"I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be truly disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man."

26 October 2013

Dracu-ugh (Episode 1)

Alright. Now that I’ve sobered up from downing an entire bottle of wine in the span of an hour during the initial broadcast of the Dracula premiere, let’s get a bit more specific as to the reasons which caused me to consume an absurd amount of alcohol in such a short time frame.

We open with a couple of dudes seemingly Indiana Jones-ing their way into a crypt in Romania in 1881. As any logical person knows, things entombed in crypts this difficult to get to (and with bodies in caskets that have spikes driven through them) were buried so that no one would open them. People in vampire stories -- not logical. Also, not reliable as business partners as it’s only a moment until one of them is getting their throat slashed to awaken our Big Bad Vampire Daddy, and we have the first misinterpretation of a quote from the book, “The blood is the life.”
Cue transformation of stabnated corpse into Bloodface Rhys-Meyers… which quickly cuts to bathing, shirtless, dripping, sexy JRM surrounded by candles and by this point I assume the creators are hoping the female viewership just gave up caring about anything else other than gazing at tasty manflesh. His dressing is filmed like a Jaguar commercial -- close-up highlighted body parts and tailoring.

Finally the costume porn spell is broken by Dracula speaking to Renfield, presumably acting as a creepy voyeur butler to this costume erotica. (Also, I’m only going to say this once: changing up Renfield’s race to still make him Dracula’s bitch is not culturally inclusive. It is straight up racist.) Dracula casually asks Renfield if all his guests will be photographed on entrance as requested, as though we’re supposed to think that’s deviant yet acceptably weird. It’s not. It’s creepy -- and not in an ‘I vahnt to suck their blood’ way. In a ‘I’m planning who to systematically destroy based on their appearance -- kind of like Hitler’ way. There is a talk of a demonstration, then a casual jab at 1896 Americana as Renfield exits and Dracula ‘eases’ into his slightly Southern, slightly Midwest, slightly off American accent and introduces himself to… himself, as Alexander Grayson.
Cue carriages, grandeur, and ballroom dancing as we’re introduced to the young trio of Mina, Jonathan, and Lucy. Neither girl is wearing a dress even remotely era-appropriate and obviously designed to make them stand out. Lucy is immediately set up as vain, petty, flippant, condescending, and man-crazy. So there’s an immediate character assassination (and I think at this point I finished my second glass of wine).*
Jonathan and Mina express their disdain to each other at being brought to a fancy event where the likes of a journalist and scientist-in-training aren’t likely to find anything in common with the obscenely rich. Especially since the rich in this time period have more propriety than to kiss their not-yet-fiancees in public.
And yet, don’t think that Jonathan and Mina’s poo-poo-ing of the grandeur is only middle-class jealousy. The wealthy aristocracy, business barons, and their nose-up ladies are all a-chatter about how obscene this very American display of wealth is. They’re even surprised so many have come to this ridiculously decadent event… except it’s 1896 in London and at this point the city may as well have been renamed Decadence Central.
Renfield appears on the stairs to introduce the master of Carfax Manor (I hear the creators giggling at their clever book insert), mister Alexander Grayson. While everyone may think he’s an eccentric American making an obscene display of his wealth, that won’t stop them from clapping enthusiastically at his appearance. He saunters down some stairs, takes a cocktail, and then sees Mina. And the world around him disappears. And Mina senses it, too. And I sense a sudden urge to violently hurl my laptop out the window. There’s a flashback or flashforward or insight into their mind-melding or some ridiculous overly-romantic bullshit sequence of them cuddling and caressing in bed before we’re snapped back to the now, and I’m about to snap some writer’s neck.

