After four seasons over the course of four years, Adi Shankar’s Castlevania series has drawn to a close… kind of. Despite season four being marked as the show’s final season, there are apparently plans in place for a spin-off series to build on what was established here. Castlevania has been a wild ride in terms of quality. Sometimes, the show has wonderful action and a trashy sense of humor that I love. Sometimes, it’s agonizingly slow to the point where I actually fell asleep. To call Castlevania uneven would be an understatement.
When season 3 dropped last year, fans were left mixed by everything it did. With Dracula dead, the focus was split between four plots that ground the pacing of the show to a halt numerous times. Personally, while I did think that it was quite slow at times, I was okay with the speed it was going. Season 3 was clearly a transitional season, focused on establishing a new status quo for our heroes now that Dracula was dead. The important part was seeing if, and how, the following season would live up to all of that set-up.
Given that season 4 of Castlevania had a lot riding on it, the results are thankfully good, but not as good as they could have been.
Castlevania (Season 4)
Director: Sam Deats
Release Date: May 14, 2021 (Netflix)
The biggest problem that Castlevania Season 4 has to deal with is its incredibly fractured plot. Nearly all of the plots from the last season continue without much interruption. Trevor (Richard Armitage) and Sypha (Alejandra Reynoso) are traveling the countryside fighting monsters, Alucard (James Callis) has been summoned to protect a local village from monsters, and Carmilla (Jaime Murray) is assembling an army to conquer Europe with the assistance of an enslaved Hector (Theo James). Even then, that hardly goes into all of the plot threads that the season develops and adds, which makes the show feel horribly overstuffed.
Many of the criticisms that were lobbed against season 3 are present here. While they were excusable back then as a means to properly set up some big event, season 4 is that event. Everything comes to a head here and it never quite fully clicks. An episode will usually be dedicated to developing one or two of the plots, but such an approach kills any and all momentum for the story.
Take the sixth episode of the season, “You Don’t Deserve My Blood.” By all accounts, it’s an excellent episode, probably the best in the entire show, and it wraps up numerous character’s plotlines excellently. If it was the series finale, then I would have no problems with it. Sadly, it isn’t. There are still four more episodes left to go after. The overall pacing of the show is incredibly lopsided and it feels as if there was too much content that needed to be addressed from last season and not enough time to do it.
That may be because the writer of Castlevania, Warren Ellis, was ousted from the series following allegations against him that cropped up last year. Even without him present, all of his scripts were used and by the time the credits roll on the final episode, it does feel like a proper finale: a well-earned finale at that. Our main trio reaches the conclusion that best befits their characters and we conclude with an ending that feels justified. It’s the journey to actually get there that doesn’t flow in a way that feels natural.
Elements that were introduced in previous seasons are ignored for huge periods of time and new revelations and ideas never feel fully developed in any meaningful way. New characters are brought in to spice up the action, like a smarmy and cocky vampire named Varney (Malcolm McDowell). He’s a fun character to watch, but given how the show makes him out to be so important, it feels odd that he’s only introduced right at the end of the series and isn’t given all that much screentime. There are many other characters introduced that you get the feeling are supposed to be more significant to the plot, but they basically amount to baddies our heroes need to fight. It’s not quite a monster-of-the-day format, but when I can’t remember the names of most of the antagonists, that’s a problem with the writing.
Then you just have the meaningless plot avenues the show decides to take us in, like returning to the city where Dracula began his quest for vengeance. Nothing of value comes from it besides giving Trevor and Sypha something to do for several episodes before the finale. We have an excellent fight scene in one of the early episodes where a vampire unleashes Daywalker armor to fight humans while the sun is out, but it’s only used in that one scene and never again. Some plots and characters are more important than others and you can easily see that everyone attached to the show is also straining themselves figuring out how Plot A connects to Plot B and how that somehow ties into Plot C.
Thankfully, the elements that have always worked in Castlevania are still present. I love the performances of most of the main cast, from Richard Armitage and his beleaguered and grumpy demeanor as Trevor to the calm and logical ruthlessness of Isaac (Adetokumboh M’Cormack). The only performance that still feels off is Alucard’s, but at least there’s better material for his character here than what he got last season. Plus, as mentioned before, the action is just plain awesome.
The series may have dialed back on its trashy humor quite a lot, but the action still delivers on every front. It’s easy to see that Netflix definitely increased the budget for the show here since most of the fight scenes beat anything that the previous seasons had to offer in terms of spectacle. You still have your ultra-violence with people holding their organs and an entire waterfall’s worth of blood at times. Action fans will be entertained here and if you’re purely going into this season wanting to see monster fighting action, you’ll be very satisfied with what you get.
But Castlevania was always a little bit more than just mindless action. That certainly helped it in early seasons, and once the show decided to focus on developing its world and characters, that’s when the problems began to show. In that regard, I can honestly say that as a story, the series is frustrating to sit through. In some episodes, you’ll be entertained watching your favorite characters pontificate on human existence and the differences between power and strength. Other times, you’ll be bored watching two vampires you barely know bicker about a relationship that we’ve never seen.
There’s a lot more that I want to say about this season and the show in general, but I know the question most of you are wondering. Is season 4 of Castlevania worth a watch? Well, if you’ve been following the show up until this point, you might as well just see how it all ends. Sadly, it’s not the show’s best season. Not by a mile. It’ll still deliver thrills and shlocky violence, but don’t expect it to be firing on all cylinders at all times.