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The Devil Is All Around You: Dracula “A Whiff of Sulfur” Review

By on November 2, 2013

Pictured: Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Alexander Grayson -- Photo by: Jonathon Hession/NBC

Dracula continued weaving its dark tale this week with “A Whiff of Sulfur.” The episode was complete with beautiful people and exquisite costumes, in addition to more  high society events. It failed, however, to move beyond the standard set-up feel of the pilot, leaving us with a bit of a static episode.

Jonathan Harker is desperate to gain standing in order to properly ask for Mina’s hand. He is seemingly stuck in his status until Alexander Grayson offers him the ideal opportunity. When Lord Laurent shoots down Grayson’s request to sell his shares, Grayson moves to plan B in order to take control of the electric company. To do this he asks Harker to become his Vice President of Public Affairs, a move no doubt made to help sink his claws into the right people in London society.

This isn’t the only move Grayson makes for the company though. He catches Lord Laurent in a compromising situation with Lord Davenport’s son, Daniel. Knowing this gives Grayson a few more cards to play and he makes sure Laurent knows he’ll use them. Meanwhile, Mina Murray is set to take the biggest exam of her career and her nerves may have the best of her. Grayson offers her a vote of confidence, and its apparently enough to give her the edge she needs.

Mina passes the exam as the first woman to do so and at the top of her class no less. Harker is less than enthusiastic. While at a celebration over his acceptance of Grayson’s offer, Harker’s friends harp on whether Mina will settle down. His response? Once they are married she’ll drop the nonsense for more womanly pursuits. Obviously this doesn’t sit well with Mina and they get into a fight. Harker ends up the loser.

Mina on surface level is a pawn in a love triangle with the series two leading men. This week, however, gave her character more depth and solidified her as one of the most (if not the most) interesting in our story. Mina is a woman out of her time. She possesses a soft strength and a sure kindness that makes her easy to root for. Whatever happens, we wish Mina to be happy.

In contrast, Harker is quite measily. Not that we can’t relate to or desire happiness for him, but his strength is quiet in a very loud world. Harker may be our actual hero, but he lacks both voice and confidence to be a formidable challenger for Dracula. Hopefully his new position (and all the added benefits) will give him a boost. It seems quite necessary to make the push-pull of the love triangle electric. A simmering love battle is one of the easiest ways to create dynamic drama, but it won’t work if your characters aren’t dynamic themselves.

Pictured (L-R): Jessica De Gouw as Mina Murray, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Jonathan Harker -- Photo by: Jonathon Hession/NBC

Pictured (L-R): Jessica De Gouw as Mina Murray, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Jonathan Harker — Photo by: Jonathon Hession/NBC

Rhys Meyers performance as Grayson is calculated both emotionally and physically, and “A Whiff of Sulfur” allowed us to see this more clearly. Dracula, despite having lived and loved as a man, is a creature. So much so he doesn’t wish to subject his potential love to a never ending existence of it. This expression is sentimental and a vital to setting up the romantic plot line we will surely encounter, but the very nature of the monster makes it hard to like him.

He is dark, smart, and brooding, but lacks one necessary trait of a well-written antihero: charm. Alexander Grayson, for all his looks and money, is not alluring and so we wind up rather uninterested in the affairs of his heart. It’s not that Rhys Meyers lacks an ability to portray charm on screen, as he certainly has in previous roles. It is that the character feels more monster than man, and one has to wonder how long it will take for that cold exterior to break.

A few things are pretty clear about Dracula. It has all the makings of a great cable show, but the advantage of a broadcast network sized audience. It is aesthetically pleasing in nearly every right, but none of it lacks substance. Its dark and edgy tone makes it enticing, but “A Whiff of Sulfur” failed to be exciting. Character relationships are usually a show’s strength, but in this series it eats up screen time. Dracula does not have to be a constant thrill ride, however, viewers must feel like they aren’t just watching rich people carry on about their business. There must be stakes involved and we must feel like the game of chess Dracula plays is a game we want to be a part of.

Dracula airs Fridays at 10:00 – 11:00 PM ET/PT on NBC.

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