Lizard Chew Review of I Love Lucard:
"Everyone's been disappointed in their lives sometime."
Can a villain be subjected to any worse indignity than to be made to fall in love by the fiat of a writer who thinks it will lend the poor fellow depth or sympathy? The examples of books or shows which coerce their villain into some implausible match, generally with ludicrous repercussions for the plot, which hopelessly weakens, even embarrasses, the character are endless. In such cases, a person fond of the villain usually suffers right along with him; of course you want to see that side of the character (assuming that he has such a side), but if you have the unexceptionable desire to see him fall in love in a way consistent with what else you know of him, you're usually left cringing and covering your eyes. In a world in which LaCroix can be made to pine for Fleur, it's a pleasure to see that one or two shows have the sense to do a villain's romance right. "I Love Lucard" is not perfect, but it is believable, well-constructed (through both the writing and the directing), and affecting. It even manages to play cleverly on the conventions of its stupider cousins in order to set up the shocking conclusion. I've always been skeptical that a second season of "Dracula," which was supposed to take a darker turn, would have been as enjoyable as the generally frivolous first, but on the strength of the episodes "Black Sheep" and "I Love Lucard," I would have to give it a chance.
Because it's meant as family entertainment, "Dracula" has to be fairly discreet on the matter, but it's nonetheless clear by this far along in the season that Lucard is a connoisseur of the fair sex. Yet, though he's often seen appreciating beautiful women, there's never been a hint that anyone has touched his heart. Naturally, then, we're immensely curious to know what sort of woman he would actually fall in love with. Stu Woolley, writer of this episode, evidently had enough sense to realize that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to establish such a woman's charms in half an hour, and so evaded the question. Although he sketches the outlines of Margo Burton's character, she remains a mystery throughout the episode. She seems to have a great deal of quiet strength of character overlaid by an assured, reserved refinement and social grace; she is a woman at ease in the great world, but still possessing strong feelings and moral sense. She is, at least, not unbelievable as the love of Lucard's life, as long as one ignores her hideous clothing (Lucard taken with a woman who looks as if she's an extra just wandered off the set of Dune?!?). Of course, this episode would be better if I could make a stronger statement than that; ultimately, this solution to the problem is somewhat unsatisfying. It also leaves us wondering just what draws Margo to Lucard (and she definitely is drawn, even now that she knows what he is—notice the way her eyes go shut when he says "To have you this close and not possess you..."). Yes, he's handsome and rich, but I have the impression Margo would be looking for more. I'd really like to know in what guise he first appeared to her and won her heart. But, under the circumstances, "Lucard" does about as well as it can.
Lucard is acting as a lover under strange circumstances, so we don't see him behaving in a full-bloodedly romantic way. Nonetheless, he acquits himself quite well. Everything he does is in character—at least in light of the last scene. We are never in doubt that this is a man of great experience, confidence, and self-control, but also someone with strong desires who will pursue them ruthlessly. The dinner scene, which is appropriately low-key and subdued, makes wonderful refinements on what we know of Lucard. He carries off the slight hint of pain in "Until you left" skillfully, managing to combine a glimpse of vulnerability and a reproach. His self-description—"the most sophisticated of the breed [vampires]" speech—is fascinating. Vampire literature has often emphasized the way in which vampires are enslaved by their own bloodthirst, and D:tS hints frequently that becoming one involves a drastic transformation of the personality, but in this speech Lucard sets himself apart as one who has achieved control, who is his own master. The kiss is well-orchestrated, although I can't help feeling that it's surprisingly chaste on Lucard's part; Margo seems more deeply involved in it than he is, which makes me wonder just how much purely carnal interest he takes in the contact. (I don't wish to be prurient, but this is the only time we see a D:tS vampire showing any interest in physical affection...) My favorite moment is when Lucard turns away from Margo to the fire after she explains her love for Lance; we can sense that he is hurt, although he bears it with great dignity, but we can also tell that other thoughts are now in his mind—that he is at that point considering what terrible things he will be forced to do to rid himself of Lance, and what that will mean for Margo. At that moment, we feel both sympathy for and fear of Lucard. We've always known he was capable of hurting his enemies, but that he might well be capable of hurting what he cares for is far more frightening to consider.
