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Interview With the Vampire's San Francisco Episode Is a Masterpiece of Mangled Memory

In the era of the binge watch, Rolin Jones still knows how to make a meal of a moment.
  • Jacob Anderson in Interview With the Vampire (Photo: Larry Horricks/AMC)
    Jacob Anderson in Interview With the Vampire (Photo: Larry Horricks/AMC)

    Few television series have the time to luxuriate in the labyrinth of their own stories these days. With tight six, eight, or 10-episode runs for limited series and dramas, most shows need to eat through plot at a considerable rate to get to their inevitable conclusion — oftentimes to the detriment of their story.

    AMC’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire has proven time and again to be a wiser beast than most. In its second season, or rather Part II, the series is enacting the second half of Rice’s 1976 novel, when the vampires Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson) and Claudia (Delainey Hayles) leave behind New Orleans and their bloody betrayal of their maker Lestat (Sam Reid) to settle in Paris as members of the Théâtre des Vampires coven.

    The increasingly traumatic events of this Parisian chapter of Louis’ life are revealed through the interview he is sitting for in modern-day Dubai with journalist Daniel Molloy (Eric Bogosian), a trying exercise in navigating the recesses of immortality for the truth of one’s own experience. 

    Slowly but surely, Louis is bringing himself and the audience to the cusp of the most tragic event of his life — one book lovers will know, which we won’t spoil here. The season’s tagline has been “Memory Is the Monster,” but it isn’t just Louis’ memory with which the show needs to reckon. Molloy also has serious blindspots about what happened when their paths crossed in San Francisco in 1973, the first time Louis tried to get Molloy to interview him.

    The show had only danced around that fateful encounter until this week’s episode, when it finally plucked it like a raw nerve. Within its 50-some minutes, Episode 5 impressively answers a cache of burning questions. What are the origins of Molloy’s warped worldview? What is the darkest moment in the relationship between Louis and Armand (Assad Zaman)? When will Lestat return? Each of these feel inevitable, but the way the episode serves them up is anything but expected.

    Creator Rolin Jones probably shouldn’t take this detour. There is so much material to devour in Rice’s book, and the intimate backstory of the titular interviewer is not something she paid much mind to (in this book at least). But after this episode, it’s glaringly aware how incomplete the show would feel without this tangled web between Molloy and Louis. It is a credit to Jones’ instincts for making it a priority, and yet another resounding endorsement for why this is the definitive rendering of Rice’s story.

    Titled “Don't Be Afraid, Just Start the Tape,” the episode is framed as a kind of “while the parents are away, the kids will play” tightrope act. This season, Armand, a 514-year-old vampire and Louis’ longtime lover, has officially brought himself into the interview. It considerably changes the tactic Molloy had been curating to coax information out of Louis because Armand’s looming presence serves to keep Louis from venturing too far into his memory.

    So when Armand announces he’s engaging in a rare hunting excursion at the top of Episode 5, Molloy recognizes an opportunity. Earlier this season, he was given a treasure trove of files by the mysterious figure played by Justin Kirk, among them the surviving recordings from his 1973 session with Louis. The audio reveals he was attacked by an unhinged Louis and saved by Armand, not out of compassion but as a pawn in their fractured relationship.

    With Armand out of the room, Molloy ambushes Louis with the recording, forcing him to listen to the animalistic fiend he was when he nearly drained Molloy. The episode ventures back to that night, letting Molloy and Louis sift through the fragments of memory they were left with under Armand’s influence. Seeing this tense trio in a new light, so far removed from the composure they like to think they maintain in each other’s presence, completely destabilizes what we know about them. Here, Molloy is a kid, not yet aware the high of a good story is better than that from the drugs Louis offers him. He is also horny as hell, seduced by a playful Louis in his brief reckless era. Louis’ reveal of his fangs turns him on more than it shocks him, and it certainly doesn’t make him run for his life.

    Instead, for 10 hours, Louis spills his guts about his life and Lestat, while Molloy rolls joint after joint and questions him. Louis isn’t searching for something profound in the memory of his long-ago relationship, but rather reveling in the word vomit of telling their love story to a stranger who hasn’t had to watch Louis wear the scars of it for decades like Armand. But Molloy’s intoxication with Louis eventually crosses a line, and he nearly kills Molloy before Armand, who has been listening the whole time, intervenes.

    What ensues between a drug-addled Louis and Armand is a verbal death match for the ages. Louis tells Armand he’s as boring as beige and a night with Molloy was more “fascinating” than decades with him. Armand hits him back, condemning him for speaking Lestat’s name (not spoken in their house for 23 years) as a means of ignoring how much Claudia came to hate Louis. The last bit cuts a broken Louis so deep that he walks outside into the sun and nearly kills himself.

    Armand then sits on suicide watch for his charred lover, while intermittently stepping away to sadistically torture and punish Molloy for the the fascination Louis finds in him. Eventually, Armand hypnotically brings Molloy to a calm sense of peace as he prepares to kill him –– a remarkably tender acknowledgement of the relationship the characters share in Rice’s books. But Louis stops Armand, demanding Molloy remain alive as a testament to their love. Unlocking these memories leaves modern-day Molloy with the realization that his life, every thought and decision, has been influenced by the suffering of that night. It brings him to tears in front of Louis, who also realizes Armand molded his memory of events then and continues to do so.

    At a pivotal moment in Louis’ self-reckoning, this episode viscerally deconstructs everything we know about the dynamics at play in Molloy’s interview. It offers more emotion, vulnerability, passion and hate than we have ever seen from all three men, and it is mesmerizing to watch. It is also a tremendous showcase for Zaman, who is well within reach of Season 2’s MVP title.

    But just to show how genius this whole endeavor is, Jones also manages to quietly subvert expectations about how they would confirm that Lestat is alive. All season, he has existed as a volatile figment of Louis’ memory or the ghost of Armand’s past. But in the midst of the couple’s most traumatic fight, Armand uses his telepathy to geolocate Lestat to let him talk to Louis. Maybe it is to talk Louis off the ledge. Maybe it is to put Louis out of his misery of wondering. The only thing that’s certain is that Armand is testing how Louis will react. He speaks Lestat’s words to Louis, but stops short of letting Lestat tell their shared partner that he still loves him. Thus, Lestat’s long-awaited reemergence is an unrequited reunion on Armand’s terms.

    Jones understands that withholding Lestat’s presence from both the audience and Louis seeds a craving that can only be satiated by what comes next –– whatever that may be. It is the epitome of a good cliffhanger, and a reminder of how effective one can be. In an age when many TV shows are chewed through in season-long binges, Interview With the Vampire still knows how to make a meal of a moment.

    New episodes of Interview With the Vampire Season 2 drop Sundays at 3:00 AM E.T. on AMC+ and 9:00 P.M. ET on AMC. Join the discussion about the show in our forums

    Hunter Ingram is a TV writer living in North Carolina and watching way too much television. His byline has appeared in Variety, Emmy Magazine, USA Today, and across Gannett's USA Today Network newspapers.

    TOPICS: Interview with the Vampire, AMC, Assad Zaman, Delainey Hayles, Eric Bogosian, Jacob Anderson