Major SPOILERS for The Haunting of Hill House, both book and series
Friends, Romans, Countrymen…let’s talk about The Haunting of Hill House, Netflix’s new series (loosely) based on Shirley Jackson’s classic novel of the same name. Stephen King has praised it as “close to a work of genius.” Metacritic ranks it at 80%. IMDb users have rated it 9.1/10.
That’s pretty good, right? Pretty dang good! So why are we here? Just to sing the series’ praises?
Not…exactly. I liked it. I really did! I’m probably closer to Metacritic’s 80% than IMDb’s 9.1, and I’m not sure if it quite reaches the realm of “genius.” I’m a huge fan of the book, and while I don’t have problems with this “run through a different prism” version (as showrunner/creator Mike Flanagan has called it), I do have a few…quibbles. Issues. Problems.
So What’s This Thing About, Anyway?
The Haunting of Hill House is a 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery,” We Have Always Lived in the Castle). Okay, so, something that might jump out right away is that this book was published in 1959, and the author was a woman. A woman writing genre-defining, groundbreaking horror in 1959. That’s a big deal, and it’ll be important later, so keep it in mind.
The original book (as well as the two subsequent movie versions, 1963 and 1999, both entitled The Haunting) follows Eleanor Vance (called “Nell”) as she participates in what she thinks is a study about people with insomnia. In truth Dr. John Montague is a paranormal researcher, and, as he reveals on their first night in the house, he’s invited several people to be part of his study, but only Nell and Theodora (“Theo”) have accepted. Also present is Luke Sanderson, the current heir to Hill House.
Nell has had poltergeist-like experiences from childhood, and Theo is possibly telepathic (and strongly coded as a lesbian or bisexual). Dr. Montague is studying whether people with past experiences with the paranormal are more “sensitive” to a so-called haunted house. Hill House fits the bill: its original owner, Hugh Crain, built the house for his wife and daughters, but the wife died in the driveway on her way to move in. His next two wives also died prematurely, and eventually the house was left to his daughters. The eldest kept the house, and lived there many years with the help of a village girl as a companion.
When “Old Miss Crain” died, the village girl had a decent claim on the house and sued the younger Crain sister to keep it. She won, but the younger sister bullied her until she committed suicide by hanging herself in the library.
I don’t want to cover the whole book here, but suffice it to say some seemingly paranormal stuff goes down, but there are questions about how much of it is really happening, and how much of it Nell is imagining or even causing. In the end she feels like Hill House belongs to her. The others are worried about the effect the house is having on her and insist she leave, but she rams her car into a tree so she can stay, presumably forever. It’s a bit ambiguous if she actually dies, though. It seems like she does, but the book ends the way it opens: whatever walks in Hill House, walks alone. So did it just prey on poor, vulnerable Nell, or is she now “what walks there”?
Like I said, I don’t have a problem with the basic plot changes that were made for the series. The original 1963 film, directed by Bob Wise, is more or less faithful to the plot of the book and is widely considered one of the scariest movies of all time, without a drop of gore or a single splashy special effect. It’s a neat and compact 114 minutes that uses every second of its running time to build tension, make us question reality, and quietly, subtly terrify the audience.
So how could a relatively short novel and a perfectly made film be stretched into 10+ hours of television?
Enter Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Gerald’s Game). He made the decision to rework the story into a family drama. Instead of focusing on 4 strangers living together for a summer, the story is about the Crain family (NOT the original builders of the house, like in the book), led by Hugh (Henry Thomas/Timothy Hutton) and Olivia (Carla Gugino), and their 5 children: Steven (Paxton Singleton/Michiel Huisman); Shirley (Lulu Wilson/Elizabeth Reaser); Theo (Mckenna Grace/Kate Siegel); and twins Luke (Julian Hillard/Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Eleanor, or Nell (Violet McGraw/Victoria Pedretti).
