Trading Treasure for an Empty Box: ‘Forever Knight’ and ‘Kindred: The Embraced’ Search for Humanity

By T.J. Tranchell

I remember telling my mom that I had friends who invited me to see Interview with the Vampire (1994) with them upon its release. I’d been reading Annie Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles and had to see the movie, even with the casting controversy. I went alone. I imagine that’s what being a vampire would really be like: you think you have friends; you must lie to people to exist; you imagine what it would be like to be human again. Living like that, with no one to trust or love, is an empty life.

I had gone beyond Anne Rice and her whiny vampires on the night I stayed up late and randomly found the episode “Stranger than Fiction” from the Canadian television series Forever Knight (1992–1996). I immediately recognized the character Emily Weiss (played by Larissa Laskin) to be a stand-in for Rice, and from then on, I tried to catch the show as often as possible.

Geraint Wyn Davies’s portrayal of Nick Knight was just what I needed: an 800-year-old vampire using his skills as a police detective but also desperately wishing to be human again. He was Louis de Pointe du Lac but with the guts to act when people were in danger instead of when it was too late. Forever Knight had Nigel Bennet’s Lacroix, too, pushing Nick to forgo humanity and be the monster.

The cast of ‘Forever Knight’

The struggle against becoming a monster felt real to me. Yes, I was one of those bullied, angry goth kids of the mid-1990s. It’s little surprise that I soon found Poppy Z. Brite’s novel Lost Souls (1992) and the roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade (1991). I rocked my Timothy Bradstreet Toreador t-shirt until the sleeves fell off. I even had the rose necklace, sadly lost to time.

Then we had the television series Kindred: The Embraced (1996) based on Vampire: The Masquerade and my hopes were high. Network TV made a show for me with a scheduled time that I didn’t have to hunt for. Desire and happiness are human qualities, right? I desired to watch every episode and was happy they existed.

Like a vampire’s search for humanity, however, the show was something of a disappointment. There was Brian Anderson, who was in every ’90s genre show you can think of, as the Brujah, looming large over the Toreador played by Stacy Haiduk. And those wild, motorcycle-riding Gangrels — there was even one in the WWF spitting blood and flashing his fangs on Monday Night Raw.

The tabletop role-playing game ‘Vampire: The Masquerade’

Kindred: The Embraced didn’t last. Eight episodes aired and the VHS version eventually had nine episodes. What went wrong? Was the need to appeal to human viewers too great? Regular viewers didn’t care for the soap opera plots plugged into a story with vampire clans. The Romeo and Juliet subplot between a Gangrel and a Toreador (Gangrels were wild animals and Toreadors were artists, so it could never work) stank of the tritest TV writing imaginable. There was even a vampire cop. In this case, Erik King as cop Sonny Toussaint is paired with C. Thomas Howell as Frank Kohanek, the human cop who knows there is more going on than meets the eye. We’ll never know who ended up dead or undead. The single season left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, but like vampires, we all harken back to the things we love no matter how disappointing they might have been.

Forever Knight, even with its sporadic U.S. airings, lasted three seasons and 70 episodes over five years. The series finale, directed by its star Wyn Davies, may have put a stake in Vampire television aimed at adults (the teens got Buffy the Vampire Slayer a year after Forever Knight wrapped), but at least it had a proper ending.

As Knight comes closer to regaining his humanity, Lacroix — the vampire who sired Knight — makes one final plea, saying that the only reason to give up the vampiric life for a human one is if one has “faith that there is something beyond.”

“Life is a gift,” Lacroix says. “As sweet as the freshest peach, as precious as a gilded jewel. I have never been able to understand the logic of willfully surrendering such a treasure. And what is there to gain? How dark can your existence be when compared to an eternal void?”

Lacroix thinks he is talking about the eternal life of a vampire. Nick — and we the audience as we follow him along — know that he is talking about the preciousness of human life. It is precious precisely because it is short. “Don’t trade a treasure for an empty box,” Lacroix says.

The show ends with questions of faith and what one believes in beyond themselves. Those questions are exactly what was missing from Kindred’s one season. We had no time to explore what it meant to be a vampire or to be human. Perhaps its brevity, like our own lives, is what makes it special. Or perhaps, it is just the empty box when compared to the treasure that was Forever Knight. 🩸

About

T.J. Tranchell was born on Halloween and grew up in Utah. He has published the novella Cry Down Dark and the collections Asleep in the Nightmare Room and The Private Lives of Nightmares with Blysster Press and Tell No Man, a novella with Last Days Books. In October 2020, The New York Times called Cry Down Dark the scariest book set in Utah. He holds a Master’s degree in Literature from Central Washington University and attended the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp in 2017. He currently lives in Washington State with his wife and son. Follow him at www.tjtranchell.net or on Twitter @TJ_Tranchell.

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