‘Interview with the Vampire’ Just Dropped the Most Audacious TV Episode of the Year

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Interview With the Vampire” Season 2, Episode 7, “I Could Not Prevent It.”]

For as much as I admire the incredible seventh episode of “Interview With the Vampire” Season 2, I cannot, in good faith, suggest other shows follow its lead. There are too many trapdoors lurking just behind the stage curtains, too many tonal shifts to ride out without being thrown from one’s motorcycle, and, quite frankly, too much patience required of the audience, human or vampire, given streaming executives think what viewers really want is a show that only requires half their attention. But despite all these challenges, “IWTV” persevered, the hard work of its true-blue theater troupe paying off in Episode 7, “I Could Not Prevent It” — an audacious endeavor that deserves to be recognized as one of the year’s most rewarding and remarkable hours of television.

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A bit of context: Rolin Jones’ serialized adaptation of Anne Rice’s gothic horror classic began its journey to Sunday’s staggering episode by modernizing a nearly 50-year-old story and, in doing so, playfully yet purposefully toying with expectations. The subtextual attraction between newly bitten vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac (played by Jacob Anderson) and his maker, Lestat de Lioncourt (Sam Reid), became beautifully, ferociously sexual (and thus textual). Louis’ identity in the novel — as a white plantation owner in Louisiana — was flipped into a Black, closeted, Creole businessman running a brothel in New Orleans. Finally, the interview was brought to the forefront as well. Rather than simply acting as a framing device, the veteran journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian) interrogates Louis as he recounts his memories in the present. Is his account trustworthy? Is Daniel being purposefully deceived? Is Louis?

Floating in the periphery (where it belongs), there’s talk of a vampire uprising and clandestine meetings with a secret agent (Justin Kirk!) working to save humanity, but let’s not bother with AMC’s “Immortal Universe” right now since it’s not a huge priority in this series (and it’s not proven to be worth the same level of investment outside of “IWTV”). What matters is that the show’s boldest, biggest choices from the start led them here, to “I Could Not Prevent It,” where they paid off in ways both long-established and unexpected.

To be clear: Episode 7 should not work. The primary story takes place on a stage (which can be visually static and tiresome). What’s said on said stage is almost entirely a recap of events covered in the previous 13 episodes, and what transpires is largely foreseeable. (We’re told the “trial” isn’t real, its outcome is fixed, and the accused are merely “props.”) From a bird’s eye view, “I Could Not Prevent It” is set up to fail. Instead, the same facets that have sustained “Interview With the Vampire” thus far — its meticulous character work, its loud-and-proud melodrama, and its persistent questioning of its unreliable narrator — send the most pivotal hour yet soaring to new heights (even by Lestat’s standards).

Assad Zaman as Armand and Chris Geary as Sam in 'Interview with the Vampire' Season 2, Episode 7, shown with the former being guarded by the latter
Chris Geary and Assad Zaman in ‘Interview with the Vampire’Larry Horricks/AMC

An Unreliable Narrator Becomes Even Less Reliable

Let’s start in the same place the series does: with the interview. Daniel has long played the pot-stirrer, both narratively and formally. He asks the questions, he pushes Louis to delve deeper here or skip ahead there, and he will ultimately be penning the book that doubles as an annoucnement that vampires exist and a memoir, of sorts, for Louis. But his interruptions don’t just keep his subject honest. They keep the series honest, as well. If a scene’s sympathies feel misplaced (like when Daniel won’t stop asking “Did you eat the baby?” as Louis recounts how difficult that moment was for him) or when dramatic situations start to tip into hammy territory (as they regularly, wonderfully do), the candid questioner will break his subject’s highfalutin reverie and bluntly return them both to Earth. His recurring interjections may be frustrating for audiences wholly enraptured by the primary timeline (aka the past), but they serve a higher purpose: making it clear that Louis is an unreliable narrator. (And, I would argue, they’re fun! Go Daniel!)

