The very first scene of the very first episode shows Professor Abraham Van Helsing breaking into Dracula’s tomb with a partner. Then he murders his partner and uses the man’s blood to revive Count Dracula, saying, “The blood is the life. You must be so thirsty.”
(Gif taken from GIPHY)
In case you haven’t read the book or any of my other Dracula posts, here’s a synopsis of the book, by Bram Stoker. A vampire named Count Dracula decides to move from Transylvania to London so that he can drink the blood of the millions of unsuspecting people. Jonathan, a solicitor who just passed his exam, comes to help him with the move, and gradually figures out that he’s dealing with a vampire. Dracula imprisons him and then goes to London, where he attacks a woman named Lucy who happens to be best friends with Jonathan’s fiancé, Mina. One thing leads to another and a group of people connected to Lucy come together to hunt the vampire before he kills again.
The plot of the TV series goes like this: Dracula moves to London with his manservant, R.M. Renfield, posing as an American businessman named Alexander Grayson. To the rest of British society, he’s an egotistical genius trying to make electric light a viable source of energy. Little do they know that he’s actually a vampire who wants to use his resources to bring down the group that turned him into a monster in the first place: the Order of the Dragon. Meanwhile, Dracula meets a woman named Mina who is studying to be a doctor and realizes that she looks and sounds exactly like a reincarnation of his dead wife. Although he doesn’t want to put her in danger and she’s engaged to Jonathan, they fall in love.
Can this truly be considered an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel when it’s got almost nothing in common with the source material? They both take place in London and they both involve characters named Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, Van Helsing, Lucy, and Renfield. They both contain the lines, “The blood is the life!” and “Welcome to my house! Come freely. Go safely. And leave something of the happiness that you bring.” (Ooo, one of my favorite lines! I’m not joking- despite everything else that they threw out, the writers included one of my favorite lines from the book!)
Can you imagine Warner Bros. trying to do something like this with Harry Potter? They’d never get away with it.
I planned to go on a full-scale, “Bat Credit Card” level rant about this show, but now I’m both burnt out by Dracula Month and feeling guilty about hating something that so many people worked hard on for so long. If you’re not a passionate fan of the book, you may simply enjoy it on its own terms, as a television show. I just can’t enjoy it because I love Stoker’s character so much, and they got so warped and twisted in the following ways:
- Van Helsing and Dracula are allies. They’re not friends, but again, Van Helsing is the one who brings the Count back to life and endangers countless people for a revenge plot against the Order that murdered his family. All of the obvious issues aside, book!Van Helsing didn’t have any kids. He alluded that he was married to a woman who was mentally ill, but doesn’t give her name or anything else about her.
- Lucy is a manipulative, selfish jerk. She’s also in love with Mina. So she gets Jonathan to cheat on Mina with her in the hopes of breaking up their engagement. I hate these types of story arcs almost as much as I hate the trope where someone tries to blackmail the murderer in a mystery. Amazingly, this plan doesn’t work! Mina finds out and she never wants to see Lucy again!
- Renfield doesn’t appear to have any mental illness. He’s basically Dracula’s right-hand man. While I do like his character in the context of the show, it’s a shame that this changed because the book version of Renfield was so much more complex and interesting.
- Arthur, Seward, and Quincey don’t appear at all. Lucy flirts with a guy named Alistair, but we never find out much about him. To be fair, Coppola’s version showed that having all three suitors won’t necessarily improve the film if they aren’t given enough to distinguish themselves. But in a TV series, the writers would have had more time to flesh them out, so it’s a shame that they got left out.
- Dracula comes across as a progressive who values Mina’s independence and intelligence. Jonathan doesn’t appreciate her enough. Their wedding almost gets called off when she overhears him bragging to his friends about how he plans to turn her into a good little housewife and end her medical career after they get married. He does feel bad about it afterwards, but UGH.
- Van Helsing finally gets his revenge by kidnapping the children of one of his enemies and then turning them into vampires. He whistles happily to himself as he prepares to send a ransom note to the grieving parents.
- Mina is in love with Dracula and the reincarnation of his dead wife. The book did not mention a dead wife (except the three undead brides, who don’t appear in the show), and Mina wasn’t a reincarnation of anyone related to Dracula.
My friend Alie suggested that we refer to this Van Helsing as “What the Hel-Sing” instead. I’ve continued the trend with “Non-athan Harker” and “Renfake.” If anyone’s got clever versions of Mina and Lucy’s names, I’m all ears. Dracula can just keep being Alexander Grayson.
I will say this: I found that I can sort-of tolerate the Dracula/Mina romance in the TV show more than I can in the Langella and Oldman versions. That’s because “Alexander Grayson” doesn’t resemble Count Dracula at all, aside from being a vampire who has no problems with killing people to get what he wants. He doesn’t turn Lucy into a vampire until the penultimate episode, and only after finding out that she broke Mina’s heart. He even decides to sacrifice his own desires to help Mina and Jonathan patch up their relationship earlier in the season. There’s no scene where he drags Mina off into a corner. He’s always polite to her and she responds with enthusiasm. They just aren’t the Dracula and Mina from Stoker’s novel.
There’s also a major new character introduced to the story, Lady Jayne. She’s a member of the Order of the Dragon who is hunting Dracula. She doesn’t know that Dracula is actually the man that she loves, Alexander Grayson. It’s nice to see another female character, but she reflects how much the plot changed from book to TV. I can’t really evaluate how well she fits in Stoker’s universe because it’s not Stoker’s universe. At least she’s not a badly-written character or anything.
The sets look very nice, it’s well-acted, and the music’s fine. But it’s a horrible adaptation of the book. The writers might as well have changed all of the characters’ names and nobody would’ve guessed that it had anything to do with Count Dracula or Bram Stoker.