This review contains spoilers.
7.1 Driven & 7.2 Montreal
Last week, after the premiere of the seventh season of Castle, I tried to write my review. I started it three times, and each time, it devolved into a rant on how Andrew Marlowe seems determined to frustrate his audience into switching off permanently. That rant would largely have been a carryover from my review of last season’s finale, where I talked about the manipulative way in which the writers withheld the wedding that they’d been narratively building to all season – and which fans have been salivating for almost since the show began six years ago. So instead, I decided to head off that rant and give the show a second episode before passing judgment. With this week’s Montreal, however, I feel I have little choice.
The unnecessary romantic setback that ended last season was compounded last week by the sudden appearance of yet another relationship obstacle in Driven. In that episode, we learn that Castle is not in the crashed and burning car that both we and Kate see in the last moment of last season’s final cliffhanger. Instead, it first appears that he’s been kidnapped, but as Beckett and the boys soon discover, it looks as though Castle is complicit in, and perhaps even arranged, the supposed kidnapping. This leaves even the usually stalwart Detective Ryan wondering about his missing friend’s motivations, and Kate herself suffers a brief wobble before choosing to believe that this is more than the case of “cold feet” some less-than-generous souls suggest it might be.
Beckett’s faith is largely justified when, after two months, her sunburned and unconscious soulmate is found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in a dingy. He remembers nothing (a big shoutout to DoG reader and commenter bobsuncorp who rightly predicted just such an amnesia twist five months ago on my season 6 finale review), and the rest of the episode is devoted to the team continuing to try to retrace Castle’s footsteps while the writer himself is left to try to correct the perception that he intentionally ran away essentially to go camping. And while Beckett admits that she has had her moments of doubt, it’s clear by the end of the episode (when they find out that the witness who provided the strongest evidence that Castle willingly stayed away from her is not the Henry Jenkins he claimed to be and has since disappeared) that she believes that her beloved is being honest when he says he has no memory of the time he was gone.
Which means that last week’s mystery is essentially just a set-up with no payoff. Okay, so that’s not a problem in and of itself. The search for what really happened to Castle in those two months might make a good story arc, lasting either a couple of episodes or an entire season – if the writers were particularly skilled. Unfortunately, their track record does not really bear out any faith that they might be successful if they take that latter and more challenging road. In fact, Driven’s last scene specifically undercuts that hope even though the scene is focused on another facet of the show entirely.
Let’s say you are about to marry the love of your life. That person is taken but finally manages to make it back to you. The story your fiancé tells is far-fetched, yes, but you know each other well enough to know that he or she is telling you the truth. You are finally alone together. How do you react to that bit of privacy?
I think most of us would draw the curtains and refuse to be separated again for a decent interval.
Instead, Beckett and Castle spend these precious moments discussing how the separation has essentially broken them as a couple, and they now appear to us to emotionally be where they were two seasons ago. In other words, the writers have emotionally retconned the romance at the heart of the show in order to make us wait who knows how long for another chance to see these two married off, and they do it in a way that makes literally no sense – not just for this couple but for any couple that didn’t suffer from severe commitment phobia (which they don’t).
At least this week’s Montreal does a better job with the mystery aspect. In the episode’s short-term plot, we get an interesting story about a toy seller who no one would ever want to kill but who still ends up murdered. It’s a little disappointing that this tale was shoehorned into an episode with so much else going on, because it had some of the better twists and turns we’ve seen from the show in a while. An expanded version might have made a great episode.
But our attention was really on the larger-arc mystery—the weaker of the two storylines. Granted, the “lost memory” premise is a weak foundation on which to build. It’s hard not to nod in agreement when the interviewer in the episode’s first scene confronts Castle on air: “If this were one of your books, wouldn’t you find this plot a little hard to swallow? I mean, amnesia? Really?” But incredulous as we might be, the episode does expand on the set-up and complicates it in some interesting (but not really novel ways). We soon learn that whatever happened to Castle, it seems to have been – at least partially – at his own hands. In addition to finding out that Castle feared for his life during those lost months (enough to record last messages to his loved ones), we also are also led to believe that, far from being an adversary, Henry Jenkins may have been an accomplice who was merely helping Castle to carry out his plan to forget all about his Beckett-less travels.
And while the episode does not really clarify much about where Castle was, it does drop a gem into our laps instead – an interesting tidbit about another mystery in the writer’s life. Jenkins attempts to get Castle to back off of his search for the truth by relaying back to him something that Castle gave him as a proof for just such occasion: he says that Castle told him a story three weeks earlier about the real reason he became a mystery writer, referencing something that happened to the hero when he was eleven in Hollander’s Woods. There’s a lot of promise in the cryptic allusion, especially if Fillion’s reaction shot is anything to go on.
But again, for the third episode in a row, the final moments undermine our confidence in Marlowe and his writers. After returning to New York and telling Beckett and his family what he has (not) learned, Caskett retire to the bedroom where Rick tells Kate he wants to marry her the next morning; he doesn’t want to wait. She resists, this time with a slightly more plausible reason—she thinks he’s in a hurry because he’s looking for an emotional foothold to help him deal with choosing not to learn what really happened to him—but rather than our hero seeming reluctant but willing to give her the space she usually needs (as we saw last week), we instead get that thin-lipped, angry, determined Castle look that usually tells us that there’s going to be some serious trouble. Yes, it quickly disappears as he again turns back to her with a smile and a promise to do what she asks, but we know that that it just a smokescreen for his true feelings.
So while Castle reassured Beckett last week that “We’ll get there. We’ll find our way home,” we are left with the sense that it won’t be anytime soon. And if the writers are going to continue to drag this out (losing more fans along the way), then the least they could do is stop bludgeoning us with this fact. We get it: you think that the show’s over the minute they marry (even if your fans don’t). And some of us are determined to hold out to the bitter end on this one. But it would be great if we could get through at least one episode without salt being poured into this particular wound.
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