The legitimacy of Louis’ storytelling is more heavily scrutinized than ever in Episode 7, although Daniel doesn’t deserve the credit for calling him out. It’s Lestat, albeit still via Louis’ memory, who provides an alternate version of various milestones, as he tells the “jury” of his companion’s alleged transgressions. First he argues, way back when they met, it was Louis who hunted him, not the other way around. “How do you not know that it was your own voice, Louis? Speaking your own unspeakable desires? Screaming them in the darkness in the hopes that I would come to you.” Their he said/he said back and forth isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but — much like earlier rebuttals from Daniel made us wary of taking Louis’ word as gospel — the dispute over their origin story does plant the seed of doubt in Louis’ version of events.

And tees up Lestat’s next accusation: that Louis blackmails him into turning Claudia (Delainey Hayles) into a vampire, despite Lestat’s vehement, law-abiding protests. The scene itself plays out fairly close to what we saw before, but what may seem like trivial details to the less-than-impartial jury are hugely meaningful to the “IWTV” audience. The basic proceedings don’t change, but the motivations for them do. In Lestat’s recounting, Louis’ desperation to have a daughter is clearly misguided — what first seemed like a compassionate gesture on Louis’ part is now painted as a selfish act that would (and did) damage Claudia’s life as much as her makers’. Remembering it again, back in the present, Louis cannot deny his actions and admits that Lestat’s retelling is more truthful. “That is how it happened,” he says. “I didn’t think it at the time, but yeah.”

Louis’ ugly makeover (if, of course, we can believe anything Lestat claims) continues when Lestat shares his side of the couple’s physical fight from Season 1 — a vicious beatdown fans have long-suspected had more going on than what was shown (given that the couple disappeared upstairs for a significant portion of their brouhaha). The original depiction saw a jealous, vengeful Lestat use his superior powers to pummel his partner bloody. Now, in Lestat’s apologetic recital, he’s still the aggressor who goes too far, but he was also reacting to Louis’ own ruthlessness. Lestat, he claims, asked to stop, but Louis insisted on seeing their brawl through to a mortal end. “I’m gonna take this hand here and wrap it around that scrawny neck of yours,” a maniacally laughing Louis said. “I ain’t gonna stop until your eyes pop. Then I’m gonna find a big ol’ butcher knife and chop your head off.”

While not intended to justify Lestat’s frightful reaction, seeing Louis in such a state reframes the target of Lestat’s vitriol. It shows the audience a vampire literally begging for a fight, rather than a victim getting tossed around like a ragdoll, and it makes Lestat’s ensuing apology — on stage, in front of humans and vampires alike — all the more affecting. (As does Reid’s heartrendingly earnest performance.) The blame is shared. The results are, too. And their romantic saga grows all the more complex.

Ben Daniels as Santiago in 'Interview with the Vampire' Season 2, Episode 7, shown here wearing a white wig as the prosecutor in a staged 'trial'
Ben Daniels in ‘Interview with the Vampire’Courtesy of Larry Horricks / AMC

Nothing Tops a TV Show That Uses Its Time To Dive Deep into Characters

Phew! All these (alleged) twists and turns within established lore are enough to spin superfans’ heads, but “I Could Not Prevent It” isn’t focused on easter eggs or fan(g) service. It’s focused on characters. In addition to introducing all the aforementioned layers of our main duo — strengthening their twisted love story as much as it expands their emotional depth — Episode 7 doesn’t forget about its other creatures of the night. Santiago (Ben Daniels), as the prosecutor in a trial without a defense attorney, elevates himself to coven leader and gets to savor every second of his vengeance (except for those delightful moments when Lestat goes off book and puts Santiago in check). Madeleine (Roxane Duran) is mostly playing catch-up (she’s new to the group), but she still gets to flex her unbreakable backbone when she sacrifices her life by pledging loyalty to Claudia instead of the coven. Armand is similarly sidelined — made to watch as the vampires he betrayed are put through “a stoning” — but steps up in the only way he can, when he uses his powers to manipulate the audience/jury into saving Louis’ life.

