Like a vampire, IWTV seduces before it pounces. It lures you in with the campy genre stuff, the sexy, swoony, shippable stuff, the high goth drama, the silly theater kid shenanigans, and then hits you with something genuinely frightening and dark. Five episodes into the season, the other shoe has dropped and it’s pressing on our necks. It’s called “Don’t Be Afraid, Just Start the Tape.” Jokes on them, because I’m very afraid!

Despite last week ending with Daniel playing an audio file that might as well be the Grizzly Man tape, the first few minutes of this episode still fooled me into thinking we were in for some flirty fun. Like sure, Louis is being a bit too lovey-dovey up top, resting his chin in his hand, saying things with Armand in 1949 were “dreamy” despite so much evidence to the contrary last week. As he talks about their sex life in Paris, Daniel’s like, “hot.” Armand heads out to chase down a Dubai tech bro, Most Dangerous Game-style; he doesn’t feed often, but when he does, he likes to gamify it. With Armand gone for a couple of hours, Daniel sees a window of opportunity to ask Louis about their first failed interview sesh in 1973. Why did Armand save him? Louis’s answer: “Armand could see I was partial to you. Armand preserves my happiness, even when I don’t or can’t. He had a hunch you might prove fruitful in later times.” This is not the answer Daniel was looking for, nor is it one he entirely believes in. So, he rephrases the question. The night of the interview was a total blur. “We had drinks, you paid. We cabbed to your place in Divisadero, you paid … Did we …”

Did we, dot dot dot??? DID WE, DOT DOT DOT?!?! The most scintillating question, begetting the most charged look from Louis. Fade in: jazz music. Fade in: Young Daniel and seventies-Louis entering Louis’s apartment, and then Louis’s bedroom, where he shows off his coffin, which is almost as scary as going home with a guy only to see he doesn’t have a bedframe. Daniel asks, “So you climb in it, close the lid, and bang?” When Louis says yeah, Daniel just goes, “Okay, I mean, I’m into countercultures!” Daniel might remember things differently, but he wanted it. He was willing to look past whatever. His standards were “fuck a guy in a coffin” low. Cut-to: Daniel snorting lines of Louis’s coke and taking his shirt off and seeming utterly confused and disappointed that Louis brought him home for an actual midnight one-on-one interview and not a, uh, a “midnight one-on-one interview.”

So no, they didn’t … dot-dot-dot. “Do you want to now?” present-day Louis jokes, and oh my god, the look on present-day-Daniel’s face is all bafflement and desire and disappointment. (Like me watching this episode so far.) Back in 1973, Daniel’s got his tape recorder out, asking Louis if he gravitated to San Fran “as a hub for homophiles” and still not believing he’s a vampire. So Louis does a super-speed and fangs thing, basically Edward revealing himself to Bella in the glade, and Daniel goes, “Fuck man, are you the Zodiac Killer?” In present-day, Daniel says he remembers “how eager you were to spill.” Tea! Cut back to seventies Louis absolutely bitching about Lestat to Daniel, with all the hateful, obsessive passion of a fresh break-up, even 33 years later. He seems wasted, which … vampires do sometimes drink alcohol on this show. I’m still not sure what the deal with that is. But we don’t see a drink in Louis’s hand so either he’s just drunk on this gorgeous boy’s attention or he’s let himself have an offscreen nip at Daniel’s neck and has a contact high although that doesn’t seem like it either because why wouldn’t they show us that?

It doesn’t matter because they talk through the night, and the next morning, Daniel begs Louis to give it to him … the dark gift, that is. This sets Louis off, leading to the attack we’ve heard about since the beginning of the series. But now, Daniel has the audio of what happened next, courtesy of Talamasca agent Raglan James (which I’m pretty sure is actress Lily James’s Yorkipoo.) Armand storms in just as Louis is on the verge of sucking Daniel dry (again, unfortunate that it had to be under these circumstances and with these body parts), and the two of them have a fight that my colleague Roxana Hadadi describes as “Interview with the Vampire, Marriage Story Edition.” Armand is sick of Louis’s reckless fooling around with human boys. Louis is sick of Armand, period. He calls him “dull as fuck” and says their relationship is like “suffocation from the world’s softest, beigest pillow.”

Armand is triggered by how much Louis blathered about Lestat to this boy he finds “fascinating.” We learn Lestat’s name has not been uttered by either of them to each other in 23 years. Armand, feeling hurt and too immature for his 500 years, twists the knife in Louis about failing Claudia, which causes him, high out of his mind on Daniel’s drug blood, to storm out of the apartment and step out on the roof into the sun. The sun! Louis had entirely forgotten about this chapter in his life, and as Daniel plays the audio for him in the present-day, it all comes painfully flooding back: Armand dragging him back inside from the brink of death, and the pain of his being burnt to a crisp. For the rest of the episode, we see what happened in 1973 as both Louis and Daniel begin to remember, piecing it together through conversation. And what happened is traumatic enough that it makes sense they would just totally black it out, even without Armand obviously tampering with their memories.

