Castle season 6 episode 19 review: The Greater Good

Laura finds herself disappointed by the latest episode of Castle, which failed to live up to its promise...

This review contains spoilers.

6.19 The Greater Good

One of the things that has always sort of bothered me about Castle is the way it represents New York City, especially given the show’s setup. In a moment where income inequality is such a hot-button issue, you would think that the city in which it is worst, the place where the Occupy movement began, would be portrayed in a more realistic way in this respect. You would especially think that this would be true of a show where the main characters are a millionaire reformed playboy and a hardened homicide detective who has seen it all—they live in worlds largely on either side of the economic gulf.

And yet, most of the cases they have been involved with over the years have focused on victims and criminals who range from solidly middle class (in an extremely expensive city) to the rarified uber-rich. Generally speaking, the working class has served as informants and occasionally trigger men for those who could afford their services. But even though such characters have appeared, we have seen little of their strata or way of life. The starkest view of poverty we’ve been shown in a while was the building in which Alexis and Pi had set up their temporary love-nest and even that was not so much shabby as shabby-chic.

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But true poverty, the living-in-the-projects kind that really exists in New York City, has been largely absent.

Another part of the NYC experience is the problems with policing in the city. New York’s “stop and frisk” policy, where citizens can be stopped without justification, questioned, and searched is extremely unpopular. In 2011 alone, there were over 650,000 such stops. Of those, 85% were either black or Hispanic citizens in a city where those groups make up only 54% of the population, and almost 90% of all stops proved citizens treated this way were entirely innocent. The stop-and-frisks also have been used to trick those carrying marijuana (legal to have as long as it is not visible in public) into emptying their pockets, putting the drug in public view and then arresting them for it. Some cops even went so far as routinely planting drugs (which they called “flaking”) in order to meet arrest quotas. 86% of those arrested for marijuana infractions were black or Hispanic.

All of this meant that I was momentarily excited by this week’s story, The Greater Good, which focused on Wall Street shenanigans and a boot-strapping Hispanic kid who seemed to be working to bring down the system which created much of this inequality. And then I was immediately disappointed by it. And I’ve been trying to suss out why.

The primary plot revolves around a Venezuelan orphan, Peter Cordero, who has managed to escape the gangs that pulled his friends in and who has risen to the level of broker at one of the key Wall Street firms. His boss and the firm’s leader—a suitably sleazy and cut-rate Gordon Gecko, is under investigation by the SEC and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and when Peter is arrested for possession of cocaine, that same Attorney’s Office gives him a choice: become an informer for them or do a long stint in prison. Peter agrees to go along, and dutifully wears a wire to gather information. Eventually he is found shot to death and the wire (and that day’s recording) is missing.

The first twist is that Peter has double-crossed his handlers and extorted 25 million from his skeezy boss. He has a passport under his previous name and was about to flee the country at the time of his death. The second is that he was actually shot by his own handler because he was going to reveal her secret: that she had had the cocaine planted on Peter in the first place in order to pressure him into collecting information on his boss. He explains his reasons on the missing wire recording, which his handler has actually had the entire time:

“I came to the U.S. believing in the American Dream. So I worked hard and tried to be honest in a corrupt world, working for corrupt and greedy people because I still believed. But when you, the U.S. government, plants drugs on me and threatens to destroy my future, all because you need someone to testify, how am I supposed to still believe? I did everything I could to play by the rules, but no one else does.”

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It’s hard not to hear that as an indictment not only of the rigged financial system but the system of justice and government. Especially when you pair that with the fact that the broker chosen to be blackmailed into helping was Venezuelan. All in an episode called The Greater Good.

In other words, while most of the series has all but denied many of the problems of its own supposed location, we finally got one that seemed like it was going to step up and make at least some statement on these issues.

Unfortunately, rather than any character (like, say, Esposito) drawing attention to the fact that the way Cordero was treated is not unlike how hundreds of thousands are treated each year in the Big Apple–or that Cordero’s boss getting off scot-free even though he all but admitted to buying his way out of prosecution was a bit too close to what happened (or rather didn’t happen) to the architects of the worldwide financial meltdown of a few years ago—instead, all the focus ended up being on how all of this impacted a years-long feud between Capt. Gates and her attorney sister. The “greater good” turned out not to be an exploration of what such words meant in economic or legal terms relating to the case or the larger world, but merely a code phrase for the diverging priorities of the two sisters. Sister Gates got to listen to her own words being echoed back at her as the rationale for her underling having murdered Cordero.

Disappointing to say the least.

Not to say that the side story about the conflict between Gates and her sister Elizabeth wasn’t interesting, because it was. But in the face of the serious issues raised in the episode, their makeup scene seemed far too contrived and too much of a Hallmark moment to adequately close out the story being told.

Castle, as I have pointed out before, has never been great drama, choosing fun and humour over substance. Which is fine. A show does not need to aspire to being more than that, and most do not. But in many ways, this week’s episode had the makings of something far better. I wish it had been able to  rise to the occasion.

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