The Crains have bought the house in order to “flip” it over the summer and sell it for big bucks so that they can build their “forever home.” Apparently this is how they make their money; Olivia is an architect, or at least has some architectural training, and Hugh is a general Mr. Fix-It who can repair nearly anything. In a TINY quibble, I think “flip” is entirely the wrong word for a place like Hill House. “Restore” would be far better. This isn’t a 3 bedroom ranch in Simi Valley.
Anyway. The story is told in flashback (hence 2 actors for each character…except Olivia), with the events of their last night in the house unfolding as each episode focuses on a different member of the family. Flanagan wanted the story to focus on what happens AFTER the credits roll in your typical horror movie: what happens to these traumatized people when they’re forced to resume their lives?
Well, let’s see. Steven, the eternal skeptic, writes books about other people’s paranormal experiences, himself not believing an embellished, sensationalized word of it. Control freak Shirley owns and operates a funeral home with her husband. Theo is a child psychologist and the epitome of the “predatory lesbian” trope. Luke is a heroin addict. Nell is…well, Nell marries, but her husband dies suddenly, and after that she’s basically just “the crazy one.” Hugh is shunned by his children for abandoning their mother and leaving them to be raised by their aunt after the events at Hill House.
Okay, what about Olivia? She, unfortunately, killed herself on that fateful last night. You don’t find out exactly what happened until the 9th and 10th episodes, but the children, who all have different pieces of the truth from their own experience, blame their father. He refuses to tell them what actually happened for various reasons, but mostly so they remember their mother as she actually was, not as who or what the house turned her into.
Since it’s why we’re here, let’s get into my issues with the series itself…
Male Showrunner…Male OC…
Huh? Sorry, I’m mumbling a little bit because I’m tired of men apparently only being able to write about/create male characters. Steven (and his sister Shirley, who we’ll get to later) is a creation of showrunner Mike Flanagan, and while that would be FINE, what Flanagan does with this character decidedly ISN’T.
As we discussed above, The Haunting of Hill House was written by a woman. In 1959. During a time when women were expected to spend their time vacuuming and making bizarre Jell-o molds for family dinner. It was her breakout novel, considered her best work by most critics, and when I said before that it was genre-defining, I wasn’t kidding. I was originally introduced to it in a series of Stephen King selected horror books published by Barnes & Noble. There were 3: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, Ghost Story by Peter Straub, and of course The Haunting of Hill House. Each book had an introduction written by King with his breakdown of the story and the characters, why he had selected it, and how it has influenced his own work.
I say all this so y’all know just how important this book is to literary (especially horror) canon. It’s a huge deal.
The book actually exists in the series, and both the first and last episodes quote directly from it…quotes that are in our real life version, and the fictional version, and are some of the most famous quotes in fiction. The PROBLEM is in the series, the book was written by Steven Crain.
Okay um I mean…you literally have a character NAMED SHIRLEY…but…you give the book, famously written by a woman…to your own male OC…I mean okay cool cool cool whatever…
In addition, Nell is the protagonist in the book. It’s her story. Her tragedy. It’s still (sort of) Nell’s tragedy in the series, but it’s definitely Steven who’s the series’ main protagonist. Each episode focuses on a different member of the family, but the show opens and closes with Steven, and Steven is really the only one who has an actual character arc, from skeptic whose disbelief hurts his whole family to “reunited and it feels so good.” Seriously, he and his estranged wife get back together and she’s shown pregnant with their kid, meaning he had his vasectomy reversed. A vasectomy he got because he believed his entire family was bonkers and he didn’t want to pass on the crazy genes.
I mean it’s not like having her big brother scoff and dismiss her fears her entire life shattered Nell’s psyche or anything. As long as Steven gets his wife and kid and happy, shining future because he’s sorry now, right? On to point two…
The Girl in the Fridge
Nell might be the book’s protagonist, but on the show she’s the quintessential Girl in the Fridge.
