There’s a saying here at Den of Geek that goes something like “don’t judge a series by its pilot.” Often, that first episode just isn’t indicative of the brilliance (or dreck) to come. But with Dracula’s second episode, “A Whiff of Sulfur,” it looks like the show is exactly what the pilot set it up to be. This is a fine thing if you’re enamored by Dracula already, but if the pilot didn’t sell you, there isn’t much here in the second episode to make you want to come back for more.
At least the timeline issue is cleared up somewhat in this episode. We once again flash back to Dracula’s tomb, moments after Van Helsing has reawakened him. Once again, the production values and gore are on full display here, and Dracula is positively cinematic in these moments. The problem is that the explanation of why Dracula and Van Helsing have a shared interest in eliminating the Order of the Dragon (they also killed Van Helsing’s wife…and kids) still doesn’t ring true. And I don’t mean it doesn’t ring true in a “Dracula purist” sense, I mean…the best way this guy can think of to get revenge on these creeps is to awaken Vlad Tepes? For real?
Anyway, we learn that it’s taken Dracula and Van Helsing a solid 10 years to establish the “Alexander Grayson” cover story, and now ol’ Drac, in an attempt to get closer to Mina Murray wants to hire Jonathan Harker (the journalist…not the lawyer) to help him ferret out secrets about his business rivals and members of the Order of the Dragon. All of this while Ms. Murray is graduating at the top of Van Helsing’s medical class and Jonathan is planning to propose, despite her desire to pursue “unwomanly pursuits” like medicine. zzzzzzzzzz….
There’s too much meandering around, and even when the episode veers into sumptuous Oscar Wilde/Velvet Goldmine territory (when Dracula shows up at a secret gay club to blackmail one of his rivals) there simply is no sense of menace, or even all that much illicit sexiness to be had. Even a “steamy” love scene between Dracula and his lover, Lady Jane (an Order of the Dragon member) is…well…dull. Hammering us over the head with the reincarnation and lost love angle doesn’t really do the scene any favors, either.
It’s too bad, really. The ingredients are here. The cast is capable enough, the production values are high, and when the show decides to portray Dracula as Dracula (anyone note his facial resemblance to the Count as portrayed in the old Marvel Comics Tomb of Dracula series?) and not as Jonathan Rhys Meyers putting on a grating American accent, there’s some proper horror to be found. In particular, a scene with two supernatural seers in an opium den trying to track Dracula through a magic mirror is downright spooky, and one of Dracula chillingly tearing the throat out of (and feeding on) an innocent victim in an alleyway are signs of what this show is capable of, if only it would fully embrace the supernatural insanity of it all. Instead, Dracula is anemic, artificial, and altogether too concerned with less than vampiric pursuits to distinguish itself. Snappy production values and a strong lead will only take you so far when your central concept is as inherently flawed as NBC’s Dracula is.