Badass monster murder-fights aside, Castlevania's third season was largely an experiment in determining what strange new directions writer Warren Ellis could push the world and the characters of his extended Konami Dracula-verse into, considering that the big bad bat himself was taken out of the picture for good at the end of Season 2. When it first landed, I found Season 3 to be an incredibly mixed bag, and over time I've come to genuinely dislike it. For one, it is a massive let-down following the excellent — if trashy — run that Castlevania got started with. It's also just a baffling and terribly paced season of television, one that exemplifies all of the worst habits that a lot of these Netflix Originals indulge in: Each of our heroes gets maybe two or three half-hours worth of a good story that is needlessly stretched across ten episodes, there is no rhyme or reason to where scenes and plotlines begin and end, and the whole thing ends up feeling like exposition that is meant to set up all of the cool shit that is bound to happen next season.
Well, Season 4 has arrived almost exactly one year later, and not only is it the first chance that Castlevania has had to prove that Trevor and Co.'s Extended Adventures in Wheel-Spinning was worth a damn after all, it will also be the show's last. Whether it is because the Unholy Algorithms don't always make nice with long running shows, or because Netflix wants to distance itself from writer Warren Ellis after the unsavory allegations levied against him last year, Castlevania's fourth season doesn't just need to make good on all of its dangling story threads and character arcs. It needs to bring the entire saga of Trevor, Sypha, Alucard, and all the others to a satisfying conclusion, a notoriously tricky task that even the greatest of series have struggled with.
Here's the good news: This season of Castlevania is, in almost every conceivable way, and improvement on its third. That isn't to say that all of the show's problems have suddenly vanished like so much vampire ash in the sun, but still, everything that past seasons of Castlevania have done well, Season 4 does better, and it doesn't do much of anything worse. There isn't a single thing here that is as misguided and stupid as Alucard's Tragic Threesome of Ultimate Betrayal from last year, and that alone makes Season 4 a worthy conclusion to the Castlevania saga.
It helps that the action continues to kick unholy amounts of ass, pun absolutely intended. Castlevania has never been a slouch when it comes to the spectacle of bloodletting, but sweet merciful Vampire Jesus, the animators at Powerhouse Animation and Mua Film are just showing off at this point. Every single character you care about gets to participate in one or two of the best action set pieces that the series has ever produced, and the show is more willing than ever to get a little loosey-goosey with its animation so that you really feel impact of the superhuman feats that these monsters and magicians are accomplishing as they brutally stab each other in all of their foes' squishy, vital bits.
The storytelling is better, too, at least in some respects. Alucard's side of the story is much improved over last season's, to the point where it almost seems like the show wants you to forget about it as much as anyone else (seriously, aside from a couple of throwaway lines, you could basically delete that entire subplot from the show and it wouldn't make a lick of difference for this finale). Trevor and Sypha's storyline is similar to last season's, where the specific details of their plot aren't super interesting or important, but it's worth it just to see them be a cute, bickering couple that also does demon murder together. Hector and Isaac's stories are…well, they are honestly quite forgettable, in my opinion, but they at least end up feeling like they go somewhere by the time everything is said and done. Also, there's more Saint Germian! Everything is better with a little more Saint Germain added to the mix.
The problem is that Castlevania's writing is no good at multitasking. If characters spend literally half an episode on a single conversation, which they often do, you can bet that the show will either be waxing philosophic, dropping plot exposition, or trying to develop its characters — but never more than one of those tasks at a time. Many of the fight scenes, as awesome as they are, involve mobs of mooks getting mowed down without consequence, and the ones that do matter are not afforded much in the way of escalation, tension, or drama. There is one key, decisive battle that happens at the conclusion of Episode 6 that you'd expect to be a huge freaking deal, the kind of thing that belongs in the season finale. Instead, one character lives, another dies, and the show practically forgets about their part of the story until it's time to wrap everything up in Episode 10.
It isn't just that the story feels janky, and often rather slow, though both of those things are absolutely true. It's that it often feels janky and slow without purpose. It's difficult to parse why characters are doing what they're doing, what the consequences of their actions might be, and how Story A ties into Story B, or how they tie into Story C, and so on. It doesn't help that the characters become harder to invest in ff you're tired of Ellis' “crass and irreverent” shtick, not to mention how so many of the performers still can't be bothered to read their lines above the level of a dull, hung-over whisper.
To her credit, Alejandra Reynoso still kills it as Sypha, and Bill Nighy's Saint Germain has no trouble whatsoever acting circles around the likes of poor James Callis's Alucard, who still sounds like the main character in an add for anti-insomnia medication, rather than the sultry, pansexual demon slaying son Dracula that he is. There are a host of new characters this season, too, though the main standout is Varney the Vampire, played with kooky glee by the inimitable Malcolm McDowell, who ends up nabbing my vote for the single best reference to the Castlevania games that the series ever pulled off.
If nothing else, consider this: I went in to Castlevania's final season not knowing if I'd like it at all, considering how badly the show had just fumbled the ball. Not only did I end up having a blast, just like in the good ol' days of “Bloody Tears” needle-drops and secret wall turkeys, I actually ended up caring when the time came to say goodbye to the Castlevania Crew. Not a whole lot, mind you, but enough. There are rumors abound that we'll be back in this world again before too long with some spinoff or another, but if even if this ends up being the last time that we ever walk the roads of Wallachia with Trevor and the gang, it's a damn fine way to go out.