Around the Water Cooler: “Dracula,” The Verdict, the Season 1 Finale, and the Season 1 Recap (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “Dracula,” aired on network TV, specifically on NBC, Fall Fridays at 10:00 PM.

What: “Dracula,” a historical supernatural/fantasy series based upon the infamous titular vampire and his reanimation in Victorian England.

When: The season one finale aired on NBC, Friday, January 24, 2014, at 10:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in London, England, in the year 1896.

Why: I continue to enjoy shows centered on vampires, though the character of Dracula has always been somewhat of a mixed bag for me, depending upon the portrayal and vehicle.  For example, I enjoy the Dracula on Buffy the Vampire Slayer but only tolerate Gary Oldman’s Dracula (given the fact that the film surrounding him is somewhat mediocre).  My interest and intrigue were  piqued when I learned that King Henry VIII himself, the charismatic Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, would be playing the enigmatic vampire.  The thought of it and ensuing expectations were too much to pass up.

SYNOPSIS

A professor named Van Helsing (if he’s the vampire hunter, that has not been clarified yet) reanimates the wasted corpse of Dracula (Rhys Meyers), entombed in wooden stakes and silver. Dracula, posing as an American industrialist named Alexander Grayson in Victorian London, seeks vengeance against something called the Order of the Dragons, members of which also happen to control industrial interests in London.  Meanwhile, he encounters the doppelganger of his former wife, who was murdered by the Order prior to Dracula’s encasement in a vampire-proof coffin. This new iteration of his long dead wife, Mina, draws his interest while, in the meantime, he slaughters haughtier members of the Order in order to bring his vengeful interests to the forefront.

The Verdict

I initially rated the pilot 3 stars, which earns a six episode trial.  After six episodes (which was extended to the whole season, as only ten episodes comprise season one), my verdict is:

Dracula is a seductive, sexy foray into Bram Stoker’s original story, made all the more entertaining by the effortless intensity and charisma of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, the lush art direction, and remarkable costumes calling the finest attention to Victorian London detail.  It is this viewer’s hope that this vampire show has some of the longevity of its titular character.  I have every intention of continuing to watch, though the show hovers precariously around the ratings bubble with an unlikely shot at renewal.

How – as in How’s It Going? (Thoughts)

What works for Dracula.:

1) Rhys Meyers is a brilliant Dracula.  He’s a brilliant actor, but his talent and his natural charisma add just the right amount of piquant to this legendary vampire.  He’s ruthless but sympathetic all at once, and his intensity matches this character to a tee.  He is the perfect casting choice.

2) The costumes and sets are breathtaking.  The budget for this show must be enormous.  The essence of the period is so infused into the careful rendering of visual palate, the Victorian landscape is as much a character in the show as any of the real life actors.  It’s even a bit steam-punk, exploring some fantastic scientific concepts, such as harnessing electromagnetic energy in the days before electricity became commonplace, and creating fictional devices to bring those concepts to fanciful three dimensions.

3) Dracula’s/Grayson’s assistant, Renfield (Nonzo Anozie), who provides Grayson with legal advice, is also a brilliant actor, and his tortured and somewhat unlucky character is a perfect foil for the unpredictability of the vampire.

What doesn’t work:

1) The Order of the Dragon/Order Drago is a vague foe that requires better definition.  What are their true aims?  Why have they murdered so many and, in turn, inspired such wrath in Dracula, Van Helsing, and the rest?  It’s clear they are power-hungry capitalists, but what forced them into murderous and other dark, criminal activities leading to the demise of the families of these characters?

2) Almost all of the supporting cast.  The acting is veritable mixed bag, the worst belonging to the man who plays Jonathan Harker, Oliver Jackson-Cohen.  Sometimes, the supporting characters, as important as they are to the story (and true to the source novel), leave something to be desired.

3) The part of the story in which Dracula chases the possibility of being able to walk in sunlight.  It’s not the fact that he wants it; it’s the fact that it took too long to resolve one way or the other.

Thoughts Following the Pilot/Season Recap

As this viewer noted in the the review of the pilot (here), the overarching plot of this series is quite dense.  The pilot plodded because it was so exposition heavy; thankfully, each new episode addressed one or two overall pieces of the larger story without getting mired in any one of them or flitting through all of them at a pace that unsettles the viewer.  In fact, at times, between the performance of Rhys Meyers and other visual elements, the story was actually quite thrilling, encompassing all of the sexiness and story that has allowed Bram Stoker’s tale to endure over the centuries.

In addition, though Dracula poses as American Alexander Grayson, at times, his back-story, from the time he was resurrected by Van Helsing, has been meted out in parcels, providing some explanation for his motives.  All but abandoned, however, for most of the season was the element of the story revolving around Grayson’s electricity interests – oh, it returned in the end, but to what end?  The whole intrigue around Grayson’s floating energy served, in the end, to be merely an afterthought, a backdrop on which to base the season finale.  It may be there in the background, a motive for Grayson to employ Harker and to spy on the Order of the Dragon and its various industrial interests, but the pedantic details of Grayson’s pursuits were, instead, interwoven into his partnership with Van Helsing to deal in the real commodity: a way to transfuse the electricity into a life’s blood that will allow the vampire to walk in daylight.