Armand is on some serial killer shit this episode. I know that’s a ludicrous thing to say about a show where literally all the characters barring Daniel are, technically, serial killers. We’ve seen them kill violently and softly, en masse and intimately, dramatically and stupidly. But never has anyone been so Dexter or Dahmer-coded as Armand in this episode. That’s because we’re seeing his actions from two survivors’ perspectives, the creepiness and cruelty of it all underscored with squeaky horror-violins. Armand makes Louis lie in his screaming agony and beg for forgiveness as punishment instead of letting him rest and heal in the coffin. He traps Daniel in the apartment, using telekinesis to slam him repeatedly into the floor and lock him in stress positions. He’s jealous and spiteful and interrogates Daniel about what could possibly make him so much more “fascinating” to Louis than he, and again, it’s a total psycho-obsessive display. It reminded me of the creepiest, most effectively scary parts of Jessica Jones. This is probably the only time I will ever use a comparison to a Marvel property as a compliment unless season three adds some kind of Vampire Groot into the mix.

Daniel remembers that he was trapped and tortured like that for four days, until one night, when Armand finally brings Louis to the coffin and lets him drink from him to heal, but not before turning things around into a pity party for himself, like I’m sooooo sorry I’ve imprisoned you with my love and compassion. Then he mentally summons Lestat through Cerebro-level abilities and says he’ll pass on anything he says to Louis. But of course Lestat starts calling out, “Tell Louis I love him” and “I love you, Louis!” and of course Armand doesn’t repeat that to Louis and telepathically hangs up on him. Then, it’s time to “clean up” after Louis’s “mess,” which means finishing Daniel off. Suddenly his tone towards Daniel is all sweetness and generosity, stroking his neck while he monologues about the sweet release of murder, talking him down from panicked, frightened tears to a point where he’s literally embracing death. Based on comments Louis made about how Armand finishes off his lunch at the start of the episode, we’re to believe that Armand gets some sort of manipulative pleasure out of playing the Grim Reaper as in the Theater des Vampries’s 11-o-clock number, clearly because he can convince himself it’s a noble act. But Louis harnesses all the strength he can muster in his shambling, crispy corpse of a body to intercept and save Daniel, not just from Armand and the whole situation, but also from Daniel himself, the human failings and insecurities that Louis can see in him. He sits with him and implants a mantra like a hypnotic suggestion, recognizing the self-deprecating and fatalistic tendencies in him, and giving him a lifeline to use against them. As I mentioned in last week’s episode, Armand uses powers to control and snuff out life, and Louis’s ongoing tethers to humanity are unique powers in themselves. I don’t know if there’s a version of this speech in the books, but the way it’s revealed in the series — the moment they share in the present day — is touching and well done. It’s cool to see Daniel and Louis rediscovering this decades-long bond …

Daniel helps Louis realize that Armand has deliberately erased this entire episode from Louis’s memory, just in time for Armand to stroll back in, looking fully like a Bond villain in his huge sunglasses. Louis asks Armand what Daniel asked at the start of the episode — why did Armand save him in 1973? — and Armand’s answer makes Louis realize Armand has probably been implanting some stuff in his mind, too. Armand is Lestat’s opposite in so many ways: he’s thoughtful, meticulous, patient, and has an overwhelming sense of duty and self-control. He loves order and routine. But those elements are also what make him even scarier, especially when he feels like he’s losing a grip on that control. We’re now over halfway through the season, and this episode has opened up so much, not only with how much it revealed about these characters’ pasts, but also all the possibilities within the show’s interview structure for unlocked memories and dueling perspectives. I’ll be so bummed if this is the last we see of Young Daniel, though. Luke Brandon Field is perfect in this episode.

• Love Malik roasting Armand’s “little Jimmy Choo sneakers.” RIP, king

• Also love Armand hunting crypto bros for sport.

• Louis and Armand being one of those gentrification house-flipper couples is just too much. And it weirdly gets a lot of lip service in this episode?

• Backgammon set full o’ drugs is fun.

• Louis calling Lestat “a man made of twigs with a thin, carping voice” is soooo “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

• “Mark it on the calendar! Align it with Ursa Major! ‘Louis’s Tri-Annual Fuck Off and Find Me with Apologies to Follow!’” … Sounds like Armand’s been taking night classes with Professor Swift in the Tortured Poets Department.

• The special effects in this episode really ran the gamut for me. Louis’s moment in the sun was a bit The Mummy, and with the shaky POV and dramatic music, there was a bit too much going on.

• On the other hand, the moment Armand levitated Daniel in the background, and his pupils vibrated left to right in the foreground? Very scary and effective! 

• Good Line: ”You don’t know the meaning of your own story!”

• Another Good Line: “This feet in the rocks shit is bullshit.”

• I must point out how, even as YD (Young Daniel) is being psychologically and physically tortured by Armand, he gets hung up on the detail that Louis has brought 128 boys home before him. “He said five!”

• We get a bit of his voice, but this is the first truly Lestat-less episode of the season.

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