Castle season 6 episode 18 review: The Way Of The Ninja

One or two frustrations stop this week's Ninja-themed Castle from being the entertaining romp it should have been...

This review contains spoilers.

6.18 The Way Of The Ninja

Normally, I think I would have enjoyed The Way of the Ninja. It is, after all, one of the most entertaining kinds of Castle stories: a case where many of the facts seem to actively support Castle’s weekly far-fetched theory to an uncomfortable degree and thus provides the writer with unnecessary encouragement for his wild imagination. Castle and ninjas should be an irresistible combo.

However, there are two recently recurring tropes that are wearing a bit thin and this episode used both of them, neither to good effect.

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When Perlmutter first appeared on Castle, back in the second season, he was a universally prickly personality—content to pass on what he knew in a way that tended toward the dismissive. And perhaps, more importantly, he provided an alternative to Lanie. Not that there’s anything wrong with Lanie. In fact, since Esposito was rescued from the burning building, which in turn seemed to re-spark Esplanie, we’ve been missing her. She’s been in several episodes since but has been entirely functional, rather than the fun and insightful character we’ve come to enjoy. But having a second medical examiner added a touch of much needed reality to the show: after all, most detectives do not have the equivalent of Sherlock’s Molly, always prepared to come running when useful. Most forensic pathologists work regular shifts.

What is less welcome is the way that Perlmutter has, over the course of the show, focused his particular brand of barely concealed venom on Castle himself. An argument could be made for this, of course. Perlmutter may be antagonistic, but he is a solid ME (not the spectacular one that he thinks himself). And as a professional, he, like Capt. Gates, might not like amateurs like Castle mucking up (from his point of view) the work that the team does. The problem is that a) we don’t need two Gates, and b) even tough-as-nails Gates has had to accept Castle because, whatever his quirks, he legitimately helps Beckett clear cases. The work of an ME is to collect and analyze the evidence. And the evidence points to Castle’s usefulness. Which makes Perlmutter’s jabs at the writer just seem petty and overly antagonistic. Especially since they are unrelenting.

I’m not advocating for his disappearance, but he’d be a lot more entertaining if his jibes reflected more of the fun of the show and displayed some indication of a fleshed out character and not just (sometimes) poorly executed comic relief.

The second and far more problematic trope is Beckett’s continual insecurity. This series, hardly a week goes by that we don’t see Kate struggling with some kind of doubt about her relationship with her partner. And this worries me.

I’ve written a lot, here and elsewhere, about the Moonlighting Curse, that belief that you cannot allow your leads to get together romantically without killing the show. In order to keep them apart, one of the common tools is to invent misunderstanding and near misses often based on one character’s insecurities about the possible relationship or the affections of their hoped-for paramour. One of the great reliefs of moving past the Curse is that these insecurities, while they still come up, no longer dominate the relationship in the way that they did before the characters crossed the line into couplehood.

And Castle has done a decent job this series balancing out wonderful fun moments (bespeaking an increased emotional intimacy) with brief bouts of doubt inherent to any kind of a relationship. This week’s foray into the latter, however, is jolting precisely because it seems to be about an entirely different couple.

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In preparing to meet an old frenemy for dinner, Beckett explains to Castle what an amazing life this woman has led—globetrotting and romancing exciting and powerful men—with the underlying theme that Beckett finds her life unfulfilling in some way. Castle rightly brings up, and fairly humbly considering the source, that she’s with a highly successful and glamourous mystery writer (with whom she solves cases) and offers to accompany her so that she can show him off. But Beckett refuses because she doesn’t want to watch her old friend make passes at Castle who is evidently “just her type.”  

Putting aside the question of why that wouldn’t be the best possible revenge (trotting out the ruggedly handsome Castle so her “friend” can strike out with him and instead demonstrate his utter devotion to her), we see Beckett return from her night out upset because it turns out that her frenemy is now in a “boring” relationship. Rather than taking some comfort (or at least Schadenfreude) from the whole thing, this send her into an emotional tailspin, worried that she and Castle will become equally bored once they tie the knot.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Castle has helped her evade tigers, tried to save her from an assassin’s bullet, and wants to get married in outer space. He plays laser tag in the living room in his flat. He knows his way around a Japanese hostess bar. How much evidence does she need that whatever other problems they might eventually have to work through, boredom is not going to be one of them? In other words, it comes off as completely contrived, put there in order to threaten a wedge between the two. You know, like they did in practically every episode before the writers let the two of them get together.

Please, dear writers, create new situations, if you must, to challenge their relationship. But make them make sense within the context of this specific relationship. You show your hand entirely when you “fix” the problem by having Castle suggest that they include the “we will not be boring” thing to their wedding vows. Because we know that’s all that’s necessary to keep unhappiness at bay.

There were, as is true of most episodes, some really great moments, however.

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Castle’s insistence that this case involves a ninja leads to a cute moment where he uses the old trick of testing a suspect’s reflexes, pushing a mug off the table to see if Jade’s ballet partner has the moves of a such a martial artist. The dancer’s failure to save the mug is amusing, but the “way to racially profile” actually made me pause the episode so my laughing wouldn’t make me miss the dialogue that followed.

Another was the boys at the club: Castle in charge, Esposito enjoying beautiful women in his lap, and Ryan doing everything he could to maintain his distance from those same women. Ryan scooting the girl to the seat beside him was amusing, even if it did contradict everything that we know about Ryan–like the fact that he used to work narcotics undercover and is perfectly able to compartmentalize how he needs to behave to get useful information from how he feels about Jenny. But at least he maintains his cover better than Esposito who inadvertently flashes his badge.

These moments of characters acting against their own established patterns is not limited to the good guys either. In one of the most blatant tells we’ve seen in a while, the actual killer, a Yakuza leader, is shown pacing and fidgeting when the police question his son. As the episode points out, ninjas—or near ninjas, in this case–are supposed to be about self-control and discipline. And it’s hard to believe that a member of the Yakuza has not been in far more uncomfortable situations—after all, they don’t even suspect his son of really being involved. So why is he acting his guilt out in this way, especially when it provides such a stark contrast to his wife’s response to the same situation (she sits steadfastly next to her son, comforting him over the death of his girlfriend)?

It is precisely because this is something Castle does regularly: the killer often reveals him/herself (in retrospect) in how he or she reacts to things Beckett and Castle say or do. It’s obvious that he is pacing so, when we watch it a second time, we go “Of course, it HAD to be him.” But like Perlmutter’s snark, Kate’s worries, and Ryan’s reticence, his actions make little sense in terms of what we know about his character.

And like those other examples, it makes the writers look like they couldn’t be bothered to come up with good, believable solutions to the challenges this case created. They seem satisfied to provide an explanation, any explanation, regardless of how much sense that explanation made in the larger context.

What’s more frustrating is that they seem to think we won’t notice. As much as I love the show, this is always its biggest weakness: it underestimates its audience as much as it does its characters. And no one likes to be taken for granted or for an idiot.

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