The real attraction to this series centers on the bits of illicit romance that flutter in and out like moths to flames.  Like the film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this Dracula is no stranger to sex. He has a scandalous, torrid affair with Lady Jayne Wetherby, the vampire hunter who is unaware that she is in love with a vampire, while simultaneously finding himself inextricably drawn to the engaged Mina, the doppelganger of his dead wife.  At the same time, Mina’s best friend, Lucy, harbors illicit feelings for her best lady friend.  Mina, moreover, is having graphic dreams about Mr. Grayson.  The love pentagon that has been created was probably the most interesting part of the story, even if the vampire/sex angle is the guiltiest part of this pleasure.

By the end of the season, much had happened in ten episodes.  The plot threads converged in the season finale in the following ways:

Harker’s jealousy at Mina’s growing interest in Grayson, reciprocated by the lovelorn Dracula, pining after his long-dead doppelganger wife, sabotaged his engagement to Mina in the end.  He allowed himself to be seduced by Lucy, who engaged in the seduction on the advice of the conspiring Lady Jayne when her advances toward Mina were rebuffed (Lady Jayne had already felt scorned by Grayson’s obvious affections for Mina).  Lucy then casually informed Mina of this illicit affair while Mina was confined to a hospital bed, having been secretly attacked by the Order to evoke a reaction from Grayson/Dracula.

Van Helsing achieved a formula combining serum and massive quantities of electroshock that allowed the enigmatic Dracula to walk in daylight for limited stretches at a time.  This allowed Grayson/Dracula to fool the ever suspicious members of the Order, including Lady Jayne, into believing he was not actually a vampire.

Lucy’s interference with Mina and Harker awakened ire in Dracula, who repaid her meddling and potential pain caused Mina by siring her into a vampire (which was an exciting twist of events).

Mina struggled to make sense of her own dreams and desires for Dracula, as she found herself inexplicably drawn to Grayson while dreaming of her past life as Iona, Dracula’s wife.  Though Dracula resisted the magnetic pull between them in the interest of his less-than-noble vendetta against Order Drago, he ultimately, and passionately, gave into them in the end, particularly after Mina saw the triptych depicting an early Middle Ages painting of Iona in Grayson’s study.

Mina, while working for Van Helsing in pursuit of her medical studies, discovered vampire blood, though she seems to have forgotten it by the end of the season, occupied as she was with her injuries and collapsing love life.

Renfield, after being tortured once by the Order Drago to obtain information about Grayson, met an ignominious end in the struggle over Grayson’s electromagnetic demonstration, first condemned by the Order’s political pull and then sabotaged by Harker, who joined the Order’s ranks to exact revenge on Grayson for his obviously romantic dynamic with Mina.

Lady Jayne, at the behest of Order Drago, initiated a city-wide attack against the ever-growing population of vampires, as Dracula created “children” around the city, and as she had become aware of the storied vampire’s presence earlier in the season.  While she was successful in vanquishing many, she soon figured out, with the help of a special seer in the employ of the Order, that the man with whom she had been in love, Grayson, was Dracula himself, who remained a legendary foe in the annals of Order history.  She confronted him in the end, after the Order’s sabotage resulted in the explosion of his energy contraption, but Dracula cannot die by traditional means, even for a vampire.  Upon these last words:

Dracula: I thought you loved me.
Lady Jayne: I lied.

Dracula fed on her, and she died.

Van Helsing’s revenge was visited on the head of the Order Drago, Browning, when he kidnapped Browning’s children and ultimately fed them to vampires, who, in turn, fed on him gruesomely in an abandoned cellar, which Van Helsing also set in fire, to parallel the deaths of his own wife and children.  The season closed out with Van Helsing offering to expose Dracula to Harker, while Mina and Grayson shared a bed in a passionate, ethereal moment.

What’s great about this season finale, in this viewer’s opinion, is that many story lines were wrapped up in a satisfying way, such that the first season could stand on its own for the most part, if NBC should ultimately cancel the series.  At the same time, tantalizing threads have frayed from the edges of this complex patchwork that demand more story, more exploration.  Plus, I, personally, never tire of watching Jonathan Rhys Meyers, in this or any role.  With a Friday/10 PM time slot, it seems as if the network never really gave the series a chance to garner viewership; however, that fact alone could be its saving grace. This viewer hopes that Rhys Meyers is given further chance to play the charismatic vampire – he is the reason to watch, as mesmerizing and titillating as his performance is.  He was the perfect casting choice; hopefully, the network will recognize that fact and will give the series another season and its star another chance to play the legendary character.

PARTING SHOTS

Dracula is vampire mythos at its finest.  It may not be the most perfectly executed adaptation, but the charisma of Rhys Meyers and the astonishing production values provide this Friday-night soft core fright fest some artistic and entertainment-related credibility. 

LOOKING AHEAD:

The first season was produced to the tune of ten episodes and aired fully, ending in January 2014. There is no word yet on renewal or cancellation, though most outlets and reliable sources call renewal for this series a “long shot.”  Still, it has developed a solid, if small, cult fan base.  Hopefully, the network will keep this show, paired with Grimm in the 9 pm time slot – after all, it’s Friday fright night at its finest, for anyone who stays in to watch TV that night.

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