This review contains spoilers.
7.13 I, Witness
“Castle,” Beckett tells her husband, referring to his latest theory of the case in I, Witness, “there’s no evidence to support this.”
Ah, the irony.
But like the story of I, Witness, we’ll get to that in a moment. And that’s my first small issue with this episode.
Because it begins with the “How We Got Here” trope. Castle is seen searching through the forest, in the dark, armed only with a flashlight. After a few moments, an unknown man hits him over the head, Castle crumples to the ground, and we get the “12 hours earlier” captioning that we know is coming.
Now, as I have said before, there’s nothing wrong with a writer using a trope (or cliché). The true test is in how it’s used. And this one has the episode off to a rocky start. Because, after all, the whole point of this kind of a beginning is to pull you in—to plant in the middle of the best part of the story from the start—rather than trust your story to capture the viewers’ attention by simply building the story chronologically. So you start at a moment when your hero (or heroes) are in a particularly thorny situation, the kind of thing that has you wondering, “however did this come about?” so that, when you flashback to the true beginning, we are hooked by our own curiosity.
Castle has used this trope before. In A Deadly Affair, for instance, the episode begins with Castle and Beckett apparently pointing guns at each other. The reason this hook works is because we cannot possibly imagine the two of them choosing to do this. So naturally, we want to know how they came to find themselves in such an alien situation.
But Castle stumbling around in the dark and getting smacked on the head? Well, that’s not really uncommon, as a good portion of the series has been dedicated to him wandering off and getting himself into just such kinds of trouble. So the opening doesn’t particularly grab us.
And let’s face it: the most common reason to do the “How We Got Here” opening to begin with is because the actual chronological beginning is a bit slow and the writer doesn’t trust that it will grab our attention. Which makes its use here in I, Witness superfluous since the real start of the story—the little flirtation Caskett shares over naps (until Rick gets the call)—is both fun and exactly the opening we’ve come to expect from the show, which has developed the habit of using little Caskett moments to bookend each episode. Since Caskett is the reason most people watch, it’s these which grab us, making the artificial opening to I, Witness unnecessary.
Luckily, the case that Rick is called away for turns out to be far more interesting than his misadventure in the opening. An old school friend, Eva, thinks her hubby is cheating on her and asks Castle to find out whether it’s true or if her marriage is “worth fighting for.” At first, Rick tries to beg off, as this is not the kind of case he wants to handle (although that’s pretty unrealistic since such assignments form part of the bread-and-butter of being a private investigator). But eventually he accepts it and quickly acquires photographic proof that Eva’s fears are justified.
When he goes to her house to deliver the news, he sees her murdered and tries to catch the man responsible, but ends up in the forest (the opening hook), unconscious.
When he returns to the murder scene with Kate and the local constabulary, they find no evidence of the crime and then confront Eva’s cheating spouse who claims that not only did he not kill her, but he has received a call from her after her supposed murder. The call was made near the apartment of his mistress, implicating her in the murder as well and suggesting a conspiracy. But things quickly become complicated when the husband hangs himself in apparent remorse and evidence suggests they he did not do so willingly.
The crime takes on a Hitchcockian twist when it starts to look as though the entire murder was staged, ala Rear Window, and it’s at about that point that Castle slips out of the bed he shares with Kate, spends the night with his murder board, and develops a solid and plausible theory of the crime. So when Beckett finds him there and responds to it with “Castle, there’s no evidence to support this,” we’re left to wonder what exactly she’s talking about. Because it’s probably his most grounded theory in the whole series (and shows that he’s really taking this new profession seriously).
But that’s only part of the irony of that scene. The greater one comes as the true killer (not the one Castle guesses) is revealed, as is her motivation. And of course, it’s the last person you would expect. But the reason you wouldn’t suspect her is that everything about that motivation and connection to the crime is only revealed in the closing few moments of the episode.
I’ve written about this before on Castle: that sometimes, they don’t give you any clues that could point to the actual killer, which kind of defeats the purpose of murder mysteries. After all, the heart of the murder mystery is the challenge it presents to the reader or viewer: given all the evidence, can you guess whodunit before the hero reveals it? So withholding the clues that would allow you to consider the actual murderer in the array of suspects is cheating. It also tends to reveal a weakness in the writing: if you’ve written a good mystery, there should be enough complication and clues to keep us guessing—you shouldn’t have to rely on hiding evidence that points to the killer; it should mixed in with all the red herrings and other distractions. That’s the precisely what creates that challenge for us: we have to sort the wheat from the chaff.
But the writers, Amanda Johns and Terence Paul Winters, have created exactly the kind of plot that we should expect in a murder mystery: lots of leads, lots of suspects, some dead-ends, and a few good twists. In fact, this is, until the reveal when we find out who the killer actually is, one of the most engaging and well-structured mysteries we’ve had on Castle for a long time. So there’s no reason for them to have cheated by withholding any evidence that might have led us to also suspect the lawyer. In fact, adding her to the mix would only have made the mystery that much better. It’s like choosing to use the ace up your sleeve in a hand of poker where you’re holding three kings: you were already winning, and the ace didn’t help in the least.
Is it possible that the writers are so lost that they don’t know when they’ve got it exactly right?
I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is the sense of relief we get in seeing Lanie back. But I’m not entirely reassured as it was not the Lanie were used to seeing. There was none of the badass sass that we’re used to, which left me wondering if she might be a bit down after her split with Esposito. And might that also explain why Espo’s been so slow to get back in the dating game that Ryan and Jenny felt it necessary to set up a Match.com account for him? Is it possible these two crazy kids might still find the will to make it work?
Here’s hoping! Because honestly, the idea of Espo with a spoken-word-spouting exotic dancer? Let’s just say that I’m not looking forward to that possibility any more than Ryan and Jenny are.
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