First of all, we see MUCH more of Young Nell than adult Nell. While certainly the experience in Hill House shaped her psyche (as it did with all the Crain children), the assertive, spunky little girl grows up into a fragile, overwhelmed woman who refuses to take her medication, lies about it, and obsesses over the death of her husband. It was like her grip on sanity depended solely on this one dude, and when he died she was lost. ALL we find out about Nell’s life since the house is that she was plagued by sleep paralysis, met a guy, got married, was widowed, and had a mental breakdown.
The entire thrust of the plot exists because of Nell’s suicide at the end of episode 1. Suicide or murder, depending on how you look at it. Point is, she travelled back to Hill House, irresistibly drawn by its lingering poison in her system, and ends up hanging from the spiral staircase in the library. Her episode shows us that the house/a ghost/her mom tricked her into tying the noose around her neck and that she was pushed, but like in the book, there are times when you question how much is supernatural and how much is Nell experiencing a psychotic break with reality.
Nell is “the good one.” She’s the only one who continues to believe in Luke, her addict twin. She reaches out to the others when she’s in crisis, but they’re impatient with her constant drama, especially Steven and Shirley, and don’t try as hard as they should to help her. They spend the rest of the series blaming themselves for her death, but ultimately it’s Steven who feels he should have been there. As he says immediately upon arriving at the house as children, he’s the big brother. It’s his job to protect the others.
Point being, while Nell was never a stable character in the original book, and yes she does (more than likely) die by the end, it’s still her story (when it isn’t the house’s). The Netflix series instead makes this far more about Steven: his journey from skeptic to believer, his guilt over not protecting his siblings and not believing them, and his controversial decision to write a book about the whole thing, thus exploiting and sensationalizing the family’s tragedy for money.
They even put Nell’s words in Steven’s mouth, in the final episode where he’s quoting from “his” book and repeatedly says “I am home, I am home.” Those were Nell’s thoughts (from the book, obvs) about Hill House as it asserted more and more of its control over her.
Book!Nell’s lifetime of repression, first as her elderly mother’s caretaker, then being forced to live with a sister and brother-in-law she hated, is what made her such an easy target for Hill House. She was a woman who’d never had a home, and for whatever reason, the creepy old mansion full of ghosts became that for her. While the show does continually circle around the theme of home, it doesn’t give us any real reason why either Olivia or Nell were infected enough by the house’s influence to kill themselves in it. Just that the house “feeds on emotion,” and the family was…emotional. I guess.
Which brings me to my third point…
We get no real explanation about Olivia and Nell’s madness. None. Is it just “sometimes bitches by crazy”? I mean duh it’s the house’s influence yadda yadda, but what about the house? Apparently the series originally included flashbacks to the house’s “origin story,” but those were scrapped for budget and time. Maybe season 2?
In the book the house was evil because Hugh Crain was nasty and controlling, so the house mimicked its creator. He wrote a book for his daughters about “proper comportment for young ladies,” which was basically just an excuse for him to be a misogynistic, maybe kinda incestuous, butthead. In other words, the house’s entire raison d’être was rooted in oppressing women. Enter Nell and Theo, one woman emotionally repressed and the other by necessity repressing her sexuality. Lesbians weren’t exactly able to shout it from the rooftops in 1959.
The show doesn’t give us a similar explanation. There’s Poppy, who was William Hill’s wife (yeah, in the show the house is named after its builder, not its geography), and apparently crazy. She’s a full-on flapper ghost who continually whispers in Olivia’s ear about the need to protect her children from the outside world, but…why does it work?
We know that the Red Room is the “heart of the house,” and that Olivia and each one of the kids has their own version of it (like an evil version of the Room of Requirement from Harry Potter), but what is it about Olivia and Nell particularly that make them so vulnerable to it? The next most vulnerable is Luke, and compared to Hugh and Steven, his narrative is decidedly feminine, just as Shirley’s is masculine. The women (and Luke) are plagued by the ghosts and have their lives ruined by them. The men (and Shirley) refuse to believe in any of it and cause suffering through their disbelief.
