A western adaptation of a Japanese adaptation of a western horror trope is typically a recipe for disaster, but Castlevania has managed to stay on the good side of the internet for the most part. Season 4 offers more of the same and throws in a sucker punch ending that could be the perfect ending for many viewers and bodes well for future spin-offs.
And so it came to pass that the story of Alucard, Trevor Belmont and Sypha Belnades would resolve by Season 4’s end. And I suppose it was a somewhat satisfying one, partly because the side stories are what elevate Castlevania above a franchise cash grab.
After seasons of lengthy (and I mean lengthy) build-up, we finally see the arcs of Hector, Isaac and the vampire sisterhood come to fruition. I hesitate to label the rest of the cast as side characters because more so than our heroic trio, they embody the soul of Castlevania. Because Alucard, Trevor and Sypha have to stick to type, it’s down to the side characters to add depth. On the upside: Sypha swears like a sailor now and her 10-second, heavily-accented and expletive-laden tirade was probably worth watching an entire episode for.
Unfortunately, the treatment isn’t quite consistent all around but given the short length of the series relative to the story arcs they were attempting to present, the showrunners just about managed to cross the line without too many missteps.
The pacing of Netflix’s Castlevania has never been its strong point, and I guess we’ve been conditioned enough that this failing plays right into viewers' expectations. More of the same, hurray! Vampires hate change, after all. Given the excitement generated by last season’s cliffhanger, you’d expect things to kick off from the onset.
Here’s another half a season of setups for you, then.
But at least the payoff was somewhat worth it. I do think that, ironically, the final two episodes were a little rushed but it’s a question of half an episode too long vs half an episode too short. Swings and roundabouts I suppose.
But not to worry, the climactic battle is full of moments that you signed up for, almost as though our trio knew that they were paid to play to the gallery. As usual, Sypha gets the best moments and if you ever had the impression that she was unusually powerful then I must respectfully inform you that you are wrong – she is ridiculously overpowered. #tooOPpleasenerf
But Castlevania the series has always been more than just a cheesy quest to take down a vampire lord and this is what made it so watchable. Its characters share a commonality – whether they are aware of it or otherwise – in that all are searching for, their humanity, their calling. Yes, even the vampires, and especially the vampires.
Ultimately, all the players are struggling to come to terms with their pain and their purpose. And their outcomes are determined by the paths they take. Alucard is possibly the most high-profile example of this dynamic, although I do think it is the weakest of the lot and is somewhat disappointing. A little unfair, I suppose, given that ultimately, he can’t turn evil. Can he? Or am I misreading the crowd?
But no matter, the others will make up for it. Trevor and Sypha satisfactorily complete their growth trajectories that previous seasons have been lining up, while the most surprising one belongs to Carmilla, the main antagonist of season 4. While her motivations have previously been revealed, the true emotional weight of her fears and bitterness come to bear for the first time.
Striga and Morana, the more peripheral vampire sisters get a slice-of-life treatment this season, with the events of the world revealing where their hearts lie. The pair receive arguably the most heartwarming end to their stories. Lenore arguably gets the most poignant one, although I do think they did her dirty having set her up as the catalyst for Hector’s growth. But her choices and fate were necessary to put Hector’s development in perspective.
So it seems that in Castlevania, no villain is truly heartless – it’s just a matter of whether they live long enough to have their stories fleshed out for the audience. Isaac and Hector have the most intriguing conclusions, albeit a little lacking in the sense that you don’t exactly see or feel the pivotal moments of their growth.
Castlevania Season 4 does stumble down the stairs but ultimately lands on its feet, complete with a superhero landing pose. The plot twists at the end feel a little contrived, but at that point, you’re just happy enough to wave them home. And I guess that’s what makes Netflix’s Castlevania such a success – they’re canny enough to know what their audience wants and more importantly, what they can get away with. And you don’t need to be a fan of the series to appreciate that sort of cleverness.
Castlevania Season 4
Verdict - 8/10
Pacing issues lead to some disjointed moments, but by and large it feels like you've completed the video game; a well-earned and triumphant victory.