On the Profound Awfulness of Netflix’s Dracula|Tor.com
Many people have, at one point or another in their lives, delighted in a vampire story. Or many vampire stories. They are a pleasantly unpleasant paradox as supernatural beings go– bound up in death, however also in desire, in sensuality, and naturally, in sex. You can’t actually navigate it, even if you acknowledge how creepy (even gross or grotesque) the conceit is. Vampires are suggested to be appealing to us in order to help us confront something essential to much of mankind.
And Bram Stoker’s Dracula may not be the first vampire story, but it is often provided credit for the genre’s durability.
It needs to come as no surprise that Sherlock developers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss would tackle such a story; the two have actually currently made their love of Victorian literature understood, along with their interest in reimagining these precious texts for contemporary audiences. Dracula follows the very same format as their erstwhile hit, 3 90 minute episodes that are more comparable to movies. It has lots of resemblances to the Stoker tale, and lots of little easter eggs for devoted fans.
It’s also an especially gruesome sort of mess.
[Spoilers for all of Netflix’s Dracula below]
how is it a mess, you might ask? The issue is, it’s not one thing, or one over-arcing problem. It’s a lot of little upsets, quirks, and options that will not stop tweaking. It starts out benignly enough– Sibling Agatha, when a bit character in Stoker’s book, is trying to get a statement from Jonathan Harker about his time in Count Dracula’s castle. But this nun in fact carries the surname name Van Helsing (Dolly Wells), and Harker’s account is not rather what is seems.
Our introduction to Claes Bang’s Dracula is similar to Gary Oldman’s grotesque turn in Francis Ford Coppola’s titular film. A modification in vampiric power does away with that similarity rapidly; this Dracula takes on aspects of the people he “consumes”, which indicates that he soaks up bits of their personalities and abilities after feeding. And for some factor, while Harker is a relatively mild-mannered man, the act of consuming him imbues the Count with all the subtlety of a Las Vegas magician. All the secret vaporizes, only slightly-off smiles and abrupt transitions left in its wake. This is made even uglier when we learn that this is the Count’s factor for wishing to go to England– individuals there are more “informed” and “sophisticated”, you see, and Dracula literally is what he consumes. This does provide him the distinction of being the most imperialist-positive, xenophobic take on the character that you’ll probably ever see? That’s one method to start.
But there’s more! Early in her questioning of Jonathan Harker, Sister Agatha asks him if he’s had sexual relations with Dracula. Now, this is disconcerting as a concern all by itself, however ultimately, Harker thinks to ask her why the question turned up at all. Agatha explains that he has a “illness”– his skin is rotting and he’s covered in sores– and that she’s simply attempting to work out what would have caused it. The important things is, we discover later on that Agatha Van Helsing completely conscious what caused this state due to the fact that she’s been looking for proof of vampires for quite a long time. Linking Harker’s physical state to the possibility of sex with a man ends up reading like a 1980s AIDs scare method, much in the manner that David Lynch employed with his portrayal of Baron Harkonnen in Dune. It may not have actually been the objective, but that’s still how it comes off.
If this is that part where you think “did the creators of Sherlock actually simply do the specific same thing all over once again?” the answer is yes, and I’m sorry, and likewise– however what did you expect, really? They have one idea, and we’ll all be damned if they aren’t going to utilize it.
This leads to Dracula getting a personal assistant (by turning his lawyer into a vampire) and a cell phone and a ridiculous flat, and using hook-up services to discover victims. The remainder of the vampire-hunting gang from the book are now contemporary young grownups, who are getting up to no great by partying and dealing with ennui and starving after each other. Jack Seward (Matthew Beard) is smitten in a near-stalkery method with a modern Lucy Westerna (Lydia West), however we all know that won’t turn out well, specifically when Lucy meets the Count. Dr. Zoe Van Helsing is likewise passing away of cancer since … narrative urgency? Her blood is helpfully poison to Dracula because of it, so there’s that. She’s determined to figure Dracula out in ways her ancestor Agatha couldn’t think of, so she drinks a vial of his blood (“Blood is lives,” Dracula keeps saying, as though it will somehow get more profound whenever we hear it) and gets a valuable mental connection with the long-dead nun. She uses Jack– who was a previous student of hers– to discover about Dracula’s motions and his interest in Lucy, in order to lastly beat him at his own video game.
Said video game is actually quite simple: Dracula hesitates of sunshine and crucifixes and all those little mythical things due to the fact that he’s decided to think they’re lethal. Since he’s spiritual of death. And when she puts that to him, he understands that she’s right, and drinks her blood so they can pass away together.