The third member of this triangle, Lance Burton, is not much of a match for the other two. He says all the right things, but it quickly becomes clear that he's both vain and naive—the classic cuckold, as a matter of fact. He shows at his worst in his meeting with Lucard, especially at the end, when he mars his nifty "Death...by publicity" line with his silly triumphant tittering. I can't blame Lucard for not understanding what Margo sees in him. Having Margo be married lends a welcome adult air to this episode, but Lance certainly doesn't live up to his Victor Laszlo role! This was an unfortunate choice. "Lucard" would have been stronger if Lance was a more appealing alternative for Margo, although this does leave open some room for speculation. Perhaps, since Margo had already lost her heart to Lucard, she was bound to marry someone she couldn't possibly love so much?
Despite the Victor/Lance incongruity, the "Casablanca" homage is a nice touch, especially as it's cleverly done, and lends some strength to an uneven subplot. Max's opening pastiche is funny, especially the "Wait a minute! I'm not finished yet!" conclusion. The whole "switched manuscripts" business doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I do like the appeals of the other kids (poor "Smokin'" Chris Townsend) and particularly the scene of Gustav comforting Max. He turns the boy's disappointment into a resolve to try harder, which strikes me as the best thing to do. Once again, D:tS manages to incorporate "family show" aspects without seriously disrupting the plot or atmosphere, especially since Gustav's words here have a wider resonance. It's too bad that in the process he had to use the word "stick-to-it-tive," which I've only heard in one other place—the "moral lesson" segment at the end of an episode of "She-Ra" (certainly an unfortunate association). Again, this episode makes us wonder what Gustav's relationship with Klaus could possibly have been like.
The second-to-last scene sets out to make the viewer uneasy, and it does it brilliantly. We are horrified at the implausibility of Lucard's making such a selfless gesture, and yet so many of the details are emotionally true. "I never thought I needed anyone to complete me...I would rather not know" is absolutely perfect dialogue for Lucard; it sounds completely believable in light of his character and yet it is genuinely sad. So is his bravado—deliberately tormenting Lance, it seems—both when he snatches Margo away and when he returns the manuscript. His Rick-Reynaud repartee with Max (interestingly, Max's arrival is one of the few times when the sight of a cross really seems to cause him pain) is so right, both as a demonstration of his self-control under all circumstances and as a manifestation of the fondness he apparently has for the boy. The conclusion is simply stunning: the one brief moment when Lucard, watching Margo get on the plane, looks utterly lost—and then the final shot of him walking back to his car, reminding us that he will persist, that he has left himself with no choice but to do so. We genuinely feel sorry for him at this moment. Or, at least, we do if we aren't still stunned by how inappropriate it is for Lucard to give two pins for Lance Burton's happiness and miserably adding him to the list of good villains ruined by a stupid love affair.
The tag then redeems us from this uncomfortable tension by revealing to us that Lucard has remained true to his character, that he has in fact been at his most strong and evil when he has seemed to be at his weakest and kindest. I love the matter-of-fact way this last scene is played, leaving us to draw the terrifying conclusion slowly on our own. I particularly appreciate that they've set it up so that it does not invalidate what we've just seen at the airport. Everything Lucard said, every feeling he showed or hinted, remains true; it just has another dimension which renders it bone-chilling. This scene chides us for ever being able to entertain the idea that Lucard could have done something genuinely loving and selfless. It sharply reminds us of his true nature. And yet it leaves us with just a touch of sympathy for him: the dull manner in which he begins speaking, the way he draws in his breath after saying "A very great shame," those wonderful hurt, angry, dazed expressions just before and just after he smashes the glasses—these all conspire to make us...perhaps not feel for him, but at least appreciate the horror of what he's done to himself as well as to the Burtons. It is for this refusal to compromise which is nonetheless insistently accompanied with nuance and ambiguity, a refusal played out throughout the entire episode, that I love "I Love Lucard."
Best line: "Perhaps I really am alone here...on this further side of life. It would still be a small price to pay for the splendor of it all."
Worst plot hole: The manuscript switch (especially when, if you watch carefully, you can see that Max gets the right one in the first place)
Best Lucard image: Too many to decide, although he definitely has a bad hair day when he's dealing with the Burtons for the first time
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