'Interview With the Vampire' Season 2 Finale: Romance Lives

This article discusses plot points from the Season 2 finale of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire

Look around at the pop-culture landscape of 2024, and you will see that the genre we call romance is ubiquitous. The self-aware love stories of Emily Henry and a romantasy boom that has filled best-seller lists with series by Rebecca Yarros and Sarah J. Maas are propping up a weakened publishing industry. Mediocre rom-coms like Anyone But You and frothy shows like Bridgerton have become formidable phenomena. And from heady courtships to bitter breakups, the songs of cultural monolith Taylor Swift comprise a catalog of love in all its many moods.

What’s curious about this trend is that, for all its diversity of style and content, from realism to historical fiction to fairies and beyond, the reign of romance has come without a substantive revival of Romanticism—the artistic sensibility that suffused the foundational works of late-18th and early-19th century writers like Blake, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, and the Shelleys, and went on to inspire such Victorian masters as the Brontë sisters. Romantic literature isn’t all love stories; the cohort rejected the cold reason and empiricism of the Enlightenment in favor of the irrational, the supernatural, the emotional, and the deeply subjective.

Pretty much the only popular example of the aesthetic that also succeeds as art, these days, is Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire. And viewers eager for the rare opportunity to immerse themselves in a Romantic world populated by theatrical characters with outsize feelings have noticed. A critical hit since it premiered on AMC in 2022, the series' unique intensity has distinguished it from the glut of interchangeable dramas and attracted an effusively devoted fan base. As soon as each new episode drops, social media floods with Interview memes and speculation and general expressions of glee. Just before Sunday's Season 2 finale, the network delighted this audience by renewing it for a third season.

Jacob Anderson in <i>Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire</i> Season 2 finale<span class="copyright">Larry Horricks—AMC</span>
Jacob Anderson in Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire Season 2 finaleLarry Horricks—AMC

Interview takes many liberties with the late Gothic horror author Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series. It changes the racial identities, ethnic origins, and personal backstories of iconic characters including immortal protagonist Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson), his surrogate daughter Claudia (played by Bailey Bass in Season 1 and Delainey Hayles in Season 2), and Armand (Assad Zaman) a 500-year-old vampire who leads a coven in Paris. It redefines Louis’ ambiguous relationship with his manipulative, hedonistic, and at times abusive maker, Lestat de Lioncourt (Sam Reid), as an explicit romance. And it tweaks Rice’s framing device, replacing the callow 1970s cub reporter who records Louis’ life story in Interview with the Vampire the novel with an older, shrewder, and more accomplished version of the same man (Eric Bogosian), who is summoned to Louis’ new home base of Dubai half a century after their disastrous first meeting to make another attempt at writing his biography.

Building a Uniquely Romantic Atmosphere

Yet Interview creator and showrunner Rolin Jones stays true to Rice’s story—truer, by far, than the teen-baiting, tongue-in-cheek 1994 film adaptation—by preserving its Romantic sensibility. The archetypal Romantic hero is a brilliant outsider (like Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein) who is prone (like the lovelorn title character of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther) to lonely introspection. In a similar vein, Rice once told TIME that “vampires are the perfect metaphor for a lost soul” (hence why she gave up writing about them during a temporary conversion to Catholicism). In the series as in her novels, these beautiful monsters wander the planet, searching for meaning in their eternal lives. Louis, who observes humanity from a wistful remove and wrestles with his predatory instincts, is as consummate a Romantic hero as his antecedents in high literature.

Assad Zaman as Armand in <i>Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire</i> Season 2 finale<span class="copyright">Larry Horricks—AMC</span>
Assad Zaman as Armand in Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire Season 2 finaleLarry Horricks—AMC

The show’s sights and sounds (an aching, string-forward score by the composer and violinist Daniel Hart) have all the aesthetic trappings of Romanticism. Its period backdrops are seedy yet plush: New Orleans in the early decades of the 20th century for Season 1 and then, for Season 2, a traumatized post-World-War-II Paris where Armand’s brood hides in plain sight by dramatizing its own predations at the venerable Théâtre des Vampires. The nocturnal characters spend languorous nights in bars, opera houses, brothels. “Darkness” has become such a visual cliché in contemporary entertainment, from Christopher Nolan’s dark Batman to Tim Burton’s dark Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo, Sleepy Hollow, etc.), that it is now practically meaningless. But the darkness of Interview is different; it’s thick, velvety, atmospheric at a time when rushed production schedules and a dependence on computer graphics often yield generic on-screen landscapes with no personality. Romanticism links the haunted chiaroscuro of 18th century Gothic fiction with the swirling emotionality of 20th century Expressionism, and each influence is part of the show’s palette.

Jones’ language, too, has a particular panache. Louis, whose stylized speech feels believable in part because he was born in the 19th century and in part because he’s so self-dramatizing, provides most of the narration. “Paris was Nazi scar tissue” in the late ’40s, he says. “Does anyone ever ask Lazarus if he wanted to be woke?” Louis wonders, in Sunday’s finale, recounting his confinement to and resurrection from a locked coffin. (“No one gives a sh-t about Lazarus’ point of view, is what I remember,” cracks Bogosian’s Daniel Molloy, a jaded journalist who likes to puncture Louis’ earnestness with wry interjections.) Characters constantly make grand pronouncements: “In this temple [the Théâtre], belief is protection!” Lestat proclaims. ”Arson is an act of passion!” declares a vampire fleeing death by fire. The second season ends with Louis throwing down a telepathic gauntlet to vamps incensed by the publication of Daniel’s wildly popular biography of him, also titled Interview with the Vampire: “I own the night.”

