If there’s one thing in particular that separates an animated series like Netflix’s own Blood of Zeus from the likes of Castlevania—they both share the same animation studio—it’s that the latter, the streamer’s first true exploration of original anime, has always stood out for how effectively it harnesses a grand, melodramatic pathos for its characters. Where something like Blood of Zeus offers simple, pulpy pleasures and a fun (if rather conventional) twist on familiar mythology, Castlevania always strove for something a bit more profound. Is it silly to suggest that the animated adaptation of a vampire-slaying NES game could occasionally possess moments of beautiful clarity and catharsis that would make your heart ache, or bring a tear to your eye? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make the high points of Castlevania, such as the death of Dracula at the end of Season 2, any less operatic or perfectly realized. At its peak, the series has delivered in a way that most animation never even attempts.
The best of Castlevania was again well represented in the just-concluded fourth and final season on Netflix, closing out the adventures of Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Alucard, and others with another explosive climax and emotional epilogue. Things got a bit on the schmaltzy side, perhaps, as the series walked back Trevor’s apparent death in the final battle in order to fully commit to a Mega Happy Ending—not to mention the surprise second chance at life for Dracula and Lisa Tepes, which was a major bit of wish fulfillment—but fans of the series should likely be happy that it managed to pull its loose threads together in satisfying fashion in only 10 episodes, given that it originally seemed like Castlevania might run quite a bit longer. Sadly, the sexual misconduct allegations brought against show creator/comics legend Warren Ellis meant that Castlevania’s conclusion ended up being condensed a bit into Season 4, but things turned out surprisingly well regardless.
That is, except for one potential oddity of Castlevania’s ultimate conclusion, which was the sidelining of the human being who has arguably been the show’s best overall character through the years. Whereas every other major character received a true farewell in the collection of epilogues that made up series finale “It’s Been a Strange Ride,” there was only one character who was strangely absent: Isaac. The soft-spoken and philosophical forgemaster actually doesn’t appear a single time in the final four episodes of Castlevania—a curious choice that feels like a missed opportunity to conclude his story in the most satisfying way.
Granted, Isaac’s final appearance in the season/series, in the closing moments of Episode 6, “You Don’t Deserve My Blood,” serves in retrospect as a perfectly functional send-off to the character; it’s just a bit odd that it comes when it does, halfway through the season. The stoic forgemaster has just finished leading an assault on Carmilla’s castle, with his hoards of night creatures slowly wearing down the vampire queen until Isaac is able to personally engage her in a spectacularly animated duel that ends in her dramatic self-immolation. It’s a triumphant moment for him, although not really one that feels natural as a conclusion to his story, primarily because taking down Carmilla had never really been a stated desire of Isaac before this point. If he had been bearing some kind of longstanding grudge against her, viewing the toppling of her fledgling empire as his ultimate act of revenge for the death of Dracula, it might have sufficed. But the first half of Season 4 highlighted the growth and change of Isaac’s objectives, going from an utter disdain for humanity to a grudging acceptance that perhaps there are things in life worth holding onto. As such, his assassination of Carmilla feels less like the culmination of some great work for his character, and more a tentative first step toward whatever he intends to do next, which is kept quite vague. As Isaac puts it in his conversation with Hector after Carmilla’s death: “I have recently begun to consider the future, which has been a novelty for me, because I never really thought I had one.”
This naturally sets up the expectation that we’ll get to see what exactly he intends to do with that future at some point in the final four episodes, but that epilogue for Isaac oddly never comes. Primarily, this is because we spend almost the entirety of Episodes 7, 8, 9, and 10 with the core trio of the cast—Trevor, Sypha, Alucard—but it’s not as if there was nowhere that Isaac could have gotten his closing moment. In fact, the series finale opens in Styria, with Hector and Lenore—the same location where Isaac is currently residing. He’s simply not around, leading to the final mention of his character in the series being a bitter quip from Lenore: “Here I sit, in a cage like a dangerous animal, with King Isaac, the happy bastard, keeping a very watchful eye on me.”
King Isaac? Has our forgemaster with a newly developed respect for human life (and new respect for his own agency and power to change the world) gone and made himself into a local monarch or despot in the weeks following the death of Carmilla? It seems antithetical to the new philosophy that has been growing in Isaac in Season 4—the feelings that led him to conclude that toppling Carmilla was the right thing to do. We can likely conclude that Lenore is being sarcastic, but it would be far less ambiguous for us to simply see what Isaac is up to for ourselves. His absence is felt strongly, given that he’s literally the only one of the major characters to not pop up again in “It’s Been a Strange Ride.”
Ultimately, all we have to go off in terms of what Isaac truly plans to do with himself after giving up his nihilistic quest is a few lines of dialog he shares with Hector back in Episode 6, just after absolving Hector of his guilt for the role he played in Dracula’s betrayal and death. When asked what he will do next, Isaac speaks vaguely of building something new, something where people will not be trapped by the barbarism created by a daily scrabble for survival. He says the following: “I will instead build something new on all these old bones. Something where people can live for a future. I’m going to live.”
Did the writers of Castlevania Season 4 simply never come to their own conclusion on what Isaac meant by those statements? Why else would we not get a peek at what the show’s most soulful character is doing with his time, especially considering that we were already visiting that location in the episode? Why invest so much care and time into Isaac’s story—huge battle sequences and long, philosophical debates—if you don’t plan to include him at all in your epilogue? It really does feel like a waste.
The lack of a proper conclusion for Isaac doesn’t truly mar Castlevania, or even this final season, which is a testament to just how surprisingly effective this show’s emotional payoffs can be. But we’ll always wonder what became of fascinating, multifaceted Isaac—brought to life by an incredible performance by Adetokumboh M’Cormack throughout—and wonder what might have been.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and resident genre geek. You can follow him on Twitter.
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