Speaking of: For as much of the hour is dedicated to reappraising the past, Episode 7 isn’t strictly relegated to looking backward. Major, major shit goes down in “I Could Not Prevent It,” from Armand’s last-minute attempt at a do-over (tune in next week to see how he and Louis got over Armand’s betrayal) and Claudia’s tragic demise. Oh, Claudia. Always forced to be her own lone advocate, she doesn’t let Lestat’s apology mid-murder go unchallenged. “Real pretty. You dropped him like an egg from an airplane — he’s fine now, you apologize, and all is forgiven. We poisoned him, he’s not dead — he’s standing right in front of us — can I cry and say that I’m sorry, too?” She goes on to cite how she’s always been caught in Louis and Lestat’s “stormy romance,” which makes her fate here all the more fitting, and all the more tragic. Like she says, Lestat didn’t return for her. He didn’t travel across an ocean to seek revenge on his pseudo-daughter. He’s there for Louis, and just as she was born to heal their marriage, she dies because she helped break it.

Watching the sun steadily eradicate every particle of Claudia, as she sings the song she came to hate yet still tied her to the coven she longed to join, is painful, memorable, and fitting. Too often, Louis and Lestat treated her as a prop in their play, but she never accepted that reductive assessment. She always fought for herself, and she continued to do so until the bitter, all-too-early end.

If You’re Gonna Go Big, Go BIG

Which leads us to the final key element that makes both the series and the episode so successful: unabashed theatricality. Beyond setting so much of Season 2 — and even more of Episode 7 — in a literal theater, during an actual play, “Interview With the Vampire” is fearless in its willingness to go for those big melodramatic moments. Claudia’s death is harrowing enough before adding the song, and doing so could’ve tipped the scene into moment-ruining soap. The same risk applies to Lestat’s lengthy apology (not to mention his overt scenery-chewing throughout the “trial”) and so much of Louis’ grandiose storytelling to this point.

Trusting the actors to sell these scenes is half the battle, and even though it was clear from Episode 1 that Reid, especially, could sell sunlight to a coffin-dweller, seeing what he does with his brightest spotlight so far is nothing short of spectacular. But it’s just as impressive that Jones and his writing team, along with directors Craig Zisk, Levan Akin, and Episodes 6 & 7 helmer Emma Freeman can balance so many shifting tones without sacrificing any emotional weight. How? I don’t pretend to know, but “IWTV’s” extensive range seems to be rooted in character. The vampires’ god-like perception of themselves justifies the excess, and their inextinguishable humanity keeps them grounded. Lestat and Louis may be immortal (and thus more amenable to the pretentious, narcissistic depictions of whatever they deem important), but they also can’t repress the human nature they were born with. They’re still caught up in petty grievances, a desire for community, and individual attachments, which makes them immensely relatable even when they’re mocking us, their human viewers, as “complicit, repugnant, and appalling.” (Don’t worry, Santiago — we love you for it.)

Episode 7 combines the same moments of unblushing camp, biting humor, and piercing drama as the rest of the series, yet it’s able to hone them all to fit a hard-hitting hour of television. There are still lingering questions waiting to be answered in next week’s finale, but Jones has set up his last hour to focus more on resolution and catharsis than teases and cliffhangers. I still can’t believe Season 2 was able to keep the real Lestat offscreen for six of its eight episodes without spiraling out of control. Using visions of absent characters to make up for their absence is typically a terrible idea, yet “IWTV” proves itself the exception to a very good rule once again. Even as a rare example of courage in a timid TV climate, the audacity inherent to this choice and so many others isn’t notable solely for its bravery. It’s necessary for the show to work as well as it does.

To these vampires, anything less wouldn’t be enough.

Grade: A

“Interview with the Vampire” Season 2 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC and AMC+. The finale premieres June 30.

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