Saturday, November 2, 2013

In Which I Review Dracula (1x2)

They say you should never make a deal with the devil--it will come back against you tenfold. The devil's job is to entice, to offer up before your eyes something you deeply desire: love, respect, money or advancement. The best devilish characters in TV play on your weaknesses; they seek to know what exactly would turn you toward them and serve. In this weeks episode, "A Whiff of Sulphur," we find out what happens to people who accept deals with Dracula and what happens to those who deign to deny the powerful vampire what he wants. We also explore whether or not Dracula is actually a devil in respectable sheep's clothing (and faux American accent) or if he is a victim of circumstance. 

I'm rather surprised that I'm even blogging this episode. The pilot last week did little to nothing to endear this show to me. As I previously ranted about last week, this is not Dracula. Apart from the names of the characters, the actual literary Dracula has been been wholly removed and in its place is a Downton Abbey mixed with The Vampire Dairies/True Blood monstrosity that is relying heavily on Jonathan Rhys Meyers's sex appeal. So why am I still watching? Because this show is so bad, it's good. This show is giving me a chance to deride something without being offended at the poor quality of writing, acting, and message (a la Under the Dome). The show wants to say something--I can feel it--but it can't settle on just what issue it wants to tackle: literature, history, myth, good vs evil, gender negotiation and construction, class, sexism, or business ventures that were quite prolific in this era. It's taking itself too seriously and trying so hard to sell the idea of being a legitimate, thought provoking show with something to say, that I all I do is laugh and count how many women Dracula sleeps with in a single episode. The writers need to take a Sleepy Hollow approach and realize that their material is so ludicrous (Dracula is SELLING COOLANT for heaven's sake) that they can have fun with it. Sleepy Hollow is the success it is because, for the most part, the writers and creators realize how outlandish and preposterous the show is that they can have fun with it.

Speaking of laughable moments: is Dracula evil? At least he doesn't sparkle but I can already tell that the television show of the world's most famous vampire is being set up as an anti-hero and possibly even the actual hero. In Stoker's book, Dracula is cold and calculating but known to fly into fits of rage. He often vacillates between seemingly kind and an unholy terror who has, as Harker remarks, "a smile that Judas in Hell might be proud of".  He is incredibly proud and we are supposed to quake in our boots. He is decidedly not moral. Dracula has no qualms over slowly draining Lucy or Mina. But these characteristics just simply wouldn't do for a sexily brooding vampire. Goodness no! Our Dracula has a conscience. When Renfield questions why Dracula simply doesn't go to Mina and turn her if he so greatly desires her, Dracula answers that to do such a thing would be an abomination. Dracula doesn't want to turn her into a vampire, in other words, but to lose her twice would be too much to bear. My kingdom for a genuinely scary vampire! Dude. You're DRACULA. Turn into a bat and make her your bride, already.

So what's Dracula's plan instead of turning Mina? Corrupt Mina's boyfriend, Jonathan Harker. In any interpretation, Harker tends to look dull and like a male version of a Mary Sue. In our television universe, Harker is a poor but well intentioned newspaper reporter. He has ambition though, something Dracula will play on. This episode reveals Harker's incredible insecuirty over being poor and the fact that he can't provide a life for Mina. He cannot take her to shows or dinners or even buy her a proper engagement ring. He is overlooked at work and lives in fear that someone will swoop (bat pun intended) down and take away his Mina. This is one of the themes that the show is trying to work with but is falling flat due to some bad writing and poor acting. In this era, men were supposed to be men and women were supposed to be women. Mina might be at the top of her class at medical school and on her way to being a world class surgeon, but to Harker, once that ring goes on her finger, she is expected to do more womanly things--keep his house, raise his children, be a comfort and dear friend to him and him alone. Does Harker actually believe this malarkey? That's debatable. When Harker rattled all these things off to his friends, while Mina listened of course, he was drunk but more importantly he had essentially been castrated. He can't get a raise at work and despite a nice "feather in his cap" over the Alexander Grayson story, he is still seen as a second rate reporter with a small future.
He is falling behind in his chosen profession, a perfectly suitable profession for a male at that. Meanwhile, Mina is excelling in her profession, a profession that is utterly NOT female for this day and age. This show completely rewrote the dynamic between Harker and Mina. Mina is the more successful one; instead of being a schoolteacher (which is inherently more "womanly") she is studying to be a doctor, a higher paid and more respected position. Feelings of inadeicquacy drive Harker to make a deal with Dracula. At the top of the hour, Grayson approaches Harker with an intriguing offer: come work for me as my Vice President of the Press (is this even a real thing?), tell me all the great secrets of the inner workings of the London elite and in return you'll have excess money, fancy houses, servants, and respect. In other words: I'll make you into a man if you sell me your soul. Oh and I'll be seducing your fiancee. There is nothing wrong with this idea and it's actually quite intriguing if these actors were not so cardboard cutouts. If they want to make Mina a trailblazer in femininity, fantastic. I am all for that. But instead they make her this tower of feminism while also making her incredibly insipid. 
Every time she giggled like a little schoolgirl while spouting late 20th century ideals of women's roles I wanted to roll my eyes. If she's going to be a strong female, then make her a strong female. It doesn't help that she has no chemistry with the actor playing Harker and only slightly more chemistry with Meyers' Dracula.If this show wants to really sell me Dracula and Mina they need to make her his equal. She should be as cunning and dangerous as he is (or at least as cunning and dangerous as they are trying to sell him.)

