The Dark Compass Directs Dracula Way Off Course

And it’s gone. Dracula built a lot of good will and potential over two episodes. And then Gatiss and Moffat went all Dracula AD on their story, staking that potential rather abruptly. Following its final episode, critics and fans alike expressed their discontent with the Netflix series creative choices. Indeed, Dracula’s unnecessary jump to a modern day setting managed to suck out much of the Gothic fun previously established.

The Dark Compass Takes Dracula Back to the Future

At Blood Vessel’s conclusion, Dracula emerged from the ocean, arriving in England where a woman who looked a lot like Sister Agatha, along with a military task force, greeted him. The Dark Compass quickly brings us up to speed. Dracula laid dormant for 127 years on the ocean’s floor. During that time, Mina formed the Jonathan Harker Foundation to wait for the Count. Our Sister Agatha is in fact her great grand-niece, Zoe Van Helsing. Initially quite taken with our technological advancements, Dracula toys with the soldiers before shooting one in the head and escaping. After terrorizing a woman in her home while simultaneously marveling over society’s comforts, Van Helsing the Foundation re-capture Dracula.

Even the undead have rights.

One interesting tidbit that emerges from Dracula’s brief escape – Zoe Van Helsing has cancer. Moreover, her blood is lethal to the Count. Inside the Foundation, Dracula acclimates to his surroundings. He even learns the joys of using an iPad, which he uses to contact lawyer, Frank Renfield. In an amusing turn of events, human rights – another societal advancement – allow Renfield to secure Dracula’s release. Even the undead have rights. Now free and wealthy from the money he secured from the Demeter’s ill-fated passengers, Dracula settles into a penthouse with the intent of finding a new bride.

How Dracula Got His Groove Back … and Then Lost It

As Dracula tangles with the Jonathan Harker Foundation, The Dark Compass introduces us to Dr Jack Seward and his unrequited love interest, Lucy Westenra. In this version of Dracula, Seward is a psychologist for the Harker Foundation, while Lucy is a death-obsessed, free-spirited. Like Stoker’s novel, Lucy dismisses Seward’s interests, initially preferring the company of Texan Quincy Morris. In spite of the series’ contemporary night club settings, Gatiss and Moffat maintain Lucy’s wilder, risky personality. When Dracula finds her, enamored with her carefree dismissal of mortality, she willingly opens her veins to him.

Everything culminates with a final confrontation in Dracula’s penthouse with Zoe Van Helsing, Lucy, and Jack Seward. Lucy dies and she’s cremated – Dracula neglected to tell her that cremation was a ‘no no’ for vampires. Now horribly disfigured, Lucy, who initially thinks she is still beautiful, is horrified by her true appearance. She begs a heartbroken Jack to stake her, and he obliges. Before arriving, Zoe Van Helsing drank a vial of Dracula’s blood. The Count’s blood creates a psychic link between Zoe and Sister Agatha, who urges the dying Van Helsing to confront Dracula. A lot of things happen in The Dark Compass’ final moments. Zoe strips away much of Dracula’s mystique when pulls drapes, letting in sunlight, which doesn’t burn the Count. Her revenge on the Count is exposing him as a coward who simply fears death. As Zoe dies, Dracula drinks her poisoned blood, thus killing himself.

The Dark Compass Leaves You With a Bad Taste in Your Mouth

Just exactly where Dracula goes wrong is hard to pinpoint. Despite Claes Bang’s fantastic portrayal of the undead vampire, the Netflix series drains everything that made the character enigmatic. Not content to have Dracula be the ‘Prince of Darkness’, Gatiss and Moffat reduce him to an impulsive, starved creature addicted to blood and afraid of truth. Any mystique associated with the character is further dismissed with the series’ inexplicable ending. First and foremost, Dracula accepting mortality and committing suicide goes against everything we know about the character – including what was developed in this series. It’s an ending that also cheapens the efforts of Agatha and Zoe Van Helsing. None of this remotely addresses just the sheer anti-climatic nature of the ending itself.

Any mystique associated with the character is further dismissed with the series’ inexplicable ending.

Some of this problem stems from the increasingly convoluted vampire mythology weaved across the series. Yes, Dracula re-invigorated much of the Count’s mythology. Yet its creators insisted on tinkering with things that were just fine. Just how Dracula creates his minions – why are some feral and others more sentient – is only further muddled in The Dark Compass. One gets the impression that the series creators tried too hard to subvert Stoker’s story. This brings us to another set of problems with this final episode.

The Dark Compass Underserves Old and New Characters Alike

Not surprisingly, critics and fans levelled the same complaints at Gatiss and Moffat’s fourth season of Sherlock. At times, it feels like the writers tried too hard to subvert the subject matter. Too much emphasis is seemingly placed on being clever rather than telling a satisfying story. Gatiss and Moffat re-work several characters from Stoker’s novel into The Dark Compass. For instance, they re-imagine Dracula’s servant, Reinfield, as the Count’s present-day sleazy attorney. Now a night-clubbing party girl, Lucy Westerna is still vain and recklessly carefree.

With two episodes of previous story developed, Dracula doesn’t have time to build satisfying arcs for old or new characters.

None of these changes are necessarily bad. But The Dark Compass crams in all these new characters and backstories into a final episode. With two episodes of previous story developed, Dracula doesn’t have time to build satisfying arcs for old or new characters. And it’s unfortunate. One of the few bright spots of The Dark Compass was Lucy Westenra’s tragic end. That the moments still emotionally resonates owes to Lydia West’s performance.

Dracula Squanders Early Promise with Disappointing Conclusion

Dracula built so much promise in The Rules of the Beast and Blood Vessel. Much of the blame for its disappointing conclusion belongs to the decision to leap forward in time. It’s a creative choice that necessitated jamming in new characters, relationships, and stories. Arguably, Dracula’s biggest sin was its choice for the Count’s demise. Re-imagining old intellectual properties by subverting expectations is fine. Sadly, Dracula betrays much of the character’s defining traits. Personally, I want my Dracula to be ‘The Prince of Darkness’, not an undead soul suffering an existential crisis.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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