This review contains spoilers.
And the other shoe drops. I was starting to worry that the writers on Castle had forgotten about Alexis and her boyfriend, but this week’s episode proves they have not, even if they failed to put it front and centre.
It’s been months since we last saw Alexis – ostensibly living in domestic bliss with Pi and thus driving her father a little crazy – far too long to go without her calming and revealing influence on Castle. So it was a little disappointing that we got to see so little of that storyline: there was more screen time dedicated to Pi getting his letter than him getting out of her life.
Not that it’s unusual for Alexis to get short shrift as a character. For the most part, Alexis serves as a foil on the show, revealing more about those around her than her own inner workings. She brings out the wisdom in Martha, the sensitivity in Beckett, and makes her father into the best version of himself (unless Pi is involved). Beyond that, however, she could almost be a Mary Sue. She’s good at practically everything, has virtually no flaws, and is the best adjusted character in the cast.
All of which might be a problem had she been played by someone else. Molly Quinn’s depiction, thankfully, saves her from this trap by giving Alexis a quiet internal strength, palpable vulnerability, and keen wit that makes her a joy rather than a cliché.
Until this season, though, she has not really had a storyline of her own. There have been a few minor subplots, of course, as she struggled just a little with boys and school, but nothing so complex that it couldn’t be solved in forty-two minutes. But right out of the gate this series, Alexis has become a grown-up with grown-up problems. She returns from her trip to Central America with a boyfriend in tow and a desire to strike out on her own (or at least away from her dad).
Which, of course, sent her father into a tailspin, making him overreact, and leading to the very first serious disagreement we’ve ever seen between father and daughter. The scenes between Fillion and Quinn where she confronts her father are as powerful as the most angst-fraught we’ve seen between Fillion and Katic. Alexis’ moment of stepping up to the adult plate forces her father to do the same and allows the writers to finally give Beckett and Castle their own space for their still nascent relationship.
And it’s not as though we (and her father) didn’t know that what she was doing was a mistake. There was practically no chance that Alexis and Pi would actually make it as a couple; that wasn’t really the point. Alexis has never really failed at anything. But failure is the most powerful teacher. More importantly, how we deal with our failures largely determines the tone of our lives.
So it is frustrating that, while we were allowed to see her make her mistake, we were largely denied the opportunity to see her reaction to it. At the end of the episode, we know that she is heading off to tell Pi that their relationship is over. Which would, of course, require her to entirely take the blame onto herself. It would also require her to face the fact that her decision hurt someone other than herself. It would have been nice to see this, and find out whether she tries to deal with her feelings or turns to her father (in a now-altered dynamic) for his support.
But that screen-time instead went to the morality play around a thinly disguised Miley Cyrus/Wanda Holloway (the mother who tried to hire a hit man to bump off her daughter’s cheerleading rival). This largely amplified the frustration simply because neither mother nor daughter were played with much sympathy or dimension. I know we’re supposed to see parallels to Alexis and Castle’s relationship in all this but that doesn’t really work because of this lack of emotional connection either between Mandy and her mother or them and us. We don’t even get to feel what would have to be the emotional devastation Mandy must be suffering in the wake of what her mother did (and knowing her own fame caused it to some extent).
But it also doesn’t work simply because there really aren’t a lot of similarities between the two parent/child pairings. Alexis has led a largely sheltered life with a parent who is followed by the paparazzi (but who, everything we’ve seen indicates, has left Alexis alone for the most part). There’s no evidence that she’s been pressured by Castle into much of anything, to the point where almost everything she does seems to come from some inner drive which seems to baffle even her father.
Which mean, in the scene where she is commiserating with Mandy, her identification with the TV/pop star comes off fairly hollow and we find ourselves agreeing with Alexandra Chandro’s eye-rolling Mandy: “You’re kidding, right?”
There’s also supposed to be a bit of a parallel to the whole Beckett-and-publicity thing which also doesn’t really seem to hold up. If anything, Mandy’s situation is important in how it differs: Mandy is a (until recently) powerless child with a mother with aspirations of celebrity but little experience (thus leading to the tragic end of that family). Beckett is a very independent adult who has the support and experience of someone who’s been famous for over twenty years and has managed to reduce the impact of the fame on his daughter. In the end, it makes her reticence look a touch paranoid, if anything, when compared to Mandy—Beckett, like Alexis, should see that her own situation is more blessing than the kind of curse Mandy’s been dealing with.
And maybe that’s what the writers were trying to get at, but that message never quite gels.
On the other side, I have to admit that the actual mystery was pretty solid this week. Not one of the best in terms of the fun and wild speculation we generally expect, but I for one didn’t figure out who did it until almost the end, and that’s unusual for a Castle mystery—they tend to favour a focus on the how rather than the who (often telegraphing the murderer’s identity fairly early on).
But on the topic of fun, this one is a keeper if only for the teasing Beckett aims at Castle throughout the episode over the whole publicity thing. We have seen a real transformation in Beckett since she stepped up in her relationship with Castle. While she still has her serious professional moments, her entire demeanour has changed since they’ve been together. The vague gloom that surrounded her has lifted, and we are getting a playful, easy-going, and trusting Kate. And while I have missed the old tough-as-nails Beckett from time to time, this new one is even more fun. She’s really putting the happy in happily ever after and that’s a joy to watch.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Deep Cover, here.
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