“Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me;
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.”
-from “Goblin Market” (pub. 1862) by Christina Rossetti
Episode 3 of NBC’s Dracula concerns itself with various kinds of contamination, impurities, and poisonings. In the first shot, a beautiful flowering tree with pale blossoms stands in contrast to the dark stone of a medieval courtyard. Meanwhile, a bunch of knights beat up a chained Dracula and tie him to a stake. They slit his throat and (Spoiler! Big plot twist!) it turns out that it was The Order of the Dragon that made him a vampire.
It’s always seemed kind of weird to me that a monster hunter would be equally concerned with concealing the existence of the monster as ending the existence of the monster. But this is an incredibly common trope across lots of media – the slayers of evil are often co-conspirators with evil. Ironically, they act as if they have as much to lose from the exposure of the supernatural as the supernatural itself. For reasons that are very rarely elaborated upon, the “good guys” are contaminated by the goal they share with their enemy, the secrecy, the suspicion of humanity’s ability to believe, to understand.
The Order is no exception to this trope – they employ “Hunters” and “Huntresses” of vampires, but also don’t want anyone to know about vampires. In the pilot, they refer to how they disguised a recent outbreak as the work of “Jack the Ripper.” But it’s kind of refreshing that these monster hunters actually have a good reason for hiding the evidence – they are the original creators of the evil they’re hunting down. So in this case, they’re not contaminated by working towards the same end as their enemy, but they are contaminated by their responsibility for him.
In the present, Dracula plays piano and talks about the “Huntress” Lady Jane with Renfield. Like the literary character that inspired him, this vampire is a monster of contrasting culture and savagery, ruthlessness and charm. He is horrific not only because he is capable of hiding his evil, but because he is sometimes so competently human. We might imagine that he is human on some level that transcends his malevolence, but that he decides to be a monster anyway. The worst horror is not his pure evil, but its impurity, the way he is contaminated by some kind of humanity.
Dracula tells Renfield his plan to ascertain the nature of Lady Jane’s affiliation with the Order. He is absolutely confident that because “she is a female,” he can manipulate her by continuing their sexual affair. And this certainly appears to be the case, as Lady Jane acts completely oblivious that the “Alexander Grayson” she screws at night is the vampire she hunts by day. Intimacy conceals what is very close; sex is a kind of intoxicant that dulls the senses.
To dull Mina’s pain after her breakup with Jonathan, Lucy takes her out to dine and get drunk with some “delicious officers.” We never actually see these delicious officers onscreen, just Mina and Lucy drinking to excess and embracing each other.
Meanwhile, at Bethlem Royal Hospital, an inmate eats white flowers to numb her pain, like the lotus-eaters in Tennyson’s poem:
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence—ripen, fall, and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.
Lady Jane visits the hospital to ask a doctor there for a new drug to stimulate her “Seers.” Van Helsing gets wind of this, paralyzes the Seers with the wrong drug, then bashes their heads in for good measure.
At the Empire And Colonial Metallurgy company, Jonathan and Renfield meet with the businessman in charge and continue Grayson’s absurd but emotionally gratifying pattern of making outrageous demands, and then humiliating or punishing people who refuse them. After Jonathan attempts to criticize the businessman for insulting Renfield, Renfield harshly scolds him, saying that he should “never again presume to defend [him] to anyone.” Even when mixed up in Dracula’s complex schemes, Renfield seems to insist on a certain autonomy or purity, uncontaminated by “help” like Jonathan’s.
Lord Laurent is in serious trouble with Browning and the Order for selling his shares to Dracula. He says goodbye to his lover Daniel Davenport, telling him that they cannot simply escape, and that he will not ruin his family’s name by “coming clean.” He willingly goes to the Order’s secret headquarters to accept his fate. He is executed, slowly and painfully, while a horrified Daniel looks on. Later, Daniel shoots himself, but not before writing a suicide note naming Grayson. His father (also a member of the Order), discovers the note with his body, and presumably will be on the warpath in the near future. While the historical setting of Dracula gives it license to do so, I just couldn’t help wishing that the show could have actually developed its gay characters instead of killing them off to advance a subplot. (TV Tropes calls it “burying your gays” ( http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuryYourGays) and it’s so, so tired.
Mina and Lucy’s bender continues, as they experiment with the “Bohemian nightlife” and caressing each other’s faces. Tripping out on absinthe, Mina has a vision of the blossoming tree in the courtyard, confirming that she shares some kind of psychic link as well as a physical resemblance with Ilona, Dracula’s murdered wife. When she wakes up, Drac gallantly rescues Mina from a creepy bro-hemian poet; they have an intimate conversation before Lucy interrupts, compares them to “Heathcliff and Cathy on the moors,” and then gets Mina out of there quickly before their weird romantic energy goes any further.
But it’s unlikely that it will go further, at least for the time being – Drac is still determined to stay at a distance for the vague moralistic reasons he hinted at in Episode 2. He seems to see Mina as more of a ward than a romantic interest, and Jonathan as a pawn rather than a rival. In fact, he even helps the couple find their way back to each other, pointing out to Jonathan that his disapproval of Mina’s professional ambitions are hypocritical given his own desire to “rise above his station” and “defy social convention.” Consequently, Mina proposes to Jonathan, and they get back together. He doesn’t have the ring he bought with him, so he gives her his crucifix instead, which surely, definitely is not going to be important at any point in the future. Definitely.
Drac is either playing a very long game here, or is becoming less demonic than he’d like to admit, contaminated by the human game pieces he manipulates. He admits that he’s surprised by his “good deed,” and isn’t completely sure of his own motives. He may be a vampire thirsty for vengeance, but ultimately he’s simply not immune to empathy.
Mad Moll Green writes in Los Angeles and Vancouver. She loves horror movies, comic books, and ironic spandex.