Review: With Season Three, ‘Castlevania’ (2020) Becomes a Show That is at Once Thoughtful and Nihilistic

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“A thought-provoking and entertaining series”

It isn’t exactly too difficult to earn the title of best video game adaptation, but Netflix’s Castlevania took the crown when it debuted back in 2017. With its third season, Castlevania cements itself not just as the best video game adaptation to grace our screens, but a thought-provoking and entertaining series in its own right. 

Season three is remarkably different from its predecessors. Dracula (Graham McTavish) is dead and at first it is hard to shake off the feeling that something is missing. He was such a fantastic antagonist; a tragic character blessed with great writing and a brilliant voice performance from McTavish, but his absence leaves a giant hole to fill for a villain to sympathise with and a clear final conflict for the season to build towards. The other significant aspect of this season is that the show has grown from eight episodes to ten. The extra two episodes means we get to spend more time with the cast, and creator Warren Ellis makes sure to make the most out of the extra run-time to focus on each character. It makes for a slow start and the pacing is jarring when compared to previous seasons, but the payoff is absolutely worth it. We get to explore the characters in much more depth and each character arc feels more organic.

The cast have split apart since season two’s climatic battle. Trevor (Richard Armitage) and Sypha (Alejandra Reynoso) find themselves in a town full of new characters after growing close with each other whilst on monster hunting adventures. Alucard (James Callis) is saved from a life of solitude protecting his father’s castle when he receives visitors from afar. Carmilla (Jaime Murray) retreats back to her home, with Hector (Theo James) as her prisoner, to draw up new battle plans, and Isaac (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) continues his quest to destroy all of humanity whilst journeying back to Hector to exact revenge. 

Four vampires looking down over a map, from the animated series Castlevania.
image courtesy of Netflix

Castlevania has evolved into a true ensemble show, but Ellis gives each character time in the spotlight, favouring scenes of quiet contemplation and discussion than all out action. The season begins with a near-silent look into Alucard’s new life as he goes about his daily chores and attempts to stay sane as the sole resident of the castle. Even from the first scene we get a more meditative and mature direction from Ellis. With Dracula gone the characters have the time to actually explore themselves and not be rushed by the plot. Said plot mostly comes from Trevor and Sypha exploring the new town of Lindenfeld, where we are introduced to a cult of priests who have turned to worshipping Dracula. This is one of the more interesting new concepts of the season that fits into the show’s stance on religion and nihilistic viewpoints. Bearing witness to Dracula’s reign of terror has sent these God-fearing men quite literally insane and has turned their faith towards a far more malevolent being. 

The ruler of Lidenfeld, simply named The Judge (Jason Isaac), is a fun new addition as well as Saint Germain (Bill Nighy): a mysterious but charismatic stranger hiding secrets that eventually reveal itself to be a heart-wrenching backstory. The extremely sarcastic and aggressive humour is still present, adding to the nihilism on display. Even moments of levity and purity are snuffed out by acts of violence or shocking plot twists caused by a character. The world of Castlevania has always been a cruel one but now the cruelty hits on an emotional level, with the character’s inner conflict coming out. 

The vengeful forge-master Isaac might actually have the most engaging character arc out of the whole cast. There may be physical obstacles in his way, but the colourful characters he meets on the road challenge his motives and belief that humanity should be wiped out. These scenes may be simply directed but the conversations are so riveting and thought-provoking that they easily become some of the highlights of the whole season: a conversation with a sea captain about seeing the good in humanity and a story told from a demon about their second attempt at life are some of the stand out scenes from his journey. His arc seems to be the one that is tied closest to Castlevania’s nihilistic stance on the world and the human condition with Ellis making him, and the audience, question how we humans act and think.

Fans may not be getting the action-heavy plot structure from previous seasons, but the narrative ramps up the tension which climaxes in the final two episodes with an explosive display of sex and violence. Here we see that the show has saved its budget for one incredible sequence after another of stunning animation and creative action choreography. After all the bloodshed, however, the season finishes on a pessimistic note, with the surviving characters dispirited and angry at the world. The world of Castlevania may have demons and vampires but it still has the evil and injustice of ours. By understanding the characters on a deeper level, Ellis shows us the toll that the evil of humanity and hell can have on us. 

Created by: Warren Ellis

Produced by: Ted Biaselli, Warren Ellis, Brad Graeber, Kevin Kolde, Fred Seibert, Adi Shankar, Larry Tanz, Jason Williams, Toshiyuki Hiruma

Cast: Richard Armitage, James Callis, Alejandra Reynoso, Theo James, Adetokumboh M’Cormack, Jaime Murray, Bill Nighy, Jason Clarke

Available on: Netflix