Castle season 6 episode 20 review: That '70s Show

Review Laura Akers 27 Apr 2014 - 09:25

A 70s themed episode of Castle? Laura says it's not as bad as it could've been, but still pretty hit and miss...

This review contains spoilers.

6.20 That '70s Show

I have to admit I have spent the past few weeks cringing at the very idea of this week’s episode. Television shows that do period or other “themed” episodes tend to fall into one of two categories: either they are truly inspired or complete rubbish. The former tends to be a small group and the latter extremely large.
It all depends on the writers.

I think I’ve made my case in past reviews that Castle’s one ongoing problem is that the writers tend to be inconsistent at best. So based on this, I was certain that this week’s episode, That '70s Show, was going to join that much larger and more disappointing group.

Which it doesn’t. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that it falls into the smaller category either. And, considering the inconsistency I mentioned, should have been no surprise. Like so many of Castle’s stories, That '70s Show is a mix of hit and miss. Luckily, in this case, it is more the former than the latter.

One of the surprising hits was the context. A lot of these period episodes read like the conceit at the heart of the film being made (not the film we watch) in Singing in the Rain: the protagonist gets hit on the head after reading or seeing something based in that period and, along with a concussion, they find themselves in a new but familiar narrative universe. Talk about hackneyed.

Castle at least avoided this by coming up with a more original set-up. Rather than the usual dream sequence where no one in the story is truly aware that what they taking part in is not real, That '70s Show works precisely because the entire thing is a performance: Castle and Becket must stage the precinct, and everyone in it, as though it’s the late '70s in order to keep their key witness Harold - a man who has suffered a trauma and thus still thinks it is the era of disco - from suffering a mental break at learning he’s actually living in 2014. So far so good.

The crime storyline was solid as well, the decades-old (assumed) gangland murder that had only a vague connection to the mafia. Generally speaking, you can pretty accurately guess who the culprit is about halfway through an episode of Castle. This week’s misdirection worked particularly well because the actual motive for the murder was hidden in a bit of cultural homophobia: it doesn’t occur to us that it could be the result of love - and a love triangle - gone wrong because the two people in love with each other were men of the disco era. Of course, Harold also helps maintain the illusion by swaggering around and leering verbally and physically at every woman in his vicinity.

And then there’s the '70s-style precinct itself. Martha pulls off quite a feat not only in perfectly set-dressing the place and costuming all the place’s usual denizens, but by pulling in a bunch of actors to play the parts of the suspects and others - including Alexis as the “teenage runaway who hitchhiked her way to the Big Apple in search of her dreams.”

Which offsets her turn at the beginning of the episode where she reports back to Castle and Beckett, who asked her to start thinking about the flowers for the wedding in order to help her feel more involved. She shares her vision for the two of them which includes an over-the-top “tunnel of love” made of flowers and an even more ridiculous (and narcissistic) “floral photo” of the happy couple. The problem is that this scene, which starts off the episode (most of the Caskett relationship stuff lives in the opening and closing scenes now, more and more like Hart to Hart), is that it doesn’t really feel in-character for Martha. Yes, she likes her pageantry. But she’s rarely gauche and has always been fairly sensitive to Beckett’s particular way of being - which very overtly includes a desire for a more quiet and intimate wedding. So her vision isn’t just jarring in terms of conflicting with Beckett’s own wedding desires but in how it runs contrary to the Martha we know.

But the Martha we do know and love helped to set up the best bit of That '70s Show.

And that is the positing of two skull-knocking '70s NYPD cops in a red Gran Torino - LEOs that Harold admires (despite his own very vague criminal connections) - that Esposito discovers in doing “research” on the period. The bromance of Ryan and Esposito is already one of the key attractions of Castle. Giving them the opportunity (over Ryan’s initial grousing) to dial this up and displace it in the '70s as they pretend to be the “real-life” cops who themselves are lifted almost entirely from the greatest '70s bromance ever - Starsky and Hutch - is almost too much fun. When Ryan, the former undercover cop, finally decides to commit to the role and steps up to lead the interrogation, he gives it exactly the knowing touch it really needs and sells the whole thing for Harold’s benefit.

Which is made all the more amusing when we later find out that, at the time of Ryan’s performance, Harold already knows what year he’s now living in and so is aware exactly how ridiculous the scene he’s taking part in really is. Add all that to Lanie’s turn as the Pam Grier of forensics, and I must admit, I was cackling with glee.

Which is a big part of the reason why I and many others watch Castle in the first place - because it never takes itself seriously, and occasionally raises that trait to an art. So while it cannot claim to be among the best period episodes on record, That '70s Show is definitely one of the best Castle stories of this series, if not the entire show. No jive.

Read Laura's review of the previous episode, The Greater Good, here.

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