Review: “Dracula”–“From Darkness to Light”

NBC’s horror/drama/science fiction series certainly has a lot of balls in the air after this most recent episode.  Dracula is attempting to find a way to walk in the sunlight with the aid of Van Helsing, Mina and Jonathan are continuing with their wedding plans while Lucy is filled with regret, Lady Jayne finds herself becoming more and more infatuated with the exceedingly dangerous Dracula, and Renfield is captured by the duplicitous Lord Thomas Davenport.

The Good

There was a lot to like about this episode, starting with the obvious chemistry between the leads.  Meyers and De Gouw in particular shine as the two lovers separated by death who have somehow managed to find one another again in Victorian London.  The real sparks, however, are between Meyers and Smurfit (who portrays Lady Jayne).  The two practically light up the screen whenever they appear together, and this adds some much-needed electricity to their scenes together.  Indeed, their twisted and convoluted relationship is one of the aspects of the series that works really well, due in large part to the portrayal of their characters.

The true highlight of the series so far, however, is Renfield (Nonson Anozie), who continues to serve as his master’s conscience and voice of reason.  Whereas Dracula has a great deal of political vision and great ambitions, he sometimes fails to see the important things that Renfield can.  This makes his capture by Lord Davenport (undertaken outside the auspices of the Order) something of a blow for Dracula, and it might even lead to his undoing.

The Bad

Although there is a lot to praise in this series—the luscious set designs, the solid performances by most of the cast—it is still plagued by some of the problems that arose at the outset.  While its ability to bring together several different genres is what sets it apart, it also serve as one of its greatest weaknesses.  However, this may be just a matter of execution rather than of the inadvisability of genre mixing.  In one episode we saw not only the introduction and quick death of a new character, but we also saw Dracula’s continuing attempts to create a new source of energy and to be able to walk in the sun, the efforts of the Order to eradicate the vampire threat, the ongoing preparations for Jonathan’s and Mina’s wedding, and the Order’s machinations to control the oil fields currently under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.  Any two or three of these would provide enough material for almost an entire season’s worth of good writing.  As it is, the show tries to keep too many balls in the air at one time, and as a result most of the storylines suffer.  For example, we hardly saw anything of Van Helsing this episode, and the angst Lucy feels at Mina’s impending nuptials feels rather trite and tacked on.

It seems to me that Dracula suffers from a similar syndrome to that which afflicts other high-concept series like Once Upon a Time.  Faced with the reality of network programming (in which a series has to prove its value over the course of a season in order to be considered for renewal), Dracula quite simply tries to take on too much at one time, and as a result it doesn’t really do any of them all that well.  Of all of it, Dracula’s attempt to find an alternate source of energy that would undermine the Order’s control of oil tends to fall flat.  The mention of it in this episode was no more convincing than it was in the first.  Let’s hope that they find a way to make this particular thread more compelling.

The Ugly

Despite the fact that this series has some splendid production values (especially for a network series), there were a few moments in tonight’s episode that were visually unappealing.  In particular, the scene in which Dracula takes Lady Jayne to what appears to be a mud wrestling match between two scantily clad women—followed by a steamy sex scene—was both visually and ideologically repulsive.  One might expect something of this sort from HBO (who probably could have pulled it off with a lot more style), but coming from NBC it all seemed rather pointless and not at all entertaining.

All in all, “From Darkness to Light” set up some interesting premises that will hopefully be followed through before the series reaches its conclusion (its current ratings strongly suggest that it will not be renewed).  It looks as though next week, with a captured Renfield being tortured, might be one of the most interesting yet.

Grade:  B

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