This review contains spoilers.
7.23 Hollander’s Woods
One of the things about trailers and previews (and other glimpses of television and film stories to come) is that they are rife with misdirection—and rightly so. If you are too upfront with the audience about what’s going to happen in the movie you are promoting, then there’s really no reason to see it in the first place. Anyone who saw the trailer for 1999’s Double Jeopardy, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd, could have skipped pretty much the entire film, since there was little in the movie that wasn’t in, or loudly telegraphed by, the previews. Quarantine suffered from another but related problem. The most shocking scene from the trailer—the one where something grabs a terrified Jennifer Carpenter from behind and drags her backwards out of frame into the darkness—made everyone want to go see the movie just to find out what happens next. Except that nothing does. That scene was the one that ended the film. There is no next.
But trailers and previews aren’t the only things that can “spoil” a story. Sometimes, it’s not what the actors do on-screen that gives stuff away, but what they do off of it that broadcasts where a story will go. After all, if Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher sign on to do the next Star Wars movie, no one will be surprised if Han Solo and Leia Organa show up at some point in the film, right? And if a television season ends with a cliffhanger where we are supposed to be unsure whether a character lives or dies but we know the actor still has two years on their contract, it’s a pretty good bet (and suspense killer) that he or she will be back next season.
Going into this season’s last episode of Castle, some of these same factors were in play but in reverse. Expectations had been set by two pieces of information from the sneak peek: that we were returning to a mystery from Rick’s past, and that Kate was going to be making a big decision about her future. Because of the way this season began—with Castle disappearing for two months—and the really weak explanation we got in Sleeper a few weeks ago, the mention of mystery in Rick’s past had a lot of fans hoping that the mystery from his childhood would tie into that from his more recent past. And off-screen, news that, while Fillion had signed on for an eighth season, Katic had not, had fans equally convinced that Beckett’s decision, whatever its impetus, was going to mean her exit from the show.
Nothing really panned out the way some had expected, however.
In fact, when it came to the mystery, almost the only surprise was how quickly it was solved. It seems that the accidental murder of a young woman on an isolated highway led to a witness reporting having seen something that Rick had also seen. As a young boy in the woods in New Hampshire. On a weekend visit, the young Castle got lost in Hollander’s Woods—whence the episode takes its title—and stumbles across the mutilated body of a woman. He was then confronted by a man in a distinctive mask and told to run away and never to speak of what he saw. He did not hold his tongue, however. But when the woods were searched by police, no body was ever found and his own research never turned up anyone missing who fit the description of the victim he had discovered. It was this unsolved mystery that led him to choose writing other mysteries as a profession (which frankly, feels a bit of a stretch, but we’ll let it pass…)
So when this present-day victim shows up stumbling out of another wood with the same mutilations, and the witness reports that she was being chased by a figure wearing the same distinctive mask, Rick jumps at the opportunity to solve both mysteries. Problem is, he has a hard time getting traction with Beckett and the boys (who are celebrating their manniversary—ten years as partners) because a child who only heard the voice of a man in a mask—thirty years ago—is not a very reliable witness and any leads are stone cold. Still, they make enough headway on the recent murder to tie it to Noah Lewis, who has his long-dead mother still in her house to hide his own activities there.
But fifteen minutes from the end of the episode, when they go to visit his shrink, we know from the moment we see his face that he’s the murderer, and not his patient. This realization happens about 1.5 seconds before we see Castle come to the same conclusion. He recognizes the voice. We recognize the face: Wallace Langham. When you have two suspects and one is a fairly recognizable character actor and the other is just some shmoe, well, you don’t have to be Kate Becket to figure that one out. The rest of the episode is dedicated to convincing the rest of the precinct and then setting up the right situation for Rick to be in to justify killing the killer. It’s a bit anti-climactic.
A bit more unexpected is that decision that Kate has to make. She just taken her Captain’s Exam and awaiting the results when she is called before a bit of a tribunal to defend her questionable actions in her time with Castle as her partner. But as is quickly apparent to everyone but Beckett, this is actually just another kind of test–to see if she will stand up for herself. They actually inform her that although she passed the Captain’s Exam, they actually want her to run for New York State Senate (interesting that they don’t mention a party). Her big choice is whether to be whether to be a cop or a politician. I cannot imagine many in the audience pulling for the latter, so I doubt any political aspirations will go very far. So rather than anything resembling the sort of Sophie’s choice suggested by the episode sneak peek hoopla, there’s like not really any choice at all.
The episode ends with Castle accepting a prestigious award for his writing and giving an acceptance speech where he thanks all the show’s regulars. While the speech is nice and appropriately sappy, it’s an odd and anti-climactic way to end an episode, let alone a season. Until you realize that, when they filmed the episode, they weren’t sure they were coming back for an eighth season. Fillion hadn’t signed on, and the announcement about the return of Katic, Dever, Huertas, and Jones wasn’t made until after the episode aired.
I guess if you cannot write suspense in the episode, that’s another way to generate it. Ironic that after the particularly provocative promises in the lead-in to this week, it was what was happening oiff-screen that added the only real excitement. But truth be told, even if it had been the final episode, they’d have been better going out on a truly great mystery (like where Rick was for the rest of his missing two months) than on a sentimental farewell.
Anyway, it looks like the gang’s back for another season, but under a new showrunner. Last year, the show’s creator, Andrew Marlowe, stepped down as showrunner. and next year, he’s leaving the show entirely along with executive producer Terri Miller. This season’s showrunner David Amann is now moving aside in favour of writers Terence Paul Winter and Alexi Hawley. If you’re looking for a real mystery, you might want to look at what’s been going on backstage at Castle. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to bode well for next season.
All hope is not lost, however. Winter has written some of the better episodes this season (I, Witness; Once Upon a Time in the West) and had a hand in the best of season six (Veritas, for instance). If him taking the reins means more of such writing—the show’s perennial weakness—next season might really be something to look forward to.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Dead From New York, here.
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