Lizard Chew Review -- The Vampire Solution

Lizard Chew Review of The Vampire Solution:

"The most serious matters are sometimes helped by the most unserious methods, dear Arthur."

It's curious--I'm not all that fond of Klaus as a character, and yet of the four episodes in which he plays a major role, three are among my favorites (the exception being "Klaus Encounters"). "The Vampire Solution" is the first episode of "Dracula" I ever saw. Aside from this sentimental consideration, however, it gets high marks for style, cinematography, characterization, and gratuitous cleverness. The plot is, as usual, something of a muddle, but it's not offensively confused. What assures my love of this episode, though, is the choice of villain. There aren't many shows which would think to make an embittered ex-grad student the one seeking bloody vengeance!

"Dracula," as I've mentioned elsewhere, has a surprising degree of internal continuity for a syndicated drama, with several interrelated episodes, plot arcs, and recurring characters or references. This serves quickly to build up a feeling of versimilitude. The story of Klaus works itself out over the longest plot arc, four shows (not counting his brief dream appearance in "My Dinner with Lucard"). This really isn't all that much time, and yet the writers had the courage to go through "Vampire Solution," his first appearance, without even directly mentioning the most salient fact about his character. I admire this, because it's probably what we would see if we really did stumble onto an ongoing story like this one: subtle references rather than characters blurting out the whole story for no apparent reason. (In fact, we never do learn anything more than the sketchiest outlines of Klaus's history.) Instead of blurting, we witness solid characterization of Klaus, setting up the revelation in his next episode so that we actually care about it. In "Vampire Solution," he actually is rather cool: he makes a nice snatch of Bauer off the street (in a nifty outfit), he is ruthless with Gustav, he is able to analyze the virus threat correctly and comes up with the right idea about what to do with the prisoner--at least after Lucard forces him to "stop and think"--and he even gets off a good line in his argument with Gustav, "Instead of lawn bowling or shuffleboard, you've chosen to spend your twilight years as a vampire hunter--and an extremely boring one at that." He is a good, believable assistant to Lucard. He also hints at the qualities that are going to lead to his downfall: his impulsiveness and emotionality, although we don't quite see those melodramatic tendencies he displays so flagrantly in "Black Sheep." Probably his most revealing line is his promise about Max: "I'll hang him outside--let the birds peck out his eyes and the lizards chew on his toes." It's simultaneously cruel and goofy (especially the bit about the toes)--no wonder Max finds him scary. A fine job by GWD.

This is one of the boys' finest episodes. Max's resolution to get into shape is one of his typical loony schemes, executed with trademark "never-give-up-and-never-think-things-through spirit." His little-kid bravado at the castle is exceptionally funny: "That you," he gasps after blasting Klaus and Lucard, clearly astonished himself by what he's just done. He's also good as the oppressed youngest child being teased and patronized by the older two. For once, Chris is also funny. "While you're at it, could you push that wall over there? It seems kinda cramped in here." He always plays the straight man to his wilder younger brother, of course, but he is normally a grumbler rather than a wit--the difference is a definite point in favor of "Vampire Solution." If you want to see him being unintentionally funny, though, watch his face as he kneels next to Max in the dungeon as Max realizes that he drank the quinidrine solution by mistake: it's clear the actor didn't know what to do with himself, so he nods and shakes his head sagely as if Chris knew what was going on when he actually doesn't have a clue. Sophie again has a small role and she is actually rather haughty towards Max when showing him her Tai Chi routine. I wish they would at least pick out a role for her and let her play it!

"Dracula" has never been afraid to make fun of its characters, and this episode is no exception. Arthur Bauer is a wonderful geek, annoying and awkward until the end, when he becomes dangerous and awkward. The series is very good about having a range of vampire characters. Not all of them are glamorous, attractive, sophisticated individuals, as in certain other vampire stories I could name. "Dracula" believes in equal rights; dorks like Bauer and Lane Zorro can end up vampires, too. This episode has just enough Gustav; his good cheer offsets the serious action without being Mary Poppins-ish. The conversation he has about his looks in the dungeon with Arthur, where vanity meets fussy precisianism in the most inappropriate possible setting ("But you had better lighting!"), never fails to make me splutter with laughter. As for the minor characters, I feel sorry for the police officer at the beginning of this episode. Given his looks, it was doubtless the one appearance he'll ever make outside of a Nazi movie, and instead he gets to play a cold, skeptical cop. The poor fellow could have the acting range of Olivier, and he'll never get to demonstrate it.

Lucard is cool and threatening in this episode, demonstrating his intelligence and ability to plan. His refined, self-assured menace is chilling. I like the deliberate way he speaks, seeming to taste his own words with pleasure. He also manages to maintain his mocking self-awareness (which is what redeems the character from being a Lugosi or Lee knockoff) with his asides to Klaus before biting Gustav and with that smug smirk at the top of the stairway to freedom. This is the first time that he acts in the role of teacher, and he does it calmly and effectively; Klaus responds well to his reprimand. (By the way, look at the younger vampire's face when his "master" talks; Lucard clearly exerts some kind of fascination over his imagination in addition to his mind.) He also accepts correction surprisingly graciously--I love the little wordless exchange between him and Klaus after Klaus points out that he's miscited his Shakespeare for the second time. It's easy to believe that they've been together for thirteen years. Finally, for those of us who appreciate that sort of thing, Lucard is photographed downright lovingly in "Vampire Solution." There are so many beautiful shots of his face in the moonlight and firelight, his outfit is typically handsome, and for once someone exercised restraint in putting gel on his hair. He makes possibly his best spin ever at the very end of this episode, in an exit worthy of the fine appearance he's put in. The contrast between his manners and his morals is rarely so clearly, yet so subtly, portrayed.

The only real objection I have to this episode is that it is obviously intended to be primarily dramatic instead of whimsical, but it only intermittently manages to catch the viewer up in the events. The race for freedom in the dungeon is shot with a curious lack of energy, for example, and the final sequence with Bauer takes too long. Fortunately, however, the good characterization and dialogue help distract from this problem. All in all, "Vampire Solution" is a concentrated form of the merits of this show.

Favorite quote: "Gentlemen, gentlemen! Conflict makes me thirsty."

Worst plot hole: Bauer's confession to Lucard about the solution ought to have caused the latter to have behaved far differently with Gustav

Best Lucard image: When he turns to Klaus at the top of the stairs

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