Episode 2: “Blood Vessel”
Directed by Damon Thomas
Written by Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffat
* For a recap & review of Episode 1, click here.
* For a recap & review of Episode 3, click here.
A wonderful little monologue about reading books from Count Dracula (Claes Bang) in the opening of this episode— books become “a contract” between an author and the reader, and the same could then be said about writers who then adapt books for a different medium when legions of people out there already ‘signed’ that contract with the original author. He’s preparing to tell Sister Agatha a story. They’re also going to sit down to a game of chess. He’s going to recount what occurred after the convent, when he was headed for England aboard the Demeter.
On the Demeter, Yuri Sokolov (Jonathan Ars) woke after having horrific dreams of a man searching for his chopped off hand, which crawled around on the floor on all fives. We also see Dr. Sharma (Sacha Dhawan) and a couple men who brought him a coffin containing the corpse of a man that was buried alive. Well, he was still alive in a way. He was undead. There were many interesting people aboard the Demeter, including a young man Piotr (Samuel Blenkin) stealing a dead guy’s name, as well as an aristocratic young woman and others.
Then there was the Count, right out in the open, not lying in a coffin like most depictions.
The Count met the Grand Duchess Valeria (Catherine Schell) in the dining room. he chatted her up about her trip to England. She was invited to go, so someone could write the story of her life. To help the Count in her presence with learning German, he had a quick nip on one of the shipmates who happened to be Bavarian. Not much “self control.” Dracula and the Duchess had a grand chat together. She soon realised they once knew each other, they danced together the night her mother went missing. The memory took her back many years ago.
And Dracula dined again.
People were going missing on the ship, just like everywhere Dracula went. Everybody was on the lookout. During the foggy day, the Count wore wonderfully Gary Oldman-esque vamp glasses, striking up a chat on deck with Piotr. The young man fell for Dracula’s smooth charm, though he was somewhat wary of him. Dr. Sharma and the rest discussed the missing people. Nobody suspected the Count, of course. Dude was slick, too, hitting on Lord Ruthven (Patrick Walshe McBride) secretly.
[Of note, Ruthven is based on a fictional vampire predating even the Count himself.]
Dracula later took a stroll on deck and met Ruthven’s wife, Dorabella (Lily Dodsworth-Evans). She talked about how much she loved her husband and of her excitement about the life ahead of them. The Count was busy flirting with her. She briefly enjoyed his “mystery and wickedness,” getting a bit close to Orientalism, before he revealed to her he was a vampire. Then he used a bit of magic on her, and that was it for poor Dora.
Everyone was suspected of the disappearances. Nobody could be trusted. Dracula was pushing to have them check on Cabin 9, where a supposedly ill traveller was bedded. Captain Sokolov refused to let anyone else go in and check there, in case someone was hiding. He went in and came back out, telling the others he found nothing except the sick passenger. What was really hidden in there? The Count wanted to know. He got a bit too tempted for blood when a man took a fall, breaking his leg and flowing blood. He tried to calm himself, though everywhere he went there were hearts beating, blood pulsing— hard to resist when you’re STARVING!
That was the whole purpose of the voyage: to test himself. He’d arranged it all.
“There is evil at work on this ship”
Things really got strange on the Demeter. The lad who broke his leg believed he was having sex with dead Dorabella. Even worse, it was Dracula, who’d decided it was time to give into temptation and have a slurp of the man’s blood. Things went into chaos then. The crew were deserting, the lifeboat was gone, and those remaining were on the verge of panic. People were demanding to know the truth about Cabin 9.
Also, what of the truth about Sister Agatha? Why’s she there playing chess with the Count? “The kiss of a vampire is an opiate,” he tells her. He’s been savouring the taste of her delicious blood: she was the passenger in Cabin 9. When everybody finally went to the cabin the Count was waiting for them, claiming he’d taken things into his “own hands.” There was an expensive necklace belonging to the Duchess, which Dracula said were trophies from the murders.
And who was the murderer? Agatha, he told them. Not everybody was ready to believe it. Others wanted to lynch her. She pleaded for her life, telling everybody she was a vampire. This particularly made Dr. Sharma consider it could be the truth. Yet the Count wasn’t going to let her convince them any further. So, instead, Agatha bit her lip and spit in his face, drawing the vampire out of him. He attempted to hide it, but the others were sceptical of him and ready to believe the nun.
Agatha knew of the various vampire lore, so she asked Sokolov about soil, which he confirmed they were transporting. The others were curious why Dracula chose each of them to be aboard the Demeter. Dr. Sharma was set on protecting himself and his daughter from “undeath,” should the worst case scenario occur. Up top, Agatha had the men dump all the crates of dirt except one they might use to trap Dracula. Below deck, Ruthven was revealing his nefarious, hopeful business relationship with the vampire. The doc made the sign of the cross with his daughter, warding the Count off. Although Ruthven’s gun made the standoff difficult. The daughter took the poison way out rather than face another type of death. Ruthven wound up shooting Sharma. After that he was bitten.
“Reality is overrated”
That night, Agatha and the others formed a protective circle around themselves using pages of the Bible, similar to the sacramental bread she’d used back at the convent. She had faith. Sokolov asked about what happened at the convent, so she explained how the Count hid in “the skin of another.” She then asked what Piotr saw below deck and why Dracula allowed him to leave alive. Could the young man have been infiltrated by the vampire? Agatha worried it was possible. They ordered Piotr to step outside the circle and back in again. He did as he was told, nearly snatched by Dracula in the process.
The Count taunted them all. Adisa took the bait, fully revealing to us (if you hadn’t already guessed) that he and Ruthven were lovers. He was angry, wanting revenge, and he didn’t believe in the vampire myth. Didn’t help that Dracula was pushing him towards it with cruel words. Adisa fired a shot into him, then another, and another, and none of it made any difference to the undead Count. Poor Adisa got his throat torn out. The rest of the crew tried their best to fight Dracula. Agatha lit him on fire, yet the Count dived overboard into the ocean escaping. She wasn’t satisfied. She considered the Demeter “a plague ship,” telling Sokolov they had to burn it so the contagion of the vampire would not reach England. Or, she’d burn it.
Sister Agatha offered to be the one to make that sacrifice. She was talking to God when she heard a noise on the empty ship. She heard footsteps, finding Sokolov could not leave his ship behind. Right about the time Agatha found a bed stuffed with Transylvanian soil, proving to her the Count was still alive. The Captain bled out while Agatha went up top with Dracula. The vampire wanted to gloat. His chatty mouth gives dying Sokolov time to set off explosives and sink the Demeter.
We all know that wasn’t the end. Dracula made it to the shore, where a modern team of cops awaited him, along with Agatha. Whaaat?
A wonderful episode with a brilliant adaptation of the Demeter voyage.
Again, Moffat and Gatiss have used lots of Stoker’s material while injecting this version with their own style, too. Sister Agatha is a delight, as is Dracula, in all his hammy glory.
“The Dark Compass” is next— the final episode of this limited series.