What We Do in the Shadows Accepts Its Humanity

What Laszlo does to Guillermo in the season-three finale is heinous, but in his twisted kind of way, he is being as kind as he has ever been. Photo: Russ Martin/FX

Note: Major spoilers for “The Portrait,” the season-three finale of What We Do in the Shadows, lie directly ahead.

What We Do in the Shadows season-three finale begins with a vampire funeral tradition. In order to move on from the death of Colin Robinson, the remaining household members — along with the Guide, Baron Afanas, the Sire, and their hellhound — sit for a fresh family portrait painted by Donal Logue. Despite Guillermo’s encouragement to discuss the traumatic events of the previous episode, when Nandor stuck his hand through Colin’s decaying skull like it was a rotten jack-o’-lantern, the vampires insist they don’t care at all that he’s gone.

This is what historically the show has been about: a group of vampires who don’t give a shit about anything, for whom consequences rarely exist, and Guillermo cleaning up their mess. But this is different. The loss of Colin is a fundamental, permanent change that the vampires can’t help but be affected by. He was their friend, and he saved their lives at least once (twice, if you believe in email curses), but to openly share their grief would lower them to the level of ordinary humans, which they cannot abide. As everyone begins making plans to forget Colin, leave Staten Island, and move on with their lives as soon as the portrait is finished, Guillermo realizes their insistence on not caring about anything will actually destroy the group.

It was Colin himself who asserted early in season three, “We’re all a family here.” It began as a joke — a manipulation tactic to make Guillermo more tolerant of being degraded — but when Guillermo insists in the finale that they actually are a family, it makes them even more determined to flee. We have spent an entire season seeing all the ways in which these vampires are not in fact the invincible, all-powerful beings they’d like to think they are: They need to have access to their ancestral soil, they need to keep the Sire alive, they need love, they need purpose, and they need each other. Their insistence that they feel nothing for each other is a last-ditch effort to maintain some sense of their own invulnerability, and it fails spectacularly.

But at first, everyone starts to make plans that involve being anywhere but here: Nandor decides to deal with his midlife crisis by going on an Eat, Pray, Love–style (or as he puts it, “Eat, prey, love”–style) journey around the world, Nadja is ready to throw herself back into work with a big-time job on the worldwide Vampiric Council in England, and Laszlo is ready to go with her to continue his life of lusty leisure. An emotional outburst brings Guillermo and Nandor to blows, ending with Nandor finally inviting Guillermo on his travels as an (almost) equal with a promise to turn him into a vampire once they reach Nandor’s ancestral homeland of Al Quolindar. Suddenly it seems each character is getting what they want, and it could almost be a series finale.

Then in a sudden twist, Laszlo traps Guillermo in his coffin, which is bound for England with Nadja, leaving Nandor ghosted at a train station and forlornly abandoning Guillermo’s bag on the platform as his train departs. It’s a heartbreaking, infuriating, confusing moment until we see in a flashback Laszlo finally paying his last respects to Colin — something he had been reluctant to do because he finds mourning “fucking tawdry.” In this moment, when he’s finally willing to face his grief over the loss of a friend, he discovers that a baby version of Colin has crawled out of the cadaver’s gooey belly and is sitting, crying and vulnerable, in the corner of their dark basement. The little fella clings to a pair of glasses he can’t put on, and Laszlo realizes he simply cannot abandon this tiny creature. (And as we know from Laszlo’s reveal in the season-two episode “Colin’s Promotion,” Colin came with the house, so it’s possible he can’t leave it.)

What Laszlo does to Guillermo is heinous, but in a twisted (and characteristically dumb) Laszlo way, he is being as kind as he has ever been: He now values Guillermo enough to entrust him with his wife’s safety, and he won’t risk Nadja giving up her dream job to stay with him. The man who announced in episode one that he became a vampire to “suck blood and fuck forever” blows up everyone’s plans to do just that by suddenly accepting that he is part of a family and there is more to this immortal life than, as Nandor put it, “mindless killing and bloodlust”: There’s a baby at home who needs a father.

Slowly but surely, we have seen these idiot vampires become better, more in touch with their humanity, more willing to care about each other. Nadja began the season with a lust for power that saw her rip someone’s actual heart out of their chest. By the finale, she’s willing to turn down ultimate power to stay with the person she loves. Nandor the Relentless has finally, um, relented: He is willing to accept his former familiar’s affection and company — once Guillermo learns to stand up for himself — and it’s clear from his forlorn expression while boarding the train alone that he realizes it wasn’t the journey he wanted but the companion.

Season three has felt different from the beginning — partly because season two, which came out just as the pandemic hit its terrifying and isolating first wave, made the show feel important. It was a source of comfort and escapism for people (like me) stuck at home worrying about whether they’d be able to buy toilet paper tomorrow and which of the people they care about might not make it. Even in this context, the show had every excuse to deliver a formulaic rendering of a group of funny-voiced vampires stuck in a human world they don’t understand, and it would have been enough. (And easier, given that this season was filmed in the midst of the pandemic.) Instead, each character is given a chance to grow, and the show expands well beyond the walls of the house to explore new nooks and crannies of its world. Everything this season felt deliberate; there were no throwaway or awkwardly timed episodes. Everything in this show matters. Not just to us but also to its dumb, stupid vampires.

Each cast member came at this season full force: Mark Proksch found ways to make an energy vampire lovable, Natasia Demetriou is simply the funniest person on TV, Kayvan Novak spent this season embarrassing the Television Academy for snubbing him at the Emmys, Matt Berry delivers a romantic monologue in the finale that makes plain how great a leading man he could (but chooses not to) be, and Harvey Guillén just can’t stop getting better. He keeps finding new, bigger ways to fill a role that requires him to be meek. I can’t stop thinking about the cold open of “A Farewell” and his politely panicked delivery of “What’s happening? What’s happening?” — it hits a specific, hilarious note that should make anyone who has ever worked in a support or customer-facing role feel seen. He nails multiple big action sequences then bounces right back into delivering those awkward looks to camera that make Jim Halpert seem childish. That’s called range.

The Colin Robinson we met in season one is dead, and the show he was in no longer exists in the same way. That feels right, because none of us exists in the same way. Everyone’s life is different than it was in spring 2020, and there is simply no going back. But that’s okay. Much like our favorite silly vampires, we have been forced to face our own fragility and admit how much we need each other. We end the finale with a song called “Our Love Is Young,” by Andrea and Ervin Litkei, playing over the credits. A mid-credits scene shows Laszlo lovingly hanging the new portrait over the fireplace; though his family is now scattered, he still keeps this as their home. The lyrics implore the listener to care for a fragile, newfound love: “Don’t let it go / Love has just begun / Say you let it grow / Our love is young / So very young.” As baby Colin jumps into the frame to scream and surely drain his new stepdad, we understand that after every ending, no matter how grotesque, there’s a new beginning waiting, but only if we’re willing to admit we care.

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What We Do in the Shadows Accepts Its Humanity