Dracula airs new episodes across three nights on BBC One this week in the UK and will air internationally on Netflix.
The crew aboard the Russian ship, The Demeter, are locked in a life-or-death struggle to stop Count Dracula before he reaches England.
If episode one of Dracula (reviewed here) was a contemporary riff on a slasher horror, then episode two – “Blood Vessel” – is much more of a psychological thriller. After watching this episode there’s absolutely no way I could accuse Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat of repetition. It takes the title character and puts him in entirely unfamiliar surroundings.
Where “The Rules of the Beast” placed Dracula as the out-and-out villain of the piece, pitting him against Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells). “Blood Vessel” focusses more on his victims and how he systematically works his way between them. He is much more cold and calculating, toying with the passengers, twisting the situation for his own fiendish experiment.
The episode is much more slowly paced than its predecessor. At times it felt overly slow burning but each moment of pay-off and a weighty third act once again make the whole episode a worthwhile endeavour.
Surprisingly Gatiss and Moffat choose to frame the episode in the same manner as the first, only this time it is Dracula (Claes Bang) with whom Agatha is conversing. It creates an air of mystery, particularly around the conclusion of episode one, but also sets up a great insight into the Count’s actions on the Demeter.
Rather than breaking the dramatic tension the plot device allows story beats time to settle whilst providing further insight in to Dracula’s though process and his character.
There’s also a great dramatic irony in how Dracula’s mind games with Agatha serve as an analogy for the writers toying with the audience, dropping clues to piece together events on the boat and following the conclusion of episode one.
Claes Bang continues his excellent performance through both story threads in this episode. In both he is utterly charismatic and enthralling. His smile is disarming and the way he charms each of the passengers on The Demeter is entirely plausible as he charms the audience.
This episode continues to explore some of Dracula’s lesser known talents. It was interesting to see him create the rolling fog which is often plainly depicted but here given an origin and a rationale.
But more explored here is the way Dracula takes on characteristics from his victims.
When he devours the Bavarian ship-hand (Anthony Flanagan) in order to learn his language and speak to Grand Duchess Valeria (Catherine Schell) he also takes on his stutter. It’s a subtle but interesting way of showing the toll that feeding can take on his character.
The power is referenced a number of times throughout the episode as Dracula remarks that he would end up arriving in England with the language skills of a Russian sailor if he ate all the crew and tells Dr. Sharma (Sacha Dhawan) he has an appetite for science.
It’s easy to see how some will be turned off by the homoeroticism of this episode. It features one “out” character, Adisa played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, the closeted Lord Ruthven (Patrick Walshe McBride) and a lot of flirtation from Dracula himself.
In reality, Gatiss and Moffat are simply treating Dracula how he is found in the source material: every living, breathing human is a potential meal. There is no sexuality to Dracula, he is simply a creature trying to survive.
It’s only around the 47 minute mark that “Blood Vessel” chooses to lift the lid on Agatha’s mystery and the occupant of cabin number 9. As the episode unveils what really happened in the convent it begins to feel more familiar. It seems the series is building towards an eventual confrontation between Dracula and Agatha and so the third act continues setting up their arch-nemesis status.
Though the episode wasn’t lacking in Dolly Well’s her arrival in to the storyline on The Demeter immediately finds her pulling focus in every scene. Dolly commands the camera as much as Agatha commands the surviving passengers and crew.
Though her situation is dire, Agatha is still able to mount a stand against Dracula and, as with the previous episode, their scenes together crackle with electricity. There’s a chemistry between them which is undeniably superior to that of any other character on the show.
It is as if putting the two characters in the same screen lights the touch paper on a huge fireworks display. Once it starts there is no stopping it and the results are a colourful explosion on screen. Neither is will to concede to the other regardless of the body count their methods warrant.
It culminates in a plot twist which, once again, absolutely nobody saw coming and will surely make for an explosive finale.
“Blood Vessel” is a different kind of beast to episode one. It’s slower, more measured and in many ways much more dangerous.
Dracula stars Claes Bang (The Square), Lyndsey Marshal (The League of Gentlemen), Chanel Cresswell (This Is England), Matthew Beard (An Education), Lydia West (Years & Years), Paul Brennen (Happy Valley), Sarah Niles (Catastrophe), Sofia Oxenham (Poldark), John McCrea (God’s Own Country), Phil Dunster (Humans) and Millicent Wong.