Castle season 6 finale review: For Better Or Worse

Review Laura Akers 17 May 2014 - 13:00

Castle comes close to delivering one of the series' best episodes, then falls at the final hurdle. Here's Laura's review...

This review contains spoilers.

6.23 For Better Or Worse

Okay, I take it back. In last week’s review of Veritas, I praised the conclusion of the Joanna Beckett storyline, saying that now that that’s resolved, “Series seven will be a whole new ballgame.” This week’s episode not only put the kibosh on that but was more than a bit of a “get bent” to its audience. Which is particularly annoying given how well the episode was doing until the last few moments.

One of the ongoing problems on Castle is that the basic writing tends toward the cliché or formulaic. Something being cliché or formulaic doesn’t necessarily make it bad. It is entirely possible to use a cliché in a way that is entirely entertaining, and when Castle is good, this is usually what it’s doing. The show has never been anything other than derivative (I’m not unconvinced that the writers don’t go to TVTropes.org for story ideas), but when it’s working well, it acknowledges its own formulae and then has a ton of fun with it.

Which was the largest part of what we got this week. In For Better Or Worse, Castle and Beckett go to get their marriage license only to discover that Beckett, very drunk one night many years ago, got married at a drive-through wedding chapel in Vegas (Accidental Marriage trope), woke up with no memory of it (Oops, I Forgot I Was Married trope), and so must go off in search of the soon-to-be-ex-husband (New Old Flame trope).

And yet, despite the formula, it’s all fun.

The two find out that Beckett’s encounter at the Drive-Through of Love was valid when they go to apply for a license. This starts Castle gently teasing his wife-to-be about her first nuptials “Given his (criminal) record, I’m surprised you stayed with him all these years,” a wise choice considering the meltdown that such a thing might cause in real-life, and it’s largely this and the cutaways to the Ryan/Esposito and Alexis and Martha’s preparations for the wedding that keeps the tone upbeat. As a result, we know they will get this resolved, and almost certainly before the end of the episode.

While Castle stays in Manhattan to keep the wedding on-track, Beckett finds Old Flame Rogan O’Leary (Eddie McClintock of Warehouse 13, in a great geek get), another in the list of remnants from “KitKat’s” wild past, who blackmails her into retrieving (stealing) an item he needs from his ex-girlfriend, something Beckett does easily only to have Old Flame stolen from her when she comes to collect the signature on their divorce papers. She calls Castle, who immediately joins her, and when they return to O’Leary’s apartment, they are accosted by a motorcycle gang to whom O’Leary owes money. Normally this would not be a problem (Castle’s writers are usually pretty quick with the Crimefighting with Cash trope), but it seems that Castle left his lone ATM card with Alexis (really? a multimillionaire with a single bank account?), so he cannot buy them out of the situation this time.

And that situation, of course, escalates from there, as each clue uncovers level after level of criminal and immoral behavior in the O’Leary’s small upstate New York town, and all the while, the adventure is funny and upbeat—like when Beckett unties the kidnapped ex, but only enough for him to sign the divorce papers. And O’Leary’s may not be a straight shooter, of course, but he’s not altogether a bad guy, and he keeps us laughing by taking to calling Castle “Man Parts.”

Beckett and Man Parts eventually set up one bad guy—the mobster in hiding—by luring him to where the other bad guys are waiting for them and offer him in lieu of the five grand the bikers think they are owed. O’Leary eventually signs the divorce papers (and the various looks on Man Parts’ face throughout the denouement of the O’Leary storyline are priceless), and Beckett and Man Parts rush off to the Hamptons to get married.

“Can everyone stop saying “man parts”?

Yeah, sorry about that. Had the episode ended here, or continued to the wedding without issue, this would have been one of the best of this series, with a particularly good romantic moment embedded in all the fun and chaos of the first three-quarters of the story—Castle’s pep talk to Beckett when all the craziness seems a bit much and she wonders if it’s a bad sign:

“Maybe it is a sign. A sign that ours is a great love story. Because what’s a great love story without obstacles to overcome? Every fairy tale has them. Terrible trials that only the worthy can transcend. But you can’t give up. That’s the deal. We want the happy ending? We can’t give up.”

It’s an inspiring speech, one that helps Beckett pull herself together, pull the pieces together, and get to the wedding.

Except, as the last minute or so shows, that speech may have been, unconsciously, not Castle trying to keep Beckett from falling apart, but the writers making an unconscious plea to the audience before they entirely screw us over; because we know, when Beckett gets the phone call at the end, that that’s exactly what they are about to do to us.

Castle has been kidnapped (a slight variation on the Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress trope), the wedding will not take place (even as back-up planned) this season, and we’ve been duped.

Had the entire episode not already been a “get me to the church on time” adventure, maybe this last-minute twist would not have been so bad. But after forty minutes of this, all on top of six years of waiting, the last two minutes of For Better Or Worse crosses over into the realm of “shipping” sadism, and I have to ask: how on earth could the writers and showrunner Andrew Marlowe have thought that this was the right thing to do to their fans?

And many fans are asking the same question. An anguished cry went up last Monday and it’s been followed up by a great deal of fan anger: “I'm so mad with this episode! It's ridiculous! I'm disappointed as hell with the show runners... It's a cheap shot.” “I feel jerked around and VERY disappointed, and I usually love the cliffhangers.” “Marlowe will have an explanation for [the suddenly tragic ending] in an interview, but sometimes I think he (sic) too arrogant to believe everyone just is going to accept his storylines.” (from Castlespoilers.blogspot.com)

And Marlowe does, of course, have an explanation, in an interview in TV Guide: “The story that we're telling with their relationship isn't over. It's going to get deeper. It's going to get more interesting, and there are still a couple of things that need to be overcome.” His explanation, unfortunately, doesn’t hold water because it depends on the assumption that once a couple marries, all obstacles are behind them and their love and their relationship simply ceases to deepen and develop.

So rather than, as appeared would happen after the almost universally beloved Veritas episode last week, allow Castle and Beckett to celebrate the end of Kate’s crusade against Bracken and the beginning of her life free from the shadow of her mother’s death by finally marrying her love and letting them move into a new and exciting adventure together in the seventh series, Marlowe has merely stretched this part of the story beyond any reasonable limits. And it smells of unnecessary desperation.

Next year, Castle will be going head-to-head with the more successful NCIS-Los Angeles which had three million more viewers in the US for its series finale than Castle did in the same week. Granted, NCIS-LA has benefited greatly from the lead-in from its parent series, NCIS, one of the most-watched series on air in the US now. But it will be a formidable foe now that that boost has gotten it a firmly established fanbase. So Marlowe’s choice to piss off his own fanbase, much as he did with this series’ misguided FBI misadventure kickoff is inexplicable.

I hate to evoke it once more, but Marlowe proves again that he doesn’t not get the true lesson of the Moonlighting Curse: Moonlighting did not die because the couple was allowed their happily ever after. It was killed by writers who felt they needed to keep the leads apart in order to keep audiences interested. Marlowe et al are ignoring a simple fact: Castle and Beckett have been together (unmarried but happy) for the last two series and the ratings are higher now than they were in the first two years of the show’s run. The audience has already shown that happily ever after isn’t a deal-killer for them.

But based on my own reaction and what I’m reading on fansites, I have to wonder if the last two minutes of For Better Or Worse might be. 

Read Laura's review of the previous episode, Veritas, here.

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