Episode 1: “The Rules of the Beast”
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Written by Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffat
* For a recap & review of Episode 2, click here.
We open on Hungary, 1897.
Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells) goes to see former real estate lawyer Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) about his time in Transylvania. Seems he had an interesting trip. Certainly the way he appears suggests the fact he barely escaped something horrible. He says Count Dracula (Claes Bang) is “the devil” and “a monster.” He stays there with the nuns because he feels safe only in a House of God. There’s something desperately wrong with him, though. And Agatha wants to get to the truth. So she asks him explicitly whether he “had sex with Count Dracula.”
Jump back, to Harker’s arrival in Transylvania. A woman offered him a cross for protection as he was headed towards Dracula’s castle. Jonathan was dropped off to be found by the Count’s driver. At home, Mina (Morfydd Clark) missed him, writing letters for him assuring that should fall victim to “temptation” on his travels it wouldn’t ruin their eventual wedding.
Later, Harker made it to the castle. Not without a few spooks along the way. He went inside the dark structure and called out to see if anyone might answer. There was a beautiful dinner awaiting him set out on the table. And there, he met Count Dracula for the first time— an ancient-looking man with white hair. They sat at the table as Jonathan ate and Dracula looked over real estate papers from London. The Count found people there “without flavour.” (Wink, wink.) Then he told Harker he wouldn’t be leaving tomorrow as the latter thought. The lawyer discovered he’d be kept there for a month.
Harker got a tour around “the prison without locks,” Dracula’s castle. The halls are a spooky, Gothic labyrinth without any discernible pattern. An awful lot of flies, too. When the lawyer tried to kills them he got a talking to from the Count, who said they’re wonderful creatures. Dracula showed Jonathan to a room, where the lawyer found out the old man has a phobia of mirrors. Harker cut himself on a mirror, nearly bringing out the Count’s full vampire. He could also tell there was something strangely psychic about the old man, knowing things he shouldn’t have known.
And, yes, things got creepier for the lawyer back in his room, where strange scratches appeared on the window and someone disappeared up through a window outside the castle. Was it “another guest” or “a prisoner” like Harker, who didn’t even realise he was one at the time? On the window was the message HELP US, upside down, and the same was written on the floor the next morning, as well. Also, it was written in English.
This all made the lawyer curious. He tried searching the place, getting lost in strange places that had no end, like the castle was literally endless. He eventually gave up. That evening, Count Dracula returned and Jonathan found something odd about the man, probably because he was suddenly a couple decades younger. But Jonathan couldn’t forget the message on the floor, so he kept searching each day while the Count wasn’t around, hoping to find a clue as to who wrote it. He was sure he saw a young woman one day, but couldn’t catch up to her.
Harker decides to confront Dracula, asking if anyone else is in the castle. The Count says only servants. The lawyer presses him to know if somebody else is living there, getting a ‘no.’ It still doesn’t convince him. Plus, each day Jonathan seemed to be ageing, falling apart physically, whereas Dracula continually got younger, more vital.
After some time, Jonathan stumbled upon a crate full of old photos. Then he found another, and another filled with flies— because they were flying around a corpse, which suddenly reassembled itself and crawled out of the crate. The whole place was filled with the undead, creaking back to life. Jonathan ran, only to further discover the tomb of Count Dracula himself. The vampire awakened and the undead surrounded Harker. (A great visual Christopher Lee homage here.) When Jonathan woke he saw a younger, refreshed Dracula who required him to get to work fast and draft papers that’ll make it seem like he’s coming home when the plan is definitely not for the lawyer to make it back. Somewhere a baby cries and it’s driving Harker insane.
“Blood is not nothing—
blood is lives.”
Harker managed to find a map of the castle. He was able to uncover a secret passageway behind one of the paintings hanging on a wall. Behind the hidden door was a hallway leading the lawyer to a weird room. There was a box, in which someone was kept, along with glass bowls of rats and flies. However, the woman inside was able to get out. She was hungry, even though she’d just recently had a baby for lunch. She bared her teeth and went to take a bite out of him.
Jonathan woke withered and bloody, locked in the same box with a vampire baby. He was pulled out by the Count. The woman was already dead. It all horrified the lawyer to discover vampires were, in fact, quite real. Dracula laid out his plants “to reproduce.” After that he took Jonathan up to a tower in the castle, outside, and he snapped the lawyer’s neck. In 1897, then, he’s not quite dead, not quite living, in a liminal space of being. How’d he go on after his murder? His body fast reanimated and he jumped from the castle’s walls, as the sun reflected off the cross he was wearing and burned the Count. Sister Agatha takes this recounting from Harker as proof of God being real. She also reveals that the other nun with her is Mina— the fiance had to hear the true story from Jonathan’s lips herself.
Rough time for a bat attack: Dracula has arrived seeking his “bride.”
Outside the wolves howl and the bats fly. Jonathan’s left in the presence of a bleeding Mina, offering her the wooden stake as protection, but she refuses it, believing he’d never hurt her. Yet he’s so hungry for a little blood. At the convent gates, Sister Agatha addresses a wolf directly as the Count. She wants him to show his true self, daring him. The wolf flails around, whimpering. Then Dracula appears from the animal’s flesh. Agatha calls out the rest of the sisters, who’ve prepared themselves with sharpened stakes. Dracula taunts them, and Agatha opens the gates, telling him he’s not invited inside. Seems certain parts of the lore and myth ARE true! He’s convinced one of the nuns will break and let him inside. Agatha and her sisters stand strong. The Count does get a lick of info from the nun’s blood, discovering she’s actually a Van Helsing.
When Mina and Agatha leave Jonathan, whom they believe has sacrificed himself, putting a stake through his heart. Dracula turns up later to explain to him it takes another person to kill a vampire— no suicide. The Count wants to be invited in, and Harker’s left with a tough decision. That goes badly and bloody for the nuns downstairs. Dracula lops off Mother Superior’s head, attacking the nuns with a wolf. Agatha survives, as does Mina. The others aren’t so lucky. Jonathan finds the two women, but Agatha’s reluctant to let him across their sacred boundary of communal bread. Mina invites him across against the nun’s warnings, and Jonathan feeds upon her blood— it’s not Harker, but the Count hiding behind his flesh.
“Death completes you”
A stunning, dark, funny, and unsettling opening episode.
Great use of the source material, both in how much of it is adapted and also from where Gatiss and Moffat depart to do their own thing. An exciting adaptation so far.
“Blood Vessel” is next.