Watching this week’s episode of What We Do In The Shadows, I kept thinking about my favorite joke from King Of The Hill. It’s from the episode where Luann accidentally joins a cult thinking it’s a sorority, and Hank and the guys from the neighborhood pull up in Hank’s truck to snap her out of her trance and take her home. “Excuse me, y’all with the cult?,” Hank asks. “We’re not a cult,” a young woman replies. “We’re an organization that promotes love, and—” Hank interrupts her. “Yeah, this is it.”
Cults are having a pop-cultural moment right now—I even wrote an article earlier this year about another show featuring a totally-not-a-cult-but-obviously-a-cult, Nine Perfect Strangers. Similarly, the PCWC, or Post-Chiropterean* Wellness Center, doesn’t call itself a cult. It’s just an intentional community for post-vampires who love step aerobics, ecstatic Barenaked Ladies singalongs, and freestyle hula hooping. In other words: Park the truck, y’all, we found the cult.
An aesthetic detail that pops up from time to time on What We Do In The Shadows that I really like is the suggestion that vampires, being eternal, can get stuck in certain time periods when it comes to fashion and interior design. The last time the show really delved into this was in the season-two episode “The Curse,” where Guillermo and his vampire-hunting buddies tangled with a cabal of bloodsuckers whose sensibilities were frozen in the ‘70s. Here, we have PCWC leader Jan (Cree Summer), whose ‘80s flair is expressed through vaporwave neon, Patrick Nagel-style murals of her own face (obligatory), spangled windbreakers, leotards, and leg warmers.
Something I found fascinating was the levels of denial and deception going on with Jan and her “children;” they don’t go out in the daytime, and throw away the vegetables they chop every evening, so they must know on some level that they’re not actually human. (We don’t see them drinking blood, but it must be happening sometimes.) And Jan’s attempt to impress Nandor by eating the apple—which works, because he’s a big ol’ dope who’s led around by his libido—was so obviously strained. Hilariously so, in fact. The writing on this week’s episode was relatively straightforward, without the florid touches this show sometimes adds to its dialogue. Instead, it relied on performance, from the contortionists in Jan’s fitness class to line readings from the core cast.
Speaking of: There’s another similarity between “The Wellness Center” and “The Curse,” and that’s that they give Harvey Guillén the chance to be an action hero. There was a lot of choreography in this episode, both in terms of dance and action—which is a type of dance, if you think about it. I especially loved the high-energy dance numbers, which much have been so much fun to film; Kayvan Novak looked like he was having a great time, mugging for the camera and wiggling his hips in acid-washed jeans. People in cults do often have a manic energy about them, which comes from what they think is the cure to the alienation and depression that brought them there in the first place. Like all cult leaders, Jan preys on the weak, and like all cult leaders, she craves power. And sex.
After a few episodes where he was at the edge of the action, Guillen brought a lot to this episode as well. He plays the reflective, recently dumped ex clutching his mug on the stoop when Nandor releases him from service, before pulling himself together for a daring escape plan that the rest of the roommates don’t seem to know or care about. One could read into this and say that it underlines how inhuman they really are; Colin was certainly in touch with his animal side, rubbing his butt on everything in Nandor’s old room to mark his territory.
But really, I think this is just a Nandor and Guillermo-centric episode, one that takes their strained relationship back to the affectionate platonic marriage of earlier seasons. It also sets us up for next week, as “The Wellness Center” ends on a cliffhanger with Nandor locked in the same cage where the vampires imprisoned Guillermo at the beginning of season three. And it’s not like the other vampires didn’t try to make Nandor feel better: They did throw him his annual accession party, and Nadja obviously coached the guys on what to say when she gave Nandor the task of going to Jan’s facility in the first place. It’s just that they can’t be bothered to try that hard. Cut them some slack—they’ve been alive for a very, very long time.
*A word I just learned today; it’s the scientific term for the mammalian order of bats.
- This week’s guest star, Cree Summer, is primarily known as a voice actress, with an impressive 340 credits on IMDb; among her more iconic voice roles are Susie Carmichael on Rugrats and Penny on Inspector Gadget.
- The dolls Guillermo made of him and Nandor were so sweet!
- Heh, knob-lord. Nice one, Laszlo.
- Eternal life being a depressing and lonely state of being is something that pops up a lot in vampire fiction, treated here with What We Do In The Shadows’ signature comedic spin.
- Among the activities advertised in the PCWC pamphlet: Yoga classes, pottery and ceramics, the hows and whys of vegetable chopping, the strange world of recycling, how to load dishwasher, human interaction skills and training, cornhole training, and how to file taxes.
- “Dry your eyes, you look like a pair of wet undies.”
- At risk of dating myself, it’s hard to overstate how ubiquitous “One Week” was in the summer of 1998. I remember going to an amusement park and waiting in line for a roller coaster for about 45 minutes with “One Week” playing on a loop over the loudspeaker the entire time.
- I can’t say with total certainty, but I’m like 90% sure that one of the photos on the wall of Jan’s office had her photoshopped into a scene from Jonestown—pre- Flavor-Aid, of course.
- Jan’s cult pulling out their fangs is the type of lurid detail that, if this were a real cult, would be mentioned ad nauseum in the A&E special.
- “This is especially important for the women, when you’re an expert in something and a man is explaining it to you: Strained eyes, big smile.”
- “Oh yeah. We’re fucking.”
- As I mentioned up top, there were a lot of wonderful little flourishes in the line readings this week: The defeat in Novak’s voice when he said “infinitely powerful being.” Matt Berry defending his right to wear the rat-infested turban. Natasia Demetriou trilling, “happy accession day!”
- Sure, Jan’s wellness group ended up being a suicide cult, but Nandor’s haircut looked great!
- “Quit asking about my pee-pee!” “Awwwwwww.”
- “That’s basically what Patricia Krenwinkel said.” Colin coming through with the Manson Family references.
- Have a good week, everybody, and remember—if the leader is always right and your friends and family are always wrong, you’re probably in a cult!