This review contains spoilers.
1.9 Four Roses
It’s been a long time coming, but it appears, with only one episode to go, that Dracula has finally hit its stride. After weeks of little-to-nothing but set up, we’re now actually into the primary conflict in the show, and it’s relatively engaging.
On one side, we have the evil of the Order of the Dragon. In theory a Christian order, they behave in anything but a Christian way. While Vlad Tepes’ crimes are un-enumerated in the story, they were supposedly horrific enough to doom his wife (who does not appear to have played any part in them) to burning at the stake and himself to the curse of demonic vampirism (making one wonder what these “holy” soldiers were thinking). Likewise, for also unnamed reasons, Van Helsing’s family is immolated, and yet he is left to live largely unmolested. And then there’s the matter of the religious necessity (and capitalistic triumph) of strangling Western Europe with an energy monopoly.
On the other side, and arguably just as evil, you have both the vampire and Van Helsing. And while the technology they are creating would be of benefit to humanity, that’s not actually what they care about. They are both murderers, hell-bent on the destruction of the Order, bodies lying in their wake.
And this last week, we finally got to see them truly engage.
But despite the weeks of build-up, the plot has essentially become no more complicated than this primary conflict and two important side stories: that of the attraction between Mina and Alexander Grayson as well as the one about Davenport’s revenge. The first of these is largely unbelievable: what are the odds that Dracula would happen to find a doppelganger of his wife at exactly the time and place he’s in, centuries after her death? Or that she would be placed so precisely (but entirely accidently) between himself and Van Helsing? And the bit about her somehow being connected (psychically?) to Ilona? Pretty preposterous. I’m looking forward to them explaining that – though I’m certainly not holding my breath.
Of course, plot-wise, she has to exist in order to give Davenport something to work upon – something that Dracula loves – which may be why their romance feels under-developed. But the Davenport thread has certainly accomplished what it needed to. The sides in this conflict have felt largely uneven. From the first, the Order has not seemed, despite its wickedness, much of an adversary – especially once we saw just how complete the vampire’s cunning was around Harker’s fate. So it was necessary to handicap Dracula (clumsy writing), and his feelings for Mina have certainly done this, in equal parts by distracting him as his plans seem to fall apart, revealing his one true weakness, and unleashing his furious (but also irrational) side.
After at least a decade of planning, both he and Van Helsing seem to be spinning out of control. The Order is fortuitously named, as this is its one advantage right now: Browning, after a bit of cajoling from Lady Jayne, regains control of himself after his children are taken, and order is restored on that side. So, now more balanced, the two sides prepare to face off and there’s some actual anticipation in the air.
I do wish, however, that, when we finally came down to the wire, that the actors would have put it over just a bit better. On the one extreme, Katie McGrath’s Lucy has been wonderful. The role felt quite throwaway in the early episodes, but since she’s received the false advice of Lady Jayne, McGrath has entirely turned this role around. Her Lucy is vulnerable, balancing her pain and desire for vengeance admirably. The scenes when Harker runs off from her bedroom and she first hides from and then finally faces her mother show a depth and delicacy of emotion that most of the other performances lack.
Such as that of Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s Harker. Neither he nor Lucy are angels, but Jackson-Cohen limits Harker to two shades: a stiff and strange emotional aloofness and an over-the-top anger (complete with what I am guessing is supposed to be body-convulsing rage, but comes off like Harker’s being tasered). This results in Mina’s affection for him being largely unbelievable.
What was odd though was, after all this build-up, that the scene where Mina and Dracula begin to accept and deal with their feelings was a bit unfulfilling because of the acting. DeGouw’s portrayal of Mina reads a lot like the Dresden Triptych: pretty to look at, but there’s not a lot of life there. She’s been through a lot, but she’s oddly rational (even when talking about her Ilona memories/encounters, which are conveniently revealed only now).
Dracula, on the other hand, seems to have taken a page from Harker, because now that it comes right down to it, when Mina is right there in his grasp, he pulls back. I get that we’re meant to see this as his hesitance to engage with her while there’s still so much to be done, but there’s no reason not to show that struggle between his desire for revenge and his desire for Ilona/Mina. That’s what’s supposed to be driving the entire scene. We know that Meyers is more than capable of delivering such a performance, so I’m left wondering if some of the acting problem is actually directorial in nature.
Which may also explain why the most tragic moment in the series thus far is largely thrown away. Yes, Lucy was wrong to seduce Harker. But just about everyone else has suffered far less for far greater sins. Dracula’s attack is not, as he thinks, on some hard-boiled and heartless flirt, but on a young girl who is confused and broken-hearted. I was half-expecting, before the vampire entered, to see a straight razor emerge from beneath the water. She certainly seems to be at the point of self-destruction.
Of course, the idea of Lucy as a haunted and lovelorn vamp also has some appeal.
Unfortunately, it looks as though we will not be seeing either that or the end of the impending conflict between Dracula and the Order: there’s only 42 minutes left of this series (hardly enough to finish it off after so much build-up and with the still-slow pacing), and NBC has been extremely mum on the possibility of renewal.
But finally, finally, I am actually looking forward to seeing how this tale plays itself out. And after this long, slow series, that’s a triumph unto itself.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Come To Die, here.
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