The harder coming out stories on “What We Do in the Shadows” aren’t what you think they’d be


Like many out-of-left-field developments on “What We Do in the Shadows,” Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) telling his family and the audience that he’s gay is an unexpected fourth season twist, but also its most anticlimactic and lovingly handled.

They already knew, Guillermo’s mother Silvia assures him. “Familia es familia,” says cousin Miguel. With that, the de la Cruz clan huddles for a group embrace before returning to the activity already in progress: hunting Guillermo’s vampire roommate Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), as their Van Helsing lineage compels them to do.

If only his road to coming out as a vampire were as simple.

Vampire canon in its many forms contains myriad parallels to the queer experience.

Guillermo’s gayness was never supposed to be a big deal despite his visible relief at his family finally knowing that truth about him. (“I mean, who isn’t gay?” says a shrugging Nadja, brushing good old Gizmo’s low-key celebration off with, “Oh, OK, woo-hoo! I’ll get the trumpets out. Sorry.”)

Besides, in that same moment, the real shock that they register is his admission that he wants to become a vampire. That notion strikes them as an abomination, not their loved one’s queerness. It’s also the part Nadja compels them to forget via problem-solving hypnosis.

Cut to the fifth season, most of which Guillermo spends hiding his vampirism, such as it is, from his master Nandor (Kayvan Novak). Throughout their long game of “I Have a Secret” hide-and-seek, we’re regularly reminded of something Nadja and her husband Laszlo (Matt Berry) vehemently deny, which is that these vampires truly care about the people they’re close to. They consume human strangers, sure. But to paraphrase something another show’s figurative vampire is fond of telling his minions, if you’re good with this coven, you’re good.

That doesn’t make it any easier for Guillermo to break his unfortunate news. Indeed, it makes things worse, since he loves Nandor – platonically, if not entirely romantically – and Nandor clearly loves him.

Guillermo committed the cardinal sin of asking his friend Derek (Chris Sandiford) to do the deed, the gravest wrong a human servant can commit against his would-be sire. Aside from placing an actual stake through Nandor’s heart, that is.

Vampire canon in its many forms contains myriad parallels to the queer experience, although they’re most easily recognized in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. “What We Do in the Shadows” lampoons this by making everyone besides Guillermo both pansexual and casually hypersexual. Guillermo, with his thrift store sweaters and relatively solid morals, is neither.

But he is loyal beyond what anybody, living or dead, should expect. By the season’s end, this 10-episode ruse is less of a coming-out metaphor than one about loyalty in any long-term relationship, including one bound by a verbal contract between a gentleman and his vampire.

Hence the show’s husband and wife team, Laszlo and Nadja, respond to Guillermo’s plight by keeping his secret and standing by the familiar as they bring their sire, Baron Afanas (Doug Jones), Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) and the one who’s almost always the last to know everything, The Guide (Kristen Schaal), into their trust. It’s akin to a family protecting one member from the wrath of an elder who’s set in their phobias. No, it’s not simply like that – it is precisely that.

What We Do In The ShadowsKristen Schaal as The Guide in “What We Do In The Shadows” (Russ Martin/FX)

The Guide, in fact, is the core of a subplot whose importance we never saw coming, one that demonstrates that even out-groups have insiders. Last summer’s rom-com “Fire Island” also played up this concept through Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang’s characters who, along with their friends, are treated as second-tier by the island’s wealthy white gays.

The “Shadows” group is part of a much smaller community of (entirely fictional) beings who should welcome each other. And yet, as Schaal’s character laments in this season’s penultimate episode “A Weekend at Morrigan Manor,” Nadja, Laszlo, Nandor and Colin Robinson rarely show her the smallest act of kindness.

Since she’s moved in with the rest they’ve minimized her contributions if not outright ignored her. In the finale, when it’s announced that Guillermo will be a fully equal member of the household with “where once there were four (as in Laszlo, Nadja, Nandor and Colin Robinson), now there are five,” The Guide protests that their count is off.  

“Exit Interview” answers the longstanding question of what Nandor and Guillermo are to each other while opening a new frontier, of “Now, what?”

Besides serving as a reliably funny recurring bit, this is telling: between the ancient vampire newcomer and the errand boy who’s been cleaning up after them for more than 13 years, Guillermo rates more highly.

Nandor was always destined to discover his deceit. Less predictable to a degree was what he’d do with that information. This show favors happy endings, although some closures are uncertain. 

Through its resolution “Exit Interview” answers the longstanding question of what Nandor and Guillermo are to each other while opening a new frontier, of “Now, what?”

Vampire law dictates that Nandor kill Guillermo before killing himself out of shame. “What We Do in the Shadows” would never go that dark, though. That’s true even when one accounts for all the innocents Guillermo marches to their deaths to feed his bloodsucking friends – that comes with the vampire servant territory.

What We Do In The ShadowsKayvan Novak as Nandor in “What We Do In The Shadows” (Russ Martin/FX)

Whether he survived Nandor’s wrath became less important than whether Guillermo fully understood what he professed to desire most and whether Nandor comprehended how essential Guillermo is to his well-being.

“I think what bugs me the most is that I have given Guillermo my friendship,” he tells his new friend Patton Oswalt, playing a fictional version of himself. “This is a gift I don’t give to just anyone.” He proves that by offing the actor in a rage in reaction to his reasonable suggestion that Nandor repairs his relationship with Guillermo. Which he eventually heeds – but does more than just that.

Helping Guillermo to comprehend the price of being a vampire — specifically, that it means killing humans to survive — becomes the greatest act of love Nandor has shown Guillermo in the show’s entire run.  

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First Nandor overcomes Guillermo’s stagnated transformation, which his Van Helsing DNA stymied, by feeding him a cup of human blood. That does the trick. Tragically for Guillermo, he underestimates the intimacy of murder – simply put, he can’t bring himself to bite someone who was simply eating dinner at a restaurant.

So Nandor reverses his vampirism by staking Derek, who Laszlo pays the local necromancer to revive as a zombie. This works because only a month has passed, well within the range of a normal human lifespan.

The other side of this coin is that Guillermo is back to where he started, only slightly worse off. Becoming a vampire was his motivation for putting up with Nandor’s thanklessness for all these years, and without getting paid for that trouble. 

What’s the point of sticking around now? Maybe the answer rests in something Guillermo confesses when he still believes Nandor is hunting for him. “I’m just more afraid of losing the vampires. My friends,” he admits. “I always figured if I got turned into a vampire, that it would bring me closer to them. But it’s just left me feeling more alone than ever.”

Now what? It might take up to a year before we find out if “Shadows” answers that question.

All episodes of “What We Do in the Shadow” are streaming on Hulu.

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