Warning: this article contains spoilers for Netflix’s “Castlevania.”
The third season of “Castlevania” premiered on Netflix on March 5. The Netflix original series, based on the beloved video game series, pushed its Mature rating like never before — and not always in a good way. One of the season’s most disturbing scenes should have been one of its most groundbreaking: the reveal that one of the show’s protagonists is attracted to both men and women.
The streaming juggernaut has long been praised for diversity in its shows, and the writers took steps to continue this trend in the latest “Castlevania” season. Despite being set in 15th century Europe, there are several people of color among the cast. One recurring, supporting character was confirmed to be a practicing Sufi, and two of the season’s new, minor villains are in a lesbian relationship.
The writers also answered a question fans have been asking since the show’s first season: the question of Adrian Tepes’s sexuality. Viewers have long speculated that the effeminate vampire was queer, and the third season does confirm this. Unfortunately, it does so in a truly upsetting way that may alienate LGBTQ+ viewers.
Adrian’s apparent bisexuality is revealed in an explicit, on-screen threesome with both a man and a woman. This is the first episode of the show to feature explicit sex, as well as its first instance of prolonged full frontal nudity. Although this does play into negative stereotypes, what makes the scene truly disturbing is the violent end to the rendezvous.
About half of all LGBTQ+ individuals identify as bisexual, according to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy. And yet, the “slutty bisexual” stereotype has plagued the community for decades. Bisexual people struggle with harmful misconceptions; one being that they are more likely to cheat or to be interested in threesomes and group sex.
“One of the main complaints you’ll hear from bisexual people is that when it comes to relationships, especially on dating apps, people expect them to want a threesome,” said Holly Smith in an article for Insider. “But bisexual people don’t exist to offer other people ‘unique’ sexual experiences — they’ve just been oversexualized in pop culture and, as a result, are always viewed in a sexual light.”
The way in which the “Castlevania” writers chose to reveal Adrian’s sexuality reinforces these stereotypes.
The scene is also disturbing because of its conclusion. In a sick plot twist, it is revealed that Adrian’s partners were merely seducing him as a distraction so they could trap and kill him. He is forced to kill both of his lovers in self-defense.
Aside from being poorly set up for cheap shock value, this reveal plays into another harmful stereotype: the idea that all non-straight relationships are inherently violent and/or evil.
As explained by Tricia Ennis in a SyFy Wire article, this “queer coding” of villains originated in the 1950s and 1960s, when the government and critics began to censor media.
“While depictions of LGBTQ characters were frowned upon, depictions of them in this specifically negative light were not,” Ennis says. “You were not endorsing an ‘alternative lifestyle’ if your gay characters always met an untimely demise. Instead, they were merely paying for their poor choices…. For this reason, many villains continue to code as gay, either intentionally or by accident.”
“Castlevania” goes beyond queer coded villains by making four of its five explictly queer characters evil. Two of these “evil gays” are killed as a direct result of their sexual activities. Adrian, the show’s only queer protagonist, is both physically and emotionally punished for his sexuality.
The final scenes of the season hint at a darker, edgier character arc for Adrian in coming seasons. That would mean that five out of five queer characters are also villains.
Readers familiar with the first two seasons of the show may wonder where the other two protagonists, Trevor Belmont and Sypha Belnades, are during Adrian’s ordeal. They’re off on their own, having a healthy and fulfilling straight relationship.
Trevor and Sypha are explictly shown to be romantically involved, but they never have sex on screen. They clearly value and care for each other, and the biggest issue they face is that Trevor, a lifelong loner, is unused to being so closely involved with another person. Their relationship is, for the most part, sweet.
When a show has two straight protagonists who are in a loving, positive relationship and one queer protagonist who is abused by his partners and set up for a descent into villainy, it reinforces negative stereotypes and harmful tropes around queer sexuality. Viewers are left wondering who this representation is really for.