Tag Archives: nbc’s dracula

Review-“Dracula”-“The Devil’s Waltz”

Well, it seems that NBC’s Dracula might have finally hit its stride.  In tonight’s episode, we not only got to see a lot more of the brutality we expect from Dracula, but also gained a glimpse into his past with Renfield.  Meanwhile, Mina finds herself growing dissatisfied with the changes in Jonathan, and both Lucy and Lady Jayne discover the painful truth that their loves do not return their feelings.

Tonight’s episode picked up right where we left off two week’s ago, with Renfield held captive and tortured in order to gain information about Grayson/Dracula’s potential weaknesses.  In the process, we learn that Dracula once saved him from certain death at the hands of some racist thugs and, as a result, he has maintained steadfastly loyal to his employer through all of their trials and travails together.  Indeed, so powerful is his loyalty that no amount of torture (and some of it is quite graphic and obviously excruciating) can tear the knowledge from him.  Dracula, true to form, rescues his companion and, in one of the episode’s most touching scenes, he even nurses him back to health.  The relationship between these two men is shaping up to, to me at least, to be much more affecting and meaningful than that we between any of the men and women of the series.

However, I would also like to note that the torture scenes with Renfield carried some very troubling racial overtones, especially as the tortures were being carried out by a white woman.  Again, I’m not entirely certain that the series had anything definitive in mind with this representational strategy, but it does conjure up many unfortunate overtones, especially for American audiences, that we would do well to be cognizant, and critical of these issues when they come up in popular culture.  Just because we like to delude ourselves into believing that we magically live in a postracial society does not mean that scenes like this do not carry with them the baggage of centuries of oppressive strategies of representation.

Indeed, the strength of tonight’s episode stems in no small part from the fact that it emphasized the interpersonal relationships rather than the political and social plot lines that, as I have noted before, have never seemed all that compelling or convincing.  Although Lady Jayne’s appearance in tonight’s episode was belated–she only briefly shows up at Mina and Jonathan’s engagement party–it still managed to convey to us the depth of her feeling for Grayson/Dracula.  For all of her formidable appearance and fighting abilities, it would seem that she has allowed herself to develop some dangerous and potentially deadly feelings for this mysterious American.  Nor have these feelings gone unnoticed by the other members of the Order.  It remains to be seen, of course, whether her feelings of love will turn (as they so quickly can) into those of absolute hatred, especially as it has become obvious to everyone that Dracula’s interest in Mina is more than just of a benevolent benefactor.

The one plotline that continues to taunt us, however, is the obvious attraction that Lucy feels for her friend Mina.  Dracula continues to toy with us on this one, constantly showing us just enough of a glance to suggest Lucy’s inner turmoil at the sight of her beloved walking into the arms a man.  At this point, I’m not exactly sure what the series is going for in this particular love triangle, especially as Lucy has not really been given enough of a personality or development as a character to make us all that invested in what happens to her.  The cynical side of me wants to say that it is for the lesbian-love titillation factor that is so downright icky, but perhaps they have something better planned for the three of them.  There’s certainly a lot they could do, but we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that they actually get around to doing them.

All in all, tonight was definitely one of, if not the strongest episodes that I have seen so far.  They managed to keep it fairly focused–with a few extraneous bits here and there–proving what can happen when you write a tightly plotted story that focuses on interpersonal relationships rather than broader cultural or social plots (which tend to not make that much sense, anyway).  It looks like we are going to return next week to Dracula’s quest to be able to walk in the sun which, while still a little out there, nevertheless has some interesting potential.  Hopefully, it will hit the same balance of visceral shock–who can ever forget Dracula’s hallucination that he slices Jonathan’s throat during a dance at the engagement party–and powerful and evocative emotion that we saw this week.  If so, we might just get lucky and have a few more episodes than the ten we are guaranteed.

 

Review of “Dracula”: “The Blood is the Life”

As is usually the case when I start a new series (especially one I’m looking forward to), the first episode is something of a nail-biter.  Will it be good?  Will it live up to my lofty expectations?  Or will it be so profoundly disappointing that I spend the rest of the week pining over what should have been?  These are the types of questions that usually haunt my viewing experience, and such was indeed the case as I began watching the premiere of NBC’s Dracula.

