There are some abominations that should not be seen by humankind—some things so horrible and misshapen, so ill-conceived and terrible to behold that they should be cast out. Destroyed. Buried with a stake driven through their heart so that they will never walk the earth again.
Dracula is one of those things.
Oh, not necessarily the original literary character. Bram Stoker's Dracula—the undead granddaddy responsible for moving vampires from frightening folklore into the world of entertainment—bares a certain academic sheen and, as such, is probably good for a responsible reimagining every couple of decades or so.
But not this one. No, no, not this one.
NBC has taken much of the monster out of Dracula, turning Stoker's evil, rat-toothed adversary into an angsty, lusty antihero. This vampire's not so much cursed by God as merely misunderstood—Dexter with a sensitivity to sunlight. He's really fighting for the common man, see—though he admittedly has to suck the blood of some to keep moving forward.
Most people don't even know him as Dracula. Here, in 1896 London, he's masquerading as Alexander Grayson, a fabulously wealthy American tycoon who wants to provide the world with cheap, wireless energy. When he speaks, he speaks as a man of science—railing against attitudes that smack of the Dark Ages, when "culture and learning [was] eclipsed by barbaric ritual and war." Dracula suggests he's a more enlightened being, more "evolved." And he's come to town to help evolution along (perhaps in multiple senses).
Ah, what cultural irony this evokes. A vampire—stories of which were a product of the so-called Dark Ages and whose entire existence is predicated on superstition—rejecting the very things that birthed him. Once this became clear in the pilot, you'd think Dracula would just vanish in a puff of illogic.
Alas, he does not, and clearly this Dracula isn't just in town to bite a few necks. He and his secret business partner, Abraham Van Helsing (his traditional archenemy and the guy who kills him in the book and in most of the movies) aim to take down a shadowy, Illuminati-like organization called the Order of the Dragon. Back when Dracs was a young 'un, the Order was apparently tasked with waging war and spreading a particularly brutal form of Christian evangelism throughout Europe—an evangelism, it's suggested, that landed Dracula's beloved wife on a burning pyre. Now, a few hundred years later, the Order's still around—only they've punted the piety in exchange for big business. They're oil men now, and they don't like Dracula's frightening ideas of conjuring electricity out of thin air.
While the series doesn't completely turn a blind eye to Dracula's penchant for murdering innocents, it's members of the Order who are the real villains here. (Another irony: The historical Dracula, Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, actually belonged to something called the Order of the Dragon—a group that did defend Christendom in a time of Islamic incursion and perceived heresy. The name Dracul, in fact, was taken by Vlad's father because he was so proud of his membership.) Dracula and Van Helsing want to bring down the Order for all its past misdeeds by sucking it dry, both economically (by eliminating the need for its precious oil) and individually (with Dracula slaying any board member who ticks him off).
Dracula is a Frankenstein's monster of a show—a stitched-together mishmash of adolescent, CW-style storytelling with HBO-level pretension, of Gothic romance, modern excess and a dollop of steampunk. Early on, Dracula exudes a certain anti-religious vibe, too. And it could be one of the most salacious shows on network television. Blood is spilled. Dresses are lifted. Groans are uttered in sexual pleasure and violent pain, sometimes simultaneously.
Yes, I know that the original book was besotted with (for its day) "problematic content" designed to make its Victorian-era readers swoon and gasp. Thus, Dracula has always been, on some level, about sex and violence. But come on, now. NBC makes the whole thing feel slimy. As Slate's Willa Paskin writes in her (largely positive) review, "We've had a lot of emo vampires, but not a lot who seem genuinely pervy."
Dracula? Drecula's more like it.
"The Blood Is the Life"
Dracula—a desiccated corpse punctured by iron spikes—is revived when a man is killed above his tomb and blood pours over his face and into his mouth. We see a woman burned at the stake and pictures of people being impaled. And Dracula kills at least twice in this episode. He snatches one victim from his front door, leaving behind a spatter of blood. The body is later shown in a coffin; someone slices its head off, puts it in a hatbox and delivers it to his employers, the mouth stuffed with garlic. Dracula fights with another man on the rooftop, ignoring his assailant's cross and slicing through his neck with a sword. (We see the wound and lots of blood.)
Dracula also seems to have sex with a woman in the street while standing. She moans and pants as the two gyrate up and down. But when Dracula removes his mouth from her neck, it's covered in blood. He has an intimate encounter with a woman in a private opera box. The two kiss, and Dracula flings up her dress and puts his hand between her legs. He kisses the top of her breast as she moans.
Women dress provocatively, bouncing around in gowns without straps and baring lots of cleavage. They talk in their skivvies. Dracula leers at Mina. He says that he's now "as American as God, guns and bourbon." Characters drink wine, champagne and whiskey. They say "d‑‑n" once and misuse God's name three or four times.