Dracula Review: The Dark Compass

by thethreepennyguignol

You know, I can’t think of many literary characters who’ve had a worse time of it than Lucy Westenra.

Not just what happens to her in the original book, of course, though that’s pretty grim as it is – but rather, the complete missing of the point that seems to come with so many of her character adaptations/assassinations. In Bram Stoker’s novel, Lucy is the ultimate innocent – sometimes to her detriment, but nonetheless – in love with a number of men at once, who truly wants to avoid hurting any of them. But, you know, since this is pop culture and God forbid a woman like more than a man at a time, in most of her on-screen versions, Lucy is basically a lusty tart stringing along a bunch of men at once before she barrels head-first into Dracula’s cock lap.

And, with Stephen Moffat’s track record for this sort of thing, I didn’t expect anything particularly ground-breaking, but damn. Lucy’s appearance in the final episode of Dracula, as the titular vamp makes the jump to modern day and stoats about London for a bit while the writers figure out his final act, is probably one of the worst missings-of-the-point of a character I’ve seen since – well, since Irene Adler in this duo’s version of Sherlock, now you mention it.

She gets engaged to men she barely likes, cheats on them, accuses past hook-ups of stalking her, gazes off mournfully into the London night and moans about how hard it is to be pretty in dialogue that sounds distinctly like what a couple of men who had no idea what the actual trials of being perceived as conventionally attractive manifest as for a woman of Lucy’s age. Oh, and then she gets murdered, comes back to life, and then horrendously burned alive, after which she is confronted with the image of her hideous burned body and insists that her old flame murder her because she can’t live without her beauty. It’s…it’s bad. It’s real bad. I get that modernising an old story and older characters can be tough, but wouldn’t it have made more sense for Lucy to be, I don’t know, polyamorous or something instead of a vain, cruel asshole?

In fact, it’s probably the worst thing about this finale. So, in theory, this review should be all on the ups from here, but there’s still plenty that, if not bad, is at least bleh. Dracula’s machinations through modern-day Britain are relatively boring and uninspired, and oh my gosh his apartment is the tackiest thing I’ve seen since I last checked out my own wardrobe.

Agatha Van Helsing has morphed into a modern-day scientist who is intent on bringing Dracula down for good – oh, and she’s also dying of cancer, though, like the rest of the afflicted women in this show, is looking remarkably good even as she reaches the end. Oh, on that note – amazing how Johnathan turned into a hideous half-human shadow of himself after getting sick, but Agatha and Lucy, who suffer the same fate of being fed on by Dracula, just get a bit pale and stay relatively hot, huh?

Honestly, I feel like most of my criticisms for this episode are pretty broken-up, and that’s a reflection of what this third act felt like as a whole – a tick-box to squeeze in all the characters who had been missing from the previous iterations, fitting in the greatest-hits of the book before the story was complete.

It’s not quite as boring as the previous ninety-minute outing, but it feels disjointed, messy – by the time the ending rolls around to announce that Dracula was actually making up his weaknesses the whole time (don’t think about it too much, we’re almost done here, just nod and smile and they’ll let us go), it feels more like a gotcha than a culmination of major plot elements that have led us to this moment. Nothing has led to this, and as a result, it feels far more like Gatiss and Moffat trying to out-clever their own audience than it does an earnest attempt to explore different angles to this classic story.

Zoe and Dracula have some erotic dream-sex, because what’s the point of a deep long-term connection unless it culminates in boning, they die, we’re out. Thank God. I thought they might be revving up for a second season.

And we’re done, thank goodness. I didn’t expect to love this version of Dracula, not really, but I really didn’t think it would be quite as boring as the one that we got. If Moffat and Gatiss are good for one thing, it’s style – but even that seemed in short supply as a modern-day take sucked the last (ha) of the glamour and beauty from the sets and the stories so far. I really hope that this serves as a jumping-off point for the excellent Claes Bang into more prominent roles in pop culture, but other than that, I think I’m happy to leave Dracula (2020) right where it belong: buried in a pile of its own dirt, as far underground as we can get it.

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(header image via British Period Dramas)