We mangle Dracula’s initial greeting to ‘fit’ a roomful of people, and yet when his little moment is done, he goes back to staring at Mina. Like no one’s going to notice that. Oh, but wait. Lucy does. And so does Jonathan. And so does Mina. But does Alexula stop there? Nope, he saunters right over to Renfield and demands he find out everything about her and Jonathan.
Alexula’s first official introduction is to a woman named Jayne Weatherby, whose hair color is impossibly blonde, and eyebrows impossibly shaped. With her is her ‘friend’ Herr Kruger, who Alexula basically insults as a mask to hide that he probably hates continental Europeans with Germanic last names for reasons only someone who knows about vampire lore would gather.
Alexula then makes directly for some imperialist business-lords who chair a company he would like to obtain patents from. Stunned by his blatant talk of business in front of women, Alexula is shot down and his American status insulted. They leave him and we get the first shot of Alexula’s “I’m going to slaughter some bitches tonight” face.
Jonathan’s been observing this little moment and strolls up to offer Alexula some advice and dirt on the insulting lord, and is then joined by Mina. Alexula introduces himself to Jonathan, who introduces Alexula to Mina who is now gaping at Alexula like most female reporters currently gape at Tom Hiddleston (which I would, too, in their position). 

Mina apologizes for her behaviour by starting to say she thinks they’ve met before, but Alexula finishes that thought for her. Which is, you know, a pretty creepy thing to hear from a guy you’re just meeting even if he does look like JRM. Renfield cockblocks further interaction (as I have a feeling will become habit with him) by telling his master “It’s time.”
Somehow in the ninety seconds that have elapsed, Renfield has found out Jonathan’s name, job, leading traits, and boxing schedule for the month, as well as Mina’s name, lineage, degree program, favorite color, and status as a Byron fangirl.
A dramatic boom enters the music, as does OMG BEN MILES ILY SO MUCH! (I’m sorry, but I tend to fangirl horribly over any cast member from Coupling). 

He and his immaculately coiffed hair observe the same lords and ladies Alexula did, but before we can find out any more about him, Renfield announces it is time for the demonstration. He then saunters down to Jonathan and while initially chiding him for being a member of the press at a strictly no-press event, he quickly recovers by offering him an exclusive interview with Alexula, tomorrow, at the house, alone, no garlic necklaces allowed.
Now it’s time for the demonstration as Alexula hands out lightbulbs during a speech about the dark ages, war, and how not-evolved we still are, but may be with the help of his new invention -- magnetic power that can provide wireless electricity. Somewhere deep beneath the manor (one assumes), stage one is begun with lots of shouting men and steam and levers being thrown (because that’s how you dramatic science). The business-lords, now joined by Patrick Maitland (I’m sorry, but that’s what you get when you’re Ben Miles), are instantly concerned for their petroleum interests, but Patrick tells them not to worry. Meanwhile, nothing is happening yet, so to stage two we must go. More steam, more yelling, more levers. Then, like magic, Mina’s light bulb alights first. Then another, then another, then the room. Alexula gives his best maniacal laugh, but everyone is so awed by the lights that apparently I’m the only one who notices how creepy and over-the-top his reaction is. However, after a few seconds, things start to go wrong downstairs. Sparks are flying, men are getting zapped from a Tesla-coil-esque machine, and demented doubles of Hugh Jackman start appearing. The foreman requests to cut the power, but Alexula, through Renfield, demands a few more seconds to revel. So a couple more explosions happen and the coolant expels itself all over until the foreman does the intelligent thing and shuts everything off.
Alexula soothes the disappointed crowd by making a horrible pun with a long pause. He makes a beeline back to Mina but Lucy thrusts her hand out and introduces herself before he can flirt. Alexula chats to each of them in turn, and pretty much leaves them all enthralled. Jonathan notes that he seems quite taken with Mina, and Lucy is quick to second his assessment, while still being petty and insulting. Then she’s off for cordials. (Seriously, can we please stop making Lucy into a petulant debutante?)

The mysterious Lady Jayne slinks around a corner behind Dracula and comments on his extraordinary display, and his immediate retort is that he didn’t hear her approach -- and yet I heard the distinct sound of a heel hitting stone, so Alexula’s obviously deaf, as are the sound mixers. They walk, they insult-flirt, she invites him to the opera so he can get into her box… yes, really. Did I mention this woman is wearing a feathered choker? She departs and we get Alexula’s “I think I’ll sex that one before I kill her” face.
The ball ends with vague threats from one of the business-lords, and if you didn’t see the blinking ‘dead meat’ sign over his head, the music and Alexula’s expression should have clued you in.

