Friday, November 29, 2013

Dracula by NBC: a review of the four first episodes

I wanted to like this series so much.  So much.  Because I love Dracula.  The sanguinarian, murderer, selfish Dracula that Bram Stoker created.  I have read the book several times, and I will read it again many more.  But there is so much wrong with this series that I am still debating if I will keep watching it.

So I am going to list all the problems I have with the series.  Indulge me, because this is going to be long.  I am not going to do the review episode by episode, but I will point out the biggest C'MON MAN! moments that I had while watching.

First of all, disclaimer: I am fascinated by Victorian society: the clothes, the mannerisms, the literature, the customs, but I acknowledge that it was a shitty society for women.  I would not have liked to live then, because there was too much pressure put on women and they lacked a lot of rights that today we (most of us) take for granted, such as a right to have an education, to have properties, bodily autonomy and the right to vote.  So my critics are going to be made in the spirit of Victorian society.  By that I mean, I would point out what Victorian women would never do, or think, or act on.  That does not mean that I am not for modern women acting on their own choices, whatever those may be.

Let's begin: First, Mina on the university.  MINA ON THE UNIVERSITY!  The Mina on the book had a certain education, but not too much.  She was a typist, and she knew how to do short-hand.  But that was all.  And mind you, she said many times that she acquired those skills to help Jonathan with his work.  But she never intended on having a job or being self-suficient.  The Mina of the series wants her own practice, with her own patients, and expects Jonathan to be perfectly fine with that and to support her choices.  So naturally, when she hears Jonathan say to his colleagues that "Mina will forget about medicine and everything else when I put this ring on her finger" she gets mad and leaves with a harrumph and thinking "how dare he?".  There are so much problems with this I do not even know where to begin.  So bullet points:
- Women did not get accepted at universities in 1896.  There were some colleges for them, but most colleges and universities of high standing at that time were exclusively for men.
- IF Mina would be accepted in a prestigious university because her father was a physician, you can bet that neither her classmates or her teachers would have been kind to her.  Most probably she would have been bullied into solitary and the worst assignments would have been for her.
- She would NEVER had been chosen by a teacher as an assistant; but we have Van Helsing to help her there, just because; even though she said she could not handle well the practices with scalpels, and cut herself several times, and had to stitch her wounds herself, she is the one with THE HIGHEST GRADE IN THE EXAM!  Because people believing in themselves just do *magic* and pass exams they are not ready to pass.
- People (men and women alike) would not trust her as a physcian - because she is a woman.  Yes, it's sexist, but that sexism was very present in 1896.  She may have had her practice, but she would not have had patients.  Even if the rest of the society would follow her lead and trust her, she would have to be very, VERY careful with her reputation, or all her hard work would go to waste.  But she obviously did not think about it very thoroughly.  Keep reading and you'll see.
- Jonathan's peers would never treat him seriously if they discovered (or knew) that he did not "keep his wife under control".  That is, at home and taking care of their (future) children.  That also would be an stigma for Mina herself.  She may be all for renovation and women following their dreams, but the rest of the society would not, so that would rend them friendless.  No men or women would be found in their company, because their ideas would be simply thought of as "scandalous".  They would not be invited anywhere, and people never would accept their invitations.  You simply could not be without friends in polite society.  They would be social pariahs.  That would make Mina's being a physician even more useless.  And let's not kid ourselves: her friend Lucy would abandon her in the long run, or she would risk becoming a pariah herself (that meant her not marrying EVER!) *gasp!*

I guess the main problem is that they have written Mina's character as a modern woman and insterted her in Victorian society, and that simply does not work.  They may have made a few concessions to make her more independent (she talks about people asking her if she wanted to be a nurse, and that option would have been great), but the fact that she thinks of herself as an equal of Jonathan is just a far fetched thought for any Victorian woman (and man!).  A woman of that age would never have said to her boyfriend "You have something that Grayson will never have: me".  That is a very modern thought, and entirely incredible in 1896.

Having talk about Victorian society, it is worth mentioning all the social conventions the main characters are defying, such as:
- Mina and Jonathan embracing and *kissing* in public!  A lot!
- Mina wearing her hair down - only loose women would wear their hair down in public
- Mina showing her ankles
- Mina showing cleavage during mornings
 I am sure there are more things like these that I have not noticed (or that I don't remember).

Another C'MON MAN! moment that stuck with me happens in the 4th episode.  Van Helsing gives Mina a lot of work to do, and leaves her in his office.  So after a while (I guess she was bored or tired), she begins to explore the office and finds a door behind a curtain, locked with a padlock.  So she immediately JUST HAS TO ENTER THE FORBIDDEN ROOM, and begins a frantic search for the key; she opens drawers and boxes until she finds the key, and she opens the door.  Not happy with that, she begins to explore the secret laboratory, opening everything until she finds a box with (what we lab people call) slides with samples.  So NATURALLY she takes a microscope and examines them, discovering very interesting things.

