Interview With the Vampire’s Romance Has Always Been Abusive

Interview With the Vampire’s Romance Has Always Been Abusive

The last six to eight minutes of the latest episode of Interview With the VampireA Vile Hunger for Your Hammering Heart” — are brutal.

Interview With the Vampire’s Romance Has Always Been Abusive

After wandering the United States for about seven years, Claudia returns to the townhouse on Rue Royal where Louis and Lestat live. She announces that she’s leaving for Europe and she wants Louis to come with her. In a fit of rage, Lestat attacks her, and Louis jumps to defend her. What follows is a horrific scene where two immortal, impossibly powerful vampires punch, hit, and throw each other through walls in a hard-to-watch moment of domestic abuse.

As the house literally falls apart during their fight, Lestat drags Louis into the street, a streak of blood the width of his body painted behind them. Lestat then pulls Louis up, bites him, and flies up into the air. In the clouds, Lestat demands that Louis refuse him, and asks him to say that he will never love Lestat. Louis instead asks to be let go, and Lestat lets him drop down to Earth. The final scene shows Lestat looking down at a battered Louis while Claudia crouches over his body.

After the episode’s release, fans took to social media to vent their frustrations. On Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit, people were eager to share their opinions either for or against these last few moments of the show. To call it divisive is an understatement; it seemed as if every person watching Interview With the Vampire either loves or hates this episode, most hinging their opinions almost entirely on these final seven minutes.

I find all these reactions are fascinating, and as I’ve been diving into the fandom response (mostly on Twitter, where I’m contributing to the conversation, and lurking through threads and posts elsewhere) I want to offer a defence of the final seven minutes. Is it brutal, even excessive? Yes, absolutely. But it is also an incredibly bold storytelling choice on behalf of the writers who looked at this “fucked-up Gothic Romance” and decided that they would not allow the audience an opportunity to find excuses for the subtlety of emotional abuse.

The main reactions from the fandom come from a few different perspectives; the first is that this is an overly brutal depiction of domestic violence between two characters meant to be the protagonists of the show. I don’t disagree — and I think that there should have been a content warning provided, much like the content warning at the beginning of episode one, which warned the viewers of a death by suicide. The only explanation of this omission I can offer is that we have repeatedly seen gory murders over the course of this show, and, in fairness to the crew who shot and edited this episode, a lot of the physical violence is portrayed without showing direct impact. For example, we see a moment where Lestat is punching downwards and we understand that he’s hitting Louis, but we don’t see Lestat’s fist connect. We see Louis’ body after he falls to the ground, but we don’t see that precise moment when he lands. Instead of reveling in the violence, the show does attempt to maintain some distance, showing only the aftermath of the assault.

It seems clear that between the camera’s focus remaining on Claudia for a majority of the scene and the careful choreography of the two men that the team carefully measured out the images that they would explicitly show on screen. I don’t think hints of care on behalf of the cast and crew excuses the lack of a content warning, however, and while I’m not upset about the level of violence, I am disappointed that more care wasn’t taken for the sake of the audience. I say all this not to brush aside the fact that this scene was an incredibly violent portrayal, but to provide some evidence that this was a deliberate, considered, and heavy decision on behalf of the creative team, and that blame should probably like more on the network for the absence of a content warning, rather than with the creative team for including this kind of content.

Additionally there is a massive part of the fandom that are upset to see this occur when Lestat and Louis are supposed to be in a romance. I’d argue that this is a Gothic Romance. Abuse, manipulation, gaslighting… all of this is part and parcel of the genre, and is rooted in the books themselves. Not to mention that these are aggressive, violent men who are more than capable of murder, and have done so on multiple occasions on screen.

The fact is that Lestat and Louis have never been perfect partners, or even good partners. While Louis certainly wants to romanticize their relationship, this has never been a healthy partnership. These characters are deeply flawed, and have emotionally manipulated and abused each other for a long time, basically since they first met at the Fair Play saloon. What’s happening on screen in this episode is an elucidation of the subtext within the novel; that these two vampires are embroiled in a horrifically toxic love/hate relationship, and that emotional abuse is too easy to excuse. For the writers of this show, the violence they inflict on each other must be made explicit.

There is another layer to this interaction; that of race and violence. Throughout the past four episodes the show the writers have deliberately built up the racial tensions of these re-imagined characters, and in this episode not only is Louis violently beaten by his lover, but Claudia, a 30-something vampire in the body of a child, is implied to have been raped. While it’s not explicitly shown or said on screen, every indication is made to deliver this knowledge to the audience. This means that within a single episode the two main Black characters are brutalized by white characters, which is a singularly traumatising viewing experience for people of colour. As Lestat stands above Claudia and Louis, both of them battered, he remains perfect. Even his shirt is still tucked in. He’s immaculate, and the two Black characters, people he’s professed to love, have been assault by his own hands. This is one of the truly horrific images within “A Vile Hunger For Your Hammering Heart,” and it’s this context that makes me earnestly wish that — if only for the sake of the fans of colour who watched this — there had been a content warning attached to this episode.

As absolutely horrific as this scene is, the writers have previously shown an understanding of the depth and nuance needed to portray the Black experience — with many writers of colour working within the writing room itself. Truthfully, the power differential between Lestat and Louis has always been tied to their races. As early as episode one, when Grace asks Louis to bring his white boyfriend over for lunch, Louis attempts to recharacterize Lestat’s race, saying, “he’s not white, he’s French.” Grace indulges him, but it’s clear that the writers have built up from the beginning that Lestat’s whiteness is never far from their minds when portraying the interactions between Lestat and Louis. The upset that fans experienced while watching racialized violence occur is incredibly justified, and should hurt people to watch. We are supposed to be uncomfortable. We are supposed to wrestle with all of this.

The Vampire Lestat, A Bad Man! A Genuinely Bad Man! (Image: AMC)
The Vampire Lestat, A Bad Man! A Genuinely Bad Man! (Image: AMC)

There’s another section of the fandom that wants to decry this portrayal of Lestat as out of character from his depiction within the Vampire Chronicles books — a bold assertion considering how much his character varied depending on who was narrating the story. There is a moment in one of Anne Rice’s books (Tale of the Body Thief) when Lestat says that he would never hurt Louis or Claudia. I’m going to eschew the argument of unreliable narrators (although that argument can certainly be made, at least three different ways), and simply say that in the context of this show, this piece of art, this media, it is entirely in character for Lestat to hit Louis.

Ultimately, this show is not the book, and it never has been the book. It has made changes from the beginning of the series, and every single decision is made towards developing a layered portrayal of the toxic, destructive relationship between Lestat and Louis. The show has made explicit the queerness, power differentials, and the violence that occurs between the two characters. While we can, of course, point to the fact that both the show and the various books will show a bias towards the perspective of whoever is narrating the story, the interview frame remains intact. While this show is based on the novel, and its portrayal of Lestat is obviously inspired by the novels, it is, without a doubt, a different version of that character. And it always has been.

Fans who feel betrayed by the show are certainly entitled to their feelings, but this argument feels disrespectful to the writers. Having read many of the books myself (including Tale of the Body Thief), I find this pearl-clutching of the canon puritanical, self-serving, and entitled. Reading dozens of posts that exclaim, “this is not my Lestat!” I remain confused… Because this show has never been a faithful adaptation, and for the first four episodes, fans were more than willing to accept the changes that suited their own desires to see the subtextual queerness expressed. For fans to suddenly demand faithfulness, rather than meeting the show on its own terms, feels to me like a deflection.

Within the implication of violence in the novels there was always wiggle room for the fandom to excuse emotional abuse and manipulation in favour of the endgame pairing of Louis/Lestat. Now, with the violence made deliberately explicit, there is very little way to moralize the desire to see these two characters end up together. But allowing fans to easily morally justify the actions of murderous monsters has never the point of the show! The intrusive frame of the story where Louis and Daniel Molloy argue about editorialization and veracity makes this very clear. Louis wants us to feel sympathy for his family of devils, and Daniel wants to confront the audience with a far less romantic portrait of these three vampires. These characters are killers. Why is it only when they hit each other that they become unpalatable?

In truth, we are supposed to sit with this contradiction, we are meant to feel upset and to allow the show to seduce us, despite the immorality, the toxicity, and the abuse. We are supposed to feel hurt by this. We are supposed to be disgusted. We can still feel those emotions and hope, at the same time, that Louis and Lestat can find a way to be together.

We, as an audience, don’t have to have a perfect moral rationalization of our desires. Fiction is meant to allow us to explore these parts of ourselves, to dive into the horrible, toxic, shitty, fucked-up ways that love (or the idea of it, the implication of it, even the withholding of it) makes fools of us. If Anne Rice’s novels have shown us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t be afraid to want something wrong, to enjoy reading it (or, in this case, watching it), and to understand the difference between fictional desires and real-life wants.

For some fans, this episode might be the end of their time with the show, and I don’t blame them. This might be a boundary they are unwilling to cross, and that’s fine. But for other fans of the show, I hope that fandom will allow space for the moral complication of wanting a repaired relationship between Louis and Lestat despite the fact that their love story is incredibly abusive and, relatively speaking, morally unjustifiable.

For me, I am deeply impressed by the lengths this show is going to make the subtext of the novels explicit on every single level. It is a brave decision to show this kind of abuse and press forward with the Gothic romance at the core of the premise. Abuse is not linear. It is not truly understandable because it fucks you up so deeply on so many levels. You can imagine yourself to be in love, to love someone, and still be involved in an abusive relationship because your reasoning gets messed up within the context of abuse. Emotional messiness, fraught passions, deeply held feelings, all of these occur in toxic relationships. Personally, there is a kind of tense relief that happens after watching this kind of horror on screen because I know that I am watching a horror story and not a romance, no matter how seductive the set dressing that has been put out in front of me.

Yes, the romanticization of this mutually abusive relationship is still there — because that’s ultimately the point of the story! This recontextualization of abuse and reimagining of events is precisely how the novels handle these characters’ impressions through point-of-view shifts! Anne Rice’s stories have always been about the ways that we tear ourselves apart in an attempt to find love. Or even in an attempt to find what we imagine love to be, despite every instinct telling us that this isn’t love.

I’m not trying to tell the fandom, or any individual fan how to feel. I don’t want to do that at all! This was a difficult scene to watch, and I don’t begrudge anyone their feelings of horror, disappointment, or upset. All I am asking is that we acknowledge that this relationship has always been abusive, and that we — as fans, as a fandom — meet this show on its own terms, as its own story, and with its own set of contradictions for us to wrestle with. I don’t want “wholesome” media, or even faithfully adapted media: I don’t need it. Bring on the filth, the fucked-up relationships, the interpretation, the messy queens, the morally-grey space, the toxic gay family drama, the shit that makes me wince, cringe, or even cry. I’m an adult, I can handle it. And, finally, AMC, if you’re reading this… content warnings cost zero dollars.

Interview With the Vampire airs new episodes Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on AMC. Online, AMC+ is airing episodes one week early.

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