Guest Review by T
Earlier this summer, I picked up the first season of Castle and decided to give it a shot (no pun intended). I wasn’t hopeful, just desperate for a new show. Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a show that easily wedged its way past many others into my top five (a topic for another discussion).
The premise of Castle is not an original (or realistic) one. The pilot opens with an obscenely colorful murder scene, which we quickly learn is based on (in)famous mystery novelist Richard (Rick) Castle’s book: Flowers For Your Grave. Castle is introduced as the “master of the macabre” at his celebrated book signing, before NYPD Detective Kate Beckett sweeps in to give him the “something new” he had been wishing for only seconds before. The timing is cheesy at best, but Beckett is kickass right from the pair’s debut scene as she pulls Castle from his cushy life into her murder investigation with sass and class.
Castle, who has just killed off Derek Storm – the main character in his bestselling novels (think Robert Langdon in Dan Brown’s books) – grows fascinated with Detective Beckett and decides to base his next novel on Nikki Heat, a “tough but savvy female detective” inspired by none other than Beckett. For “research”, he gets himself placed on an indignant Beckett’s investigations through a connection to the mayor (a fan apparently). Clearly here we’ve ventured deep into this-would-never-happen-in-real-life territory. You’ll hold back your eye-rolling though for two reasons: first, it’s pure, good fun that’s worth glossing over in the name of entertainment, and second – Beckett engages in enough eye-rolling at Castle’s antics to cover all of our bases.
Contrived, and procedural or not, Castle makes it work. I attribute the show’s immediate charm to an above-average cast and two superb leads that have enough charisma individually and together to light up New York City for a year or five. It’s so rare on television to get two main characters that are equally fascinating in completely different ways and that are delivered by equally talented actors. Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle is charm embodied in the goofiest, most endearing way imaginable. He is genuinely funny, a combination of self-assured and self-deprecating. (Those baby blues don’t hurt anyone either.) Andrew Marlowe seems to have nailed Fillion’s voice. Kate Beckett is played by Stana Katic. Although not your classic Hollywood beauty in season one*, Stana is talented, has a gorgeous smile, and so much sex appeal it’s no wonder Richard Castle fixates on her. She pulls off annoyed and reluctantly intrigued / amused remarkably well. She’s the perfect verbal sparring partner for Castle – the voice of reason to his outlandish theories and oftentimes, the Debbie Downer to his Pollyanna (a gross exaggeration of course). For the most part, the writing is sharp and builds a back-and-forth repertoire between the two that is fascinating to watch and addictive to boot.
The supporting cast is solid. Susan Sullivan as Martha Rogers, Castle’s mother, is hilarious and a light, amusing presence in her sparse scenes as an aging, surprisingly wise diva who is still very much young at heart. Castle’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Alexis – the seemingly only responsible one in the Castle household – is played beautifully by Molly Quinn. The portrayal of her relationship with Castle is realistic and heart-warming, a cornerstone of the show that plays on themes of growing up, change and familial love. The two have a wonderful father-daughter dynamic from the very start. At the NYPD’s 12th Precinct, Detectives Esposito and Ryan are Beckett’s supporting team. Both are pushed to the background more often than not, and it’s fine by us. Their presence on screen while mildly entertaining, is not nearly as captivating as that of their costars. One such costar is Lanie Parish, the precinct’s medical examiner of choice. Tamala Jones, who portrays funny and feisty Lanie with flourish, is a wonderful addition to the cast. Captain Montgomery is the proverbial father figure, looking the other way when the kids are misbehaving but always there to rein them in if needed.
Season one takes our duo through ten different murders. The thing about procedural shows is that the case-of-the-week is usually a backdrop for the developments in the characters’ lives and outlooks. The case-of-the-week however occupies most of the airtime, so it needs to stand alone as an exciting hour of television especially when we’re not completely invested in the characters yet. Season one does a mediocre job of that balance. Most of the cases are forgettable and our character tidbits not completely riveting except for a couple of standouts discussed below.