Unlike Nell and Olivia, Luke survives and is able to purge himself of the house’s influence. The series ends with the living members of the Crain family, including Luke, thriving and happy. Nell’s ghost saves her living siblings when they return to the house, and Hugh is able to convince Olivia’s ghost to let them go in return for him staying. Nell the fragile, suffering savior, and Olivia the crazy, overprotective mother. Not exactly progressive character development.
Because of this one ghost Olivia goes from a seemingly normal, loving wife and mother to someone who tries to kill two of her children. And DOES kill the little neighbor girl. Because of Nell haunting herself (uh, literally…), she spends her life battling mental illness and ultimately loses the fight.
If the show had explored the themes of madness and matricide and I don’t know…oppression, I guess? A little more deeply as it went along, both Olivia and Nell’s outcomes would have made sense and wouldn’t have left such a bad taste in my mouth. If you’re going to kill two of your main female characters you have to earn those deaths. They can’t just be because Carla Gugino looks amazing in long, flowing robes with long, flowing hair, the very picture of Gothic heroine madness, and uhh oh yeah Nell died in the book so let’s kill her here too!
I did genuinely enjoy the show. The actors were all great. Henry Thomas’s blue contacts were a little MUCH (think Orlando Bloom in the Hobbit movies), and I wonder when Luke had time to get LASIK, because I don’t see him keeping up with contacts as a heroin addict, but overall it was a solid, enjoyable, riveting 10 hours of TV…when I pretend it’s not trying to be a version of Haunting of Hill House.
My problems arise because I’m a fan of the book. If I weren’t, or if I’d never read it, none of these things would be an issue for me. I wouldn’t know authorship was taken from a woman and given to a man. I wouldn’t know that the female protagonist was fridged in favor of a male OC one. I might still wonder why Olivia and Nell went crazy, but at least I wouldn’t know that Shirley Jackson’s decidedly Gothic themes of “men trying to cage and oppress women leads to a certain, understandable madness” had been swapped for “bitches be crazy.”
As it is, watching the series I can’t help but think how Mike Flanagan, a cis white man, took a book written by a woman that was about the female psyche and repression, and turned into a story largely about another cis white man and his redemption for not believing in his family. Whether you take that to be Steven or Hugh, it all comes out the same in the end. The women (and Luke) are the crazy ones, the fragile ones, the tempestuous ones, and the men (and Shirley) are the ones who have the power to save the day!
I liked the show. I just wish it had been a haunted house story about a family and their demons, without trying to bring Hill House into it. Don’t take media by and about women and make it suddenly all about men. That helps no one.
Images Courtesy of Netflix, Argyle Enterprises, and Wikipedia Commons
Mrs. Maisel Remains Marvelous
Very few shows have ever made me fall immediately in love like I did with season 1 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. By the time the police escorted a drunken Midge off the stage of the Gaslight near the end of the first episode, this show had me. Heart, mind, and soul. The rest of the first season only deepened love. By the end, it was not only possibly my favorite show of last year, but my favorite show out right now, period.
Clearly I had high expectations going into season 2. Perhaps unfairly so. Can I really expect a show that drew me in so strongly to replicate that feeling again? Even if it remained as excellent as before, could it make me love so hard a second time? The short answer is yes. Yes and then some.
Landing the Joke
What stood out to me about this second season of Mrs. Maisel was the bold confidence Amy Sherman-Palladino, her fellow writers, the cast, and the rest of the crew have in their vision of this show. Everything wonderful about the first season not only remains, but cranks up another level. The dialogue moves as fast and wittily as ever. The actors have settled confidently into their characters. Side characters receive much-appreciated focus. The direction, cinematography, and costumes of the show remains stunning, easily ranking Mrs. Maisel among the best looking shows out right now.
Even better, the story managed to push a bit outside of the first season’s comfort zone and prove how its formula works in a variety of settings and scenarios. Where the first season found comfort in the Upper West Side of New York City, season 2 immediately moves Mrs. Maisel to Paris for the first two episodes. A later story arc takes the Maisels and Weissmans to the “wilderness” of the Catskills. Midge and Susie eventually go on tour around the northeast United States.
