Monday, January 27, 2014

What? Why? How? Are You Stupid? (NBC's Dracula)

I feel like someone took a brick and smashed it into my face. Now, part of that is because my "weekend" was hilariously stressful and also productive (if by hilarious you understand that I am being deeply sarcastic), but another part is because I have now finished season one of Dracula, my friend, and I am having feelings.

Negative feelings, mostly, which shouldn't come as a very big shock.

Just to recap, though, for those of you who "have lives" and "go outside" (weirdos), the show we're referring to here is NBC's Dracula. Based on the Bram Stoker novel of the same name, and gleefully ignoring all previous cinematic interpretations, the show stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the titular vamp, who has decided to pretend to be an American named Alexander Grayson and prance around 1880s London with Tesla's electricity models and a desire for human blood.

The basic plot of the show, from what I can gather after having watched every single episode, is that Grayson, or Dracula, has a grudge against the Order of the Dragon, a medieval order of vampire hunters who are the ones who turned him into a vampire in the first place. Why an order of vampire hunters existed before vampires, and why they would want to turn someone into a vampire at all, are questions best left unasked.

Because Grayson is a sneaky SOB, and also kind of weirdly abstract, he decides that the best way to ruin the Order of the Dragon is not to kill them, but to ruin them financially and then, presumably, kill them. Apparently taking their money is the only real punishment he can think of.

It's not enough to take their money, though. He has to take it in style. And since the Order of the Dragon is also an investing club for the rich and powerful (just go with it), and this investing club has put all of their money into oil shares in the Ottoman Empire (again, just go with it), the only sensible solution is to buy up a bunch of Tesla's electricity patents, pretend to be an American entrepreneur, and give London free, experimental electricity that will eliminate the need for oil and therefore render the Order of the Dragon's investments worthless.

Obviously that is the simplest plan one could come up with. Totally.

Grayson can't do this alone, of course, because a plan this complex and needlessly stupid needs a lot of moving parts. To that end, then, he has recruited Dr. Van Helsing (Thomas Kretchmann), who hates the Order of the Dragon because they murdered his family and apparently is a-okay with vampires in this version, and Renfield (Nonso Anozie), an educated American black man who spent some time as a slave and now works for Grayson because of reasons. 

Both Van Helsing and Renfield know Grayson's secret, that he's actually Dracula, and both of them seem to be perfectly okay with helping him destroy the Order of the Dragon. At least at first.

While Grayson is gallivanting in London, however, his eye catches on the lovely Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), who looks uncannily like his dead wife for plot reasons. By which I mean that their resemblance is never explained at all even a little bit and we're all just supposed to go with it. Naturally, Mina's boyfriend, Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) doesn't particularly like this weird American sniffing around his girlfriend, especially since he's already insecure about their relationship. (Mina's a modern woman who wants a career, while Harker is a working class social climber with ambitions of normalcy. It's wacky fun!)

Also there's Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath), who apparently is in love with Mina too, but less open about showing it because this is 1880s London after all. And apparently Mina Murray is the hottest thing around? No, seriously. Someone explain to me why all three of our emotional leads are in love with the same admittedly nice but incredibly bland woman. Please.

Anyway. Grayson wants Mina, but he also wants to get Harker out of the way. So to do that, he hires Harker to work as his second in command, which enables Harker to financially support a wife, and allows Mina and Harker to get engaged. Good plan!

Then he repairs the cracks in their relationship, only to later seduce Mina into emotionally cheating on Harker, and then yell at Harker, and then crush Harker's job prospects and respectability because he can, and then flip out at Lucy for breaking up Mina and Harker because nothing Grayson/Dracula does in this show makes any freaking sense whatsoever.

I mean, there are other things that happen in the show, but none of them really make any more sense than what I've already outlined.

Grayson starts an affair with Lady Jayne Wetherby (Victoria Smurfit), presumably because he has sexual needs that he can't bring to the sainted Ms. Murray. Oh, but wait! Lady Jayne is actually a legendary vampire hunter...who is utterly incapable of detecting a vampire even when she's having sex with him. I don't know, just go with it.

And Van Helsing is developing a serum that will allow Dracula to walk in the sun, but the science is super vague, and then Dracula starts being a jerk to Van Helsing, and Van Helsing goes off the rails and murders some guy and his entire family and this show is really weirdly bleak but also terrible. Why did I watch the whole season? Why?

Well, I do actually know the answer to that. You see, Dracula is a show that really should work. Honestly, it should be amazing. You've got incredible actors, a fun premise (Dracula, Tesla, and a bunch of evil vampire hunters romping through Victorian London!), and some pretty decent production values. How is this show terrible?

I mean, one reason is definitely that they tried to fit way too much in there. Between the revenge plots and the fourteen kajillion characters and the constantly shifting moral landscape, it's just too much to handle. I needed to read recaps of the episodes I'd just seen right after I watched them in order to figure out what was going on. And I'm still not sure I totally got it.

