This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the TV show being covered here wouldn’t exist.
After a hit-and-miss Season 4, FX’s What We Do in the Shadows returns with a hilarious and revealing Season 5 double-episode premiere. “The Mall” and “A Night Out with the Guys,” written by Marika Sawyer and Paul Simms respectively, throw us right back into the shenanigans of the Staten Island vampires. Everyone’s in top notch form, but these episodes continue to prove that standouts Harvey Guillén as Guillermo and Matt Berry as Laszlo make the show what it is.
A delayed revelation
Though “The Mall” begins just like any other episode, there’s a huge elephant in the room, at least for the audience, Guillermo, and the camera people. Last season ended with Guillermo asking Derek (Chris Sandifold) to make him a vampire. Guillermo’s confident smirk to the camera closed out the season, but when Season 5 begins, Guillermo’s operating in uncertain waters. As he rallies the vampires to be less conspicuous in their daily routines, the camera people pester Guillermo to talk about what happened with Derek.
The flashbacks of what happened between Derek and Guillermo are great. Despite how confidently Guillermo made his request, he hedges long enough that Derek just goes for it. He hits Guillermo’s arterary, spraying the room with blood. And even though Derek can’t handle the sight of his own blood, Guillermo’s vampire transformation takes—at least, he thinks it did. He still eats human food, though his appetite has grown significantly. He can walk into the daylight, and he can’t fully turn into a bat, except for his ears.
Guillermo and Derek investigate Guillermo’s strange transformation across both premiere episodes, even going so far as visiting the Baron (Doug Jones) and the Sire. But even the oldest vampires are no help—they’ve never heard of such a thing. The Baron and Sire suggest trying to turn a vampire twice, but that doesn’t work either when the Baron and the Sire’s neighbor explodes.
As someone who was on the Let Guillermo Stay Human train, I love this development of an in-between transformation. Though no one seems to have any idea what’s going on with Guillermo’s transformation, it’s likely because of his Van Helsing blood. Guillermo comes from a long line of vampire hunters and killers. That part of him is instinctual; when his family visited last season, they all reacted to the presence of vampires with a blood-thirsty vengeance, though they did not understand the circumstances. That strong bloodline mixing with a vampire transformation is bound to have some side effects. His Van Helsing ancestry was my favorite revelation for his character during What We Do in the Shadows Season 1; hopefully this in-between state allows Guillermo to keep that side of himself.
Another reason I’m fully onboard with Guillermo being some sort of vampire is because everyone else are raging assholes. Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo, Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Colin (Mark Proksch) have never treated Guillermo with respect but this episode ups the ante. They laugh themselves silly with the idea of Guillermo as a vampire every chance they get. But when Guillermo suggests that he would say yes if another vampire offered to turn him, things turn serious. Apparently, asking another vampire that wasn’t his master to turn him is a big no-no in the vampire community. It’s a shame so heavy that it requires Nandor to kill Guillermo and then kill himself. Ah, the dramatics!
So Guillermo’s secret will stay secret for now, except Laszlo is quick on the case. Noticing something is off with Guillermo, Laszlo tracks him throughout the first episode and confronts him in the second episode. Guillermo ends up coming clean to Laszlo (who wasn’t even close in his guess about what was wrong). Laszlo says Guillermo’s fucked, with the typical Matt Berry flair of the word.
While “The Mall” was the stronger of the two episodes, “A Night Out with the Guys” showcases the frenemy relationship between Nandor and Laszlo. Laszlo’s best friend Sean joins them for a night out with all his buddies. Nandor and Laszlo are in a competition to see if Nandor can resist using hypnosis and if Laszlo can naturally charm everyone around him. Only a full blown police chase with 20 cars halts Laszlo’s charming qualities, so Nandor saves the day by hypnotizing the whole force. It’s a nice story for the two of them that ends with them acknowledging the skills of the other.
Kristen Schaal returns to What We Do in the Shadows in Episode 2 as The Guide. No one even noticed she was gone, so she spends the whole time trying to get Nadja to be friends with her. It’s tough though since Nadja’s throwing a pity party about how she burned down her night club and ruined the legs of the Nadja doll, who is very angry with her.
Enter the camera crew
What We Do in the Shadows was already greenlit for Season 6 ahead of Season 4. Though it hasn’t been explicitly stated that Season 6 will be the end, signs of the end game are present in the Season 5 premiere. The camera crew gets significantly more screen time. Their voices are heard in Episode 1 as Guillermo tries to stop them from pressing the vampire transformation issue. Guillermo also directly mentions the editing process in a great bit about how there’s so many instances of Nandor being nice to Guillermo that he’s pausing long enough for the editors to insert a montage (they don’t). The start of Episode 2 features the typical talking head interviews but instead of starting with Nandor and Laszlo already seated, it shows the setup process of the camera crew as Nandor and Laszlo get wired with microphones and bicker about Nandor’s hypnosis usage.
This inclusion of the camera crew is reminiscent of The Office. As The Office entered its final seasons, the camera crew of the documentary about office workers were finally acknowledged on screen. The camera crew on What We Do in the Shadows has been acknowledged before, but only in short instances and usually as the punchline to a joke. They get left in the well of the Vampiric Council in Season 1, they flee for their lives from the house that Guillermo’s vampire hunting crew infiltrates, and the vampires typically make throw away comments about them. But in Season 5, they’re becoming a part of the story.
A status quo and an exciting twist
Though it’s great to see everyone back in these roles, things remain the same for Nandor, Laszlo, Nadja, and Colin (who has returned to the workforce as a waiter). The exciting part of this season rests on Guillén’s shoulders. Guillermo’s role is a highlight of the film-to-show adaptation. In the film, familiar’s were treated just as horribly as Guillermo had been treated. But the seasons have allowed further exploration of familiars, with Guillermo becoming a dynamic character all on his own. He’s also the character with the most growth, an easy person to root for, and the most interesting to watch.
This new transformation of his is an exciting twist. It’s another step along Guillermo’s journey to discovering his purpose and who he wants to be. For so long he’s wanted to become a vampire, only to discover he’s destined to be their enemy. When he’s finally accomplished his goal, it’s not as he pictured. He may be a vampire now, but he’s still performing his familiar duties. Van Helsing blood still runs in his veins. He sort of got what he’s always wanted, but nothing’s changed.
Laszlo and Guillermo don’t interact that often so their scenes together were great. Here’s to more Laszlo and Guillermo team ups in the future.
Nandor riding the carousel in the mall is a top tier moment on What We Do in the Shadows, for sure.
“Being a vampire is no different than being a human. We’re all doing what it takes to survive. We go on about our day. Blend in. Act like everyone else. But the truth is, we’re all just hiding in plain sight.”
What We Do in the Shadows Season 5 airs new episodes every Thursday at 9 p.m. CT on FX, and streams on Hulu the following day.
Featured image courtesy of Russ Martin/FX
'What We Do in the Shadows' Season 5 Premiere - 8/10