Not only does the show (and Midge) lose none of the charm navigating all these new settings, it only proves the true quality of both. Midge’s impromptu stand-up sets are as funny as ever, even when they require a surprised translator for a French audience. I shared Susie’s fear about the Catskills trip breaking the momentum of the season to date like it might stall Midge’s career. Then it turned into a wonderful multi-episode arc.
Mrs. Maisel plunges fearlessly into different settings and drags its characters along with them, forcing them all to adapt to the changing circumstances of their lives. The first season certainly focused a great deal on change, and season 2 takes it even further. Everyone has their life uprooted in some way. Some major, some minor, but no one escapes the season unscathed.
Midge, of course, is the star. Her comedy career continues on an upward trajectory, ending the season with her biggest step forward yet. The big change comes in the effect her comedy career has on those around her. The first season certainly sees major change in her life but most of it sees her charm her way upwards in Manic Pixie Dream Girl style, minus the man viewing her as such. Season 2 sees her comedy career take a serious effect on her life. Friends are left behind and relationships suffer. Her comedy dreams begin demanding sacrifices, forcing Midge to make hard choices in her life.
While Midge remains eminently likable and perseverant, she comes across appreciatively more flawed than in season 1. There’s a shade of reckless selfishness to Midge this season. She chases her comedy dreams with an almost single-minded focus disregarding those around her. Where everyone just kind of shrugged and said, “that’s Midge” during season 1, the same cannot be said this time around. Her perseverance alienates sometimes.
In the hands of a worse actor or writers, she would come across poorly. Rachel Brosnahan just remains so damn charismatic and fun, though. The writing also knows exactly when to stop at the line between endearing and annoying. It’s a truly remarkable balance combined with a performance that deserves every award Brosnahan will get while this show airs.
And speaking of the acting; Tony Schalhoub is even better this season. The Catskills episodes are him at his very best.
Midge’s parents receive a large focus this season. Midge’s mother Rose quasi-leaves Abe and moves to Paris, triggering the Paris arc to start the season. Both find out about Midge’s career this season as well. Abe, in particular, undergoes an arc much like Rose did last season, as everything he thought he knew about his children falls apart beneath his feet. This includes a revelation about Midge’s brother Noah that expands his character.
However, if I do have a major complaint about this season, it involves Midge’s parents. Rose, especially, is done a disservice. The first 3 episodes of the season focus greatly on her dissatisfaction with her life in New York. When she returns home, however, she quickly falls back into her old socialite lifestyle without further comment. Abe goes to great lengths to be different for her in the first half of the season. Over the second half, though, he also returns to the same habits that caused their problems to begin with. It’s a shame to see the good work done in the beginning of the season vanish like it does.
Susie also has a pretty wonderful season expanding on her life and personality. It’s no surprise to say Alex Borstein is absolutely wonderful; she’s funny, vulnerable, and possesses a fierce loyalty to Midge. She’s also understatedly charismatic. Season 1 established Susie as a loner with trouble making people like her. Season 2 flips this on its head multiple times, showing how Susie can create connections with people besides Midge. Her loyalty and charisma even lead to a huge opportunity for her management career heading into season 3.
She also gets to be really, really funny. Susie was obviously funny in season 1, but most of her humor revolved around Midge, like everyone else. Season 2 gives her a spotlight all her own leading to some of the funniest moments all season. There’s a multi-episode gag involving a plunger that might be my favorite joke all season.
In the end, it is still the Midge/Susie dynamic driving this show, and it was undoubtedly improved upon.
Mrs. Maisel’s bold confidence in itself really shines through in the skill with which season 2 expanded on all these side characters and introduced others, all without even the slightest hiccup in the show’s quality. Midge even gets a new love interest, a doctor named Benjamin, who blows Joel out of the water. There’s an immediate chemistry between the two despite Benjamin’s initial indifference. An indifference that, to be honest, made me worry about the subplot. Things weren’t helped by the massive Not Like Other Girls angle that makes Benjamin interested in Midge.
