Castle season 6 episode 15 review: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Castle goes back to high school in the latest episode. Here's Laura's review...

This review contains spoilers.

6.15 Smells Like Teen Spirit

One of the many joys that we get out of watching or reading narratives is that of identifying with the characters. We see ourselves in the struggles of those whose tales we are enjoying and we take pleasure in their triumphs as though they are, in some small part, our own. Likewise, such identification also offers us a kind of reality check, reassuring us that our doubts, our weaknesses, our ways of being are, if not universal to the human condition, at least not unique. They reinforce to us that we are not really alone in the things that challenge us or even in the peculiarities we fear might make us outliers.

Which is why I’ve always found the “will they? won’t they?” of shows like Castle so fascinating (and is part of why I volunteered to cover it this season). Because while you could argue that that stage of romance—where everything is new and uncertain—might be pleasurable in the same way the days before Christmas are, that is not the stage where most of us spend most of our time in said romance. Nor do we want to. While that anticipation can be great, after a while, we might start to ask if Christmas is ever going to arrive. And when it comes to relationships, the moment where the question is answered with “will” is just the beginning of a far greater adventure than what came before it.

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And since we spend more of our time living what comes after than in that state of anxiety, it makes sense that, once one of these shows that focus on a romantic pairing gets to the long-awaited Christmas morn, they would play to that desire to identify with what we are seeing onscreen by giving us moments we recognize in our own lives.

Castle has been doing this for weeks, basically ever since Beckett moved back from Washington, DC. At the beginning and end of each episode, we get a quick and unobscured glimpse into the Caskett relationship as they play out some tension or joy common to most relationships. This week’s was their sudden realization that they don’t have a song.

I found this one particularly funny because I went through this with the hubby before we got married and in the same way: what are we gonna dance to at the wedding?!? Music is one of the few things we do not have in common and our own realization that there had never been any song that just fit created that little bit of nagging doubt that something was a bit off. Seeing the shock and the same sense of “how did we miss this part of the whole relationship experience?” in Becket and Castle was reaffirming. We’re not so very odd after all.

This week’s case was similar in that regard. In it, a “mean girl” at a posh New York prep school is murdered, apparently via telekinesis. She and her “bitch clique” had taken to tormenting a quiet but brainy girl who had, it seems, retaliated unconsciously but telekinetically on at least two occasions, the second one resulting in the queen bee’s death. Most of us, statistics indicate, occupied some rung other than the top one on the social ladder at school, and many have experienced the bullying that can go along with life on a lower rung. Regardless of whether it’s ever acted on (and generally it is not), the bullied often react by creating revenge fantasies against our tormentors, even if it’s only unconsciously. This is the hook of this week’s episode: What if we could have gotten back at those who hurt us?

This is also the main plot of Stephen King’s Carrie, the horror novelist’s first published book–which came out of his observations of a couple of girls he had known in school growing up and his then-job as a high school teacher. And thankfully, the episode not only has Castle calling out the connection “I can’t wait to tell Stephen about this!” but then uses the audience’s familiarity with that story in order to keep us half believing in something—as Castle does–that we logically know—like Becket does—cannot be true.

Of course, one important difference between this episode of Castle and King’s Carrie is that Carrie’s rampage killed those who tormented her, those who stood by and watched, and even some who tried to help her all equally dead. As a result, the book generates a lot of sympathy not only for Carrie herself but also some of her victims.

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But in Smells Like Teen Spirit, while we do feel sorry for Jordan for having unintentionally drawn the ire of the bitch clique, there’s little sympathy for Madison or any of her entourage. We’re left feeling as though it’s possible the world might be a touch better without someone who, despite great wealth and privilege, becomes a thief and torments not only those beneath her—including making them do her dirty work for her—but her own friends for no other reason than because she can.

So while the main storyline feels largely unfulfilling, especially considering the ham-handed “could it really be telekinesis?” ending, there were some real treats here. The best by far was the glimpse we got into Castle’s own high school years, including the story of his cow prank and his dealings with school’s principal. Sam Anderson turns in a wonderfully crochety performance here as Principal Dunnan, working first to put Castle back in his place as the naughty schoolboy he once was (and still largely is), and then to acknowledge in some small way his former student’s success at solving the mystery and finding a place in the world.

And for the romantics out there, the return to high school also meant that Beckett and Castle, both of whom missed their proms because they were too cool (why else would Castle pull the cow prank?), finally got a chance to experience that particular rite. Their dance together, their realization that they’d found their song, and Castle’s admission that he wouldn’t change anything he’d ever done (cow included) because it all led him to her more than made up for any deficits in the primary storyline, especially for those of us who have found something to identify with in the Caskett relationship.

The hubs and I eventually did find our song, even though the process was almost as random as that of Castle and Beckett (and we had a bit of help from E. M. Forster). And like them, however it happened, we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just nice to know that we aren’t the only ones…

Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Dressed To Kill, here.

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