Saturday, January 4, 2020

REVIEW: 'Dracula' - Sister Agatha Helps Jonathan Understand His Brutal Encounter with Dracula in 'The Rules of the Beast'

Netflix's Dracula - Episode 1.01 "The Rules of the Beast"

An unconventional nun helps a tormented lawyer piece together the details of his doomed business trip to Count Dracula's castle.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Netflix's Dracula.

"The Rules of the Beast" was written by Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffat and directed by Jonny Campbell

This series adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic novel presents the audience with a story already in progress. That's not an uncommon place to start. Dracula has lived for centuries after all. However, it has to be much more intimate than that. The series has to feel the burden to distinguish itself from the many other tellings of these characters while exploring something new with the concept. The execution means that Jonathan Harker is detailing his horrific experience being trapped in Dracula's castle for the first half of this premiere. That gives a sense of structure and order even if it's also designed to throw the viewer off balance. It's a story being told to us. There is some distance in that action. It's not happening at this precise moment in time. It's already a lived experience for Jonathan as he tells it to Sister Agatha at the convent. Sure, it means there is a sensational topic introduced right off the bat with Agatha wondering if Jonathan and Dracula had sex. That's certainly a new and refreshing way to tell this story. It's not what ultimately occurs though. Instead, it's mostly just important that Dracula refers to everyone he turns into vampires as his brides. That's the term he uses to condone a sense of proximity while still highlighting how they are continually beholden to him. He lords that power over them which actually makes that term even more condescending and patronizing. Jonathan shares this story not fully aware of just how deep his connection to Dracula actually goes. He believes he has already shared his story on paper. Now, he is sharing it once more in order to help Agatha understand the parts that were more vague. And yes, it's clear that something is perilous about this world at all times. Dracula quickly keeps Jonathan as his prisoner. Dracula reverses in age while Jonathan grows weaker with each passing day. Jonathan seems to be trapped in this place unable to escape. Even when he discovers the map left behind by the architect, it's still a dangerous journey. One where behind every corner could lead to something lethal. The coffins in the basement are home to creatures that would love their freedom and the opportunity to feast on blood once more. Meanwhile, there are prisoners upstairs whom Dracula is largely running experiments on. He too is curious about the science behind his immortality. He too doesn't have all the answers. Sure, he can tease the world at large that he knows better than them. He understands why religious visuals have such a profound effect on him. It's not for any of the traditional reasons though. And yet, that provides Agatha with a true sense that God does exist. She has lost her faith and has remained a nun out of habit. She has committed to this relationship even though she has lost her way. She helps Jonathan come to terms with what has happened to him. She is clearly armed with more knowledge than anyone is aware of as well because she is a member of the Van Helsing family. That may prove that she is the best hope at stopping whatever Dracula hopes to achieve in this world. She knows that he has to be invited into buildings in order for him to enter. She witnesses the horrors just like everyone else. The nuns may remain powerful but Dracula can still pinpoint the weakness in this building. That once again stems from Jonathan. He has been resilient. In fact, Dracula even noted that he came back from the dead with much more energy than any of his previous victims. Jonathan is special in that way. He does his best to avoid the temptation of drinking his fiancé's blood. He wants to rely on the special connection they share. He doesn't want that to be lost simply because his very nature has changed. He fears that it has though. He is tricked into sharing this story with her. That isn't all that engaging as a twist. It mostly just makes it clear that she will have a role to play in all of this as well. Mina and Agatha are the only survivors at the convent by the end of this hour. Dracula's rampage is really quite effective. It's nasty to see just how gory the show wants to be. This version of Dracula can assume the shape of animals and even humans. He can move around as a fox in addition to a bat. He can also present in Jonathan's body in order to trick Mina into giving him an invitation into Agatha's room of protection. That is truly sinister. Agatha may have welcomed all of this chaos and destruction into this environment. She understands the punishment she must face for that heinous crime. She remains elusive in her true ambitions through this research. She may only get confirmation about a few rumors here. She will have more questions moving forward. But that's only if she survives this fateful encounter with the infamous vampire. The episode ending in that place may suggest that he has some grand purpose for Agatha and Mina that isn't the same as the death that awaits all the other characters present here. And yet, that also highlights how the show isn't quick to get to the point. It shows that Dracula's grand scheme will provide the season with its focus even though it's so destructively mysterious. There isn't any consistency elsewhere that can potentially rise up to stop him in time either.