Jonathan is typing with his photo of Mina beside his typewriter. His accented-roomie schools him to ask for Mina’s hand before someone else does, which segues directly into Mina and Lucy’s slumber party where Lucy is taunting Mina about the weirdo American leering at her, and yet seems to hold him in a better light than Jonathan whose biggest character flaw is being ‘boring.’ (And I want to cry with rage.) Mina begs Lucy to talk about something other than her dislike of Jonathan. Then there’s a random ‘whooshing’ sound that apparently all of London hears, except the drunk soon-to-be-dead lord, who gets yanked away from his doorstep and whose arterial spray splashes artfully on his numbered pillar.

Alexula justifies to Renfield ripping the man apart basically because he was rude (I think we just found Hannibal’s bff) as Renfield tosses the lord’s photo into the fireplace. Now we’re on to discussing Alexula’s plans to destroy the corrupt and powerful and entitled Order of the Dragon. The crux of it is they’re an elitist war council that murders, pillages, rapes, degrades in the name of… we’re not really told. Basically Alexula is planning a holy war against a group that engages in their own nebulous holy war. It’s really convoluted because it tries to both entangle itself with the actual Order of the Dragon while muddling everything that had to do with the actual Order’s real purpose -- especially the fact that the main inspiration for Dracula was a member of this Order, as were other members of his family. And let’s not forget the burning of peasants flashback. Alexula’s big plan however, is to stop their reign by directing the future of world power from petroleum to magnetic, and, you know, killing every member he can sink his fangs into.
At this point I’m drunk, angry, frustrated, and wondering how such perfect portraits of every person entering that party were taken.

It’s a foggy night in London town, and the dead lord’s house is being broken into by the Herr and his neck checked for signs of bite marks. Rather than make a thorough home exam, Kruger cuts off the lord’s head, carries it in a hatbox through town, and drops it off to Lady Jayne. Because obviously no one’s opening that man’s coffin again and won’t notice his head’s gone…
Lady Jayne brings the head to Patrick, all stuffed with garlic, onions, and sage, ready for roasting on a spit. There’s talk of the last time a vampire ravaged London and they had to cover it up -- 1888, which, for those not in the know, they illuminate us was the year of Jack the Ripper. Yup. The Ripper was a vampire. Because THAT’S original…
They decide to put Kruger on patrol to watch over the other business-council-lords, so long as, Patrick stipulates, no one knows he’s around -- because unexpected Germans make Brits nervous for some reason… (too soon?) And the official explanation for ‘unexplained’ death? Dog attack.
We enter a classroom where students are learning science via reading the tabloids. Mina covers for her male chatterboxes to their professor for reasons I don’t pretend to understand.
Meanwhile, Jonathan is waiting for Alexula and opens a giant shutter where sunlight then streams in. Alexula arrives and Jonathan extends a hand to shake, directly into the beam of light. Alexula hesitates, then gives a firm shake and gestures Jonathan to a chair. Alexula turns away to get a drink, and we see his hand is burnt. (At this point I am a) infuriated that Dracula is not sun-resistant and b) questioning his rationale in picking the house, room, and time of day to meet Jonathan knowing full well he could burst into flame.)

After Alexula casually pushes his chair out of direct sunlight, they have an interesting chat about why Alexula is here and the basic message is that Alexula is claiming to look out for the future of humanity by encouraging scientific developments while acknowledging his lineage as a member of the ‘old world’ privileged class. And while this is totally out of canon character for Dracula, it’s a well crafted moment, and my biggest annoyance was actually that Jonathan’s notes aren’t in shorthand. I don’t give a shit what his personal assessments of Alexula are, as we’ll likely get those when his story is published. I do care that he has journalistic integrity and knows how to properly notate for the time period.

