Fall 2013 Review: Dracula

11 Nov

The D is for Dracula

Irishman Jonathan Rhys Meyers, best known on television as Henry VIII in the Tutors, plays the namesake British vampire in this extremely loose television adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. After being woken from a years (or possible decades, it’s hard to tell) long sleep in the first moments of the pilot, Dracula decides to masquerade as an American industrialist, complete with a terrible yahoo-ish American accent. He’s got a trusty assistant named Renfield, who helps conduct his affairs; how he came to know Renfield and enlist him into his service is unclear. We know that he’s putting on the American industrialist act but we not why until the second half of the episode where the crazy conspiracy underpinnings of Dracula began to come to the fore.

Dracula’s primary goal is revenge on the secret Order of the Dragon. The Order of the Dragon is a powerful organization which has apparently been committing various clandestine acts for centuries, with the killing of vampires being at least one of their duties. We know they’re a big deal because a couple of their leaders let us know that they offhandedly concocted the story of Jack the Ripper to keep the vampiric truth behind some London prostitute murders under wraps.

Dracula holds a huge gala to introduce himself, as the American Alexander Grayson, to fashionable society with the hope of bringing out members of the order on which he wants revenge so badly. The order is composed of seemingly normal upper class Britons. In addition to killing vampires, the order retains its strength through controlling wealth by way also sorts of trading schemes, which Dracula wants to attack, while also attacking the members of the order physically and you know, doing the whole vampire biting of flesh sucking of blood routine.

Also attending his gala is an ambitious journalist, Jonathan Harker, who is accompanied by his lady friend Mina Murray. Both the names are recognizable as characters in the classic Dracula story though it doesn’t seem like this version feels particularly obliged to hew too closely to the original. As we let the crazy continue to seep out little by little over the course of the episode, it turns out that Mina is a reincarnation of Dracula’s long-dead wife who just so happened to be killed by members of that same sinister Order of the Dragon.

There’s no obvious rooting interest; Dracula is our protagonist but he kills at least a couple of people mercilessly in the first episode. While the Order of the Dragon does seem like they could be pretty evil, it’s not clear Dracula is any better except relatively. Journalist Harker may be the closest the viewer has to an analogue, though it’s unclear how quickly and how much he’ll learn about all the underlying conspiracies in the next few episodes.

In terms of new TV horror shows, everything Sleepy Hollow is, Dracula isn’t, and vice versa, but in a good way for both. Let’s call Dracula a British take on Sleepy Hollow; where Sleepy Hollow wears its insanity on its sleeve, Dracula keeps its crazy repressed below a prim and proper Victorian exterior. It’s not as straight forwardly outlandish as Sleepy Hollow, but it’s deeply embedded with centuries old conspiracies and all manner of supernatural. The combination of crazy conspiratorial and repressed and tense gothic kind of works. Dracula is largely devoid of humor but it feels like horror spooky and over the top rather than weighed down with seriousness the way more important dramas can (Boardwalk Empire and Homeland for example). The whole Order of the Dragon is a little goofy not quite enough to not laugh at. It’s, like Sleepy Hollow, as if the show knows is winking with its seriousness; even though what’s on screen is by all accounts completely earnest, viewers aren’t meant to take it too seriously.

Maybe Dracula in an odd way is the true successor to ABC vengeance soap Revenge. Like Emily Throne, Dracula appears to have come back in an unrecognizable form years later to seek revenge on a group that harmed someone that he loved. Of course, it’s not the attempted carbon copy of Revenge that several of the shows ABC paired with Revenge were (Betrayal, Deception), but the gothic horror setting is as good a home for some soapy behavior as the high class / low class setting of the modern day Hamptons. After all, what are both the Victorian era and Dracula about if not repressed sex?

Will I watch it again? I might. It’s not top tier, so I probably won’t get around to if I do until at least the initial torrent of fall television has slowed down, but I liked it a lot more than I thought I would and I was honestly intrigued. The plot may not have been the most original, but the new take on a gothic vampire story felt strangely fresh for a tale that’s been told in one way or another so many times.

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