Castlevania has returned to haunt Netflix with vampiric plotting, lashings of blood, and more monsters and misery than you can twirl a sword familiar at. With the dust settling on where this new season takes hero and villain alike, we looked back on what we loved most about its latest adventures…and a few things that didn’t quite work.
The Sense of a Much Larger World
The first two seasons of Castlevania told a story that felt very contained”the first primarily playing out in the settlement of Gresit and the second on a slightly larger scale across Wallachia at large, but still primarily set within the intertwining locations of the Belmont estate and Dracula’s castle. From the get-go, however, the third focuses on giving us a wider view of its world and makes things so much more interesting in the process, examining what the absence of Dracula has done to alter not just power dynamics, but the very state of the world around the Castlevania has focused on so far feels both narratively earned and laden with potential as the series moves forward.
The Squad from Styria
Castlevania season three brings with it a few new characters to fill that world”but some of the best new additions belong to our cadre of vampiric villains: Carmilla’s fellow sisters-in-rule back in Styria, Striga the general (Ivana Milicevic), Morana the overseer (Yasmine Al Massri), and Lenore the diplomat (Jessica Brown Findlay). Despite being the predominant lingering threat across this entire season, as they begin to enact Carmilla’s audacious plan to expand a Styrian empire across Eastern Europe, what actually stands out most about the Styrian Council is that they’re…fun?
Well, with each other, at least. Lenore’s seduction of Isaac across the season plays into the series’ wider themes about deception and loneliness, and makes for one of the more insidious arcs of the show so far. But as she whiles away her time in Styria’s dungeons tempting Isaac into her dominion, Striga, Morana, and Carmilla’s banter between each other is wonderfully vampy (sorry, not sorry). There’s a real sense of humanity given to each of them, whether it’s the warmth of Morana and Striga’s love for each other, or just the sisterly banter as they jab and laugh. If Castlevania‘s past villain relationships were defined by their emotional distance and their uneasy tension, there’s something fascinating to be confronted by a major threat that feels as united and happy with each other as our heroes do.
Bill Nighy as Saint Germain
There are perhaps few actors in the world you could dream of performing Warren Ellis dialogue more than Bill Nighy, so from the start, season three’s addition of the mysterious Saint Germain and his quest was a delightful thing. But watching Germain’s arc progress over season three as Nighy has to dance between dandy scholar and tragic soul made for one of the season’s most compelling journeys.
Not many people could make you guffaw about an explanation of toilet paper as a wholly foreign concept in one moment”and break your heart the next, when the true reason for Saint Germain’s interest in the Lindenfeld priory is revealed. But Nighy revels in the duality of his character, relishing every foppish moment of comedy he can from the gregarious persona Saint Germain projects to those around him, while at the same time making his moments of sadness deeply felt.
That Priory Battle
While Castlevania‘s third season manages to strike a more even-handed balance between the moments of gory, monster-slaying action that drew people to the show in the first place and the character-driven downtime that made its second season so compelling, it still knows when to pull out all the stops. When everything goes to hell”almost literally, should the pathway to the Infinite Corridor beneath Lindenfeld priory have its way”in the final episode, Powerhouse Animation really throws down a gauntlet or six and delivers a battle for Sypha and Trevor that is one of the most astonishingly crafted fight scenes that’ll be on TV this year.
It lacks the more oblique video game nostalgia of last season’s excellent battle for Dracula’s castle”although there are plenty of cool nods to spells and abilities from the games, especially with Sypha’s gloriously expanded repertoire”and it doesn’t quite have as much to say about our characters, but it makes up for it with just being wall-to-wall bonkers action. Even in their relatively short time together, Trevor and Sypha have become much more exponentially powerful as a fighting unit, as a pair and alone, unleashing everything they can at the monstrous night crawler hordes emerging from the Infinite Corridor. Sypha using her flame to take flight while slicing up winged demons with well-timed ice shields? Trevor breaking out both his morningstar whip and his trusty leather original to perform a flurry of blows that looked like a cross between ballet and a battle rope workout?
That It Was Really About Loneliness
One of the most interesting aspects of this season was always going to be about how it handled the current absence of what is probably Castlevania‘s most crucial element: Dracula. With Vlad Tepes laid low at Alucard’s hands at the end of season two, much of season three is about the vacuum left behind by his death, on a macro worldview. But the thematic beats that Dracula’s story represented”his terrible, terrible loneliness, and how attempts to resolve that loneliness only drove him to further despair”still remain here and ripple out in fascinating ways.
There’s Isaac’s arc, a quest for vengeance driven not just by his perceived betrayal at the hands of Hector in last season’s courtly intrigues at Dracula’s castle, but also the very fact that the master he was so devoted to pushed him away for his own safety in a time of crisis, leaving him alone and aimless. Saint Germain’s true tragedy and his reason for investigating Prior Sala’s cult in Lindenfeld isn’t out of some arcane scholarly curiosity, but because he is haunted by losing the love of his life in the passageways of the Infinite Corridor, driving him to this aloof life of a charlatan magician as he attempts to get her back. Hector himself is so utterly broken by his abandonment and betrayal that his loneliness drives him into the hands of Lenore and to an even sadder fate.