An episode later, I loved it. That’s just what Maisel does, and it earned a great deal of trust from me moving forward. Seriously, the Catskills was wonderful.
Speaking of Joel…I have to say I dislike him even more this season than I did in season 1. I know his character comes down to personal preference. My personal preference is that his character needs to change.
He’s so toxically masculine and pathetically insecure, even more than the first season, and it stands out poorly to me among so many other wonderful characters. At least in season 1 he was a guy who made a really stupid mistake and tried to rehab from it. I didn’t mind him. This time around he doubles down on both his mistake and his sense of entitlement regarding Midge. He wants to live a womanizing bachelor life yet throws hissy fits at the idea of Midge having anything without him.
However, Joel and the vanishing character growth of Rose do little to detract from a fantastic season for the entire cast. Mrs. Maisel did exactly what you want to see with a cast of characters in a second season; they grew them, expanded them, and continued endearing you to them.
Was that Political? It Sounded Political!
Mrs. Maisel also continues and grows its political streak in season 2. The main obstacle to Midge’s career is never her own ability or Susie’s ability to find gigs. No, in the end, it always comes down to sexism. Everywhere Midge goes, bookers think she’s a singer or don’t want to put her on because she’s a woman. Susie has to use fake pictures to sell her sometimes. Fellow comedians mock her on stage, but when she mocks them back, she gets in trouble.
There’s also a moment where Midge bases a set around pregnancy jokes and is rushed off stage for saying the word “pregnant.” Of course, this comes directly after a man who told jokes about penis growths.
I’d say your mileage here may vary. Perhaps Mrs. Maisel is too blunt with its feminism and will make you groan. The combination of Midge’s exceptionalism and the lack of subtlety won’t appeal to everyone. Personally, I think it straddles the line effectively and falls in balance with the style of the show. Mrs. Maisel isn’t trying to tell a story focused on rising feminism during 1950s America. The politics are an added source for jokes and conflict. Personally, I find those jokes hilarious.
The politics also extended beyond Midge and her career with some hints at Abe’s activist past, which has been set up as a major plotline for season 3. Ultimately, this is a show about a Jewish woman breaking into comedy in America during the 1950s-1960s. To ignore politics and the patriarchy entirely would feel inauthentic.
Regardless of time period, Mrs. Maisel is telling a story about a woman escaping expected gender roles to be the person she wants to be. It can’t help but be political. I think they do a pretty great job in that regard.
More deftly handled throughout season 2 was the issue of wealth and social class. Comparisons often arise regarding the difference in wealth between Midge and Susie. Sometimes this comes from giant confrontations, and sometimes the point is made more quietly, such as the differences in living quarters during the Catskills trip. Joel and his family exist somewhere between, well off enough to live close to the Weissmans but still struggling to keep a business afloat.
Like everything else, this tends to exist as a source of growth and character jokes. Mrs. Maisel clearly isn’t trying to make a larger point about wealth inequality or the privilege of the Midge and her parents. Conflicts pop up because circumstances demand it.
Overall, it all works. It also adds needed depth to a show that could have ignored these circumstances entirely. In many ways, season 1 did ignore much of this. Midge faced sexism, but not quite to the extreme she does in season 2. Midge’s wealth and privilege stood out, but was not directly addressed compared to Susie’s poverty. Like everything else about season 2, Mrs. Maisel expanded the realities of the world around Midge, Susie, and their friends and family. I think they did a fine job.
There’s so much depth here I can’t even comment on. Elements of the existence of women, the impact of being Jewish, of possible LGBTQ elements that may or may not exist. Mrs. Maisel is, at its core, a show trying to be funny. It’s a comedy. However, it has a lot there to dig into. More than I can get into here, and more than I could even recognize. Season 2 made these characters and their world so much bigger and more meaningful, and I love both the effort and execution.
