Love v. Domination, Dracula Edition
Just when my Love v. Domination theme for Buffy Season 8 was winning over scores of crickets, Drew Goddard’s “Wolves at the Gate” came to its rescue. Bonus: Goddard’s handling of Dracula and Xander’s relationship serves as a textbook illustration of how Whedonarratives handle homoerotic subtexts.
Dracula is clearly jealous of Renee, not because he loves Xander, or even because he wants to have sex with Xander, but because he wants to dominate Xander, and Renee is a threat to that relationship. He acts like a jealous, jilted lover without showing any desire to actually be Xander’s lover, so the pleasure he derives from dominating “Manservant” must be emotional, unmixed with sex, whips or chains (at least not the physical kind). The humor here doesn’t come from the rituals of S&M, but from the patterns of dominance in, for lack of a better phrase, conventional romantic relationships. That’s why watching Dracula act like a jealous lover is so funny. Cuz he is and he isn’t. As usual with a homoerotic subtext in the Whedonverse, it’s more about raising an interesting question [How is the relationship between two characters like a romantic/sexual relationship and how is it not ?] than providing any answer.
We’re left totally to our own devices to determine why Dracula feels “so alone” without Xander, allowing himself to dissipate, losing all sense of joy in his ordinary, fiendish pleasures, and looking his age. Why he hastily spiffies up at the approach of his Xander. Why he acts cold, standoffish and unavailable at first. And why he only relents when Xander submits: “Please, Master, I beg of you.” (My personal take is that Dracula, having been beaten by Buffy [and thus, in his hierarchical view, dominated by her] palliates his wounded ego by stealing Buffy’s sidekick.) The flirtatious overtones are hilarious because Dracula’s intentions are pure; if he were scheming to bed or turn Xander, his behavior would be more disturbing. But he only wants to own Xander’s ass.
Goddard underlines the point with Dracula’s flagrant, bordering-on-archaic language of racial domination. Here Goddard is both incisive and hilarious, showing clearly that talk of “Moors” and “Orientals” is a reaction to how threatened Dracula feels by Renee, who comes between him and his desire to dominate Xander. Just as incisive and hilarious is the revelation of how he lost his magics gambling for a motorcycle, another pathetic display of his emotional attachment to Xander (who taught him to ride). The satire is just brilliant — light as feather, sharp as a razor blade, so deftly done that whatever social analysis it contains comes across as pure entertainment.
Dracula is a monster of (among other things) ego, dominating all he encounters, including Buffy, whom he evicts from the master bedroom in Japanese slayer HQ. But he gets to grow as a (bad) person. What finally lays him low and raises him slightly up is the unwanted sight of Xander’s first kiss with Renee. Maybe he’s just defeated in his attempt to dominate his “manservant,” or maybe there’s something more. His hilarincisive “Please stop that” is a reversal. He is now the supplicant. He’s not happy about it, but he’s not out of control hellbent on stopping it either.
At Renee’s death, we see no glee on his part, just cold determination to protect, then avenge, Xander. Dracula’s at his most masterful when he’s no longer trying to master his “manservant,” but to serve him in his hour of greatest need. He is sensitive, in his demonic way, allowing Xander to decapitate the vampire who murdered his new love.
But just as Dracula becomes a bit more like Xander, Xander becomes a bit more like Dracula. “If you ever call me manservant again . . . I’ll kill you in your sleep.” I think I know what he’s feeling. Under Dracula’s influence, he was rude — even racist — to Renee. So he fantasizes about the ultimate domination, murder. But Dracula isn’t entirely to blame for Xander’s behavior. Something about Xander wants to be dominated, to be in someone’s thrall. It was an element of his crush on Buffy, and the central element of his mancrush on Jonathan in “Superstar.” He doesn’t need to kill Dracula. He needs to kill the part of him that wants domination.