I’m Asking, Mr Harper, If You Had Sexual Intercourse With Count Dracula

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but over the last few hours, have had a few thoughts about writing and committing to some stuff. I don’t like the idea of commitments when it comes to writing, especially since I find it takes some of the energy and the creativity out of the artistic experience.

Blahblahblah, I don’t know how truly I believe it myself either. But a guy can try.

After watching just one episode of the BBC/Netflix‘s Dracula, I got back surprisingly more creative drive than I expected.

I was entertained, and I wanted to talk about it and write about it and think about it. It takes a lot for something to do that to me these days, but clearly 2020 is the year I’m meant to get my groove back. #wishfulthinking

Only one episode of the show has been aired as of yet, two more episodes dropping tonight and tomorrow before the show drops internationally on Netflix. Writing this with that in mind, after only one episode airing,I am unsure if this is a good idea: the things that I am writing on this show could be very much subject to change, and maybe I will revisit this tomorrow or the day after.

But after only one episode, I want to write about that one episode and some of the themes and feels that I’ve taken: it remains to be seen if those beats will continue as this story progresses and, if they don’t, then I will be glad to have recorded them based solely on this episode.

To be really and truly honest, I was initially not that impressed. The opening scene features a very fuckked-up looking Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) detained in some hospital-like set-up when approached by Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells) who wants to talk about how and why he’s ended up in this monastery’s care. Agatha is joined by another woman in nun’s clothing (Morfydd Clarke) because obviously no man-and-woman should be left alone.

With this in mind, Agatha plays things tongue in cheek, a bit more Dracula: Dead And Loving It levels of camp than expected from a BBC drama. She then breaks into the letters that Jonathan has sent to his fiancee Mina and asks him about the juicy details he has omitted, the things he doesn’t want Mina to know about.

Like asking if Jonathan had sex with Count Dracula.

It’s a beat that comes from nowhere at such an early part of the narrative; coming from a nun and asked of a very messed up looking hero, this is a jarring moment that doesn’t fit well, one that had me ready to change the channel and give up on this broadcast for trying too hard to be too sexy and remind you that it’s past the watershed.

Aside from Jonathan’s look and the flies drawn to him, there has been no sense of threat at this point, and there is something cold and completely asexual about this scene until Sister Agatha asks her question, a question that seems forced and unnecessary in this world of horror.

By this point, I was somewhat prepared to change the channel and give up before investing in the show’s next four-and-a-half hours. But something about Sister Agatha’s question (and Jonathan’s reaction) had struck my interest: Jonathan’s reaction is not one of shame or disgust, but rather hints at some air of regret or shame or self-disgust, and it was enough of a reaction to keep me watching.

Not that I wanted a sexy vampire story; I watched enough of True Blood to deal with that. But adding some element of queer to the traditional Dracula narrative, now that added something of significant interest.

Jonathan proceeds with his story, his arrival at Castle Dracula where he meets the count himself (Claes Bang) to sort the final paperwork regarding the count’s purchase of land in London. Jonathan expects to leave the next day, but is expected to stay that bit longer to help the count learn the English language and culture.

Dracula is old and infirm, speaking with a thick accent and some uncertainty of the correct words to use, as corrected by Jonathan. Unless, as a vampire, Dracula is using the perfectly correct word; as a viewer who (should) know where this is going, such corrections are subtle, duplicitous meanings that can vary in context. When Dracula approaches Jonathan with this expectation of an extended stay, what comes across is a vaguely sexual beat between these two men and, after Sister Agatha’s queries, it was hard not to see them, especially as this is followed through as Jonathan sleeps, dreaming of his fiancee Mina sitting atop of him, only for Mina to become Dracula.

But of course, that’s only in Jonathan’s dream…

Jonathan’s health declines as he gets lost in the mysteries of the castle and the sounds of what he perceives to be other guests, calling for his help; Dracula, however, grows in health, his spoken word and body language continuing to tease and play with Jonathan, with a usage of body and spoken language that embraces that Dracula is grooming (and, in certain ways, gaslighting) Jonathan.

Similarly, Jonathan’s appearance while talking to Sister Agatha and decline towards this (especially in the make-up and visuals used) carries suggestions of HIV/AIDS imagery and, given the show’s usage of blood effects (later to be addressed and teased in more detail with Sister Agatha), it suggests that this is definitely intentional in the production.

As Jonathan uncover’s the truths behind the other residents of the castle (and of Dracula himself), the two men confront each other face-to-face on the castle’s rooftop at sunset. The staging of the scene plays somewhat romantically, and the language used between both men continues to suggest at some element of desire between the two; it’s a fashion that mirror’s (somewhat) the relationship between Sherlock and Moriarty as seen in the TV show Sherlock, coming from the same creative team of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. When Dracula offers Jonathan some sort of future together only to be declined, Dracula breaks Jonathan’s neck only for Jonathan to rise again with thanks to Dracula’s vampiric influences. There is an element of pride coming from the vampire in Jonathan’s fast and healthy recovery, and the following interactions suggest that this pride should and could be embraced by them both, until Jonathan jumps from the top of Dracula’s castle.

