What We Do in the Shadows Season-Finale Recap: What’s Up, Sartre?

What We Do in the Shadows

Sunrise, Sunset
Season 4 Episode 10
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

What We Do in the Shadows

Sunrise, Sunset
Season 4 Episode 10
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Russ Martin/FX

In season four, What We Do in the Shadows came out twice. First and foremost, of course, was Guillermo finally working up the courage to tell his family that he’s gay in episode seven. But on a subtler, more secondary level, this season the show’s writers also came out — as musical-theater fans (not that there’s any overlap between the gay community and musical-theater fandom or anything). And, fulfilling a promise that began with Baby Colin’s precocious interest in the work of Stephen Sondheim, this week’s season finale is not only named after a song from Fiddler on the Roof, but that song is performed twice: once by Matt Berry solo and again with the whole cast gathered around the piano.

Fiddler on the Roof is a time-honored classic at this point, almost as musty and dusty as our core cast of vampires. With all their season-long plans crumbling around them, our core cast takes a sharp turn back into “doddering old folks” mode this week for a reset of the status quo that feels both understated and extremely consequential at the same time. A lot happens this week in fits and starts. The episode ends on a wistful note, looking toward the future with a bittersweet mixture of regret, nostalgia, anxiety, and amusement about how — to court a cliché — the more things change, the more they stay the same. In other words, the endless passage of sand through the hourglass feels especially heavy in this week’s episode. And everyone is handling it a little differently, blinking and confused in the face of infinity.

Laszlo, for his part, is not taking Suddenly Adolescent Colin’s coldness very well and seems truly bothered by the fact that his little buddy doesn’t want to sing and dance and do laff-’em-ups with him anymore. (One wonders if this is the first time in his four centuries of life that this gentleman dandy has felt truly uncool.) Nevertheless, he continues to do his duty as the boy’s default father figure by sitting him down and giving him “the talk” about his changing body and how he’s going to start growing new and very boring interests now that he’s becoming the adult energy vampire Laszlo swore he would never let him become.

There’s a melancholy streak to the way this story line plays out in the finale: Along with the general “Cat’s in the Cradle” of it all vis-à-vis the energy-vampire life cycle, Laszlo has to accept two hard truths about parenting now that Baby Colin is all grown up. First, no matter how hard Laszlo tried to keep Colin from coming back as an energy vampire, in the end the boy’s true nature was always going to win out. (A lesson for parents who try to suppress their kids’ queerness, perhaps?) Second, Colin won’t remember the good or the bad times he and Laszlo had together and will therefore never really understand the sacrifices Laszlo made for him. And, sure, the sacrifices were mostly coming from Guillermo, as he picked up Laszlo’s slack as a parent. But the intention was there. And having that go unacknowledged is painful.

Nadja also learns a painful lesson this week, though her takeaway is more practical: Remove the cash from the premises before you burn down a business for the in-sure-iance money. (Oh, and buy some insurance first.) This particular subplot has a bit of cosmic vindictiveness to it, a real self-imposed O. Henry story that made it seem like Nadja was being punished for her myopia and greed. And, sure, her achievements as a small-business owner mostly consisted of getting wasted on liquor blood, screaming at the staff, taking credit for other people’s work, and embezzlement. But she was rewarded for that type of behavior as head of the local vampiric council in season three. Why lay her low now? Was it because she broke her own rules and dabbled in the accursed and debased practice of (ptui!) witchcraft?

Speaking of: The Guide’s secret foray into necromancy has a Silicon Valley je ne sais quoi to it, and I don’t just say that because of the Guide’s comment that “some rich computer guy” owns the world’s first biggest private collection of canned human souls. She and Nadja were acting like real venture capitalists this week, squandering incredible opportunities until they fell ass-backward into inventing something that already exists. And although it wasn’t really a laugh-out-loud type of gag, it is very funny and probably true that if one were to create a podcast (excuse me, “electronic audio story”) in which the greatest minds in human history — a rather motley and very brainy assortment of figures that included Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Lady Murasaki Shikibu, Leonardo da Vinci, Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevara, and Ernest Hemmingway (her spelling, not mine) — were to share their greatest insights in between plugs for Blue Apron and Casper mattresses, it wouldn’t do even close to Joe Rogan numbers.

One thing that will hopefully endure as Nadja’s closes its doors for good is the friendship between Nadja and the Guide, who, despite Nadja’s protestations to the contrary, have grown quite close over the course of the season. They started dressing alike, spending a lot of time together, and collaborating on ideas, all of which led — as female friendships often do — to them sharing secrets and affectionately calling each other “bitch.” Moving into season five, the natural next move seems like a love triangle between Nadja, Laszlo, and the Guide, who stepped in to provide Nadja with companionship while her husband was otherwise occupied. Knowing the three of them, they’ll just turn it into a thruple arrangement.