It seems as though we’re meant to think the gender swap of Van Helsing from male to female is an extensive and forward-thinking choice. The actor who plays both Agatha and Zoe gives a moving and nuanced efficiency in both roles, and it’s also interesting to see that they chose a female who is roughly the exact same age as the star playing Dracula himself. There’s a strange issue in all of this when it comes to how the story progresses; in the very first episode, Agatha’s main role is learning Jonathan Harker’s story; in the second episode her main role is wheedling details out of Count Dracula about his voyage on the Demeter; in the 3rd episode, Zoe’s main role boils down to helping Dracula comprehend himself by deconstructing his fears. While there is something of an arc to her story, the story still shows that a female’s primary function is listening to men’s stories and after that maybe helping them along in their journeys. In result, Van Helsing’s role in this version of Dracula is not one of a shrewd hunter of beasts– it’s the function of a particularly outstanding therapist.
This gets back at murkier when we add the shine of love that’s enforced upon their relationship at the end of the series, and the developers’ objection to engage with the sexuality fundamental in the story they’ve selected to recreate.
When it was explained that a person might perceive queer undertones to the show, that Dracula could in reality be counted as bisexual based upon his tastes, Steven Moffat was fast to describe otherwise: “He’s bi-homicidal, it’s not the exact same thing. He’s killing them, not dating them.” This appears an exceptionally ignorant take on the character and what vampires have constantly represented in the narrative zeitgeist. If the show had actually gone out of its way to create an especially nonsexual variation of Dracula, one who didn’t deal in sensuality and desire at all, that would be a different story. However consider: This variation of the story calls Dracula’s unique prisoners his “brides”– an oft-used term for them, though Stoker himself described them in the novel as “sisters”. We then hear Dracula tell Jonathan Harker that he could become his “biggest bride-to-be” yet, as soon as he’s turned the male into a vampire. Firmly insisting that the act of murder precludes any conversation of sexuality when we’re having terms and imagery and relationships that are straight associated with sex and intimacy thrust upon us is eventually a decision to gaslight your audience. You can’t have it both methods.
Screenshot: Netflix This also has the regrettable effect of suggesting that the only reason Van Helsing was reimagined as a female was to ensure that anything that happened between her and the Count was never ever considered as remotely homosexual. It robs the choice to have a female Van Helsing of its power. And what’s more, it’s not as though the initial Dracula narrative had no intriguing women in it to start with– Mina Harker drives the majority of the story in the unique, a woman sharp enough to create the entire plan to take Dracula out. Here, she’s simply thrust aside and then makes a foundation in the name of her dead fiancé. Huzzah.
This is even worse when we take a look at Lucy Westerna’s story, the woman in 2020 who Dracula becomes enamored with because she’s not scared of death. It’s the Count’s fixation with Lucy that helps Zoe/Agatha figure out what he’s really scared of, made more obscenely cruel since Lucy is portrayed as this coquettish tease of a female, one who breaks hearts and dances in other words skirts at clubs– when anyone with the smallest understanding of psychological health can guess that Lucy is deeply depressed and probably handling suicide ideation. The story does not care about this. It cares about Dracula’s fixation with her and what that informs us about him.
Oh, and after that it has Lucy half-cremated (when she ends up being undead and breaks out of her coffin mid-burning), all so that it can use her melted body as a remark on beauty and ownership? She pertains to Dracula’s flat, and he insists that she’s his biggest Bride-to-be ever for not caring about death, but as soon as she sees her own reflection– from taking a selfie, naturally, considering that mirrors don’t work– she folds and pleads for someone to eliminate her. Jack obliges and after that tells Dracula the reality: She didn’t belong to either of them!
Thank goodness a man found out something about female autonomy in the mutilation and death of this depressed and hurting black woman. Sorry, two men. Dracula does too, I think. Or, he does later on, with the death discovery thing. He gets to stand in the sun and stuff. It’s extremely edgy.
Exists anything salvageable in this Mona Lisa knock-off of a program? It’s pleasurable to enjoy Agatha Van Helsing’s schtick as an atheist nun, but it’s a little piece of an unusual and mealy supper. There’s no factor to sugarcoat it, or attempt to make sense of what we were given. Dracula is incomprehensible, and depressing to boot. Perhaps the next stab at vampire tv will land well, however this is not what we should have.
Emmet Asher-Perrin did enjoy parts of the 2nd episode because boat murder is enjoyable? You can bug him on Twitter, and find out more of her work here and in other places.
This content was originally published here.