On top of that, the show is really ambiguous emotionally. I mean really, really ambiguous. It's not so much that you're not sure whether Grayson/Dracula is the good guy or not, it's that you literally have no idea of the objective morality of anyone on the show, because the show refuses to give you enough information to make an informed decision. We know that the Order of the Dragon killed Van Helsing's wife and children, and we know that they killed Dracula's wife and turned him into a vampire, but why?

No, seriously, why?

We have to stop for a second and wonder if perhaps the Order of the Dragon had a good reason to do all that. I'm not saying that killing children is ever okay, but we seriously know nothing here. We are never told or given any indication why the Order of the Dragon decided to murder some nice guy's family and some other dude's wife. And, honestly, I kind of wonder if they had it coming.

Because here's the thing: while I can't tell whether or not the show wants me to like Grayson/Dracula, I really don't. He's a jerk, a pig, and generally everything that I hate in one slicked-back, bad accented package. So it's already kind of hard for me to sympathize with him. But there's an imbalance of narrative here. I know that he hates the Order of the Dragon, but I don't know why they hate him back, and until I know that, I can never really sign on here. And since he is such a jerk, I find myself siding with them.

But the real reason why the show just completely loses me and is completely awful is that no one's decisions, especially not Grayson/Dracula's, make any freaking sense whatsoever. At all. Ever.

Grayson wants revenge on the Order of the Dragon, so he pulls an incredibly long con to get them to go bankrupt, and then decides to murder a bunch of them for kicks, and then immediately go back to the plan like nothing changed? What?

Grayson wants to make sweet sweet love to Mina Murray, so he hires her boyfriend who then becomes her fiance then manipulates their relationship, hosts their engagement party, passively watches them break up and get back together multiple times, then murders the person who actually does break them up (Lucy)? Huh? As Patrick from Piece of Cape put it, "He should be sending her chocolates and flowers, not killing her!"

For that matter, when he kills Lucy, because she's "behaving like a monster", a presumed reference to both her crush on Mina and her sleeping with Harker, he decides to make her into a vampire. Why? If you really hate someone, why the hell would you arrange it so that you have to share eternity with them?

These are only a couple of examples, sadly, of the horrific gaps in logic that run rampant in this show. It's like the writer's team has never actually met a rational human, they've just heard vague rumors and decided to try to imagine what a normal decision making process looks like.

And despite all of this, all of the crap and weirdness and terrible life choices of every single character and the way that the show is really aggressively not as good as it could be, it's still apparently coming back for a second season.

So I think the thing to do right now is to go outside, stare up at the sky, and mutter "Why?" to yourself a few times. It's the only thing I can think of that will help.

Well, that or just changing the channel and watching Sleepy Hollow instead. That works too.


8 comments:

  1. the only sensible solution is to buy up a bunch of Tesla's electricity patents

    After Sanctuary, you really need to bring your A-game if you plan to mix Tesla and vampires. This doesn't sound like an A-game.

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    1. I maybe kind of sort of haven't actually seen Sanctuary yet?

      DON'T HURT ME.

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  2. Actually, Van Helsing resurrected Dracula to help him get back at the Order for destroying his family, the then has a bit of a hissy fit when Dracula doesn't do what he wants.
    As somebody said if they're setting up the second season for Harker and Van Helsing to join forces to kill Dracula then I WILL be watching something else. Honestly neither man has a leg to stand on and blaming Dracula for their woes is just awful

    The whole thing was very confusing and really the only likeable characters where Lucy and Renfield

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    1. I want Lucy to kill Dracula. And then run away with Renfield.

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    2. Now, that would be a show I would watch!

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  3. Oh man this show. On the one hand, yay, weekly Jonathan Rhys Meyers who theoretically should be perfectly cast as Dracula. On the other, boo, weird, terrible show.

    I will say that I took Grayson's passively watching/subtly helping Mina and Jonathan stay together as him earnestly trying to let Mina have her own life away from him, and that was kind of admirable? It's like the writers were sort of trying to give him some restraint but then they remembered that lol yeah this is the show where Dracula is the anti-hero which means that he can "get the girl" without it being super morally compromising for the audience so YAAAAAAAAY, make Jonathan an irrational dick and let that Drac/Mina ship set sail~!

    I get the feeling that there's like a perpetual fight in the writer's room over whether this show should be interesting and good or a sexified schlockfest and be the end of the season Team Schlockfest seemed to win. That Lucy shit was pretty fucking vile and OOC as Hell and if they wanted to stick to the major plot points of the book that badly they should have set it up better.

    It also has a terrible, terrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrible track record with poc, gay and lesbian characters, and pretty much anyone who is not straight and white and dude and omfg Lady Jayne I could go on for hours about that clusterfuck UGH.

    So are you going to watch season two? XD

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    1. You know, I feel like you're onto something with that. It does feel like the show is trying to go in two different directions. And one of those directions is objectively better than the other. :P

      As for next season, I don't knoooooooooow. I mean, there's the mean part of me that is like, "Yes. Watch it for the hate. Mmmmm. Hate." but then I remember how much of a slog it was to finish this season even. What are you going to do?

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