Television * Sam/Adam Deats * Vampires, Yo * 2018
I wasn’t really expecting to do a season-by-season write up of this particular season, but hey, here we are and why not? The first season of Castlevania was unexpectedly fun, despite not actually being a season of anything. I’m still irritated at the audacity of calling four twenty-two minute episodes a “season.” Well, the team behind Castlevania must have heard because season two is twice the number of episodes! It’s pretty clear that the first two seasons are actually a single story arc which combine for a solid 12 episode run. In retrospect it would have made more sense to wait until this season came out to write about both of them together, but how was I to know? Stupid Netflix and its unpredictable release schedules. Anyway, whatever, Castlevania picks up right where it left off and carries this particular story through to a pretty satisfying conclusion that leaves more than enough room at the end for ongoing stories. I did a modicum of research and Netflix has ordered another ten episodes, so that’s cool.
Okay, enough whining about how this series is organized. They made their decision and they made it wrong, so let’s move on. This second season moves at a more leisurely pace than the first. Those first four episodes are just a blur of blood and giblets, and while this season has its fair share of people getting whipped in half, there are more quiet moments. Season two introduces several new characters, and takes the time to develop them. Most of these new arrivals are Dracula’s generals, tasked with persecuting his purge of humanity. There are some intriguing bits about how the vampire society is structured, but mostly everyone defers to Dracula because he’s the strongest. But he’s also real sad and indifferent now, which leads to a good deal of unrest amongst the troops. It also doesn’t help that his top two generals are humans. Isaac and Hector are given brief backstories in order to help us understand why two human would volunteer to be the point men in a campaign of genocide against all of humanity. Carmilla, a rival for Dracula’s power, also shows up and starts sowing discord. There’s definitely more going on than last season’s relatively flat depiction of the evil Church.
As a writer and a critic, I’m usually on the defensive against flat characterizations, clichés, and tropes of any kind. Given the option, I generally prefer deeper characters, original situations, and an aversions to archetypes. That said, clichés and archetypes are the foundation of pretty much all fiction and storytelling, so we might as well embrace them. A well told story with familiar elements is comforting and satisfying. Castlevania trades in tropes and archetypes, but it’s all executed so well that it works. It’s a gothic horror story featuring larger-than-life heroes and villains. Trevor Belmont is a washed-up drunk with a tortured past who deals with his present with large doses of sarcasm. But he also has a heart of gold and can still kick ass when his purpose is revitalized by a sassy young lady. Sypha, said sassy young lady, is extremely competent and confident. She has a lot of excellent banter and can hold her own in a fight. Alucard is the brooding young man who is doing the difficult thing out of a sense of honor, in this case loyalty to his dead mother. You’ve seen these types before, but Castlevania has no pretentions beyond telling a sharp, fun story.
I’m starting to wonder if maybe I haven’t exhausted all I have to say about this series in the top section, there. Despite the story and the world opening up a bit in this second season, overall Castlevania is pretty straightforward. Humanity is a scourge, and Drac is here to wipe it out. Insofar as apocalyptacism (which is not a thing, but let’s pretend) is concerned, Castlevania is working within the confines of “humanity as a plague,” which is to say that as a species we are irredeemable and should be eradicated for the betterment of the planet. Sometimes, when I spend too much time reading the news, it’s a difficult thing to argue. Dracula, who lost a beloved wife to mob rule and rampant tribalism, has essentially made up his mind that the good things humanity has bestowed upon the world doesn’t come close to making up for the evils of the world. Humans, he argues, destroy without understanding. In fact, understanding and rational thought are grounds for destruction. Humans are impulsive, ignorant, easily led astray by fear and anger, and prone to violent outbursts. Again, hard to refute!
I’m not going to try, because like everything else in Castlevania, the main thematic thrust of the series is pretty well-worn territory. For all that horrible shit, humans are responsible for the concepts of love and beauty and ingenuity. Trevor Belmont is a character attempting to redeem himself thanks to youthful exuberance of Sypha. Alucard is a dang vampire and he’s trying to honor the memory of his beloved mother because she was the shining example of humanity’s potential for goodness. This is the kind of story where I don’t need subtext. I want to see a bunch of stylish, gory action scenes while enjoying the hero’s banter and the villain’s capacity for doing ill shit. I enjoy the snappy dialog and the show’s wry sense of humor. I want to Tevor and Sypha to kiss and run around fucking up vampires. So far, the show is doing a pretty good job of providing most of those things. Here’s a bunch of stuff that I think is super fun:
Godbrand is fucking great. When told that he’s never met anything he didn’t want to kill, fuck, or turn into a boat, he just responds “I like boats.” He’s a Viking vampire, so I guess it makes sense, but whatever. He’s a comic relief character, and it’s a shame he got staked.
The voice acting is tremendous.
I like Sypha quite a lot, and hope season three endeavors to give us a little more backstory insofar as she’s concerned. Like, I specifically am not looking for a tormented past here. I would much prefer a look into her life as a nomadic, magic-wielding Jehovah’s Witness.
I am extremely down for Carmilla being the new big bad. She’s vicious and conniving and evil in a way that Dracula wasn’t. She was pretty much spot on in her analysis of Dracula as a grown-ass man throwing a hissy fit because shit didn’t go his way. Yeah yeah, he has a point, but mourn and exact your revenge like a grownup.
Isaac and Hector are intriguing characters, in that they’re extremely damaged humans who happen to be able to reanimate the dead. Isaac is a wiener, although I assume he’s going to snap and wreck everyone’s shit up later. Hector is just spooky, and that’s rad.
I appreciate that season two was willing to slow things down a bit. One, it expands the world and the characters a bit, giving the audience time to appreciate the craft. If you’re going to bank on archetypes and cliché, you have to take the time to do it right. Two, the slower pace of the first six episodes ensures that the seventh episode is a proper payoff.
There’s an honest-to-god denouement! An entire, slow-paced episode that examines the aftermath of big, Dracula-killing climax. The episode moves potential new plot threads forward, with both Hector and Carmilla getting up to some shit. It also shows that Sypha has ambitions and an affection for Trevor. Castlevania is an oddly chaste show, so there’s no kissy scenes, but they’re good.
The season ends with Alucard weeping for his dead parents, which speaks to the emotional core of the show. That Castlevania has an emotional core is impressive in its own right.
With season two, Castlevania went from a four-episode curiosity to a legit good show. I’m looking forward to the next season.