The main problem I have with this scene is that a man that has been your mentor chooses you among all other students, against every odd, to be his assistant (even after she disappointed him arriving at the university at 2 PM one day after a night out "clubbing"), leaves you in his place of work with chores to do, and you violate his confidence and invade his privacy by searching for a key he does not want you to have, and entering a place you are not supposed to enter, and perusing things you are not supposed to peruse.  PERFECTLY FINE, YOU ALL.  We all do this when our bosses are out, don't we?  So imagine if her boss finds out, and tells someone "this woman is not to be trusted with someone's privacy".  She is supposed to be a physician.  How could her patients trust her if their confidence is violated, after what she did to Van Helsing? 

And then we have the other problem.  The problem when you try to mix science with folklore: IT DOES NOT WORK, unless you know perfectly well what you are doing, or have a science professor by your side correcting your notes .  The thing with the slides.  Let me explain what is the deal with slides and microscopes.  To see a slide with a sample on it, you have to kill the cells (or whatever it is you want to observe) and stain them, because otherwise they WON'T BE VISIBLE.  We have now very good microscopes with which you do not need to stain or dye the samples because they have modern technology to capture and reflect light, which helps with the visualization.  But those microscopes DID NOT EXIST on 1896.  Mina could be very well seeing cells under a microscope, but not living cells (even if they are supposed to be alive because they are Dracula's), and certainly not if they are not stained.

Another C'MON MAN! moment.  After Mina and Jonathan fall-out, Lucy comes by and takes her out because "her mother has left leaving her alone".  A mother in Victorian society would NEVER leave a non-wed daughter alone in London without a chaperone; it would be most likely she would have taken Lucy with her.  But hey, we needed the girls to be alone so they could go party like a rockstar!  They go clubbing!  Well, what it would have been clubbing in the 19 century: they go to a Bohemian bar!  And they drink absinthe!!!  Why, why, in the name of all that is holy, WHY???!!!!

The absinthe scene was upsetting as hell for me, for obvious reasons, since I like to drink absinthe.  I absolutely love the absinthe scene in the Coppola movie: so beautifully, accurately and perfectly made.  Take the one in the NBC Dracula:  We have the girls sitting while a man is preparing their drinks.  First mistake:

Take note of the prominent label, so we all know we are drinking absinthe
Absinthe is not neon green.  Absinthe is peridot green.  But I am ready to forgive this, since poorly made absinthe at the time was dyed with copper sulfate so it would be a green color.  But then it came this:

Someone bring a fire extinguisher!!!
They set it on fire. THEY SET IT ON FIRE!!!!!!! ARGHHHHHH!!!!! 

No, no, and a thousand times NO.  Absinthe was drunk MIXED WITH WATER!  And it was drunk in the middle of the afternoon, as an aperitif before dinner.  Not as a "midnight cocktail" drink.  But wait, someone will say, they are in a Bohemian bar (Dracula mentions it some scenes later), and they are drinking it doing the "Bohemian ritual".  So it must be correct, right? WRONG.  The "Bohemian ritual" was invented by the Czech absinth producers circa 1990, to mask the poor taste of their concoctions.  The following paragraphs in cursive are taken from The Wormwood Society website:

At no time in the history of absinthe, until the late 1990's, has the “Czech Method” of lighting absinthe-soaked sugar on fire—recently popularized in the movies From Hell, Moulin Rouge, and Alfie—ever been used.  This is a modern innovation and a pointless abuse of good absinthe.  Aside from spectacle, it has no effect whatsoever except possibly that of introducing a burnt-marshmallow taste to the absinthe thus obscuring the delicate herbal nuances and ruining its flavor.

No one who knows anything about absinthe and its history would use this method.  Compare it to shaking a bottle of champagne.  Given the high-proof nature of the liquor it can also be very dangerous, resulting in a cracked or broken glass, injury and accidental fire.

It's probable that the “Czech method” was borrowed from the Café Royale, a traditional coffee drink where a brandy or cognac-soaked sugar lump is ignited in a spoon before adding it to the coffee.  This was depicted in 1887 by the American painter, Irving Ramsey Wiles in his painting, The Loiterers.  Several years ago the painting was mistaken (and mis-titled) as portraying a couple drinking absinthe.

More over, they show some moments later Mina having visions of a past life, and we are led to believe they have been induced by the hallucinogenic powers of the absinthe she has drunk.  HELL NO!  Absinthe is not and never was a psychedelic drug.  You don't trip ballz with absinthe, sorry.  The thujones, that are supposed to be the responsible for the hallucinations, are convulsants, nothing more.  And you would need to take such amount of them that you would be dead from alcohol poisoning before noticing their effects.

Another point to make, regarding Mina.  Remember when we talked about respectability and reputation?  Who would trust a physician that spents all night (they come home at dawn!) partying and supposedly taking drugs?  Another thing to rest points to Mina.

There is more, but these points are the worst.  I could mention the fact that Dracula was never sensible to sun burning, or ask why the Order of the Dragon would take the time, resources and chance to create a monster that could potentially destroy them.  And let's not forget Lady Jayne.  A Victorian lady wearing leather trousers, that has an assasin's technique knowledge and weapons, and decapitates people.  Sure, why not?

Keep them coming, NBC.  Or better yet, DON'T.

*ETA*: I just found out that Cleolinda is doing episode recaps of Dracula in her journal.  I will go read them now, and you probably should too.  They will be a lot more fun than to watch the series.

No comments: