Dracula: "Let There Be Light"
B+

Dracula: "Let There Be Light"

It’s hard to say what the creative discussion in the early days of developing Dracula were, but one would hope their intention was not to entirely defang the mystique of the story over the course of ten hours. Unfortunately, many times it felt like that was the case. While Dracula had its moments in the first few episodes, the second half of the season suffered from the fact that as time went on, this narrative approach to the character as an alternate energy magnate was, well, sucking the life out of the story. When you have a show about the most powerful vampire who ever existed, and weekly plots revolve around attending a board meeting, winning an art auction, organizing a hospital dance or trying to obtain a permit from the Board of Health, there’s a definite sense that something has gone wrong in the execution. (This affliction is also known as Phantom Menace Syndrome, where a world that has plenty of opportunities for excitement chooses to fixate on largely economic plot points.) It also didn’t help that most of the romances surrounding the show grew increasingly dull as the series went on, a series of love triangles bogged down in leaden dialogue.

However, to the show’s credit, as the third act took place it started to feel like the writers had come to the same conclusion, and decided to accelerate the timetable for everyone involved. Last week’s “Four Roses” was one of the more encouraging installments as Dracula finally threw up his hands in frustration and decided to go to direct war with the Order, letting his thralls paint the walls of billiard rooms with blood and allowing Van Helsing to pursue his own separate kidnapping agenda. And “Let There Be Light” builds on that momentum to give an explosive end to Grayson’s plan for economic supremacy, devastate the upper echelons of the Order of the Dragon and set an entirely new status quo between the main characters. It’s an exciting, well-designed hour—and one that unfortunately leaves one asking where this excitement was in the last few weeks.

A lot of that excitement stems from the fact that after too much dancing around Dracula and the Order wanting to bring each other down by means of economic warfare, both sides have pulled out all their resources. Dracula has brought nests across all of London, and the Order has called in all their huntsmen to purge said nests. This is the sort of thing you want to see in a show where Dracula’s waging war against an ancient order, where the latter can marshal forces from across the globe who practice different forms of war—a Maori huntsman with a scimitar, a blind Sicilian who uses a Vatican relic to locate nests through visions more suited to a planetarium. In these preparations and fight scenes the show feels engaging again, which is a feeling that’s been sorely lacking in talk of geomagnetism.

Indeed, the show’s embrace of “geomagnetic technology” proved to be a stone around their neck, largely because no one on the show seemed to have any interest in discussing its functionality or ramifications. “Let There Be Light” doesn’t do much to flesh out the topic past that point, and instead opts to focus on the pomp and circumstance surrounding the discovery. Once again, Dracula is prepared to demonstrate his resonator to a populace, and this time he’s going about it with all the showmanship of P.T. Barnum, with marching bands, lighting rigs around the block and a phonograph recording making the rounds. The carnival-like atmosphere surrounding the demonstration proves Dracula never considered the technology as anything other than a plot device, a move that made a lot of the discussion around its import ring hollow as time went on.

Similarly, the Order of the Dragon failed to catch on as the series went on, as despite some early personal ties they never evolved beyond being a batch of interchangeable old rich white guys. It gradually started to become interesting as Jonathan was pulled deeper into their inner circle—even taking their sacred blood oath last week—but that decision felt less about the Order and more a reflection of how betrayed Jonathan felt by Dracula’s schemes. Dracula worked best as a show when it was about personal stakes, and certainly Jonathan was batted around all season to the point that betraying Grayson seemed like the most logical thing to do. It was endemic of Dracula’s flaw: for all his talk about wanting to be human again, he had a keen disregard for virtually all humans.

Keeping friends close is a trick that Dracula failed to achieve all season, as Van Helsing’s had a similarly dramatic break. Thomas Kretschmann’s largely been left all season to seethe in the corner and caution that Dracula stick to the plan, and allowing him to become devious is a much better use of his talents—and a good sign for his future role as an Avengers: Age Of Ultron supporting villain. Having identified Browning as the man responsible for his family’s death and without faith Dracula can pull off their scheme, he literally shatters his alliance by destroying the formulas that allow the vampire to walk in sunlight, throwing vials and reagents against the wall as “Hall Of The Mountain King” plays on in his head. And if that’s not enough, when Renfield shows up he buries a knife deep in the other man’s gut, cockily saying that he’s taken away his ability to ever walk in sunlight.

This hidden rage is used to brutal effect when he confronts Browning in an abandoned house, having lured him there by abducting his children. It’s Dracula’s most effective execution of the Gothic horror tropes to date, as first he manages to get a metaphorical drop on Browning to explain his motivations and then a literal drop as he sends him into the cellar and rains the ransom money on top of him. He reunites the man with his children, but the minute the children emerge from the darkness and offer strangely distant greetings, it’s immediately obvious what’s happened—all the viewer can do his hold their breath and wait for the reveal. Van Helsing is exposed as being almost as horrific as his former partner, willing to transform innocent children into abominations for the purpose of inflicting the worst possible hell on Browning, and then setting the entire house ablaze to close the circle. Small wonder that after getting his vengeance, all he can do is offer the same raw scream he did all those years ago.

And it’s a similar devastation that greets Dracula and company once the Order’s plans to sabotage his grand demonstration come to being. In an echo of the premiere, once again light bulbs come to life with no external assistance—only this time it’s not a successful society event, it’s a disastrous inferno as the device backfires and explodes, killing off a few of the supporting cast (Grayson’s engineer and Jonathan’s oddly accented newspaper friend) and reducing the streets to battlefield status. Once again, it’s a scene that works well because it has a vast quality to it, and there’s an irrevocability to it that

There’s no coming back from this level of failure for his technology—indeed, there’s almost no reason to return to the Grayson persona after this, and no reason why he shouldn’t return to the dark full-time.

It’s in the wreckage of this carnival-like atmosphere that the final confrontation between vampire and huntress takes place. Lady Jayne was easily the most dynamic character all season (ironic given that she’s the only main character not adapted from the original novel), a woman who succeeded in a male-dominated organization and who managed to look damn good beheading the undead in a long leather coat. The encounter between the two is suitably epic, with Dracula disarming her piece by piece until she manages to get the upper hand with a holy dagger—a move that seems to tip the scales until it’s revealed to be one last deception, allowing him to carry out one more impaling as he hurls her against the rubble. While the show wanted us to be more invested in the relationship between Dracula and Mina, the complications and deception between these two was always the most interesting, and it ends in a fashion proportionate to the way it built over the season, a final plea from Jayne to be spared vampirism and a look of regret from Dracula as she expires.

One lover dies and another takes her place, as Mina and Dracula finally admit their feelings for each other and the odd connection they feel through the mysterious Ilona. Your affection for this pairing will probably be dependent on how much chemistry you felt there was between Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Jessica De Gouw, or how willing you were to accept the idea that Mina might well be a reincarnation of his lost love. For my part, I never bought the former and felt they were far too sparing with instances of having Mina deal with the ramifications—as such, my enjoyment was largely based on relief they’d finally made it to this point. That being said, the consummation is executed well, Dracula once again going as far as it can on a cable budget, and the score lends it some emotional weight.

Both are finally at peace with each other, although if they knew what their former allies were up to they’d certainly be less at ease. Van Helsing’s pulled out the vampire slaying kit that’s lain dormant ever since he first awoke Dracula from his prison, and with that alliance broken he’s forging a new one, calling Jonathan to his side with the promise of telling him exactly what he needs to know to destroy his former partner. This is a welcome change from the dusty old conflicts that drove the majority of this season, because there’s raw emotional wounds and a keen understanding as to why these men are so invested. Both Van Helsing and Jonathan who’ve made terrible decisions for what they thought were good reasons, need someone to blame for it, and Dracula is the easiest target. Yes, they allied with him for selfish reasons, but to men as broken as they are, that’s not a variable in the equation.

At time of writing, NBC hasn’t made any decisions on the future of Dracula, and it could go either way—the ratings are fairly dismal, but being an international production there’s a different threshold for success. Given that ambiguity, there’s two different ways to look at “Let There Be Light” and how it frames the series as a whole. If it’s the season finale, it can be seen as a hopeful sign that we’ve moved past the alternate energy narrative and can get down to some proper full-time vampire action with new sides chosen. And if it’s the series finale for Dracula, it’ll stand as an entertaining capper to a show that had some things to recommend it but unfortunately didn’t have enough substance to be memorable.

Episode grade: B+

Season grade: C+

Stray observations:

  • I saved vampire Lucy for discussion down here, given she was barely in the episode. Lucy was one of the most frustrating parts of the season for me, because her various plots had the feel of being original takes on a historically weak character—her attraction to Mina, Lady Jayne taking her as a pupil in the seductive arts—but every time they pulled back and gave Katherine McGrath lines that made Lucy seem not that bright. Dracula turning her into a vampire last week was a great atmospheric moment but felt narratively forced, his accusation that she was a “monster” for toying with Mina’s emotions felt empty as she seemed to barely register on his radar. Hopefully should the show make it to season two, vampire Lucy can step into a more antagonistic role and play excellent mind games on both Mina and Jonathan.
  • Also if the show does come back, I hope Renfield survives his wounds. Nonso Anozie continued to be the most sturdy member of the cast, even though he never regained the prominence he enjoyed in “The Devil’s Waltz.”
  • Once again, all credit to Trevor Morris for his work scoring the series, another example of why he’s one of the best composers scoring for television. Even when the writing failed to build the tension, the score managed to pick up a good part of the slack.
  • I eventually started ignoring Dracula’s terrible American accent, which is good because I feel like Rhys Meyers did too as time went on. This could be explained away by Dracula growing increasingly angry and slipping more frequently, but it continued to deliver some unintentionaly comic moments. Best this week: his faked “Oh no” when Harker admits to killing Davenport.
  • “You slaughtered my family.” “That hardly narrows it down, does it?”

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