Dracula episode 4 review: From Darkness To Light

Review Laura Akers 19 Nov 2013 - 06:58

Dracula simplifies things and delivers its strongest episode so far. Here's Laura's review...

This review contains spoilers.

1.4 From Darkness To Light

There’s a lot going on in this week’s episode, some of it necessary, some of it not. The primary plot this week focused on Dracula’s plan to turn Lady Jayne, vampire killer, into the willing lapdog of her usual prey. And in this plotline, it was quite successful. But where the story deviated from this, it was both weak and distracting.

The first big distraction comes in the form of Lucy. Despite all her flirtatious ways with the men in her orbit, it’s been made clear in the last two weeks that her primary romantic interest is her friend Mina. A great deal is made out of the fact that, once Mina is married, a door will have been closed between her and her friend. Lucy is brought to tears (but not confession) by this supposed looming obstacle. But regardless of whether Mina were to resign herself to the role of a proper English wife or to continue her studies and become a practicing doctor, the simple truth remains: there’s just as much chance of Lucy being able to enjoy her friend before the marriage as after.

Victorian women (even the married ones) sometimes had passionate devotion for each other. So it would not be anachronistic for Lucy to hope for such, even after Mina’s wedding, especially since the entire culture was gendered (women in the middle and upper classes spent more time with other women than they did with the men in their lives since men belonged in one sphere while women were relegated to another). Nor does fidelity seem to be the issue since Mina would be being disloyal regardless of whether Jonathan was her husband or just her fiancé when she succumbed to Lucy’s charms. So the whole subplot comes off not just as unnecessary in this episode but as an attempt to push the boundaries of Victorian society in terms of sexuality without understanding what those boundaries actually were.

The bit where Mina discovers Van Helsing’s secret research may indeed be setting up for something in the future, but it’s so out of joint with the rest of the episode (which revolves largely around the relationships on the show) that it feels like the writers are following a predetermined map of the show’s sub-plots (“In episode four, we’ll need to start laying the groundwork for Mina discovering Dracula’s secret”) rather than allowing the story to develop organically.

And then there’s the bit about Dracula saving Mina from the exploding boiler. This one is, at least, is connected to the larger plot.

And that larger plot is the fairly intricate scheme that Dracula uses to gain Lady Jayne’s most precious possession: her trust. He first calls his former minion, Josef Cervenka (Alec Newman)—now a fairly high-powered master in his own right—to London. Then he simultaneously leads his friend to believe that he is besotted with the vampire killer, who humiliates him, at the same time that he expertly manipulates her into becoming ever more infatuated with him.

Each of the scenes in which this is played out is well-done and required a deft turn by the actors.

When Lady Jayne tells Grayson, after he has purposely stood her up in a way calculated to shame her publicly and then made it up to her by showing her the time of her life, that she is ending their relationship, he calls her not only on her obvious love of dominating men, but her corresponding infatuation with a man who will not allow himself to be dominated. Smurfit must go from steely to curious to amused to utterly taken aback. Meyers, on the other hand, is not matching her shifting moods but must instead slowly ratchet up the intensity of his analysis in order to lull her into thinking this is all just a game…until he goes in for the very effective kill. All in less than two minutes.

He also lays a trap for his minion. After allowing Josef to see Mina (and thus her resemblance to Ilona, and what appears to be a chink in his armour), Dracula allows himself to be followed to Lady Jayne’s so that Josef can draw the wrong conclusion: that it is the vampire hunter who has the upper-hand. This provokes Josef into confronting his master, taunting him with his supposed folly, and then begging his permission to kill Lady Jayne (by the way, Josef’s use of “thee” in referring to his master should have gotten his head removed by Dracula since “thee” is a form of address used to an inferior, not someone you’ve just called “my liege” in the same sentence). Both Newman and Meyer are convincing here, but Meyer’s performance is, by necessity, more layered since he is pretending to regret the death of his lover but is prematurely mourning the planned death of Josef.

What all this leads to, of course, is Josef’s attack on Jayne which Dracula stops so that he can be her saviour. It works; albeit, she is a touch too eager to believe his “oh, I was just walking by” story to be entirely credible considering her personality and the fact that this is supposedly the most difficult thing to get from her.  The two end up embracing in the bath, and we see Dracula smiling to himself over his triumph—he has now been established as a puppet master of great prowess.

Which brings us back to the scene in which he saves Mina from the explosion in his basement by embracing her and turning to protect her with his body. It’s difficult in a show like this (where the writing has been mediocre at best thus far) to tell to what extent the parallel in the embraces is intentional.

When Meyers embraces Smurfit, she relaxes instantly into his arms, and he smiles wickedly over her shoulder--the whole thing reads very naturally. But when he holds De Gouw to him on the other hand, it instead looks forced. First, he’s not wildly grabbing at her in an attempt to save her. Instead, he tenderly catches her up in his arms as rivets and bolts fly at them. Then, still in the act of turning, his face is tender—not that of a man afraid for the woman he loves. To compound this strangeness, after a moment (and all this is in slow motion, so it’s actually a split-second), she yields to his embrace, closing her eyes to enjoy it. Both in its writing and direction, this interaction leads to confusion.

Are the two meant to be read together? His interaction with Lady Jayne clearly establishes that he has this all planned out. Does this include what’s going on with Mina? If so, the scene where he saves her should take place after the one with Jayne, so that we see his interaction with Mina through that filter. Or are we supposed to see his moment of weakness with Mina and then assume that he’s equally out of control with Jayne? Which would make sense chronologically, but assumes that we cannot understand that the two have nothing to do with each other because, to put it simply, the girl you’re banging in order to “declaw” is not equal to the woman you seem to believe—despite any protestations—is your wife reincarnated. But then, it wouldn’t be the first time they underestimated us on this subject.

Still, all in all, this is the strongest episode so far this season.

I understand the desire, especially recently, to want to create a very complex plot and show your mastery by subtly weaving the various strands together. A large part of the success of From Darkness to Light however, is that it had that strong main plot running through it—they kept it simpler and it worked. Dracula’s producers would do far better to aspire to a somewhat less lofty narrative goal and artfully achieve it rather than reach for one which seems may continue to elude them.

Read Laura's review of the previous episode, Goblin Merchant Men, here.

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