While there have been interactions between Jonathan and the nuns leading up to this point, there is no real element of surprise here that these nuns are interacting with a dead man, with the show transitioning  from a narrative of somewhat camp and queer into one that is barely able to remove its tongue from its cheek.

Sister Agatha continues as a somewhat-all-knowing Mary-Sue who is not in any way shaken by Jonathan nor his story. Neither she nor the unnamed nun next to her are particularly shocked or shaken by the narrative, but such is the second point wherein Dracula takes another step in upping the ante and embracing the camp with the revelation that this nun is, actually, Jonathan’s beloved fiancee Mina. The reveal works well in the camp that the show has already embraced, but in retrospect, is a little bit too manipulative of the viewer.

That Jonathan is unable to recognise the nun-dressed Mina speaks of his mental health and Dracula’s manipulations of him, but I also read it as something different, namely the fact that the relationship between Jonathan and Mina is forced; if Jonathan’s relationship with Dracula is to be read as queer (manipulative or reciprocated as may be) then Mina can be seen as nothing more than a beard for Jonathan.

In fact, earlier in the episode (as Jonathan reads a letter from Mina), she calls him Johnny (slang for condom in most English-speaking countries, right?) and tells him she would totally understand should he fall to temptation by the beautiful women he meets on his journey (specifying women, here.) She reminds him that, on her side, Johnny’s various friends and acquaintances (including a barmaid) are there to keep Mina entertained in his absence should she need them.

On their own, such dialogue reads like the flirtation between a betrothed couple; with the queer hints that have been dropped already, such dialogue comes across that Mina is either going out of her way to ensure Jonathan’s straight behaviour or that both she and Jonathan are acting as each other’s beards, an idea that I would not disown given this narrative taking place within the monastery.

The show later touches on some of the other nuns present, all of whom have embraced their faith with more hints suggesting that these women have joined this order as a pointed refusal or avoidance of any and all sexualities.

When Dracula later appears to address the nuns, he appears as a dog, with Agatha recognising him for what he is; when he reveals himself to the nuns, emerging from his dog form in a beautifully interesting piece of body-horror that leaves him standing naked and bloody in front of them, but as powerful and demanding as either.

The interactions between Dracula and Agatha are a similar sort of flirtation as that between him and Jonathan (if even a little more sexualised given her glancing at his crotch) and the way in which she teases him with her blood comes across as far more sexualised. In a moment that feels eye-rolling-ly forced, (and somewhat predicted given how the show has played beats to this point), Dracula tastes Agatha’s blood, recognising it as that of the Van Helsing family and how she does not belong in this part of the world.

In a similarly forced beat, Dracula then appears to Jonathan (who has already killed himself in Agatha and Mina’s sight, only for Dracula to reveal that vampires can’t kill themselves for some bullshittingly forces narrative reason.) Dracula reies to use Jonathan in order to gain entry into the monastery; the show doesn’t confirm that this works, and I will not be surprised if the show does so to allow the promise of some other betrayal to be revealed in another episode. Dracula continues to be deliciously camp, though, brutally beheading a nun before suggesting that he is unable to touch the other nuns due to the fact that they are wearing crucifixes; instead, he is happy to watch (and react with a level of camp worthy of the Carry On franchise) while he orders dogs to do his dirty work.

While Agatha and Mina try to seek refuge, Jonathan approaches them hoping that Mina will allow him into their protected circle of salt, only for Jonathan to remove his face in a beat of gorgeously fucked up horror gore and reveal that it has been Dracula wearing Jonathan’s face.

And once again, the show embraces this level of queer that I’m unable to see beyond.

Dracula is inside of Jonathan, get it? And in doing so, he’s fucking up the relationship between Jonathan and Mina, making him the other man who can get inside of Jonathan in a fashion that Mina (perhaps) does not want to see or know about.

Whether the show continues to address these beats remains to be seen, but I’m really hoping that this isn’t just me wanting to read this (after all, I seem to have dropped way more queer posts of late and seem to be reading subtext and context in places that I’m starting to wonder if it’s all in my head.)

Or maybe it’s not all in my head.

Or maybe, like the vampires, we queers, we’re out to take over your media and your world.

For reference, this story was written following the first episode of Dracula and before the airing of the second. I was bored for much of the second and rolled my eyes somewhat at its shocking ending; as such, I probably won’t be reviewing the rest of the  series.

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