Dracula S1 Ep1: The Blood is the Life

It might take Dracula purists some time to warm up to NBC’s new version of the classic legend by Bram Stoker, Dracula. It’s not that it’s a bad retelling (so far), but it comes off as wildly off-canon and over-the-top at times. Yet this version, set in the 1880s and starring Jonathan Rhys Myers as Count Dracula, while easy to digest for those new to the character, is probably most fun for viewers who know the original story and can catch the twists.

The biggest twist is that Van Helsing, famous vampire hunter, has brought Count Dracula back to life through a blood ritual and is now using him to fight the Order of the Dragon, a brotherhood of rich and powerful vampire hunters set to take over the world. As it happens, the Order of the Dragon murdered Dracula’s family, including his beloved wife, in the 1400s, so they’re a natural enemy for him. Van Helsing, whose family was also killed by the Order of the Dragon for some reason, is canonically Dracula’s arch-enemy, but here they’re… well, they’re not exactly allies, but they’re reluctantly working together.

It’s hardly a surprise that Dracula is the story’s protagonist, but he’s unusually sympathetic in this version. Despite being vampire hunters, the Order are corrupt oil businessmen, which is pretty much meant to be enough for the viewer to want to see them get their throats ripped out one by one. In contrast, Dracula, posing as American industrialist Alexander Grayson, has created an energy source that requires no petroleum, no wires, and is free and clean (though it does require out-of-sight manual labor). With the help of Renfield, who seems more like a trusted partner than mad, manipulated servant, Grayson stuns the London elite with his invention and gets the attention of the Order, who naturally want to take his apparently green energy source down.

draculaep1s1draclucyAmong the London elite are Mina, who is a dead-ringer for Dracula’s dead wife and may be more than just a doppelganger, her fiance Jonathan, and her friend Lucy. It’s clear that the Mina-Dracula relationship is set to be the central romance, eternal true love and another reason to sympathize with the Prince of Darkness. Both women (canonically two of his victims) are wildly attracted to him. Only Jonathan, here an ambitious news reporter, sees the charming Grayson as a megalomaniac (but, being Mina’s fiance and Grayson’s unwitting romantic rival, that may not be meant to be a positive).

Dracula may borrow less from Stoker’s novel than it does from Dracula movies (Mina being the reincarnation of Dracula’s wife, Dracula’s skin burning in the sunlight, Dracula coming back to “life” after a period of apparent “true death”),  but it seems to be going for something altogether different from other retellings. And, despite its clear focus on romance and love-at-first-sight from the get-go, it appears to be trying to be a more authentic alternative to the likes of Twilight. It’s more adult, no doubt, and the period costumes give it a certain cachet, but it hardly looks like a break from idealized vampire romance. Still, it’s campy and over-the-top enough to be enjoyable, and Episode 1 has enough surprises to keep me watching, if just to see how far they’ll take the Dracula-as-an-eco-hero theme.

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