Netflix’s Dracula is attractive and fun– until it’s drained pipes of life

Like among the Count’s brides, the BBC/Netflix mini-series Dracula is captivating, fun, and sexy– till it’s drained pipes of all life. The culprit, however, is not the bite of a vampire, but rather showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss biting off more than they were willing to chew in the first 3 episodes, which like Sherlock, play out like three standalone films.

[Ed. note: this contains major spoilers for the first season of Dracula]

While the first 2 episodes loosely follow the plot of Bram Stoker’s unique, Moffat and Gatiss twist the literature by adding a nun: Agatha Van Helsing, who now goes toe to toe with the vampire overlord. The gender turnaround (which is revealed about 20 minutes after the audience need to have figured it out by themselves) does not seem like a stunt in the hands of Doll & Em starlet Dolly Wells. There’s a spirited life to Wells’ Van Helsing that compliments Claes Bang’s undead Count Dracula, who dithers between suave and animalistic depending on how hungry he is.

Dracula’ s first two episodes are full of scenes that fall directly in Moffat’s strike zone: dialogue that checks out as a spoken chess match between a fantastic hero and an equally fantastic bad guy. Near the climax of episode 1, “The Guidelines of the Beast”, Sister Agatha opens the convent doors to Dracula, having figured out that he can not enter an area without an invite.

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Dracula (Claes Bang) and Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) size each other up across an open gate in a screengrab from Dracula

Dracula and Sis Agatha Van Helsing go toe to toe.
Image: Netflix

After serving up 2 episodes of moody period scary, Moffat and Gatiss insert a significant twist at the start of the ending: Dracula emerges from his coffin, which fell to the bottom of the ocean with him inside of it at the end of episode 2, “Blood Vessel,” and strolls onto a beach.

Sending to prison Dracula in a modern-day medical center particularly designed to trap a vampire is an enjoyable reversal of the Gothic castle in which his victims were locked up. With Dracula, the authors completely drop the tone and style that made the previous two episodes so engaging; they rather serve up a meandering slog.

Episode 3, “The Dark Compass” is all over the place in terms of both plot and tone. After being ambushed on the beach, Dracula gets away custody, just to be sent to prison once again. Zoe offers an info dump about what the Harker Foundation in fact does, then Dracula calls an attorney (named Renfield, naturally, played by Mark Gatiss) who gets him launched on the premise that the foundation has no legal right to hold him against his will. The very first half of the episode seems like a police procedural with vampire hunters. Again, that’s not a boring idea, but in the context of the remainder of the program it’s extremely out of location.

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Dracula (Claes Bang) caresses the face of Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) in a screengrab from Netflix’s Dracula

Dracula touches Jonathan Harker’s face.
Image: Netflix

Then there’s Lucy Westenra, the promiscuous femme fatale who becomes Dracula’s bride. Critics have argued that Lucy’s representation in the book is extreme in the face of Victorian sexual oppression, however the Netflix series doesn’t do anything to update the character aside from turning her into a self-absorbed celebration woman. Moffat and Gatiss penalize her for that vanity; After Dracula eliminates her, she’s reanimated midway through being cremated and emerges covered in burns. She’s only redeemed through the eyes of a boy who says he’s in love with her, regardless of her clear and firm indication that she wasn’t interested. It’s a horrible, tone-deaf portrayal of a girl’s sexuality, though it’s not unexpected provided Moffat’s history of writing women.

The series culminates in a final showdown in between Van Helsing and Dracula. Zoe has intoxicated Dracula’s blood, connecting her and allowing her to speak with Sis Agatha. Yes it’s ridiculous, but it’s honestly a relief– Zoe is primarily a diminished version of Agatha anyway. Zoe-as-Agatha takes down the drapes to expose that morning has come. Sunlight gathers and Dracula recoils, however does not explode or liquify into dust. Agatha then discusses her theory, which likewise doubles as the thesis of the show: Dracula is just a coward who’s afraid to pass away. His “guidelines” are absolutely nothing more than habit, driven by worry and shame.

Inserted into the last five minutes of the episode, it feels half-baked. The scene ends on a gut punch of an image– Dracula nervously stepping out of the shadows into the heat and light of the sun– however that minute isn’t made.

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Dracula (Claes Bang) sucking blood off of his fingers in a still from the Netflix and BBC show Dracula

Delicious
Image: Netflix

While “The Rules of the Monster” and “Capillary” are campy fun, “The Dark Compass” is completely without style. Its pacing and tone are difficult to follow and its gender politics are a mess. I ‘d recommend merely seeing the first two episodes and shutting off your TELEVISION prior to the 3rd episode begins, were it not for the final image of the series: Agatha and Dracula having sex in the middle of the sun after he consumes Zoe’s malignant blood, eliminating both of them. (Zoe has cancer, which is an essential plot point that does not matter at all.) It’s a balls-to-the-wall bonkers ending in the very best way, the type of raised schlock that made the very first 2 episodes so much enjoyable.

This ending wraps up Dracula’s arc with a cool, if ultimately unsatisfying bow, but it appears that a 2nd season hasn’t been ruled out.

Exactly how a season 2 would work is uncertain, specifically considered that the two main characters die in each others’ arms. Will we get a prequel, showing how Dracula’s obsessions ended up being lore? Will Dracula and Van Helsing meet again in the future, reanimated by the Harker Foundation? Gatiss and Moffat have certainly shown that they’re willing to play around with timelines, however here’s hoping they’ll reanimate the more campy tone if Netflix orders another season.

Dracula is now streaming on Netflix.

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