We’re back with Mina at school where she’s meeting her professor in his very dark office. She’s concerned about being able to become her prof’s research assistant after exams. She’s by far the most intelligent in class, but she sucks at hands-on surgical work because cutting people makes her squeamish. So we’ve built Mina up as incredibly bright and engaging in a professional course not afforded to 95% of women at this point in time… only to strip all that away in saying that she’s a great scholar and bookworm but when she sees blood she practically faints.**
Her professor tells her to suck it up and have confidence while also giving her cryptic advice about the heart never lying. She leaves and goes outside, being passed by her male classmates all saying goodnight as she stands around waiting for who the fuck knows. Apparently we’re not supposed to think this is odd as Alexula creeps around pillars watching her with his coat collar turned up. Yes, really. 

She stands alone, reading a book in the dark as he stalks all around her, disappearing when she finally senses something. Then, a female (apparently a friend) comes up and murmurs something about sorry for being late and they walk off into the dark together. Another woman crosses past them, notices Alexula, and gives him flirty sex eyes. And since he can’t get his rocks off with Mina yet, it’s time for a quick fondle-bite-kill with this girl.
And now to the opera, where Alexula has donated his box for the evening to Jonathan and Mina (who is dressed like Belle for some reason). Lady Jayne hip-wags to her own box, the opera begins, and look who decided he wanted into her box after all. And look, her box is directly across from where Jonathan and Mina sit. So Alexula can sex up Lady Jane while looking longingly across the opera house at Mina. (And as gorgeous and enchanting as JRM is, the fact that we’re supposed to root for this guy to be with Mina is insulting.)

The Order lords are gossip-bitching about Alexula taking control of their dead buddies assets, though the elder one isn’t terribly concerned. Alexula stalks the younger from the rooftops when suddenly Kruger shoots him in the leg. What ensues is an insanely ridiculous semi-slow-mo fight between the two of them that predictably ends with Kruger suffering from a bad case of katana to jugular. (Yes, Dracula owns, carries, and fights with a katana.) 

Alexula can’t suppress the urge to speechify to him before he dies, though, promising to kill everyone in the Order.
Meanwhile, Lady Jayne twirls katanas of her own in a practice arena complete with punching bags she slices up (which is just a waste of good punching bags), and a caged female vampire. Jayne wants to know who her sire is, but the vamp won’t tell. So Jayne coos all about her known methods of torture to get vampires to talk. The vamp girl is unimpressed and there is a stalemate.
Back at Castle Carfax, Alexula tries to drink away his anger (because that always works), and into the room swans Professor Van Helsing… and this is where I downed the last ¼ bottle of wine. Basically, Dracula is on Van Helsing’s leash, and Van Helsing is the one leading and directing the crusade against the Order because they killed his family. Van Helsing is the brains, Dracula is the brawn. And my desire for vengeance against the creators of this show is almost as strong as theirs against the Order.

So what did I like?
I like the completely fabricated character Ben Miles is playing. Partially for his cool collectedness, and partially because it’s Ben Miles.
I liked the interview scene (aside from aforementioned attention to proper journalism note taking), because even though it takes Dracula in a completely non-canonical direction for why he’s in London, it’s one that does actually make sense in context of the show.
I like most of the cast, even when I can’t stand their character (or what’s being done with their character).

As a final note, I’m just going to keep track of how many people Dracula kills every week -- and what that total is when Mina finally, inevitably, falls for him.
Week one kill count: 3

* No offence to Katie McGrath. I genuinely adore her and really hope her character gets something more to do than is indicated in this episode. But I fear she’ll fall into the same trap set up for Morgana in Merlin (beyond season 3) where she’s written into a corner and has to find her own way in an increasingly poorly written role.

** If this is how you inject feminism into a character you didn’t think was feminist to begin with -- FUCK YOU. Canon Mina may hold to the strict, patriarchal ideals of her time, but she is intelligent, resourceful, brave, strong, compassionate, does not shy away from danger or blood, and is more modern than she would even think to give herself credit for. She also doesn’t fall in love with a mass murderer.

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