This review contains spoilers.
Hold on, Castle fans, this is gonna be a mixed bag.
Castle is a show that, unlike Nathan Fillion’s career-making Firefly, should never have made it past the first season. Let’s face it, it really doesn’t have much to offer.
First, the premise itself is both unbelievably hackneyed and far-fetched. Playboy mystery writer who never grew up arranges ride-along with tough-as-nails female detective whose makeup and hair are always straight out of the salon. She hates him; he is immediately attracted to her. She snipes at him; he teases her. And somehow, despite the fact that her world is really dangerous and he can hire enough lawyers to bury the city should anything happen to him on said ride-along, he manages to get the mayor to force the NYPD to make their arrangement permanent.
All that aside, there’s the writing that goes into each episode. The plots are average for a procedural with a few bright spots here and there. Even the myth arc of the show, focused on the murder of Kate Becket’s mother, is only slightly better than the rest.
And then consider the years of will-they-won’t-they. An old standard without even the redemption of decent plot twists and near-misses. The kiss to convince the bad guys they are just a couple in love and not actually doing surveillance. The rekindling of one partner’s past love affair at precisely the moment when the other is about to man up. The declarations unheard, the first due to unconsciousness, the second made while one of them hovers on the point of death.
But the truly weak point is the dialogue. Most of it is something straight out of a first-year screenwriters’ class. “Dear Kate, I bet I’ve written this letter a hundred times. Someday I might actually send it. There’s no excuse for what I did. Especially what I did to you.” Phrases almost verbatim from dozens of other series and films. Again there are moments but they are fleeting.
So how on earth is Castle beginning its sixth season?
The answer is easy: Castle is fun.
The charm of the series rests almost exclusively on the shoulders of the actors and the amazing chemistry they create. We’ve seen this before: Firefly had exactly the same vibe. You could feel how much the actors enjoyed what they were doing and who they were doing it with. It’s what made the show so infectious. Fillion once said that the lesson he learned from what happened to Firefly was “don’t fall in love with what you’re doing.”
But it’s clear from what we see weekly on Castle that the lesson didn’t stick. Because it’s so obvious that everyone on the show is in love. Every mediocre line benefits from the chemistry that love creates: between Becket and Castle, Castle and his family, Becket and her boys, and the wonderful boys themselves – the bromance that is Ryan and Esposito. Every ridiculous plot twist (being chased by a tiger?!?) works precisely because the actors commit to the narrative until the very moment when your own disbelief is about to make it unwatchable – and they give the perfectly timed wink to let you know they know too, and all is forgiven.
Not that there aren’t serious moments. Last year ended with Becket being headhunted by the FBI, throwing her relationship with Castle into doubt, which he then commits to by asking her to marry him.
And in this week’s season premiere, we get to hear Becket’s answer, delivered with all that chemistry and sense of fun: “Oh, my god, you’re proposing! I thought you were breaking up with me!” “By giving you a ring?” And we cheer, not just because we’re one step closer to happily ever after, but because we know it’s just the beginning to another wonderful series of all our favorites having the time of their lives and including us in their fun.
Two months later…
Unfortunately the series flashes forward and the fun got lost somewhere along the way. Becket is now living in DC, Castle is in NYC and commuting on the odd weekend (the man can easily afford a second residence so the fact that he isn’t actually living down there seems inexplicable, especially considering the mobility of his vocation), and the boys are on their own. Most of the rest of the episode is spent showing Becket unburying herself from failures in her new job, Castle trying to help her on a case from afar and failing miserably, and the boys brought in primarily so Seamus Deaver and Jon Huertas could pick up a paycheck for this week.
It’s depressing. Worse yet, after the positive energy of the proposal cliffhanger, Valkyrie ends with Castle facing almost certain death from some sort of slowish-acting chemical weapon.
Okay, so we know he won’t die, but I’m not so sure about the show. The episode is painful in all the ways it enumerates to us that things are different now. Two months has left everyone estranged and more than a little bitter; both they and we aren’t really sure whether things can be repaired. This isn’t the summer away in the Hamptons that we’ve seen before – a mutually acknowledged temporary hiatus – this is what appears to be a permanent break. And no matter how much Castle promises Becket and us that they will find a way to make it work, by the end, we’re left in serious doubt.
Yes, I know that’s what we’re supposed to feel. Chances are that Becket will find a way to save Castle and realize that the FBI is never going to give her the joy she had in the last five years at her NYPD precinct, and she’ll come home.
Except that this is where the show’s track record catches up with it. There is only so much that the cast and even the directors can make up for. Should the writers or showrunner decide to make this shift in location (and tone) a permanent or semi-permanent one, they will rob the actors of the thing that has made the show such a success: there is no chemistry if the characters aren’t even in the same space with each other.
So after holding our breath over the summer to see what Becket’s answer would be to Castle’s proposal, we are now in an even worse place as we wait to find out just how far down the melodramatic rabbit hole they are planning on taking us.
It would be a shame if Fillion’s current love was not murdered by studio execs but died by its own hand.
Read Laura’s take on Nathan Fillion, Castle, and geek fandom, here.
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