This post contains spoilers for Castlevania season 2.

When you think of “Prestige Television,” what are the necessary elements? For me, the main ingredients are a deeply interconnected narrative with multiple moving parts that require the viewer’s full attention, a significant production budget, and emotionally resonant acting. For spice, most shows that get labeled as Prestige™ tend to be on the dark side, with characters dealing with heavy burdens and traumas. Think Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad or Westworld. Using that criteria, I would submit that Netflix’s Castlevania qualifies as a whole new sub-genre: Prestige Animation.

Everything about Castlevania is an over-dramatic gothic confection sprinkled with modern sardonic wit. Brutally violent, the plot hinges on the death (or fridging) of Dracula’s human wife which causes him to go berserk. As vengeance, he promises to kill all humans. It is up to the last scion of the Belmont family (Richard Armitage), a mage (Alejandra Reynoso), and Dracula’s son (James Callis) to put a stop to it. By itself, that narrative is enough. Heck, it’s already a better story than any other video game adaptation to date. But writer Warren Ellis wasn’t content to tell a simple, linear story because life is neither simple nor linear.

And he’s introduced one of the best new villains of 2018 in the show.

If you don’t know the name Warren Ellis, know that he’s a legend within the comic book community, having penned iconic stories for both Marvel and DC Comics. His version of the Green Goblin from Thunderbolts is still the blueprint used by writers today. Wider audiences are familiar with his work on Iron Man as Ellis’ “Extremis” run was the basis for Iron Man 3. He has a prolific catalog of independent work as well, bouncing from satire to serious with ease. More importantly, Ellis is a big proponent of the timeless comic book creator tradition of punching Nazis.

All of this is to say, in season 2 of Castlevania, Warren Ellis has taken his decades of experience and applied pressure until the most interesting villain of the year sprang forth from his brain: Lady Carmilla. Voiced by Jaime Murray (who played a different version of the same character in Sleepy Hollow), Ellis takes a character who was created in 1871 by author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and later overtly sexualized for the Castlevania video games and breathes new depth into her. Let me be 100% clear here: Carmilla is evil. She is cold, calculating, and ruthless. She has no time to suffer fools, enjoys violence, and will kill a man just as soon as look at him. Knowing all this? I would die for Carmilla.

In an interview, Ellis talked about how he knew he needed to wedge open the narrative for the second season of Castlevania or it would peter out. Carmilla is that wedge. Introduced in the third episode of the sophomore season, Carmilla wastes no time making a power play. Who else would literally walk into Dracula’s castle and accuse him of wasting vampire time and resources on the human pet he forgot to take care of in front of God and everyone? Who else would ask Dracula (Graham McTavish) why he didn’t either turn his wife or provide her with around-the-clock protection? Who else would do all this and then, not only live, but convince Dracula she had said such things in front of his entire court as a favor to him? After all, Dracula’s court was thinking it and Carmilla simply said it, which gives him a chance to explain himself.

Ovaries. Of. Steel.

If Carmilla’s arc had begun and ended in Dracula’s throne room, it still would’ve been an amazing play. Using her charms to ingratiate herself to the most powerful being in the world through plain speech would make Carmilla a force to be reckoned with. But Carmilla doesn’t want to be a force. To paraphrase Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones, Carmilla wants to be the force. And by God, her plan is breath-taking in its ambition.

Over the course of the season, Carmilla reveals layers of herself that make it easy to see where she is coming from. Turned by a cruel vampire hundreds of years ago, Carmilla watched him descend into madness until she took care of the problem. The experience left her with negative patience for sad old men making poor life choices that drag everyone down with them. From her perspective, Dracula has lost his mind. He wants to literally kill his source of food. He is so angry about his wife’s death that he will not only destroy humanity, but take the entirety of vampire-kind down with him. And what are his loyal courtiers and creepy necromancer human generals doing? Following along blindly. Obviously time for a regime change.

She’s not wrong.

Carmilla’s precision is so unwavering that even Machiavelli would be impressed. Audiences watch as she casts around the vampire court for weakness, finding it in the vampire lord Godbrand (Peter Stormare) and the human general Hector (Theo James). Both men have just enough disgruntled thoughts for Carmilla to exploit. As she maneuvers her pawns into place, even the audience isn’t completely sure what Carmilla is up to or how horrifyingly competent she is until she springs her trap. The kind of trap that involves the widespread planning that takes years, if not decades, to put into place. The kind of trap that can only occur if Carmilla had the unwavering faith of hundreds of her people, which she did. That itself is awe-inspiring. Not one of her generals or courtiers defected. Not one saw a chance to rat her out to Dracula and bring favor on themselves as worth it.

The best part? While just about any other story would have Carmilla get her comeuppance for daring to topple the “natural” order of things, Castlevania recognizes game. And Carmilla’s game is good. She isn’t punished for her ambition. She’s underestimated at every turn (something that will resonate with female viewers) and her triumph is brutal and complete. She even gets, in my opinion, the best monologue of the entire series thus far:

“I am in control […] Yes. [Dracula] could have done it. You [Hector] could have done it. Any of the generals could have done it. But I had to. Do you know why I had to do it? Because I am surrounded by children and animals and dying old men. There are perhaps four other women in this castle and they will glare from the edges; either disempowered by posturing man-children or too paralyzed by sheer fucking rage to do anything.”

When Hector shoots back that Carmilla should watch herself because she needs him, Carmilla laughs in his face. She has implicated Hector in treason if he doesn’t go along with her plan and now he is as good as dead. Watching the trap snapped shut in the face of man after man who underestimates Carmilla’s determination to never again be under the thumb of a senile monster is one of the most satisfying plots of the entire season.

I can’t wait to see what season 3 of Castlevania brings because Warren Ellis has set Carmilla up to be the most terrifying creature to descend upon fictional Eastern Europe. Her control makes her more dangerous than Dracula ever was. You can goad a creature like Dracula. So far, the same can’t be said for Carmilla. Her plan isn’t to kill all humans and bathe in their blood as vengeance. No, Carmilla wants an orderly world where the livestock (humanity) is contained and penned, docile and accepting. From the vampire’s perspective, she has right and might and that makes her both fascinating and terrifying.

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