This review contains spoilers.
7.7 Once Upon A Time In The West
Okay, I’m going to get this off my chest up front because, for the most part, I enjoyed Once Upon A Time In The West.
Usually, when we identify with the characters we watch, it’s a good thing. (Unless you’re watching Hannibal, which does an amazing job of forcing you to see yourself in the last people you’d want to serve as your looking glass.) But generally, we feel connected to the narrative by such relationships, and that works well for everyone. This week, however, Castle made me feel more than a little patronized in that identification
The episode really starts, after we first see the death of this week’s victim, with Kate and Rick announcing to their closest friends—Lanie, Esposito, and Ryan—that they ran off to the Hamptons to get married, all without inviting them. The three react how I think most of us would in this situation—with disbelief, disappointment, and a touch of anger. In fact, the reaction shots by the actors are spot on: Jon Huertas’ Espo looks pissed off, Tamala Jones’ Lanie is hurt, and Seamus Dever’s Ryan seems lost that such a thing could have happened.
Lanie, at least, tries to put the best face on the thing, but her refusal to include Castle in her embrace of Beckett (instead choosing to punch him squarely in the chest) speaks volumes about how she really feels. Ryan and Esposito are far less diplomatic. In fact, while they are relegated, for most of the rest of the episode, to relaying information on their NYC-based investigation to Caskett who are following up leads in Arizona, virtually all of their interactions with the newlyweds are tinged with bitterness. Yes, there’s a funny bit about a song the boys supposedly wrote for their friends, and a great bit of business with Ryan reimbursing himself and Espo for their tuxedo rentals directly from Castle’s wallet, but it’s absolutely clear that these three people were looking forward to Kate and Rick’s special day almost as much as the couple in question were, and feel cheated not to have gotten the fairy tale wedding they were all but promised.
In other words, they are largely us—so much built up expectation with the rug unceremoniously pulled out from under us.
Which would have been a great way to address the reactions of many fans: let the trio stand for the audience and then those characters get their responses to missing out in a way that really resolved them—acknowledge that they feel that way, that they are justified, and then find a way to make it up to them. Good plan, right?
Unfortunately—especially considering the humorous way the boys continue to make their feelings known throughout the first three-quarters of the episode—the writers went in exactly the opposite direction. Rather than validating those feelings, the boys (Lanie disappears from the episode after that first scene) are instead berated by Capt. Gates for feeling the way they do. “I think that the two of you should stop whining like two little schoolgirls who weren’t invited to the dance, and be happy that your friends—your very dear friends—have found a way to make it work. Especially after all the hell those two have been through.”
Um, yeah… Except that “the hell those two have been through” hasn’t just happened. It has been actively manufactured by those self-same writers. Only to prolong the suffering of Casket and company (and without improving on the story). And frankly, there was simply no excuse not to give the boys and us the wedding they and we hoped for. Hell, the reason they are given—it was last minute—doesn’t even hold water, because I guarantee that Kate did not have that oddly stunning pantsuit she wore to the wedding just hanging in her closet. If she had time to shop for that, she and Rick had time to call their three best friends and tell them to hightail it to the Hamptons. So I’m sorry, guys, but not only does the writing feel shoddy, but it’s simply adding insult to injury at this point. Don’t chastise us for feeling disappointed.
However, as I said, for the most part, the episode is solid and a lot more of the Castle we know and love.
It initially comes very close to being entirely too cheesy, a sin that the show occasionally commits, as we see Castle’s unbridled excitement at being able to drag Beckett to a dude ranch in Arizona in order to investigate the poisoning death of a woman recently returned from there. His “Saddle up, honey, because we are honeymooning out west” makes it clear that this is less about solving the crime, or even the idea of some bunktime with his new wife, than it is about playing cowboys in a town dedicated to such fun.
And I cannot be the only one surprised that we get Fillion in cowboy duds and there’s not a single Firefly reference. Did I miss something?
And there is something quite familiar about the situation they find themselves in. We are quite used to Caskett going undercover, but it’s almost always for a short time—a scene or two. Watching them spend almost the entire episode pretending to be honeymooners while actually investigating the poisoning is a little different. In fact, it was far more in line with an episode of Charlie’s Angels than anything else—with Beckett alternating between Kate Jackson’s smarts and Jaclyn Smith’s distracting beauty while Castle is left to play the almost terminally lost Farrah Fawcett.
But in a way, that only makes it more fun. One of the great joys of Castle is the constant humorous tension between Rick-as-child and Beckett-as-adult (“I want to be him [the flashy gunman] when I grow up.” “Well, yeah, if you grow up.”), with Castle almost always, in the end, convincing her to join in his playing. And by the end, she’s fully engaged, lassoing him into their final embrace as “The End” appears on screen.
And along the way, we get some of the best moments thus far this season both between Castle and Beckett (“We don’t approach this like cops. We approach it like writers.” “So we procrastinate and make stuff up?”) and between them and this strange world they are in (“Seriously, you’re rolling up to the reservation dressed like extras from a Gene Autry movie? That’s some real cultural insensitivity.”) In fact, the moments are so good that they threaten to eclipse the actual crime-solving plot at times.
But really, it’s hard to mind. We have needed a break this season, given everything that’s happened, and Once Upon A Time In The West, with its western titles, ridiculous costumes, and shoot-out at the end are pretty much exactly the palate-cleanser I think we’ve needed. I think, just maybe, we’re all ready to move on.
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