Dracula

The men who created the British television show Sherlock created a series based on Dracula. OMG, Squee, WTFBBQ, that’ll be neat….

The plot

It’s the 19th century, a convent in Budapest, where sister Agatha van Helsing visits an obviously sick man in a cell called Jonathan Harker. At her request, he tells her what befell him.

Jonathan, a British solicitor, was sent to a castle in Transylvania, where a mysterious count Dracula has asked for his services. The count receives him, but strange things are afoot in the castle. The count is preparing to go to England, but Jonathan becomes convinced that will be a bad idea, and the count is a supernatural monster. All he wants is to escape and return to his fiancée.

So far the series follows the original novel, somewhat, but Bram Stoker’s original featured a male Dr. van Helsing, not a sister Agatha van Helsing, and later in the novel. The episode slowly builds to something the novel never had. A showdown between Dracula and Sister Agatha.

The series continues from there, changing along the way, much like Moffat and Gattis did with bringing Sherlock Holmes to the present. Only… they kind of dropped the ball on this one. There’s way too much stuffed into three short episodes.

The characters

The show revolves around Sister Agatha — Dolly Wells — and Dracula — Claes Bang. The rest of the characters are really there for show, and are pretty forgettable.

Dracula is a mysterious charmer, who is clever, charming, and lurking in the shadows. Sister Agatha is also clever, and mixes a strong faith with almost blasphemous disregard for the church and the bible. Of the two, Sister Agatha is the most interesting. Except for that accent. As a real dutch person, I can only say ‘nope, nope, nope’.

Unfortunately, neither character is really that complex, or their complexity doesn’t come out well. They are pretty clever, but they pretend to be more clever than they really are. They are interesting, but the show doesn’t explore anything about them but the bare surface: Dracula is a blood-drinking monster, and Sister Agatha lives to fight him. Beyond that, nothing.

On hero worship

Moffat likes clever plots, with complicated twists. His show Coupling was a great comedy, with each episode building to a very humorous climax. Like Friends, though, it’s a bit dated and kind of sexist.

The first season of Sherlock was also brilliant, with clever twists on the age-old tale. Mostly, though, it relied on the interesting dynamic between the characters Sherlock and Watson.

Dracula tries to recreate that dynamic, but falls into the same trap Mofatt did in the later seasons of Sherlock: everything is about the central character (Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, and Dracula in this one). While this was lauded by screaming fans for Sherlock, in Dracula there is no basis to start from, making it fall flat. Sister Agatha is interesting, but we learn little about her, except for her life apparently revolving around Dracula. And like in the later Sherlock episodes: all the character’s lives revolve completely around Dracula.

So, in the end, Dracula is the sole focus of the show, and well: Dracula has been done to death. This show doesn’t add much. Claes Bang does a fine job, but the guy is just not a charming young immortal, he’s a guy in his fifties with a square jaw and gelled hair. He mostly comes across as a creepy man in a midlife crisis, like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty.

On twists and turns

There are some clever ideas in Dracula, I admit. Unfortunately, the way they are handled means they feel gimmicky. The first episode is okay, but the second episode it doesn’t work so well, and the third episode… that’s just a train wreck from beginning to end.

It doesn’t help that the gimmicks rely on idiot plotting more often than not. This is especially jarring in the third episode. Very minor spoiler: ‘Oh, I’m part of an organization dedicated to fighting vampires and I find a perfectly preserved vampire body, what do I do? Wait, I’ll stick my finger in its mouth!’ What. the. actual. fuck.

The episodes try to play with chronology to increase tension, but they also end the first and second episodes with a cliff hanger. So, you’re waiting for a cliffhanger resolution, but no, instead you get shown a confusing scene that doesn’t mesh with what you saw before. As the episodes progress things become clear and it turns out to be more gimmicks.

Supposedly, the witty conversations where Dracula verbally tangles with various people are supposed to be captivating, but not only are they not witty, none of the characters besides Sister Agatha are even remotely interesting. To spice things up, gory slapstick horror scenes are thrown into the mix, but that only makes the scenes more jarring. ‘oh, there’s a murderer here and it could be any one of us’ kind of falls apart when you see three people messily murdered in three minutes and a guy in a dark cloak with blood still dripping from his fangs walking in afterwards wiping his mouth. Really, it could be any one of us?

On sexism

Even before the #MeToo movement, male chauvinism was on its way out. Unfortunately, Dracula didn’t get that memo. The show is all about Dracula. Now, that doesn’t have to be a problem. Lucifer did the same. However, that show made it clear that Lucifer’s greatest flaw was that it all had to be about him. Dracula just… is all about Dracula. Like a privileged white male in western society, he gets to do whatever he wants. And he gets away with it.

The strongest woman of the show, Sister Agatha, still seems to have her life revolve around Dracula. And he gets the better of her every time, more or less. I won’t spoil the ending of the show, but yeah… it’s all about mr. Man.

Then, there’s Lucy. In the third episode, she makes an appearance. She’s a slut. Now, the show makes a remark about slut-shaming, and yes, it is a double standard to refer to men as players and women as sluts for doing the same thing. However, Lucy seemingly has nothing else going on for her but promiscuity. She’s obsessed with being pretty and she likes to seduce men. And of course, she gets punished for it, but is forgiven in the end… by a man.

Really, dear writers, really? I make mistakes like that too, but not this bad, and I have people around me calling me out on it so I can fix it. Couldn’t you have put one woman in there who didn’t have her life revolve around one or more men? Mina Harker… Nope, it’s all about Jonathan Harker with her. Sister Agatha… it’s all about Dracula. Lucy we already talked about. And so on. The women live for some man, are a plot device for those men, or food for Dracula. Zero exceptions.

Conclusion

The first episode is okay. The second is cringe-worthy. The third is off-the-rails utter garbage, making you question why you ever turned on the first episode. Go watch something else.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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