Shining Some Light on Dracula

I really enjoyed Dracula

The opening episode is one of the most compelling first episodes of television I’ve watched in a while, burning through what could easily have been an entire series worth of story and ideas.

The scares were scary. The laughs were funny. The plot interesting, posing questions I genuinely wanted answers too. This is excellent stuff.

Episode two was good. Perhaps a bit overstuffed (as, presumably, was Dracula).

Not much really happens beyond people slowly learning something we already know – namely that Dracula is a vampire. Considering how much was going on in episode one, this felt close to filler, but was still enjoyable.

But, to me, episode three really didn’t stick the landing. 

My problem with it

The episode just felt… out of place. Nothing that happened before really seemed to matter other than to have delivered Dracula to modern-day England.

The story of Lucy, the willing sacrifice, seems oddly misplaced too. It’s not a bad story, it’s just not really about Dracula. He doesn’t seem to have any emotional investment in it, or really care about the outcome when it goes wrong, accepting it with a shrug.

In fact, a lot seemed just… there. The Jonathan Harker Institute is a thing, but doesn’t do much. The evil henchman (while wonderfully acted) is just sort of around. There’s the creepy dead child who is introduced and (re)killed off with zero impact on the plot other than a visceral scare when they arrive in the bedroom.

They all exist, but don’t really serve the plot in any way. If you’d cut all mention of them, Dracula arrives in England and just meets Helsing’s descendent, you’d have almost exactly the same conclusion.

It feels like I’m watching an odd fan-fiction addition to an incredibly interesting show. Like a spin-off story tacked on at the last moment.

And then, the actual big reveals about his true secret, the implications of it, and the resolution of it all happen within about two minutes.

Helsing: “I’ve worked it out – you fear death!”

Dracula: “Fear death, do I? I’ll show you… by killing myself!”

Fin.

It was all just a bit… meh.

What I might have done

Jonathan Harker

Episode one was almost perfect. But it was busy – there was definitely some stuff that could have been used later to raise the average across the three episodes.

Firstly, I’d have removed all mention of brides from episode one. Dracula is alone. But he’s happy being alone. He wants to be alone. It’s how he’s always been. Outsider. Other.

There are maybe some of the zombie corpses around, but certainly nothing sentient (at least as far as Dracula is aware).

But during Jonathan’s investigation (now caused by a cry he hears in the night) he meets the scary dead child, moved from episode three. And in the child, Jonathan sees… something. Not humanity. Not quite. But not far off it either…

He needs to escape with the child. To save it. He has to find the strength.

The plot unfolds in a similar way, taken to the tower, seeing the sun. But now Dracula murders the child, seeing nothing in it, blind to it’s humanity. Uninterested. Dracula is all that matters, the only true vampire.

Then he kills Johnny boy. And that should be the end of it. Only… Jonathan is different. Special. He stays himself, more so than anyone ever has.

Dracula is shocked. And for their first time since he turned a thought occurs to him – maybe he could have someone to share his unlife with?

Jonathan escapes. Dracula hunts him with a fury he’s never felt. A hunger, but not the hunger he’s used to. It’s not literal, it’s… emotional.

He arrives at the nunnery and has the confrontation (which was wonderful, by the way). And he meets Sister Agatha. Initially he’s angry, thinking only of his prize she’s keeping from him. But as the conversation progresses he becomes fascinated by her. Somehow, she gets him. He hates that, but he’s fascinated by it.

Episode one ends with Dracula impotently stood at the gates of the nunnery.

Episode two

We start episode two in exactly the same way as before – Dracula and Sister Agatha sitting down to a nice game of chess. 

But… how did we get here? Why are they friends now? What’s happened?

And so he tells the story.

He starts talking about the boat, setting the stage. But interspersed are questions about what happened at the nunnery.

The theme for this episode is how to defeat Dracula. This introduces the idea of the holy circle and everything that was originally at the end of the first episode, but all in one place rather than spread out over two episodes, repeating the strategy. 

But it’s about something else – Dracula and Sister Agatha developing a deeper rapport. He’s planning to turn her, the same way he did Jonathan. His bride.

But it all goes wrong, she tries to kill him (and thereby kills the mood too).

And we end in the same place –  England, modern day.

Episode three

The final episode would unfold a little differently. After discovering the possibility of a partner in Jonathan, and feeling a kinship with Sister Agatha, Dracula is looking to find someone.

He hunts, but it never pans out. Until he meets Lucy.

Lucy is beautiful. Charming. Funny. She’s someone he could spend all of time with. But she’s also something far more important.

She’s willing.

Dracula has only ever had one willing victim – Sister Agatha. But that was to save someone else. Lucy is truly willing. She’s accepting of who (or what) he is. And it feels like love to Dracula. 

But it’s not.

All the while Zoe is becoming more Sister Agatha. Understanding Dracula more. Fearing him less. She starts to see the real him. Not the beast, not the facade but the… man? A man who tried to bring her great great aunt to England not out of pure malice, but out of a twisted kind of affection.

Lucy rises from the fire for the final confrontation with everyone. Dracula honestly doesn’t mind how she looks – he’s seen far, far worse. But she’s angry. He was meant to give her eternal youth and beauty – that was the deal. She expected something from this.

She dies angry at him, and grateful for death.

At that moment, Dracula realises he will always be alone. He’ll never be able to have someone want him for, well him.

So he chooses to step into the sunlight.

Only… it doesn’t hurt?

Then Zoe/Agatha reveals his secret – he feared death, and thus his habits emerged. But she doesn’t reveal it in the aggressive, weaponised way she did on the show – it’s a softer, guiding way. Like a religious leader, trying to bring him to salvation rather than fight him with exorcism. 

But Dracula is different now. Yes, he was afraid of death, but now there’s something he’s more afraid of – being alone.

So he sits, holding the hand of Sister Agatha. The only person who has ever shown him kindness (and, dare he say it, love?) for who he is. Not for the power he has. Not for the “gift” he can offer, but for him. Dracula the vampire.

She called him out on his bullshit, fine. But she never turned. Never fled. Never denied what he was.

It’s a different kind of love. But it’s love.

So she offers herself one final time. And he chooses to go out on his own terms, alongside her. He doesn’t know what comes next, but he’s finally OK with that.

And, after 127 years, they pass on together.

Why this all matters

Dracula started off so strong.

The characters were fascinating and engaging. The twists along the way were interesting and surprising. The dialogue sparked right off the screen. I loved it.

But by the end it just fizzled out.

I think all the right ingredients were there, and they were all hinted at along the way, but they never felt satisfyingly brought together. 

I think these tweaks (or something like them) might have made it feel a bit more focused. Like it was building to something from the very start.

Because as it was, by the end it felt overlong. Drawn out.

A bit long in the… well, y’know.