Count Dracula is the iconic figure at the centre of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ newest televised drama that debuted on BBC One and is currently streaming on Netflix, and you know what? He’s alarmingly sexy throughout the show in a way that vampires should be. He’s alluring, seductive, and compelling, which makes sense given that he’s a demon whose whole schtick is convincing people to let him into their homes so that he might guzzle their blood.
Dracula (Claes Bang) expertly strikes a balance between the need to cleave to Bram Stoker’s novel, traditional myths about vampires, and the more modern conceptualisations we’ve developed about the supernatural creatures, and for the most part, the series totally manages to make it all work. Dracula begins in the distant past when the Count is on the upward swing toward the height of his powers, and over the course of the series’ three episodes we see the vampire moving into the future and expertly acclimating himself to his new surroundings. By drinking the blood of his victims, Dracula is able to essentially taste the cultural zeitgeist of any particular moment he exists within, meaning that it’s never all that difficult for him to figure out how to insert himself into society in a way that makes it easy to downplay his vampiric nature.
Little narrative touches like that are one of the many things that make Dracula’s first two episodes an absolute delight to watch, because as played-out as Dracula’s story has become in the larger pop-cultural sense, this series manages to hone in on a few interesting elements of the vampire’s story that are ripe for innovative reimagining. Rather than pairing Drac up with your traditional Van Helsing, Dracula instead introduces Agatha (Dolly Wells), a worldly nun who dedicates herself to Christ not out of a desire to please a Christian God, but because the occupation afforded her the opportunity to further study the occult and eventually do battle with vampires.
Through her studies of vampiric lore, Sister Agatha discovers a number of classic rules associated with the demons that she uses to protect herself and her fellow nuns when Dracula inevitably arrives at their doorstep with plans to murder them all. Throughout the bulk of the series, Bang and Wells act out a deliciously melodramatic game of cat and mouse in which a nun and vampire (who clearly have an inordinate amount of sexual chemistry) plot to kill one another. But even though Dracula and this take on Van Helsing are sworn enemies of sorts, they recognise themselves as being the rare kinds of minds of their time whose appreciations of, and curiosities about, the world are broad and deep. And so their inclinations to fight are somewhat tempered and toned down to a simmering (but still lethal) temperature that powers much of the plot.
For the most part, Dracula’s a banger of a show that takes its titular villain from the Dark Ages to modern times with deftness and emotional acuity. When Dracula wakes up in the present day, feeding on a young woman is what makes it easy for him to immediately grasp what it means to be a person in contemporary England. Because texting is the predominant mode of communication, that becomes the way in which he reaches out to hapless victims like Lucy Westenra (Lydia West) with the intention of sucking them all dry.
As the people around the Count die, Dracula traces the larger arc of his life and posits that even though Agatha herself never became a vampire, she lives on in Dracula’s blood. Because Agatha’s descendant Zoe Helsing (also played by Wells) eventually drinks Dracula’s blood out of a desire to keep in the family tradition of hunting the vampire, she’s eventually able to deduce a plan to discover the true essence of all his fetishistic weaknesses, like the inability to enter homes without an invitation.
All of this made for a fascinating exploration of Dracula as a concept and figure within folklore that’s existed for ages, but in its final moments, Dracula (and the people responsible for writing its story – Moffat and Gatiss) lost its steam and was all too willing to end on a note that was equal parts sour and banal. After spending over a century lusting after and low-key hating one another, Dracula and Agatha (who’s kinda-sorta possessing Zoe) have their final face to face in which Agatha reveals that she’s finally discovered the source of all of Dracula’s weaknesses – he’s scared of death.
One of Dracula’s greater strengths was its willingness to interrogate and deconstruct the rules we associate with vampires. We know they’re afraid of sunlight and crosses. But why? Dracula insisted that it had an innovative, interesting answer to those questions, and it seemed as if that was very much the case. Aside from Moffat’s reputation, there was no reason to believe that Dracula couldn’t stick its landing, but in the series’ final episode, things fell apart in ways that are difficult to describe. As much time as the series spent delving into and trying to make sense of lore and mythology surrounding vampires, the finale wraps it all up tidily with the most milquetoast of explanations about the Dracula myth. Sunlight, crosses, and the need for an invitation aren’t consequences of some ancient magical agreement. They’re oversized fears that represent death, something Count Dracula, a war deserter, clung to so strongly that they became the very things that turned him into a literal monster.
Conceptually, these kinds of plot twists could have been interesting, but in practice, they end up feeling empty, like rushed ideas that were introduced merely because Dracula had to end in its third episode. Literally right after another vampire is staked and turned into burning ash, Dracula has the choice opportunity to show us what might happen if the Count himself was ever staked. But rather than getting into that, the show instead goes with “Oh, what if Dracula and Agatha were always meant to be together, even in death?” and to explore that idea, Agatha (who has cancer) dies and Dracula – who can be poisoned by drinking the blood of terminally sick people – also dies. Had the series ended with the two of them collapsed on a bed, cold as death, there might have been a morbid sort of poetry to it all, but that’s not the case.
The series instead ends on an inexplicable shot of Agatha/Zoe and Dracula having sex on a bed lined with silk sheets... and the bed exists at the core of the sun.
Throughout the series, there are moments when Dracula expresses his desire to see the sun again without fear that it will kill him. It’s very much the sort of thing one would expect an aged vampire to say, sure, but to bring it back in Dracula’s final moments in such an offhanded way feels almost offensive. After everything these two (but technically three) people have been through, Dracula finishes things off with what’s essentially a joke: “Hey, what if Dracula and one of his brides were, like, having sex in the sun?” It’s not particularly funny or all that interesting, especially considering how the first two-thirds of the series felt like such well-thought-out endeavours.
Dracula closes out feeling like a rushed university essay that, while excellent at the beginning, got off track in the middle, and ended up being a sputtering mess because something had to be turned in. If Dracula himself were able to witness this telling of his fictional life’s story, he’d say “Blah,” not in the stereotypical vampire sense, but in a way that says, “Wow, is this how it’s going to be?”
It sure is.