I admit to a bit of bias when it comes to Mrs. Maisel. As I said to begin this review, I fell deeply in love in the very first episode and it’s possible my ability to recognize deep flaws has vanished. This show hits on just about every level for me. The jokes almost always land, the drama hits its mark, and anyone not named Joel has my undying devotion. I have zero practical knowledge of fashion and yet I deeply admire the clothing choices for every character.
There’s a reason season 2 of Mrs. Maisel will end up on a lot of Best Of lists for 2018. It’s funny, smart, beautiful, dramatic, and makes you care for its characters. It absolutely deserved an Emmy over the incredible second season of Atlanta, and it only got better this season. I’m left with the same question I had after the first season; can Mrs. Maisel replicate this quality? Can they possibly make me love another season as much as I did the first two?
I have a feeling they will.
Images courtesy of Amazon
Castlevania’s Final Two Episodes Are Heartbreaking and Perfect
It’s very rare that I call anything, especially a series completely flawless, but in the case of both the final two episodes of Castlevania and the series as a whole, they’re something truly without equal in the world of video game adaptations. Not only did the second season improve on the first, it completely perfected it to please both new comers and gaming veterans alike for an experience that is unmatched in quality story telling, faith to the source material, and just an overall thrill ride with tons of drama and excitement.
In keeping the essence of a perfect season it is only natural that both the climax and concluding episodes be the best of the entire season. The last two episodes are equally action packed and emotional spectacle, as well as a cathartic and bitter sweet farewell as we say goodbye to some of our favorite characters. Though only for a bit, as season 3 was already announced.
Now, the big question about season 3 for me is, which game will it be based on, 0r will Warren Ellis decide to go with something completely original? If he goes the game route, he’s got a few choices to pick from. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness would be the most logical, as it takes place only a few years after the third game and follows the rivalry between Hector and Issac. He could also the show take back to the original Castlevania and introduce Simon Belmont.
Finally, he could skip ahead a few hundred years and bring us the most beloved stories in the series and introduce Richter Belmont, Maria Renard, and the return of Alucard in Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the night. Both are considered the epitome of the series experience. He could also turn the clock and return to days of Leon Belmont, as the character was mentioned several times this season. If he decides to go for original content, no doubt we will see more Carmilla, which I’m totally on board with.
With all that in mind, I love what I’ve seen with this series: the characters, the gorgeous animation, the powerful story telling, and the love for the game that’s clear among everyone involved. I’m excited for the future of the series. While it is a shame that the game’s original developer Konami decided to squander one of many of their best game series, we can at least find solace that it will live on in this anime.
This is it, the final battle, and it begins where we left off: Dracula’s castle is now on top of the Belmont estate and his generals are still locked in a battle with the remainder of Carmilla’s forces that were transported with the castle. The moon becomes blood red, and it seems that Dracula is no longer amused by this betrayal. Our trio rises from the library as Sypha uses an ice pillar to help them ascend the broken staircase in front of the castle. On their way up, we get a nice portrait of Leon Belmont, hopefully a foreshadowing for the series. Sypha cleverly tosses the ice pillar away as she doesn’t want to flood the basement and destroy the library. We need more people like her in the world.
The three make their way into the great hall of the castle and suddenly all vampires’ attention is on them. In this fight, we get to see Sypha unleash her magical potential, Trevor’s fighting prowess and whip work, and even a nod to the many familiars and forms Alucard controls in Symphony of the Night. In the background, we are treated to fan delight as one of the best versions of a recurrent theme from the soundtracks of the games, Bloody Tears, plays triumphantly in background. Everything about this scene, which takes up half of the episode, is amazing and exciting. The three work as a single force: Sypha distracts them with magic, Trevor takes them on one by one, and Alucard overwhelms with sheer might. This maybe the last time we see them fight together but damn if it isn’t the best. Did I mention how awesome this rendition of Bloody Tears was?
