“Dracula” (NBC television series)
Episode 2: “A Whiff Of Sulfur”(air-date 1/11/2013)
Director: Steven Schill
Writer: Daniel Knauf
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jessica De Gouw, Thomas Kretschmann, Kathie McGrath, Lucy Smurfit, Nonso Anozie, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen
So, after the initial promise that came from the first episode, NBC’s “Dracula” starts to get into the spirit of things by downplaying quite a lot. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of sexuality and bloodshed to spare, but several stories begin to take off- Grayson beginning his grand scheme of revenge with a side of investigating his new lover Lady Jayne who he has been suspicious of all along but that didn’t stop him from giving her a Transylvanian Hello, Van Helsing continues to make good on the debt that he owes Dracula, Mina finds herself challenged by something that she does not entirely understand (which Grayson is only too happy to assist with) and Mina’s bethrothed Harker makes a deal with the devil… so to speak.
Although “A Whiff of Sulfur” doesn’t have the initial bludgeon it’s predecessor did, the episode proved that it wasn’t afraid of just going completely out there and proving that if you honestly tuned in to this series expecting realism, you will be sorely disappointed. Although this particular installment was more about set-up than performance, I can see several entertaining plot threads coming mostly involving social politics, blackmail and even some gender role observations. I have (I suppose) got used to Meyers’s Grayson complete with his lukewarm American accent, but given this series made it obvious it wasn’t gonna be Stoker’s original tale, I’ve accepted that. Victoria Smurfit continues to being a bright beacon in her role- considering this female character could have been just another Token Hot Warrior Chick, the actress loans her own charm and standing to the role and it pays off handsomely.
I have a feeling that without her, Lady Jayne would have been Lady Layme. Granted, most of her scenes in this episode involve her and Grayson rolling around PG-style in bed with the hint of a threesome- during congress, Grayson morphs Jayne’s face with his dead wife and her reincarnation Mina. The sequence acts more as eye-candy more than anything else, but it was an interesting concept nonetheless to show just how obsessed Grayson is with Mina and the fact that his lost love has returned to this world. Speaking of Mina, Mina intends on becoming a surgeon, yes, a lady doctor! She is incredibly nervous about her upcoming exams and despite the fact she is confident she is intelligent, she isn’t sure if she can prove it to her decidedly patriarchial peers. She hits up Grayson for assistance and he spares no expense in helping her every which way he can, showing her that HE has faith in her abilities, something she felt she had not recieved from her own husband to be. Despite the careless behaviour Grayson exhibits (a soon to be married woman hopping around with a handsome, foreign stranger? By jove!), Mina proves herself to her examiners as Grayson watches with a sense of quiet triumph.
Another standout was Oliver Jackson-Cohen- although the young actor has skill and charisma, he doesn’t get nearly enough opportunity to show it. With Harker here however, apart from his good manners and polite speech, there is a desperate, determined social climber underneath, wanting to prove himself to those who count, and will stop at nothing to attain these goals. I honestly hope Harker will factor into the story at large because the character in other adaptations has always got the short end of the stick- et tu, Keanu. Also, kudos for the writers for not making Harker a saintly sort- there is one scene of which Harker has got a little arseholishly drunk and he laughs in Mina’s face about the aspirations she has to pursue an actual career. Cohen showed he could play a dick in BBC’s “World Without End” but here the arse-ante is upped- great work!
I must admit, I still don’t feel any chemistry between Grayson and Mina given their relationship will no doubt become the main one through time, but despite the scenes they have together, I’m not feeling any spark, no heat or attraction. Perhaps Grayson is still testing the waters so to speak, but he was so easily able to seduce Jayne without a second though, so why not plant the idea of suggestion into Mina’s mind? Granted, these things take time, but we need an opening first, and I personally felt there honestly wasn’t one.
I must also add that barring Grayson’s overt relationship with Jayne, the other connection I really enjoy is the strange alliance between Grayson and the good doctor. It’s not so much a friendship, but it is more like paying a life debt- it is an account that must be settled both ways before the transaction may cease, and right now, Grayson has Van Helsing under his thumb and Van Helsing knows it. At the same time, Van Helsing poses as Grayson’s voice of reason- Grayson’s volitile and passionate hatred of the Order (who were responsible for the death of his beloved) has led him to time and again to spurt rash words before his ally counsels him to think with a clear mind. In the pilot episode, Van Helsing soothes Grayson after such an outburst by saying “Every move you make is a another card face up on the table.” And you know what? Dracula listens to this and takes it to heart.
Kretschmann proves once again his skill as an actor by transforming a decidedly two dimensional character on the page and transforming him into a whole being. Kretschmann obviously thought hard on how he should portray this rendition of Van Helsing rather than just take the easy route and resort to simple latent insanity. In “A Whiff Of Sulfur”, he manages to keep his incisors out of necks… well, save for ploughing Jayne. Ultimately, I wonder what will happen after this agreement has reached it’s end, obviously Van Helsing must answer to his calling, and Grayson would no way in Hell submit to a messy fate without a fight, but perhaps a sense of grudging mutual respect will remain… not to draw comparisons, but when I think of that dynamic between two male characters, my mind automatically travels to Batman and the Joker- opposites but in a way the same. I dunno, maybe I’m reading way too far into something that so far isn’t really there, but it’s fun to speculate, yes no?
Speaking of homoeroticism, we bear witness to a high-class homosexual romance between two side characters- the son of a local nobleman by the name of Davenport, and a young Lord Laurent who surprisingly may end up being Grayson’s chief foes- both young men are powerful and are far more curious than they have any right to be concerning all members of society, including Grayson. Given their position in high society, their scandalous behaviour would be good enough to cart them off to jail were it not for the fact both of their families have money and connections who keep things on the hush-hush. You have to remember homosexuality was common in those days, but it was also considered a moral sin- if you were caught indulging in a bit of buggery with young Lord Whoever, you’d be sent to jail and shunned by your own people. Given just how these stakes are, what wouldn’t these two men do in order to keep their clandestine affair secret? Methinks somehow they will end up using Mina to bait Grayson.
Apart from the continuation of the lush visuals we were privy to in episode one, “A Whiff Of Sulfur” is beginning to show it’s more dramatic colours, with some inspired storytelling, some truly stand-out performances and an overall assurance of competance. Admittedly this sophomore episode is not as spectacular and eye-catching, and while it is still too early to tell if this series will be GREAT, it’s showing that it’s gonna give it a damn good try.
Review written by Bea Harper
See Bea’s Review for Episode 1 HERE