Like all procedurals, Castle episodes are formulaic. The openings always boast a gruesome murder scene and an oddly-placed cheery tune. Throughout the hour, Castle and Beckett (and their supporting cast) chase leads to find the killer(s) while we get scraps about their personal lives. The chemistry between Castle and Beckett simmers slowly throughout the first season. She becomes less annoyed with his presence but persistently denies it, especially to herself. Everyone in her life seems to think Castle is a much-needed rattle to the uptight detective’s unfaltering routine. In ten short episodes, we get ex-boyfriends and ex-wives (yes, Castle has not one but two) – and ultimately a betrayal of trust in the final moments of the season that threatens to shake the tenuous footing of Castle and Beckett’s budding friendship. From day one, we want Castle to kiss the girl already, but we’re not quite convinced it’s the right time. The writers feel the same way, especially about the second part of that sentence. Spoiler Alert: the writers will continue to feel this way for a while. You’ll increasingly feel the former and a lot less of the latter.
1×05 – A Chill Goes Through Her Veins
The episode opens with Emiliana Torrini’s Beggar’s Prayer and the frozen, thawing body of our victim-of-the-week strewn at a construction site. The writers of Castle really strike gold when the mystery is intriguing and the character developments are significant. The show’s fifth episode has both. From the creepy opening scene to the surprising twists and turns at every corner and the heartbreaking conclusion, the murder of the week is wholly enthralling. I found myself emotionally invested throughout and really, really wishing for a happier ending. On the character development side, we (and Castle) finally get Beckett’s backstory or enough of it to really hook us in. Her mother’s brutal murder in what was described as a random act of violence is a driving force behind her need to seek justice. The death of Beckett’s mother is essentially the basis of the show’s mythology. What Castle does really well is balance drama and comedy so that you’re laughing out loud one moment and staring sadly at the screen the next. One of this episode’s comedic standout moments is when Beckett shows up at Castle’s loft only to be greeted (at the door) by Castle and Alexis in full laser tag gear and Martha treating herself to a very green mask. (Castle’s Manhattan loft deserves a side note because it’s so lavish and homey that by the end of the season, I feel the need to live there and hang out with the Castles stat.) This quickly turns into one of my favorite Castle and Beckett interactions of the season where she paces in frustration and says she just “can’t figure it out”. And the audience gets a first glimpse of her obsessive streak. The last minute of the episode unveils the underlying plot for the rest of the season. Without Beckett’s knowledge or blessing, Castle digs up Johanna Beckett’s case and gives into one of his very own flaws: meddling.
1×10 – A Death In The Family
The finale’s case of the week has its ups and downs. It’s somewhat of a stretch that Castle would get to join Beckett while questioning a high-risk POI in witness protection. Also, gang wars are just way too overused on television. The revelation of the killer though is unexpected and a juicy twist. On the other hand, I love getting to see Beckett’s more emotional side when Sorenson gets shot because she got him involved in the investigation. We can see what kind of person she would be if she would let go a little. It also never hurts to see Castle in denial about being jealous. There are beautifully poignant moments sprinkled throughout: Alexis goes to prom, Sorenson on painkillers tells Beckett that Castle likes her, Alexis gets her first kiss, Martha mothers Castle, Beckett actually laughs, Castle delivers this beautiful line to a guilt-ridden Beckett: “You don’t let go. You don’t back down. That’s what makes you extraordinary.” We learn that Beckett becomes dangerously obsessive when cases are personal. She drowns herself in Sorenson’s shooting. Her confession to Castle about her mother’s case sending her down a dark path of self-destructive obsession doesn’t come as a surprise, but it does have me very worried about Castle whose solo murder investigation on Johanna Beckett’s case has been ongoing. She warns him not to touch her mother’s case, that if he does they would be “done”, but alas what’s done is done. Come the final moments of the episode, Castle gathers the courage to come clean about what he’s been up to and his new findings on the case, and I’m grimacing as he tells her: “Sit down. It’s about your mother.” Naturally, that’s where the season ends. The fuse is lit, and the bomb explodes next season. Sit tight, folks. Season 2 is already out there.
There’s a lot about Beckett’s hair on the Internet. Famously, you can tell which season of Castle you’re watching by looking at her do. While this is true for the most part, it starts getting confusing when she finally gets it right in season three thankfully sticks with it with slight variations. Someone once told me that your haircut makes up +/- 1.5 of your beauty rating on a scale from 1 to 10. That’s a good 30% between a bad haircut and a good one. Stana’s season one haircut is either a bet gone south or a really well-paid role. These awkwardly cropped dark red chops did not do her justice. She could still pull it off on most days, but the haircut was definitely a questionable decision. Fire that hairstylist.
Quips & Quibbles
(Castle is shown photos of crime scenes modeled after his novels)
Castle: “Flowers for Your Grave.”
Beckett: And this is how we found Marvin Fisk, right out of “Hell Hath No Fury.”