From left: Jacob Anderson, Eric Bogosian as Daniel Molloy, and Assad Zaman in <i>Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire</i> Season 2 finale<span class="copyright">AMC</span>
From left: Jacob Anderson, Eric Bogosian as Daniel Molloy, and Assad Zaman in Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire Season 2 finaleAMC

How Romanticism Heightens Romance

This iteration of Interview happens to be a romance as well as a Romantic epic; while they’re not interchangeable, the genre and the sensibility complement each other beautifully. In its first season, the show followed Lestat’s pursuit of Louis, whom he transformed into a vampire in a bloody, sexy, profane scene set at a church. Their ersatz marriage even produced the ersatz child Claudia, trapped indefinitely in the body of a 14-year-old. Yet domestic bliss remained elusive. Lestat’s capricious behavior escalated into what contemporary viewers could easily identify as spousal abuse. With Claudia’s help, Louis murdered Lestat—but couldn’t bring himself to destroy his lover’s body in order to prevent the resilient vampire from healing.

Viewers spent much of Season 2 anticipating Lestat’s inevitable return. At first, he appeared to Louis in spectral form—a very Gothic haunting that also satisfied fans’ thirst for more of Anderson and Reid’s chemistry—as Louis and Claudia trekked through war-ravaged Europe in search of others like themselves. In a Season 1 finale twist, a character introduced to Daniel as Louis’ servant Rashid had been revealed to be Armand, the apparent love of Louis’ life and his partner of nearly eight decades. Scarred by his years with Lestat, Louis is slow to trust Armand when they meet in Paris. The much older, exponentially more powerful vampire makes a big show of proving, through solicitousness and submission, that he’s nothing like Lestat.

In '70s San Francisco: Luke Brandon, left, as a young Daniel Molloy, and Jacob Anderson in <i>Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire</i><span class="copyright">Larry Horricks—AMC</span>
In '70s San Francisco: Luke Brandon, left, as a young Daniel Molloy, and Jacob Anderson in Anne Rice's Interview With the VampireLarry Horricks—AMC

Yet Armand turns out to be deceptive in ways Lestat never was—a gaslighter of superhuman proportions. When the interview takes a detour to San Francisco in the ’70s, where Daniel first encountered Louis, it comes out that Armand not only cleaned up the mess Louis made by speaking to a reporter, but also altered Louis’ memory, as well as audio recordings that Daniel had made, of the incident. Louis, taking a page from the Romantic playbook, had attempted suicide and then, grotesquely burned, convalesced in his coffin. This anecdote sets up an even more destabilizing revelation in Sunday’s finale. Louis has always believed Armand performed the vampire mind track that saved him from execution during the Théâtre’s scripted show trial of Louis, Claudia, and Claudia’s new companion Madeleine (Roxane Duran), which doomed both women to immediate death by sunlight and drove Louis mad with grief for his lost daughter. In fact, as Daniel has learned with the help of his source in the Talamasca (a secret society of supernatural researchers that is slated to be the subject of AMC’s third Anne Rice adaptation), it was Lestat—the freshly resurrected star witness for the prosecution—who saved Louis’ life.

That’s the thing about Lestat: His love for Louis is genuine and all-consuming, even if he sometimes has a horrifying way of showing it. If Louis is the poetic, self-flagellating Werther in this story, then Lestat comes to resemble a variation on Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights—brooding, obsessive, vindictive, yet also earnest in his dangerous form of devotion. Toward the end of the Season 2 finale, Louis returns to New Orleans after banishing Armand from his home and appears in Lestat’s squalid home to apologize. The hurricane that rages outside as they reconcile is that city’s equivalent of a Brontëan storm on the moors.

From left: Roxane Duran as Madeleine, Delainey Hayles as Claudia, Jacob Anderson, and Sam Reid in <i>Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire</i><span class="copyright">Larry Horricks—AMC </span>
From left: Roxane Duran as Madeleine, Delainey Hayles as Claudia, Jacob Anderson, and Sam Reid in Anne Rice's Interview With the VampireLarry Horricks—AMC

Why the Romantic Sensibility Is So Rare in 2024

It’s all pretty exhilarating, not just because big emotions and the kind of combustible love that trendy contemporary authors like Colleen Hoover revel in while safely pathologizing are exciting to watch, but also because stories told—and told well—in this heightened register have become so hard to find. Across all narrative art forms, we are in a moment defined by internet-mediated realism. Romance, in the 21st century, can be rom-com cute or steamy in an X-rated, Fifty Shades sort of way; what it doesn’t often have is the emotional intensity or insight of Romantic literature. Meanwhile, the conventions separating so-called “genre fiction” from its literary counterpart have hardened, flattening characters and elevating formula above style. Romantasy may be populated by supernatural creatures torn from the pages of Gothic classics, but it seems incapable of the psychological and linguistic richness that define a great Romantic novel.

Thanks equally to Jones and to Rice, as well as the cast’s maximalist performances, Interview crafts high drama out of what, on an inferior show, might come off as silly or affected. That the main characters are vampires, some of them centuries old, and that most of the action in the first two seasons takes place decades in the past have surely helped audiences suspend any skepticism that love and angst could drive people to talk and behave and emote the way people in Louis’ story do. Now that his tale is told and Daniel’s book is published (and, oh, by the way, a vindictive Armand has turned Daniel into a vampire), the third season seems poised to pick up where the second left off—in the present, where Louis and Lestat’s form of amour fou is a recipe for scandal, if not prison time or commitment to a psych ward. (Consider the New Orleans tour guide Louis overhears discussing the lore around them with the breathlessness of a true-crime podcaster.) An expanded contemporary storyline will add a level of difficulty to Jones’ tonal balancing act. But to put it in terms as florid as Interview deserves: When it comes to the future of this magnificently singular show, hope springs eternal.

Contact us at letters@time.com.