WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
When the Dracula series began, starring Johnathan Rhys Meyers as the eponymous count and Vampire, I gave it a “Worth Watching” score, based on its premise, the acting, the characters and the overall potential I felt the series had. Now that Season 1 has finished its run, and we still don’t know if Season 2 will ever happen, I think it’s time to take another look at this series and see if it reached its potential or squandered an excellent opportunity.
It’s worth noting that Dracula is quite different from many series you see on TV these days, having been greenlit without even a Pilot, just the sales pitch, which I imagine must have been a kickass one.
So, is the series good? The first few episodes showed promise, and with such a short episode order, just 10 of them, you’d expect all of them to maintain the same if not a greater level of quality in all aspects (scenery, costumes, plot, characterization, acting, special effects, etc.); sadly, that’s not the case, but I’ll break it all down for you.
Visually it’s a stunning series, from the costumes to the environments to the use of lighting and shadows. It’s so good, that when the series isn’t going full-on steampunk, you’ll really believe you’re in Victorian England. The night scenes in particular are extremely good, and more than once did I expect Jack the Ripper to come out of the shadows.
The Plot is weak, even more considering it’s stretched over 10 episodes when 5 could’ve been enough, leaving a second arc open for the “consequences” of the events we see in the season finale. To sum it up: Van Helsing’s family is burned to death for never-explained-reasons by the Order of the Dragon, which also burned Dracula’s wife to death and in the most idiotic move in history, turned the count into a Vampire. So Van Helsing awakens Dracula from his long sleep, and the two partner-up to bring down the Order. Instead of killing them outright, they go after the foundation of their power, their money. To do so they come up with Wireless Geomagnetic Energy, basically free and wireless power, and Dracula arrives in town as an American entrepreneur and direct competitor to the Order’s Oil interests.
That’s the premise, which you get over the entire first EPISODE. The rest of the plot is a mix of the Coppola Dracula, where Mina is Dracula’s wife reborn and Dracula’s attempts at seducing her while at the same time doing the angsty Vampire bit and trying to stay away for her own safety, and the various aspects of “the plan”, one of which sparks one of the most unnecessary and ridiculous revenge subplots in the history of TV, and which only serves to advance the very uninteresting Johnathan Harker subplot. There’s also a bit about Dracula walking on sunshine, which was cool, if not unnecessary to begin with, if they’d stuck closer to the source material.
Performances are a mixed bag…well, not entirely, there are a few good and the rest are terrible. Johnathan Rhys Meyers is a fantastic Dracula, even if the American accent grated on me a little bit. The series’ rendition of Renfield, portrayed by Nonso Anozie, is quite good, as is Katie McGrath as Lucy Westenra. The rest however are entirely forgettable and by the end, you’ll want their scenes to end really fast. Johnathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is bland and uninteresting and his descent down the spiral of despair is meaningless because you don’t care about him (and the descent drags on for too long). Lady Jayne Wetherby (Victoria Smurfit) has a powerful presence when doing her Huntress parts, but falls slightly off the mark on the sex appeal front. She’s strong and commanding but not the least bit sensual, which is a shame considering that’s more than half her role, mainly in her scenes with JRM’s Dracula. Mina, Jessica De Gouw, is another bland performance, which is a shame as the characterization isn’t bad, and it makes it all the more obvious how most scenes hinge on Meyer’s absolutely brilliant performance. She does have some chemistry with her male leads, but the portrayal lacks strength.
Characterizations, like performances, are also a mixed bag, just not as bad. As much as I love JRM’s performance, and even accepting this is a new take on classical characters, I can’t completely like this Dracula, who’s so amazingly underpowered by the novel’s standards while carrying a similar dreadful reputation. Incapable of walking during the day and only capable of super-strength, he’s the least interesting and powerful vampire in current media. Aside from the power-set, I’m not a fan of the Coppola idea of Mina being the reincarnation of the Vampire’s lost love, as it’s just a cheap excuse to force a love triangle into the series.
The Order of the Dragon is entirely composed by very cruel morons who can’t see what should be obvious from the start: Dracula’s identity. Things start happening as soon as the American arrives in town, and it takes them ten damn episodes to figure it out, which is one of the reasons I say the Season’s story arc should’ve just been the first of two shorter 5-episode arcs. Granted, the walking on sunshine bit might’ve thrown them off the loop but that’s something happening almost halfway through the season. They spend the rest of their time twiddling their thumbs.
Mina’s portrayed as a med-student and a quite capable one at that, with a very independent and strong-willed streak. I first thought it a bit anachronistic, but depending on the exact period of time the series takes place in, it might not be (if, like the novel, it’s set during 1890s, then it’s not anachronistic, but if it’s before 1867, then hell yes!). The characterization itself isn’t bad, but coupled with the subpar and soulless acting; it feels almost meaningless, as the strong-will, the stubbornness and the brilliance come off half-hearted at best.
Lucy Westenra is at first portrayed almost straight out of the book as a seductress, having more than one man after her attentions and being almost extremely loyal to Mina. But, quite early on, we discover she is in fact a lesbian and in love with Mina, which I thought was a quite boring approach to the character, and feels almost tacked on, as if the series had to include every skin color and sexual preference under the sun to appease the Network Gods. Having said that, McGrath’s performance is so good she sold me on it, and in the last episode, her first scenes as a Vampire, she manages to out-vampire Johnathan Rhys Meyers.
Finally, Van Helsing is a mess, not so much on acting (which is flat, but not as bad as the rest), but on the characterization, which makes him seem a mastermind, keeping things running from the shadows and then, in the space of one or two episodes turns him into a rampaging madman so quickly, violently and almost nonsensically, that you’re left wondering what the writers were thinking. As far as the premise went, he was the man behind the plan, and at first, he chides Dracula on his impatience, only to turn into a revenge-crazed lunatic by the end of the season, risking the entire plan and even turning against his allies.
Overall, while the series is enjoyable, it squanders its fantastic opportunity of taking such well known characters, adapted plenty of times yet never done so correctly, to new heights and unexplored stories. The series was brimming with potential, which is probably why it went straight into production and didn’t have a Pilot to go with the pitch; but in the end, it wastes it on badly paced storytelling, strangely crafted characters and some terrible casting.
The Mental Attic Score: There are better ways to spend your time. The Series is only Worth Watching if it gets a new season. Otherwise, don’t waste your time on this.
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