Dracula (Claes Bang) charms his way into brunch with the Grand Duchess, Valeria. She’s flattered by his attention, which is both flirtatious and dominant. He shows his capacity for patient, waits for her to recognize him from the night her mother disappeared, many years ago, when she was young. See, it’s important that she knows him before he drinks her dry. “Shall we dance again?” he says, satisfied.
“Blood Vessel” is Gatiss and Moffat being punny with the title, but it’s still an accurate description. Taking place solely on a sailing vessel, this episode adapts one of my favorite parts of the novel wherein Dracula goes a-travelin’ and everyone on board dies with the Captain tied to the wheel of the ship. But Dracula doesn’t quite keep to this version of the story.
After last episode’s events, it’s strange to see Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells) and Dracula just hanging out, playing literal chess (that trope’s a bit tired, yes?). We don’t know why, but Dracula’s telling stories, particularly about his cruise. Agatha’s surprised to learn that he travelled openly, to which he quips, “It’s four days—what, did you think I’d travel in a box?”
Sure enough, he boards like the rest, and later we see him on the upper deck admiring the clear skies. Then, like a mad e-cig vaper, Dracula releases a giant rush of fog from his throat, a fog that plans to stay for the entirety of the course, to keep the sun away and offer lots of sneak opportunities.
Per the novel, passengers begin to disappear. Some dream of their future where they are torn apart by monsters. As one sailor mutters, “Don’t dream, don’t dream.” Meanwhile, the Captain (Jonathan Aris) hides a secret of an “ill passenger” in cabin #9, keeping everyone away, even during the search for murderers.
Dracula serenades his victims by moonlight, then disappears with them. They’re all trapped and ill-equipped to deal with this monster. During a verbal spar late in the episode, Agatha has an epiphany: that blood for Dracula isn’t “just sustenance, it’s an addiction.” She has a point — he did excuse himself mid-dinner to eat a man just to absorb a Bavarian accent. Even a monster has a code.
The first episode was titled “Rules of the Beast,” and we’re still learning those rules. Feeding is accompanied with the sex dreams of his victims, male or female, but it’s not clear if he’s participating — or even if that’s possible. Whatever the case, he caresses them, then kills them. Agatha asks, “Why do you kill them?” His retort? “Why do you pick flowers?
More lore: Dracula is able to “absorb” the knowledge of his victims wherein their essence (or soul?) transfers to him. In a funny bit, he claims that feeding on the common people for so long — who, by his account, live in fear of the church — resulted in a weakness for holy materials, like the crucifix. In my favorite line of the episode, he says, “My God, I can’t wait to eat some atheists.” He should probably avoid vegans then, right?
But back to the start of our episode. Why is Agatha so calm? Answer: a vampire’s kiss is an opiate — Sister Agatha’s been trapped in a dream state from Dracula’s feeding. She comes to, realizing that he let Mina run, but kept her. Worse, he’s slowly feeding off her — she’s the ill passenger in cabin #9!
She turns out to be Dracula’s ace in the hole, as he seeks to pin the murders on her once he’s killed almost everyone. He shows the surviving passengers a collection of “trophies” at her bedside, and suggests she be hanged. Agatha buys time by claiming she’s a vampire, then spits blood all over his face. He loses control, eventually kicking the barrel Agatha’s perched on and runs.
Lord Ruthven (Patrick Walshe McBride) seems smitten despite the chaos, caressing his throat while the others react to the situation. He’s lost his bride-to-be to Dracula but appears to be considering becoming one himself. Sure enough, he’s a “treacherous gay,” if I may borrow a term from film critic Dave White (Linoleum Knife), who turns a pistol on passengers who try to fight back against his new master. But alas, Dracula chose Ruthven for his inheritance, not his “partnership,” and promptly disposes of him.
It’s a tough task to make viewers care about unknown characters within an hour and some change, and the writers don’t quite pull this off. As promised by the opening sights, all will perish and there’s a larger cast of characters this time. As Dracula tells Agatha, “Don’t get too attached,” and maybe it’s a problem if we don’t?
Agatha herself is dying, same as Jonathan Harker was, one fingernail at a time. But she takes command of the ship, making a protection circle around the survivors using Bible pages. Dracula manages to stir suspicions among them, and eventually, all Hell breaks loose. Agatha gets the upper hand as the crewmen pin Dracula’s cape to the deck (like bat wings!), where he’s then set afire by Agatha and escapes overboard.
Now it’s a waiting game as Sister Agatha plans for the inevitable — his return. Once this occurs, the wounded Captain explodes the hull while Agatha distracts the Count. Thus ends the voyage to England, and apparently the good sister.
It takes only a minute for Dracula and his coffin to sink together to the bottom of the ocean and then pop out to find his way to shore. But once he does, a helicopter spotlight immediately catches him. Oh my. Just like that, we are years into the future. He’s greeted by Agatha, dressed in modern clothes, backed by armed guards. “Welcome to England, Count Dracula,” she says. “What kept you?”
I have questions.