Hector, Lenore, and Castlevania Season 3
The animated Castlevania television series released its third season the other day. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have never played the games the series is based off, but as a strange example of Western-style anime, I think it has its own compelling vision of fantasy-horror.
I also normally would not designate a separate post to it, but one aspect of the season has generated some interesting online discussion, and I thought I would offer some thoughts. Specifically, I’m talking about Hector and Lenore.
SPOILERS FOR SEASON 3
Castlevania’s third season has its missteps, in terms of horror. I don’t feel the twist-ending adds much: a character we had hitherto regarded as tough but fair turns out to be a serial killer… which evokes only a shrug, and a lingering sentiment of Darkness Induced Audience Apathy. Meanwhile, Alucard’s little incident has comparatively little build-up, in terms of character relationships.
But so far as horror goes, Hector and Lenore works. Indeed, at the risk of sounding vaguely triggered, it works all too well.
Recall that the vampires need the captured Hector to work for them. Hector starts off a naked prisoner, being fed on maggoty bread. He’s not in the mood to help. So Lenore gets to work, getting him clothing, and better food, and access to books… whereupon she seduces him, and magically enslaves him. Charming.
Now, there have been two prominent fandom responses to this. The first, and more understandable one, is that Hector is a naive idiot. How could he not see that Lenore is manipulating him, even going so far as to refer to him in animal-like terms? He must have been thinking entirely with his penis, right?
Well, yes. And no.
Hector’s situation is actually one I can relate to myself, based off personal experience. No, I have never been held as a naked captive by a quartet of vampires. But I do know what is like to be thoroughly mistreated by a group of people, and then have one of that group show kindness to you in that sort of manner. Hector knows full-well that Lenore is not to be trusted, but when you are in Hector’s situation, you inherently latch onto the smallest hint of light. The smallest smidgen of kindness. Even when your instincts are screaming at you to beware… part of you honestly does not care if the light at the end of the tunnel is an on-coming train. Because there are situations – and I know this myself – when the barest facsimile of human decency will serve as well as the real thing. It is not simply naivety, though it may be confused as such by people who have never ventured into these depths. It is a primal human desire to not be alone in the darkness of a pitch-black nightmare.
This, of course, renders the victim uniquely vulnerable to the likes of Lenore. When even a psychological placebo is preferable to uninterrupted cruelty, one becomes willing to go along with things that no normal person would countenance. Hence Hector being led on – and entrapped. There is much, much more to this than unthinking lust, and I suspect it’s also why I feel so emotionally affected by the scenes in question. It’s a horror I can personally relate to.
(Also, Lenore is a monster for Going There. But I digress).
With that out the way… let’s turn to the second fandom response. And it’s here that I turn from Confession into Rant.
The notion that Hector should be so lucky that he has wound up as a Sex Slave to a Hot Vampire Chick really showcases the (im-)maturity level of certain audience members. Sure, it may be argued that being fed, and clothed, and bedded, and kept as a lustful vampire’s pet constitutes an improvement over being starved and frozen in a prison cell. But I would argue that it is a case of Out of the Frying Pan, and Into the Fire. At the very least. Because once one starts digging around inside the psychological ramifications of what Hector has just been through, that maggoty bread starts looking pretty damned good.
First off, Hector now faces a future of inescapable rape at the hands of his abuser, with all that implies. He’s gone from having bodily autonomy to being a magically-bound puppet for whatever Lenore has in store. The prior state wasn’t pleasant, of course, but at the very least he had some control – the ability to make particular choices, for example – and a degree of human dignity. That’s the key here: even as a prisoner, he had personhood. Now? He’s a pet. And that isn’t an improvement. Seriously, if you are in doubt about the disturbing nature of the situation, reverse the genders of Hector and Lenore.
Secondly, and this rather depends on where the series goes in the fourth season, one could see poor Hector going to some very ugly places psychologically. Self-loathing at falling for Lenore’s trap? A resigned despair, where he does what is asked, and spends the rest of his day hoping to avoid notice? Or worse… a sort of Stockholm Syndrome, where he starts sympathising with his new Mistress, who, after all, will occasionally gift him treats? One can become conditioned to maltreatment, after all. Or even expect it, after a while. Compared to that, the undoubted hatred and fear he felt as a prisoner looks all the more healthy.
Anyway, weirdly specific as it may seem, the horror evoked by Hector and Lenore definitely constitutes one of my personal highlights in Castlevania’s Season 3. I just think it a shame that the psychological complexity of the situation gets glossed over via a focus on Hector’s stupidity – or, worse, his supposed luck at ending up in Lenore’s bed. Some people don’t realise what they are talking about.