Meanwhile, Nandor is dealing with the ostensible end of his seasons-long search for eternal love by … not dealing with it. He claims to have no real lingering sadness or regret over Marwa-Freddie leaving him for Original-Recipe Freddie, leaving him alone once again. And there might be some truth to that: Nandor has been alive since 1262 C.E. and has presumably watched many human (or humanish) companions grow old and die over his extended lifetime. We’re like pets to him. And I imagine that you have to get used to that after a while or eternal life would become unbearable.

There’s those pesky deserts of eternity again, creating an immense chasm between how vampires and humans see life. Although this entire episode was based around the passage of time, the theme is most poignantly highlighted when Nandor tells Guillermo to just sit tight because he’s going to read for only a little while. And how long is a little while? “Fifteen years. Maybe 20.”

One can never discount Nandor’s ability to not say what he’s really thinking, of course. Maybe he is heartbroken over this most recent loss but refuses to show it for fear of looking weak. But at this point, time is the biggest obstacle between Nandor, Guillermo, and contentment. Guillermo can’t waste any more of his precious human time waiting around for Nandor to stop stringing him along and make him immortal already, while Nandor could fall asleep in his reading chair for a decade and not feel anything but hungry when he wakes up.

Guillermo’s impulsive plan to just skip the middleman and pay Derek to make him into a vampire would solve the time issue. Then he and Nandor would both have eternity to pretend like they aren’t secretly thrilled to be watching The Wedding Planner together on a rainy Sunday night. But I’m not convinced that becoming a vampire will be the thing to pull Guillermo out of his slump. You see, all of his vampire housemates are currently fading into lethargy. Even Laszlo’s music has taken a turn for the indifferent. I see this as their way of coping with the vast emptiness they have in front of them: The longer you live, the less important the small things become. So if you live forever, eventually everything must become inconsequential, right?

So why is Guillermo giving himself more time to kill? Sure, the transformation will take a few days and then he’ll have fun new powers to amuse himself with for several years after that. But then the novelty will wear off and he’ll become just like his housemates, gradually detaching from their human selves like untethered astronauts floating along on grand cosmic cycles of idiocy and boredom. Is that really better than being an overworked and underappreciated sidekick? On the other hand, if he became a vampire, maybe Laszlo and Nadja would finally remember his name.

This is all contingent on Derek accepting Guillermo’s offer, of course — a bargain that, given Derek’s angst over his own transformation, I’m not sure he’ll take. And if that happens, we’ll be right back where we started. That’s good news for a sitcom and less good for existential ennui. For a show that has currently got strong elements of both, either direction — “Guillermo becomes a vampire, driving the plot of season five,” or “Guillermo doesn’t become a vampire and everything resets” — could work. Given that character development is one of the most rewarding elements of covering this show, I hope they decide to rage against the dying of the light. Wait. No. Shit. You know what I mean.

Craven Mirth

• A couple of great callbacks in this episode, as the endgame for both the return of Derek and the blood sprinklers was revealed.

• Another callback, this one from the season-one finale: In that episode, the vampires went to a human funeral, where it was revealed that the word God burns them like acid. Thus the crossed-out name on the Judy Blume book that will give Laszlo valuable insight into menstruation, which doesn’t apply to him nor Colin, but whatever.

• Nandor attempting to talk to Baby Colin because he knows how to deal with teens because he’s sent so many out to die on the battlefield is an all-timer of a Nandor bit. It’s so perfectly him that it’s almost like something you would have seen in season one to establish his character.

• It also gives us this week’s Season Finale Line Reading of the Week: “gutter patois,” with an eyebrow-raise from Guillermo to punctuate the joke.

• A few more Easter eggs that popped up in this week’s finale: the return of the Sire in Nadja’s haunted house (I appreciate you, Goëjlrm, even if those ungrateful kids and their cell phones don’t) and the Jersey Devil head that now hangs prominently on the vampires’ sitting-room wall.

• Colin’s insistence that he “just had an extra CD” lying around and he definitely didn’t make a mix just for the Guide — even though he won’t make eye contact with her and his voice cracks every time he talks to her — was very cute.

• Colin’s secret room full of sweater-vests and very boring memories was an awfully exciting adventure for an energy vampire — unless he’s basing it on an escape room, in which case fair enough. There’s a lot of resentment and frustration to feed on in an escape room.

• Now that Colin’s back to his original form, the vampires’ finances are settled for the time being. But if something else should happen, they could always start a new business hosting father-son punch-’em-out workshops with Sean.

What We Do in the Shadows Recap: What’s Up, Sartre?