The return of Castlevania to Netflix brings with it a renewed hope for plot and character development in a traditionally short episodic adventure. One could argue on the effectiveness of that goal within this season, but what cannot be denied is the pointed effort that has gone into shaping the story of Isaac, who has quickly become one of the main antagonists in the story.
(some spoilers for Castlevania below)
Isaac (portrayed by Adetokumboh M’Cormack) is a Forgemaster, a sorcerer that can take demon souls from hell and merge them into a host body of a dead human. He and his fellow Forgemaster, Hector, use this skill to create a large army for their leader Dracula to cull humanity for the vampires to control. However, due to a betrayal by Hector, their plans are ruined, and Isaac is exiled. Isaac is chiefly driven to hunt and find the betrayer, Hector, to exact his revenge. Isaac’s history is that he was a former slave that was mercilessly beaten by his master. That overused trope has shaped his process for understanding human cruelty. This motivation is shallow and cannot hold for a character that needs greater depth and nuance.
The catalyst to drive this growth in Isaac is a small part of the main narrative, but one that I would argue is precisely critical to Isaac’s evolution as an antagonist and therefore, critical for the story. He has no name, save for the Captain. He is a burly, bald, black man with a light toned accent that makes one think of the sea due to Lance Reddick’s masterful voice work. Isaac meets the Captain while his demon army is destroying the town of Tunis. He needs to make his way across the sea to Genoa to find his betrayer and threatens the Captain to assist him. However, the Captain knows that only he and his crew have the skills available to sail his demon spawn across the sea. He calmly strikes a deal with Isaac in the face of that army, that if no harm comes to his crew, he will settle on a price to take Isaac and his monsters onto his ship.
Later, on this journey, Isaac and the Captain come face to face in the Captain’s quarters to speak about why Isaac needs to get to Genoa. The scene is set well, as the camera pans between both characters. One can’t help but to compare their behavior and demeanor in this interaction. The Captain is completely at ease even as a cold and brutal Isaac sits directly across from him. Here are two black men, two powerful men, but one appears as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders while the others shrugs in the face of adversity. Then within the context of their conversation, a narrative key appears.
Isaac is telling the Captain his plans in Genoa. The Captain pour a drink and asks Isaac, “After you’ve had your blood, what will you do then?”
Isaac looks puzzled. The Captain asks will he take up Dracula’s goals as his own? Isaac looks down and says he might, unsure as if he is pondering this for the first time. Then the Captain utters a key phrase.
“If you don’t have your own story, you become a part of someone else’s.”
This is a clear narrative acknowledgement that in order for Isaac to grow as character in the show, he must begin to build his own story separate of his relationship with Dracula and his hatred of Hector. Isaac’s entire arc has been one of dependence on these two individuals but the question that had never been asked to this extremely powerful, strategic, regal character is what he wants for himself. Until now. From here, Isaac’s narrative turn does indeed become his own. He still has the mission of hunting down his betrayer, but after he leaves the Captain, he takes a detour away from this goal. He elects to go investigate a sorcerer instead of heading to Styria, where his power is tested to the brink.
Castlevania is a show that continues to introduce complex characters and various motivating factors both great and small that have contributed to create an interesting narrative that keeps many entertained. It should then be a reasonable ask to have that same complexity be given to the black characters in the show. With the unashamed insertion of bold dialogue such as that from the Captain, one cannot doubt that the direction of Castlevania is magnified as Issac appears to be a rising antagonistic force for the series’ future.
Ryan Files is an avid comic book and video game consumer, reviewer, and critic hailing from the boondocks of Illinois. He has taken his ethnographic cultural studies background and applied it to his love of geekdom. He is a huge Star Wars nerd, Castlevania fanatic, and his power level is definitely over 9000. When he isn’t online writing about how he misses old school beat em’ ups like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or TMNT IV Turtles in Time, he raises his 3 Dora Milaje warrior girls with the most awesome wife a blerd could ask for. You can reach the mumbly one @moblipeg on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.