This review contains spoilers.
7.22 Dead From New York
It’s hard to know where to start this week.
You see, when you review something, you’re not supposed to be objective, because honestly, that’s impossible. A review is inherently an opinion. And there are no objective opinions, right? But you are supposed to come at it with as little baggage as you can in order to at least give the episode a fair shake.
So I’m gonna just fess up now and admit it: I have a lot of baggage when it comes to this week’s Castle, Dead From New York. Like most people in my generation (X), I spent a lot of Saturday nights watching Saturday Night Live—some of it good (the first few years and the late 80s-early 90s), some of it bad (much of what happened in between; seriously, as Rolling Stone pointed out, how do you make Robert Downey Jr. not funny?!?), some of it largely unwatchable (every show I’ve stumbled upon since 2000)—so it’s hard not to have certain expectations about an episode that uses a thinly disguised SNL as a background or certain feelings about that episode killing off Lorne Michaels in the form of character Sid Ross.
After all, Lorne Michaels has quite a reputation. He’s a genius, an egotist, a visionary, or a complete jerk—possibly some combination of those—depending on who you ask. And writer Terence Paul Winter cleverly uses this reputation quite cleverly. After all, Lorne Michaels has made and killed careers; he’s the kind of man who has people who would do anything for him… as well as those who might not be too upset if something bad happened to him. That’s the price of power. And so by making his doppelganger Sid Ross the victim, and establishing in the very first scene that Sid is every bit the successful dictator that Michaels is (“What Sid wants, Sid gets. He doesn’t care what the network thinks.”), Winters effectively multiplies not just the number of potential suspects, but also the number of people willing to lie or otherwise cast Sid and his actions in the best possible light. No one can be trusted. And that almost always makes for a good mystery.
And it’s probably only this that keeps us from noticing the obvious tell early on, when the actual killer is the first person to point the finger in someone’s direction.
Luckily, this episode was rife with SNL-related baggage. The scene where Beckett and Castle walk down the hall of Saturday Night Tonight offices and workrooms has Winters referencing that baggage and poking some fun at it from all sides: the sketch that sounds patently stupid but was actually funny (Fluffy, the Space Puppy); the season so bad that everyone acknowledges its suck-age (Castle referencing the cast poster); the humour so crass and juvenile it barely rises to the level of preteen sensibilities (Beckett might as well have been summing up my opinion of a large portion of Adam Sandler’s work when she has no qualms telling Castle she does not share his admiration of the character of Doctor Finger—hey, I said I had baggage…).
Using the show as background also gave Winters the opportunity to poke fun at Castle itself, on a level that we’ve not really seen before. At this point, Castle has written several Nikki Heat books (six by my count) based on his ongoing partnership with Beckett, and his relationship with his muse is well-known enough in the Castle universe for Saturday Night Tonight to actually have a sketch based on it. The scene where the SNT writer questions Beckett on how she manages to work as a cop and maintain a hairstyle that obviously requires a hairdresser on constant call, or the later one where the actor spoofing Beckett is caught by Beckett who wonders if she really walks in the exaggerated style the actor is rehearsing, or the on-stage bit where not-Beckett tries to kick in a door and gets her impossibly high-heeled shoe caught in said door—these are clear gags built on the not-really-credible and frequently commented upon (on fan forums) Hollywood glamour of a character who’s supposed to be a tough and pragmatic New York cop. I think this may be the first time the show’s really acknowledged that contradiction (one that afflicts most series about female LEOs) and thus partially (and humourously) redeems itself for engaging in such hypocrisy.
What was a little disappointing was the SNL opportunity missed. Saturday Night Live has launched so many careers, and as part of its format has both musical and (usually) acting guest stars. So this was the chance to bring in some real surprises, and real entertainment powerhouses.
The use of Jaleel White, famous for annoying nerd neighbour Urkel on Family Matters, was inspired, not necessarily for his star power but his general recognizability and, more importantly, the way he is used to comment on one of the paradoxes of SNL. When Gene Vogel points Caskett in the direction of White’s character, Mickey Franks, Castle hopes aloud that he’s not involved in the murder: “The man is so damn funny on the show. Even the crappy episodes.” Even during those terrible years in the early and mid-80s, one man on SNL was doing great comedy: Eddie Murphy. Nice of ABC and Castle’s people to remind us of the man’s actual talent, especially after Murphy’s recent live mortification on the 40th anniversary special.
But the choices for guest host (Gregory Harrison as Danny Valentine) and musical guest (Carly Rae Jepsen as herself) were disappointing. The scene with Harrison and Katic flirting in-character was fun and all, but honestly, anyone—and far more attractive leading men—could have done that, leaving us to ask: so why didn’t they get someone else? But I have to admit that Jepsen’s performance was so out-of-place that my admitted ignorance of Fill-in-the-Nationality Idol shows made me think that she was an actress playing a character. Her song was so ridiculous, I thought it was a spoof of the kind of bubble-gum pop, one-hit wonders that SNL sandwiches in between weeks showcasing musical greats. The fact that the entire episode stopped so long so that we could hear so much of the saccharine lyrics (“I really, really, really, really, really, really like you”) and that Castle actual asks her to explain a line from one of her other songs just seemed to confirm that this was what was going on. I’m not entirely sure I should be embarrassed for making such a mistake.
A quick shout-out, however, to frequent geek actor Mark Rolston for his turn as ex-con and temporary red-herring Mark Van Zant.
The mystery itself was, amid all this sound and fury (and partly because of it), solid and satisfying. But nowhere near as much as the return of Martha as an actual presence on the show. Susan Sullivan is one of the too-little-seen charms of Castle, so the side-story about Martha’s second act on Broadway was a welcome addition to an already busy episode. As many older actresses have pointed out recently (including SNL alums Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tina Fey via Amy Schumer’s show), once you reach a certain age, the profession just doesn’t seem to have much for you to do. It was great to see the episode address this (especially for a comedy actress) to some extent while giving Sullivan the first substantial thing she’s had to do on the show in months.
Next comes the season finale, and there’s been hinting that we’ll learn more about what happened during Castle’s disappearance. Hopefully, they will actually address the question, and the explanations we got in Sleeper a couple of episodes ago are merely the barest outline of what they reveal about the missing months. Lord knows we’ve waited long enough.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, In Plane Sight, here.
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