If I had to choose a favorite part of this battle it would have to be Sypha’s duel with the Indian vampire. Her constant, fluid adaptability with her ice magic was impressive to behold. As was Alucard’s duel with the Geisha-esque vampire and the moment when Sypha saves him. I love Sypha, and I’ll just stop myself there. While the three are battling to get to Dracula, Issac is doing his best to defend his master from the armor clad vampires. It is this moment that we see the tragedy of Dracula, as Issac prepares to give his life for what Dracula represents. Instead, he transports Issac using the mirror to a distant desert, to spare him from a cruel fate.
The rest of the episode follows the fight against Dracula. All three play a part in it, but Alucard does most of the heavy fighting, including the eventual death blow. The fight is actually quite one sided as neither Trevor or Sypha can do much to damage Dracula, still their efforts are not in vain and make for some amazing fight sequences. Even the scene where Trevor’s punch to Dracula in the face was like hitting a wall is pretty hilarious. Yet it seems only the morningstar whip can really do any damage. There’s a couple of nods to previous Dracula fights in the game as well, like that giant meteor that appears in several fights.
Eventually the one on one fight between Alucard and Dracula leads to his childhood room, filled with toys, drawings, and children’s things. It is here that we at last see what humanity remains in Vlad Dracula Tepes and are treated to one of the most heartbreaking scenes in anything I’ve watched in a long while. “It’s your room. My boy. I’m-I’m killing my boy. Lisa, I’m killing our boy…We painted this room, we made these toys. Your greatest gift to me, and I’m killing him. I must already be dead.” Our hearts are filled with the pain of Dracula’s final realization of what grief has done to him, what monsters we are all capable of becoming.
It’s in this moment that Alucard drives a stake into his father’s heart. Trevor removes his head and Sypha burns the ashes once and for all. We mourn the passing of one of gamings greatest foes, but we also mourn a son killing a father who indeed loved him. In the end, what little humanity was left in Dracula shined out. A perfect end to a perfect episode.
Most of this episode serves as an epilogue and a view of things to come for the series. Alucard wanders the castle, witnessing the damage the assault had caused, especially Sypha’s spell wreaking havoc in the clock tower gear room. Apparently Alucard was going to return to sleep but not while the castle is abandoned with all of the science and knowledge of the centuries. He plans now to stay and watch the castle since Sypha, you know, broke it. Trevor gives him the Belmont library; as above so below, it is all Alucard’s to guard, a home. The two share a beautiful moment of real friendship and a hope for better days.
Next up is Issac, who is confined to wander a new desert. He frequents an oasis nearby and is quickly harassed by several horsemen led by a scarred man. They plan to either sell or eat him which prompts Issac to attack them, flaying them bit by bit in violent fashion. The significance of this sequence is a new madness in Issac. After realizing he could have an army of undead now at his disposal by using his forge master skills, he begins to make one.
We return to Sypha and Trevor and their plans for the future. Sypha plans to return to her people but only for a short while. Life with Trevor was far too exciting for her to stay with them. There’s more evil to be destroyed, the night hordes remains, as well as Carmilla and the corrupted church. Their adventures are not over. Especially the big one that we see coming, a marriage between the two.
Hector and Carmilla appear next in Breila with her surviving order. It’s clear now that once she gets back on her feet she will raise another army. With Hector now her slave, she has an unlimited supply of reborn demons. Poor Hector gets a glimpse of the punishment he will pay should he disobey her.
The final goodbye between our trio is sweet and heartfelt. It may not be in the stars that they meet again but surely the memory of their fights will keep the friendship going for eternity. As we know, Alucard is always on a friendly basis with the Belmonts in the future. What kills me is the final scene. Alucard, now alone, explores the castle that is now his. Full of life and memories but now, like his father, dead and hollow. He returns to his father’s study and is plagued by the ghosts of a happy childhood. The season ends with him weeping, mourning his family.
I hope you all enjoyed this season of Castlevania, and hope to see you all when season 3 rolls around!
Images Courtesy of Netflix
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