What We Do in the Shadows has had some incredible highs and notable lows in its third season, but even when it’s not hitting homers the series is still consistently one of TV’s funniest and best. Still, its finale, “The Portrait,” was an odd coda to the poignant episode that preceded it, in which Colin Robinson suddenly and horrifically died.
In typical fashion, the vampires refused to deal with their feelings over Colin Robinson’s death, and that fallout manifested itself as a restlessness to leave Staten Island. Any one of the subsequent plots—Nandor’s desire to take a trip around the world, Nadja being promoted, Laszlo’s feud with the club that kicked him out of the UK—could have been simmering ideas that lasted through several episodes. Instead they arrived as a chaotic mix of plots held together only by an increasingly desperate Guillermo.
While “The Portrait” did have a few very decent zingers (and everything to do with Donal Logue was hilarious), it was also emotionally tense. Maybe that was supposed to be a symptom of the vampires’ repressed sadness over the loss of Colin Robinson, but tonally it was a markedly different shade for the show. That was especially true regarding the dynamic between Nando and Guillermo, who came to blows that ended with Guillermo establishing dominance. Nandor claims it was a test because he feared Guillermo had lost his edge, and yet, that moment didn’t land. It all just happened so quickly back to back: Nandor tells Guillermo he’s leaving and that he’s not invited, Nandor still wants him to plan things (but ends up getting help from The Guide), Guillermo desperately tries to keep all of the housemates together, they fight, and Guillermo bests Nandor who then promises to turn him into a vampire on the journey? It was an emotional rollercoaster, but not one that worked. Kayvan Novak brings so much humor to Nandor (his pronunciations in particular are inspired), but his expanded Season 3 arc was haphazard at best. It was great to see more of Nandor, but it still feels like the show doesn’t know what to do with him, and maybe never has.
Contrast that with Laszlo, who hasn’t had a lot of time given to him as opposed to some of the other leads in Season 3, but who made the most of every tiny moment because he’s so consistent. Not only did he deliver some of the best lines, however brief, but his friendship with Colin Robinson—something that was noticeable but never commented upon until the penultimate episode—had immense payoff in “The Portrait.” Despite his protestations, Laszlo actually felt responsibility over Colin both before his death and after his horrific rebirth. There’s still a lot to learn about Energy Vampires, apparently.
Speaking of, we have to address the CG baby in the room. It wasn’t surprising that Colin Robinson came back in some form; his role in the series has been a boon, and his unique powers provide an additional comedic dimension to the show’s bizarre humor. To lose him would have left an even larger hole than Nandor, who I was half-convinced when watching “The Farewell” would be the one to leave. (The way the show erased Colin from the opening sequence was also horribly great). I don’t want any of the vampires (or Guillermo) to leave, and I’m not sure if the show will pick up with them scattered to the four winds to start Season 4—where Laszlo will eventually catch some kind of hell from Nadja, rightfully—or if it will skip forward to them back at the house with some “well, that happened” stories. Either way, “The Portrait” felt like a frantic bridge to that next step rather than more effectively wrapping up what else took place in Season 3 (even as it did its own mini clip show as the vampires remembered their recent travails and triumphs).
Something just felt off in “The Portrait;” maybe it was that circumstances and characters were suddenly shifting too quickly after several seasons of practiced stagnation. The vampires not willing to change or to really learn the rules of the modern world around them is a hallmark of the series that felt like it was largely jettisoned during the finale. No one seemed quite like themselves, which may again be a reaction to their unprocessed grief of watching Nandor’s hand slide effortlessly into the crushed eggshell face of Colin Robinson as his viscera oozed onto the floor. Or not!
From that decision by the writers, it seems, came the inevitable follow-up that there needed to be an excuse to send everyone on their own journey (willingly or not) so that Laszlo could raise baby Colin on his own for laughs and mayhem next season. But the cost of that was an episode that felt completely out of place and followed plot machinations over character, cramming it all into a half-hour that more or less careened off a ledge at the end, Thelma and Louise style, plus a horrific CG baby (the janky likes of which has not been seen since Twilight—which was perhaps fitting given the show’s earlier homage).
Maybe ultimately it’s the disappointment with what “The Portrait” did with Guillermo that made it feel so off—he was sad, stressed out, and not at all like the person who began this season as a confident but slyly selective vampire killer. His humanity is what grounds the series, and perhaps putting him in such a desperate and reactionary position in this episode (after having spent an emotionally exhausting entire previous episode going back and forth with Nandor maybe-or-maybe-not going into a prolonged sleep) is what made the overall dynamic shift.
But like the Baron, the Sire, and the Hellhound who sat patiently and comfortably as the chaos reigned around them, listening to Donal Logue’s Hollywood stories, we will wait with interest for What We Do in the Shadows to return with its bizarre hijinks next season. Regardless of where it decides to go narratively, we know the cast is strong enough to see us through. But the overly dramatic, helter-skelter “Portrait” was a disappointing conclusion to a season that had otherwise been down to clown.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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