Why Guillermo’s Humanity Is the Secret to What We Do in the Shadows‘ SuccessPhoto Courtesy of FX TV Features What We Do in the Shadows
In all honesty, FX’s What We Do in the Shadows is a show that shouldn’t work at all. A mockumentary-style send up of the lives of group of vampire roommates on Staten Island, the story follows centuries-old creatures who understand very little about modern life, using humor that ranges from complex absurdism to physical gags involving bodily fluids. That it’s currently in its third season feels like a minor miracle; that it’s steadily improved into one of the best shows on television along the way, even more so.
What We Do in the Shadows somehow manages to form something both heartfelt and hilarious out of the most incongruous of pieces: a story of friendship, immortality, and utter weirdness that is simultaneously extremely dumb and oddly brilliant (in the best way possible on both counts). From vain, sweet Ottoman warrior Nandor The Relentless and sex-obsessed Lazlo to shrill, hilarious Nadja and the painfully dry energy vampire Colin Robinson, our central quartet of heroes are generally anything but brilliant. They’re awkward and self-absorbed, rude and frequently violent, a group of immortal and often dangerous idiots who still haven’t figured out how to use the bus system and are easy marks for internet scams and hoaxes.
The series’ best jokes come from our lead quartet’s utter cluelessness and complete lack of curiosity. In one of the best moments of the series’ second season, the group goes to a Super Bowl party, but three of them believe the event is a neighborhood celebration of superb owls. Almost every aspect of this show is deeply preposterous, indicating that maybe everything in the world really does just devolve into the ridiculous for creatures forced to live on a long enough timeline. (Don’t believe me? Watch that recreation of the baseball scene from Twilight in Season 3’s “Gail” again.)
What We Do in the Shadows is at its best when it contrasts the utter weirdness of the vampire world with the boring mundanity of our human one, and nowhere is this contrast more pronounced or interesting than in the character of Guillermo de la Cruz, Nandor’s put-upon human familiar. (Though it must be said that some of Colin Robinson’s corporate meetings come close; it’s very possible my office also has an energy vampire.)
Guillermo has been serving as Nandor’s long-suffering familiar for over a decade, sleeping in a closet and putting up with a seemingly never-ending string of demanding, demeaning, and downright unappreciative behavior in the hopes that his master will one day turn him into a vampire. Since the bulk of the group can’t seem to perform the most basic tasks without Guillermo present, the decision to keep him around for all eternity feels like it ought to be a no brainer, if only because no one else bothers to perform the simplest of chores: The house was literally full of decaying bodies after he was absent for a mere handful of days last season!
Yet, the vampires continually slight and marginalize their familiar, if for no other reason than they can. Or, possibly because they’ve forgotten what it feels like to be human and experience the unique pain of such targeted insults, open slights, and other emotional hurts. But somehow Guillermo never holds their awful behavior against them—at least, not for very long.
It is Guillermo who straddles the two worlds of What We Do in the Shadows, a regular human who primarily exists in the increasingly bizarre realm of the supernatural, but who somehow doesn’t let his frequently dangerous encounters with vampires, witches or werewolves make him cruel or afraid. In fact, he’s as generally unimpressed by the world of the undead as ever, and his deadpan commentary and sly eyerolls toward the camera make him a perfect audience guide and surrogate, poking gentle fun at a world that’s almost too strange to be believed.
Even the unexpected discovery that he’s a direct descendent of a legendary vampire slayer doesn’t really dampen Guillermo’s enthusiasm for his goal of being a vampire. (Though it does give him a much-needed and long-overdue sense of increased self-worth.) He may be a descendent of Van Helsing and he may have the ability to kill dozens of vampires at a time seemingly without breaking a sweat, but what sets him apart is—and hopefully always will be—his humanity.
Though Guillermo is initially introduced as a lonely and insecure loser, his character is slowly revealed to be sweet, empathetic, and much more openly vulnerable than you’d ever expect someone who regularly kidnaps virgins to slake his vampire master’s literal blood thirst could possibly be. A plus size everyday hero in sweater vests, he uses his next-level monster slaying abilities to protect the idiots he’s promised to serve, casually taking out lone assassins and dangerous rivals all without once seeking credit or glory.
And for all his (completely justified) complaining, it’s obvious that Guillermo genuinely cares about Nandor and it is their relationship—awkward and uncomfortable as it sometimes is—that forms the heart of the show. It’s a bizarre sort of love story, what with the uneven power dynamics between the two and their mutual inability to ever admit outright how much they mean to one another. But Guillermo and Nandor are very clearly soulmates, regardless of whether you read their relationship as a primarily platonic or something more tragically romantic in nature.
In the new season, the stakes (!) have shifted rather dramatically between them, especially now that we know that both could easily kill the other if they chose to do so. But this bolder, more confident Guillermo that we’ve seen so far in Season 3 feels like more of an equal to his mentor than ever before. (And even has the promotion to “bodyguard” to prove it, along with an awkward napkin-based note of congratulations from the group.) The reasoning behind Nandor’s reluctance to turn him has always felt fairly obvious: Despite the fact that he clearly feels real affection for Guillermo and values his presence, there’s some part of him that simply likes having him at his beck and call. And if he keeps him as a familiar rather than makes him an equal, he doesn’t have to worry about that—or anything else—changing.
But now that Guillermo is increasingly aware of the fact that he has other options open to him and is a whole lot less overtly subservient, one has to wonder just how long the status quo can hold. Nandor’s outright refusal to allow his roommates to kill Guillermo certainly feels like a positive step forward—that, and the fact that there is essentially no What We Do in the Shadows without him. This may be a story that’s ostensibly about vampires, but it’s Guillermo’s very human arc that makes it one worth watching.
New episodes of What We Do in the Shadows air Thursdays on FX and stream Fridays on Hulu.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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