And then there’s Alucard, who appropriately bears the brunt of his father’s loneliness here. At first, it’s played for jokes. He tries to navigate life as the dual guardian of Dracula’s Castle and the Belmont Crypt alone, talking to adorably hand-crafted dolls of his best friends”but the arrival of Taka and Sumi (Toru Uchikado and Rila Fukushima, respectively) as potential new students, and how hard Alucard falls for them both, speaks to the tragedy of just how crushingly alone he feels. It’s a perfectly sad way to keep the spirit of what Castlevania‘s take on Dracula was all about alive through the show in his absence, even if it leads to a lot of grief.
How Bloody Bleak It Is
And speaking of that loneliness, Castlevania takes a compellingly hard turn in its denouement this season that serves as a shockingly stark and terrible reminder of not just how cruel this world really is, but what the loneliness in it can really do to people. As Sypha, Trevor, and Saint Germain’s battle at the priory comes to a close, what should feel like a victory (a reward for our brave adventuring heroes Belnades and Belmont!) suddenly unravels before their very eyes. After escaping, they quickly discover the town judge (Jason Isaacs) bleeding out in the wake of the slaughter at the priory. They’d been working alongside him in their investigation, but he was secretly just as foul as the cultists he’d so hated, using his position as the township’s leader to maliciously send its children to their deaths.
As they leave the now ruined town, there’s the cold reminder that sometimes the monsters of Castlevania‘s world are not always as literal as they seem. But for Sypha and Trevor, it’s a reminder that asks them to examine the heroism of their adventures. Would Lindenfeld have been doomed if they hadn’t rolled into town as adventurers eager for a new quest? Did they just hasten the rot to its inevitable, bloody end, or would they have been better off blissfully ignorant of the true darkness lingering in its shadows?
And it’s not just Sypha and Trevor that are left buffetted. Hector’s crippling isolation leads to him being horrifically enslaved by Lenore’s magicks, dooming him to servitude for the crime of giving into his desire to not want to be alone. At Dracula’s castle, Alucard’s blossoming relationship with Taka and Sumi ends with tragedy when his own desire to keep his new friends from leaving on their vampire-hunting quest drives the pair into a bloody, horrible end after they assume ill intent on his part. Of all our characters, it’s only really the villains that come out unscathed”but even then, that’s only because they’re in this period of scheming rather than action. Their dreams are just as unfulfilled right now as those of our heroes.
This sudden collapse doesn’t feel like an out-of-nowhere tonal slide”but just a reminder of how unjustly cruel Castlevania‘s world has always been. Some of that had been lost with our hero’s triumph over Dracula, but really, it was always there”Vlad Tepes’ miserable vengeance that started this all off was born out of a world of people unable to trust, unable to open themselves to new people or expect the better of those different to them. For all the good our heroes have tried to put into the world, this world is still this world. How Sypha, Trevor, and Alucard (who seems hardest hit by this knife-twist, like his father before him) confront that terrible truth will be one of the more fascinating parts of wherever Castlevania goes next.
We Didn’t Love…
That the Pacing Didn’t Quite Work Out This Time
One of the most interesting differences between Castlevania‘s first and second seasons was the latter’s much more subdued approach, pulling away from the action-heavy lightning pace its debut’s truncated runtime allowed for. Its third season does much the same, but the tapestry afforded by its grander sense of scale”and because its myriad plotlines are so much further sprawled out and isolated by that scale”also means that a slower pace sometimes works against it.
The separation of our heroes and our villains means that, unlike last season’s tight focus on Dracula’s Court and what Sypha, Alucard, and Trevor were up to, there are way more plotlines to draw on this time around, and moving slowly about each one of them as the show progresses gives plenty of time for character work. But it feels less like you’re building to one single climax and more waiting for multiple climaxes to go off”and no, we’re not talking about what Lenore, Hector, Alucard, Taka, and Sumi get up to in their bedrooms in the last episode!”yet not all of them actually get to do so.
That Isaac’s Arc Felt Like It Was on the Back Burner
Perhaps the most disappointingly left-behind arc this season thanks to this is Isaac’s storyline. While he’s a constant backdrop the season hangs itself on”he gets plenty of screentime, and like every other narrative intertwined here his story of regret and vengeance ties into the season’s wider themes about loneliness and the inherent cruelty of man’s world”there’s little in the way of forward motion as he carves a bloody path towards Styria and revenge against Hector. Of all the narrative arcs in season three, Isaac feels the one most isolated of all.
By the time everything elsewhere is beginning to build to a release, Isaac’s storyline feels like it just stops, a moment of respite for him having ransacked a city of enslaved humans and turned them into fodder for his Night Creature horde while everyone else gets to build to a much more dramatic conclusion. It’s clear the series is playing a much longer game with the character, sure, but with there being at least some semblance of closure across the board in season three’s storytelling (bleak as it was), the fact that there wasn’t really time to afford him something similar just made it feel like his presence was narrative wheel turning at times.