Castle: Looks like I have a fan.
Beckett: Yeah, a really deranged fan.
Castle: Oh, you don’t look deranged to me.
Martha: I just got a hit on my graydar. Bingo. No ring. Stand back, kids. Momma’s going fishing.
Castle: We could go to dinner, debrief each other.
Beckett: Why, Castle? So I can become another one of your conquests?
Castle: Or I can be one of yours.
Beckett: It was nice to meet you, Castle.
Castle: It’s too bad. It would’ve been great.
Beckett: You have no idea.
Castle: When I’m writing a new character, there’s no telling when inspiration might strike.
Beckett: I thought I was your inspiration.
Castle: Oh you are, Detective, and in so many ways.
Beckett: Yeah, well, then your inspiration might strike you sooner than you think.
Castle: Promise not to hate me.
Beckett: I already hate you.
Castle: Fair enough.
Beckett: What kind of name is Nikki Heat?
Castle: It’s a cop name.
Beckett: It’s a stripper name.
Castle: Well, I told you she was kind of slutty.
Beckett: [outraged] You took photos of my crime scene?
Castle: Before you get mad, I e-mailed a couple of them to a friend of mine.
Beckett: You e-mailed them to a friend.
Castle: Well, not exactly a friend. She’s my interior decorator, but then we slept together, so I don’t really know what she is now.
Beckett: What the hell were you thinking?
Castle: I know, right? You work together, you think it’ll be fun, but then it always makes things weird. It’s a real cautionary tale.
Beckett: I’m talking about the photographs. Of the body.
Beckett: If she’s so bad, then why did you sleep with her this morning?
Castle: Let me tell you something about crazy people. The sex is unbelievable.
Beckett: How shallow are you?
Meredith: You know, I was his inspiration once.
Beckett: Were you, now.
Meredith: Still am, from time to time. Right kitten?
Castle: I had this dream once. Only I was naked, and far less embarrassed.
Beckett: Just show us the recordings from the past couple of days, okay?
Castle: Blood sugar is low, she’s a little cranky.
Beckett: Zip it… kitten.
Castle: I will have you know that the ‘New York Review of Books’, not the ‘New York Book Review’, mind you. The ‘New York Review of Books’ said that Derrick Storm is this year’s…
Beckett: I read that piece. And you have to admit it was a little hyperbolic. So what’d you pay the reviewers?
Castle: A case of Chateau Neuf de Pape, but that’s not the point. The point is, you read the ‘New York Review of Books’?
Beckett: Oh, so many layers to the Beckett onion. However will you peel them all?
Martha: Well, frankly, I prefer strip (poker) because even when you lose, you win.
Castle: All these years trying to do the right thing […], she’s going to end up in jail.
Beckett: If you’re looking for a happy ending, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Castle: Next time, I guess I’ll just try that massage parlor on 2nd avenue.
Beckett: We dated for six months.
Castle: I didn’t ask.
Beckett: Yea, I know. You were not asking very loudly.
Castle: I know, I’m like a Jedi like that.
Beckett: Be careful, okay?
Castle: Do I detect actual concern for my wellbeing?
Beckett: Screw this up and I’ll kill you.
Castle: That’s more like it.
Castle (after meeting Beckett’s ex): Nice guy, I can see why it wouldn’t work though.
Castle: Sure. Handsome, square-jawed, by-the-book.
Beckett: And that’s a bad thing?
Castle: He’s like the male you. Yin needs Yang, not another Yin. Yin Yang is harmony. Yin Yin is a name for a panda.
Beckett: (Clears throat) Ahem. What’s the deal with men and boobs, anyway?
Castle: Biological. We can’t help it.
Beckett: But doesn’t it bother you that they’re so obviously not real?
Castle: (Pauses) Santa’s not real. We still love opening his presents.
Castle: (speaking of Alexis, after he sees her off to the prom) My little girl! She’s all grown up.
Martha: Yeah. Well, at least one of you is.
No Envy No Fear by Joshua Radin
Move You by Anya Marina
Birds of a Feather by The Rosenbergs
Comes And Goes (In Waves) by Greg Laswell
Beggar’s Prayer by Emiliana Torrini
While the murders of the week are often bland, Castle’s debut season lays out the premise and mythology for a promising story told by a well-rounded cast with incredible chemistry. Our brief forays into the characters’ personal lives, particularly the Castles’ home, are some of the most rewarding moments of the season.