This review contains spoilers.
7.19 Habeas Corpse
This week’s episode, Habeas Corpse, is a bit of a head-scratcher because it is the reverse of what we usually see on Castle. As I’ve spent the last couple of years documenting, Castle is a barely passable procedural largely held together by the chemistry of its cast, its larger story-arcs, and the charm of the occasional standout episode. It is, of course, wholly enjoyable, but the quality is not generally to be found in the cases solved by its protagonists.
This week, however, it is the case that shines brightest, and not just because what surrounds it is so disappointing.
That case revolves around the death of an ambulance-chasing lawyer (in this case, almost literally, in that he at least finds his clients at the final destination for said ambulances—the emergency room). The episode plays with the bottom-feeding reputation of such legal workers, from the blatant accusation that many of Richie “The Bulldog” Falco’s clients are faking their injuries (which, thankfully, the writers debunk) to the over-the-top gimmicky commercials that both he and his main competitor, Archie “The Savannah Hammer” Bronstein use to attract still more customers.
But it doesn’t just reiterate our prejudices toward personal injury lawyers. It actually uses them to mislead us. From the beginning, because of the morally questionable profession of the victim, we are led to believe that he must have been somehow complicit in his own murder—that he was doing something illegal which got him killed. Which he was. But as the episode points subtly points out, illegal is not always immoral. And Richie’s actions, while they been criminal, were certainly more ethical than some of those characters who are posited as being his moral superior.
The first of these is Private Investigator Mike Sampson. It’s a strange thing that, generally speaking, when a PI in the protagonist of a story, he’s usually morally upright (comparatively, anyway—think Sam Spade or Veronica Mars), but when he’s a minor character, he’s often a low-life. But it is an indication of just how bad the public opinion of personal injury lawyers is that even a seemingly throwaway PI character like Sampson comes off as more trustworthy than the attorney he used to occasionally work for. But of course, our summary judgement turns out to be off the mark when it’s revealed that he’s the one who attacked Beckett and Castle.
The same happens with Richie’s ex-wife, Elise Resner. Where Richie supposedly failed as a lawyer, ending up representing people who can only pay him if they get a payoff in what some people commonly argue are “frivolous lawsuits,” she has succeeded, making partner and scoring a job as top slot as a corporate lawyer. Her story of “The Bulldog’s” descent into drink, depression, and divorce paints us the perfect picture of the kind of loser Richie was.
Of course, all of that masks the true reason for that fall as well as the rot beneath the flawless exterior Resner shows Rick and Kate. The two of them were privy to a design flaw in an airbag that can and does kill. They both helped cover it up, but Falco’s conscience eventually got the best of him and he decided to correct his mistake by turning whistleblower. Resner, on the other hand, went to work for the company that never recalled the dangerous airbags, presumably so she could continue to keep them from accepting liability for those they hurt and killed. So much for the ethical hierarchy of sub-disciplines within the law.
A point that is particularly driven home when the true killer is revealed. One might argue that the fact that “The Savannah Hammer” is on the same rung as “The Bulldog” just reifies the image of the ambulance-chaser as the lowest of the low. But the last speech of the Hammer makes it clear that the rungs aren’t in quite the order we imagine. When asked why he killed Richie, he says it’s because “He couldn’t see that that dummy was a gold mine. And all he wanted was justice? You’re as naïve as he was.”
Too naïve to know that he was supposed to care about money first, right? Like he and Resner do. Much as we were too jaded to consider the possibility that Richie might have been motivated by anything more noble than that. A nice little twist in a good little mystery.
What was less successful was precisely the place where Castle usually excels: the more domestic arena.
First, the literally domestic—what on Earth was the reason for the scene with Alexis at the beginning of the episode? Don’t get me wrong. I adore the character, and I thing Molly Quinn’s portrayal is one of the best things about the show. But the “I’m cramming for a criminal justice test” rationale for including her doesn’t hold up other than that, oh, yeah, this episode will be about lawyers. The lack of connective tissue made it seem as those Quinn was guaranteed a certain number of appearances in her contract and this was a way to shoehorn her in. At least there was some reasonable explanation for including Martha in this outing.
But the real problem was the entire talent show plotline.
The whole reason you do such a plotline is because you have cast members who have hidden talents and you want to give them the opportunity to let them shine. Yes, it’s artificial and rarely has much to do with anything, but it’s a nice little plot vacation and often makes people love the characters even more.
But that’s only if we actually get to see them perform. The entire episode is designed to lead up to the showdown between Caskett and the boys, and we are primed to think that both sides are really going to bring it by the brief glimpses we get as they work on their routines. The fact that there is no payoff is unbelievably frustrating and just leaves us feeling like Castle isn’t the only one who’s been played.
It does, however, solve one mystery for me: I was wondering how he and Esposito were going to win when it was clear from their rehearsal that Seamus Dever, whatever his other talents, cannot dance. It’s a whole lot easier if you never actually have to compete.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, At Close Range, here.
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