The Very Model of a Modern Vampire General: Grumbles about Castlevania Season 4
So I have finally got around to watching the fourth and final season of Netflix’s Castlevania series (2017-2021). I have never played the games the series is based on, so I approach television’s Castlevania as a stand-alone animated Horror/Fantasy.
I thoroughly enjoyed the previous seasons, and fully expected to enjoy this season. I have also noticed that the online reviews have been highly positive.
Colour me surprised when I found myself underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong… it is far from bad, and certainly no Game of Thrones season eight, but I felt Castlevania’s end did not quite meet my expectations. Hence today’s post.
SPOILERS: CASTLEVANIA SEASON FOUR
If I had to summarise my major disappointment, it would be that the pay-off did not follow from the previous season’s build-up. Indeed, two major plot-lines from the third season were essentially nullified.
The first such plot-line was the fraught relationship between Hector and Lenore. As I wrote in March 2020, what Lenore pulled on Hector in the third season was a terrifying form of psychological abuse. She was not merely posing as the ‘good cop’ to her sisters’ ‘bad cop’, but actually served as a friendship placebo for a man undergoing the depths of despair. She took a naked prisoner, and acted as a point of light in the darkness of Hector’s existence… only to turn on him, and turn him into a pet. A sex-slave, robbed of his free-will. Season Three Lenore was as monstrous a character as Castlevania has yet produced.
Season Four? Hector and Lenore’s relationship comes across as uncomfortably normal. Lenore wants Hector to create new Night Creatures, Hector says he is getting to it… and the pair share some sexual banter. Rather than seeing Hector struggle to get out from under Lenore’s magical domination, a plot-line I was actually looking forward to, Hector is already treated as having autonomy, a partner to Lenore, rather than her resisting pet. Sure, he has to cut his finger off, but the ease with which he places Lenore in confinement (and then chats with her afterwards, over wine) rings hollow when one considers how this ‘relationship’ started. And Lenore voluntarily committing suicide by sunlight? That one felt very, very forced, as though Hector (and us, the viewer) is supposed to mourn this monster. The discrepancy with the previous season is just too distracting.
The other plot-line from the third season that I felt fatally undermined by the fourth? Alucard. Don’t get me wrong, Alucard’s plot-line in Season Three was the weakest part of that season. It was meandering, uneventful, and the Big Betrayal came out of nowhere. There was, however, one rationale for it, one plot-related reason for what would otherwise be a waste of the viewer’s time. That reason? It appeared to put Alucard on the path towards darkness.
Leaving the impaled corpses of his two victims outside the castle sent a clear message – that the Son is following in the Father’s footsteps. Perhaps not quite enough to turn Alucard into a fully-fledged villain, but I was at least expecting him in the fourth season to have to wrestle with his darker side. He’s young, vulnerable, and has had his trust violated by humans… there is scope there for something interesting. Instead, in Season Four he’s the big defender of townspeople, to the point where he even invites them into his home (what happened last time you did that, you fool?). Oh, and he picks up an implied love-interest too. It’s all too easy, too unearned, in a series that thrives on psychological darkness as well as blood-and-gore.
Speaking of the fourth season feeling a tad contrived at points, I would also cite the ending-twists. Both of them.
Trevor has apparently sacrificed himself in fighting the greater-scope villain, Death (for which they should probably have done more build-up, but I digress). Sypha is pregnant with his child, and Alucard and the townspeople offer her the resources and support to raise it. Alucard wants to name the new town Belmont, in his friend’s posthumous honour.
In short, Castlevania has provided us with a powerful and bittersweet ending. Our protagonists achieve victory, yes, but it is a victory bought at a price. Which is appropriate, given that Castlevania’s world is a tough one. We were introduced to the setting back in Season One with impaled corpses and burnings at the stake… why should we expect the grand finale to be sunshine and rainbows?
Well, apparently it was time for sunshine and rainbows, because it then turns out Trevor has survived. The bittersweet power of the sacrifice is gone, and we have a generic Happy Ending. Other people may disagree, but I do not feel this ending fits the story.
(ii) Dracula and Lisa
As if Trevor wasn’t bad enough, we’ve got Dracula and Lisa back too. Which really begs the question – why? What does this epilogue add to anything? Having Dracula in retirement (in Whitby, no less) feels like an odd hook for a potential series spin-off. Moreover, from what we saw, being burned at the stake and then trapped in Hell for twenty years has done nothing negative to Lisa’s psychology. She clearly doesn’t mind that her beloved husband tried to exterminate humanity either.
It is much too light, and much too fluffy, an epilogue for a series such as this. If you’ve built up expectations over multiple seasons of television – expectations of Horror – it is bad form to pull the rug out from under the viewer.
Phew. I didn’t intend to be quite that negative about Season Four of Castlevania. To re-iterate, it’s far from bad, and Carmilla vs. Isaac in particular was truly a sight to behold (Carmilla’s ending probably tops the overall season for me, while it’s a crying shame Isaac wasn’t given more time later on). It’s just that with wall-to-wall glowing reviews across the Internet, I found myself weirdly outside the norm in terms of audience reaction. Clearly, there is no accounting for taste.