, exacerbating his Parkinson’s tremor until Daniel loses control of his hands altogether. After Rashid intercedes, Daniel slaps Louis in the face.
Meanwhile, Louis suffers the pain of realizing that his sister has finally, definitively let him go. Grace (Kalyne Coleman) and her family are moving North for employment, and she summons Louis to a graveyard to say goodbye. There, Grace shows Louis his own headstone, informing him that she’s had him declared officially dead.
Claudia, ever the spy, witnesses the moment. In witnessing Louis’ pain, Claudia realizes why Louis asked Lestat to turn her: “To be Louis’s sister.” Motivated by her traumatic experience with Bruce and her newfound insight into Louis, Claudia returns to the townhouse at long last.
When it becomes clear that Claudia has only returned to convince Louis to leave, Lestat’s nasty behavior intensifies: after Claudia implores Louis to come with her, Lestat lunges for her throat. Louis dives at Lestat to get him off of Claudia – and Lestat’s control disappears. Out of the frame, Lestat pulverizes Louis, smashing up the townhouse in the process, while Claudia can only listen and cower.
On the one hand, physical violence has different stakes for two immortal beings. Lestat can take his frustration out on Louis as ferociously as he likes without doing lasting damage. And there’s still a drama inherent to the spectacle of two superheroes or two gods wreaking unthinkable destruction on each other and the world around them. But I found this scene so disturbing precisely because Louis and Lestat are not duking it out. Louis simply takes the beating, just as Claudia condemns him for doing at the start of Interview with the Vampire Season 1 Episode 5. He takes it just as we’ve seen him do for four whole episodes. Instead of a culmination, this scene feels more like a gratuitous escalation of the abusive dynamic we’ve already been watching play out.
Perhaps most unsettling is the way that the violence works largely as a character beat for Lestat. After throwing Louis around the house, Lestat drags him outside by the jaw. To get away from Claudia (“It was never you,” Lestat says to her), Lestat takes Louis for a flight. In an image that mirrors their first scene of communion in the pilot episode, Louis and Lestat shoot straight up into the air, then hang there in the night sky: Louis locked in Lestat’s grip, Lestat drinking from Louis’ neck. If we keep in mind that Anne Rice’s vampires equate drinking each other’s blood with the intimacy of sex, this act’s rape-coding becomes undeniable.
Once he finishes with Louis’s neck, Lestat – who, it should be noted, never loves Louis the way he needs to be loved – launches into an illuminating monologue. Essentially, Lestat berates Louis for failing to love him, for acting so contemptuous in the face of Lestat’s patient waiting. Lestat begs Louis to “just say it” and admit that he will never love Lestat. Although Lestat acts monstrously, his display of twisted vulnerability and emotional pain puts his rage in perspective. I am not saying that this monologue justifies anything. But it does frame the episode’s finale as a horrific catharsis for Lestat at Louis’ expense.
It’s brutal to watch. I dithered over this recap for way too long trying to work through my reaction to the scene’s extremity. I hesitate to say that it went too far, because it’s meant to be rough. And, to this point, Interview with the Vampire has been an unequivocal portrait of an abusive relationship. So far, though, the adaptation has walked a tricky line with its characterization of Lestat. He’s more sympathetic than he is in the first novel, but he’s no less vicious. The end of Interview with the Vampre Season 1 Episode 5 threatens to tip the balance too far in both directions simultaneously. His violence against Louis is so heinous that it’s nearly impossible to conceive of ever forgiving Lestat. At the same time, the violence prioritizes Lestat’s psychology and almost challenges the viewer to understand his state of mind.
Ultimately, until I see how the next two episodes handle the fallout, I don’t think I can resolve my conflicted feelings about it. To balance the metaphorical scales, the show will have to give nuanced consideration to Louis’ experience of Lestat’s magnified cruelty.
- I get more confused by Rashid each episode. I’m convinced he’s a vampire—Rashid’s sunlit scenes in Episode 4 were quite carefully blocked to keep him in the shadows. (Also, you think Louis’ vampire compound doesn’t have some expensive UV-filter coatings on the windows?) The opening blood sucking scene, though, seems meant to imply that Rashid’s a human. Mind you, the blood sucking isn’t definitive proof that Rashid’s not a vampire. But if he is a vampire, then he and Louis were having the Anne-Rice-vampire version of sex right in front of Daniel. Kinky.
- The virgin line from Claudia’s diary comes back in Episode 5, when Lestat finds her journals. He reads the line aloud, and mockingly, to Louis. But his mocking tone falters as he makes his way through the next sentence, which shocks with its graphic specificity. (Sam Reid’s delivery remains impeccable.)
- Rice’s vampires can go dormant for years at a time; Lestat does it for decades after the events of Interview in the books. I assumed that’s what Louis and Lestat did when they “went underground,” but the show didn’t make this entirely clear.
- I’m pretty good at identifying actors, but Damon Daunno stumped me until I revisited Episode 5 and suddenly remembered seeing him sing a real sexy version of “The Surrey with a Fringe On Top” at Circle in the Square Theater. Daunno, who is primarily a stage actor, was nominated for a Tony for playing Curly in Daniel Fish’s 2019 Broadway revival of “Oklahoma!” (aka “the Oklahoma! that fucks”).