The second deal of the episode came in Dracula's continued attempt to take down the Order of the Dragon, that bastion of society that has its greedy little paws in everything. Tonight we met Lord Lurent. Or Lord Laruent. Or Lord something. Let's just call him Lord L, cause honestly I couldn't understand what Grayson was calling him. Lord L has a controlling interest in the British company responsible for selling of the magical coolant (snort). He and Dracula have an equal foothold, something Dracula finds repulsive. This will be ironic in a few moments. Once Harker has agreed to work for Grayson, he reveals Lord L's greatest secret: he prefers the company of men. Again, this is an intriguing idea but the show is starting to become heavy with ideas and lack of follow through. This is the age of Oscar Wilde, a man who was put on trial and later in jail for his homosexaul "indecencies." Homosexuality (the act, not the word) is nothing new: there have been men who preferred men to woman for as long as there have been humans, but this show is obviously trying to be liberal in its approach and appeal to mass audiences. Lordlings and the upper crust did have these type of affairs. It is not as if they aren't being historically accurate. But this show needs to pick a theme or two and stick to it, instead of trying to give me every liberal and/or modern theme it can think of. Naturally, Dracula is all for free love. It's not his business who loves whom but honestly the hero of the show can't have a problem with it because then he is less heroic. Once Dracula corners Lord L, the gig is up. Lord L cannot risk a scandal. Love might be love but in Victorian London you did NOT leave your family and money and reputation for an illicit love affair of the same sex.

The final deal of this episode takes us back to Dracula's past. As we learned last week, Van Helsing is responsible for waking Dracula up from his near death starvation. He did this so that the two might work together to take down the Order of the Dragon. Both Dracula and Van Helsing lost their families due to the Order's machinations. During the flashback a few things were confirmed: our Dracula is Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia; our Dracula cannot be in the sun for any period of time or he will burst into ashes and that the deal between Van Helsing and Dracula is mutually beneficial for both and more than just taking down the Order. Dracula is limited by his inability to be in the sun. Van Helsing, medical doctor extraordinaire, thinks he can "cure" Dracula of this affliction. Van Helsing takes syringes of blood from Dracula on a regular basis in order to figure out how to find a cure. Not quite sure why Van Helsing agreed to this; I'm pretty sure as soon as Dracula is "cured" of his sunlight affliction, he'll just eat Van Helsing and call it a day. Or at least the Dracula of the book would.

Miscellaneous Notes from A Whiff of Sulphur 
-- I think Blonde Nina Lady Jane might be the most hysterical part of this whole show. She's either half undressed, rolling around with Dracula for sexy time OR she's running around London in the most un-Victorian outfit EVER, complete with stupid hairdo and a machete. There needed to be a vampire hunter since Van Helsing as been reduced to a doctor who helps Dracula. And the show thinks it's being innovative by having a female vampire hunter (you are several years too late for this to be innovative and anything but derivative of Buffy) but come on. Knee high leather boots, red tights, and a mini skirt. Yeah no sure, she's totally going to go unnoticed in Victorian London.

--The "seers" from last week were opium addicts with a shiny mirror. Okay then.

--Dracula needs to start draining Lucy if NBC wants to keep calling this show "Dracula" and be somewhat credible.

--The best part of this show is watching it with friends and trying to predict how many woman Dracula will sleep with. Poor Meyers, once he played Henry VIII he was never going to be allowed to NOT have the sexy time.

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