This review contains spoilers.
When you study the history of Western theatre, you learn that almost all tragedies until the twentieth century (and even many thereafter) were written either following the “rules” Aristotle supposedly outlined for the form, or in opposition to those rules: one main plot, one scene for all action, all action in a space of twenty-four hours.
When it comes to TV shows that involve leads with romantic tension between them, there are also rules that are followed, largely defined by mid-eighties series Moonlighting: leads must be kept apart, romantic tension must be maintained through near misses and plot twists, there is no actual happiness in happily ever after.
But Aristotle wasn’t saying how tragedy should be. He was describing some common elements in good tragedy. And Moonlighting wasn’t setting the standard for TV romances, either. In fact, it’s a poster child for what not to do.
Don’t get me wrong. The first two series of Moonlighting were brilliant romance, brilliant comedy, and brilliant television. Breaking the fourth wall, the Rona Barrett episode, Shakespeare with David and Maddie – it was revolutionary TV.
The problem was not the show but the romance itself. Like Castle, the chemistry between the lead characters sizzled (despite how Shepherd and Willis felt about each other off-screen) and fans were clamouring for the writers to give the pair the consummation it was clear they wanted. The more minor obstacles that were put in their way, the more it was clear that they belonged together. And finally the writers gave in.
And the hour-long crime-busting comedy went to hell as a result (so they said). People call it the Moonlighting curse: Never, ever bring your leads together. It will destroy the show.
But the show didn’t suffer because they were together. It fell apart because they were apart.
Right after the consummation, the entire tone of the show changed. Rather than letting the relationship evolve into a sparkling Nick and Nora partnership (which is what we largely saw last year on Castle), suddenly the writers tore them back apart, inserted an unplanned pregnancy (and a horrific miscarriage), and the suffering escalated. Often David and Maddie were apart for entire episodes while the plot lines focused on obstacles meant to part them for good. What was fun became work. Comedy became tragedy. And the tragedy went on for two more years, not just twenty-four hours.
Which is the precipice upon which Castle is currently standing.
We’ve had a great run so far. When allowed to by the script, Castle and Beckett sizzle as much (if not more) than David and Maddie ever did. But in the two-parter that concluded this week, there’s been little chance for the two to do anything but solve the case and hurt over the place in which their new arrangement has left them.
In the middle of a quite successful and fulfilling career with the NYPD, Kate Beckett has was offered an interview with the FBI. Despite the fact that Kate has never expressed any desire to leave her job as a detective (and fought quite hard to keep it on several occasions), she takes the interview and lands the job at the end of series five.
From a narrative point of view (and considering the pain that those in the federal government have caused her), her actions make little sense. If Beckett was still filled with a consuming drive to deal with her mother’s killer, the move makes sense since the person responsible for Johanna’s death is a Washington politician. But series four and five were largely about her sorting out her priorities and choosing to no longer let her crusade rule her life and to instead let herself build something with Castle. So it seems unlikely that the search for her mother’s killer is motivating her to take the job. And in the three episodes dealing with her new job, she’s certainly never mentioned that as a reason, even to her lover who knows better than most what that crusade has meant to her.
So let’s call this what it is: after giving us a series of the two of them together, largely happy and dealing in a humourous and touching way with the common issues of a new couple, this is a thinly disguised plot device designed to bring us back to a place of uncertainty about Beckett and Castle’s relationship. The same place Moonlighting took David and Maddie to.
Last week, we still held out some hope that this was a short-term situation.
Castle had been exposed to a deadly biological weapon and would die without the antidote. This week, we watch the two of them try to track down the killer and secure the antidote in order to save Castle’s life. They do, but in the process, Beckett comes as close as she ever has to losing the man that she loves. And so she, of course, decides to stay in DC, in a job she can’t talk to him about (talking to Castle about cases being the cornerstone of their relationship), one which has endangered his life, and keeps them geographically separated.
Narratively, it would have made perfect sense for Beckett to try this new job out, see the strain it’s putting on her newish relationship with Castle, go through almost losing him and decide, hey, this just isn’t worth it. She’s already given up the driving motivation in her professional life because she wanted to be with Castle. So why on earth does it make any sense for her character to not take even a moment in this episode to consider giving up her position at the FBI and going back to a successful and fulfilling career that was working well for her and her desire for a future with Castle?
Because, evidently, as he expressed in a recent interview, showrunner Andrew Marlowe believes that such obstacles and uncharacteristic behavior are a good thing: “We wanted to take advantage of two people who wanted to be together but had to go through this yearning process for being with each other and finding a moment. Also, there are times when things in life shift, where you’re trying to recapture the magic and trying to find the spark in your relationship again.”
I’m wondering what relationship he’s talking about. Castle and Beckett, after four years of struggling with their feelings for each other still have “to go through this yearning process for being with each other”? After about six months together, they have “to recapture the magic and (try) to find the spark”?
Worse yet, he tells us that “on the heels of this great momentous moment of both of them accepting each other, we wanted to really put it under a microscope and examine it, have some fun with it.”
Yes, fun has been the key ingredient to the show’s success. But series six’s kickoff episodes Valkyrie and Dreamworld have been utterly devoid of that ingredient. They have been heavy-handed, morose, and unimaginative in both their plot and dialogue. As I outlined in last week’s review, the actors, over the years, have been able to largely overcome the writing and plotting of the show to make it not just watchable but really enjoyable. But regardless of whether Marlowe plans for Beckett and Castle to overcome this newest obstacle – which I’m sure he does – I’m far less sure that even the impressive talents of Katic and Fillion can overcome the one Marlowe has placed in their way: an extended period of needless suffering.
Moonlighting’s demise has already shown us where all this leads. What many Hollywood TV writers have failed to understand is that Moonlighting was not killed by letting the leads find happiness together; it was the result of artificially forcing unhappiness upon them in order to keep the spark of the original romantic tension.
I imagine I am not the only fan desperately hoping Marlowe can learn the true lesson of the Moonlighting curse before it is too late.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Valkyrie, here.
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