Fortunately, all of my fears were misplaced.  The series was an unmitigated pleasure, and I literally cannot wait until the next episode. 

Part of this, I suspect, comes from the fact that the series is produced in part by Carnival, the same company responsible for one of my other favourite television treats, Downton Abbey.  Although American network TV can produce series with incredibly low production values, NBC seems to have struck a gold mine here, not just in terms of the sets and scenery (although those are gorgeous in and of themselves), but also in the casting of Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the titular Dracula.  He actually does a passably good American accent (this Dracula is masquerading as an American industrialist), and his smoldering good looks serve him in good stead.  What’s more, he seems to have largely shaken the rather hammy style of acting that sometimes threatened to undercut his otherwise compelling portrayal of Henry VIII in The Tudors.

NBC’s Dracula takes the already-overdone story and adds some twists that actually affirmatively answer the question:  do we really need another rendition of Bram Stoker’s novel?  The series manages to weave together horror, suspense, mystery, and thriller in some new and unexpected ways.  Chief among these is the fact that the character of Abraham Van Helsing who, rather than being Dracula’s nemesis, is instead his collaborator against the shadowy, corrupt, and very powerful Order of the Dragon.  From what we have seen so far, he seems like a man as ruthless and vengeful as his vampire compatriot, which is rather a refreshing change from the way in which he is usually portrayed. 

The female characters also come in for some reimaginging, as Mina is now a medical student under the tutelage of Dr. Van Helsing, though there are already inklings that she may in fact be Dracula’s former wife reincarnated.  Lucy also makes an appearance, though it remains to be seen how large of a role she will play and how closely the series will adhere to the novel (most likely probably not that closely, which may be for the best).  Most fascinating, however, is Lady Jane, whose motivations remain somewhat shadowy but who, nevertheless, threatens to steal the show from its titular character.  It seems that Dracula may be investing as much energy in its female leads as it does its male ones, always a good sign in network television.

Fortunately, Dracula doesn’t answer too many of the questions that it raises in the premiere episode.  We still don’t know that much about the Order of the Dragon, and thus they continue to haunt the edges of the episode, much as Dracula himself haunts the shadowy corners of London’s streets.  We get the sense that they have been running a secret war against vampire kind for a while (it turns out that, in the series’ universe, the Jack the Ripper murders were actually committed by a vampire, and the Order mutilated the bodies in order to keep the rest of London from discovering the truth).  Although we know that they wield an immense amount of power (due to their control over oil), we don’t know that much about them, and that is an auspicious start.  It will give us something to inquire after as the series progresses (let’s just hope that they don’t reveal too much too soon, a perennial problem of network TV, given the uncertainty of future seasons).

What emerges from the premiere of Dracula, therefore, is a series that is, perhaps, too aesthetically and narratively sophisticated and mature for the network TV crowd.  Indeed, as I was watching “The Blood is the Life,” I could not shake the feeling that I was watching an HBO or Showtime series (which may have something to do with the fact that the director, Steve Shill, also directed episodes of Dexter and The Tudors).  However, it just might be the case that network TV is finally ready to grow up and produce drama that is mature enough for adults to handle (which may explain why NBC decided to schedule the series for Friday nights).  And I’m not just talking about the blood, though there was a lot of that.  Instead, there is a gloss and a tightness to the writing that suggests that this series may mark a sea change in the way in which network TV functions.  To wit, perhaps it’s time that network TV took a page from the book of the pay stations like HBO and Showtime, and started focusing more on quality rather than quantity.  After all, today’s savvy TV consumer, with quality entertainment now available in a wide variety of forms–such as pay channels and Netflix–is not as ready to settle for substandard fare.  Although there are other concept series that are compelling (Once Upon a Time comes to mind), they face the same dilemma faced by so many other network TV shows, namely, too many episodes and net enough story.  Perhaps Dracula means a reversal of this trend, but at this point it’s entirely too early to determine with any certainty.

Regardless, one thing at this point is entirely certain.  Dracula is an entertaining drama that is surprisingly good.  Does it have its flaws?  Certainly, but they are minor compared to the great strengths that were on display in the premiere.  The real challenge for the series and tis writers, however, lies in maintaining that quality and ensuring that the season as a whole matches or exceeds it.  We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that they do.

Grade:  A