This review contains spoilers.
8.15 Fidelis Ad Mortem
The term “deconstruction” tends to be one that confuses a lot of people and with good reason. If you look at the word itself, you might think, as most people do, that it means to pull something apart piece by piece—to analyse it, really.
When theorists use the term, however, they are talking about something else. When they throw it out there, they aren’t really talking about what the reader or viewer is doing when they look at a text, but what the text does to itself. Jacques Derrida, who coined the term, spent forty years of his life trying to define it, so it’s complex, but Richard Rorty sums it up nicely when he said, that it is “the way in which the ‘accidental’ features of a text can be seen as betraying, subverting, its purportedly ‘essential’ message.” In other words, sometimes a text, a story, is trying to say one thing about a subject and instead ends up, on closer examination, saying exactly the opposite.
So much for the quickie lesson in critical theory.
We’ve all seen this in action. It’s close to what Shakespeare meant with the line, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” Hamlet’s mother is pointing out that the sheer amount of passion the Player Queen puts into insisting on her everlasting fidelity is exactly the thing that ends up making her loyalty so suspect (although Gertrude’s own conscience likely plays into that conclusion as well).
So what does this have to do with Castle’s Fidelis Ad Mortem episode? Well, aside from the fact that fidelis ad mortem (faithful unto death) might well have been the Player Queen’s motto? It’s on point because of a niggling and ongoing little problem which this episode highlights in contradictory ways.
The episode itself is about the murder of a police recruit, which means that a good portion of the episode takes place at the police academy from which Beckett graduated and which she apparently dominated. One of the recruits is shot and the bullet is then dug out of his body. Clues quickly point to his own cadre of cadets, whom Becket describes as people who “eat, sleep, and train police techniques who have spent months learning how we catch killers. Which makes them uniquely equipped to plan a murder.” She acknowledges that, as a result, this will be a tough mystery to solve.
Now, to be fair, Castle tends to set high expectations on a somewhat regular basis, but when it comes to actually delivering on them, the writing tends fall short, generally defaulting to a well-established pattern. But every once in a while, it does follow through and catches us off guard.
Fidelis Ad Mortem is one of those more rare cases. While the murderer is, in fact, one of the first people we are introduced to, his appearance seems, at the time, quite perfunctory. And the case itself has enough completely plausible red herrings (only the drug episode at the beginning feels like a bit of a stretch, but is soon forgotten) that we not only don’t suspect the actual murderer, we largely forget about him despite the fact that we see him repeatedly. Writer Chad Gomez Creasey gives us so many twists and turns near the end that by the time the truth is revealed, we’re a little breathless.
Especially considering the last twist. Creasey plays on Castle’s tendency to resort to the formulaic to really surprise us in the end. When Kate goes to confront her former instructor, sure he’s the killer, I wanted to groan a little. Really? You’re gonna pull the old “mentor-gone-bad” thing? Since Star Wars, we almost expect student and teacher to be on opposite sides of any conflict.
Not that that would have taken anything away from the deliciously tense moment as the two of them face each other down. Stana Katic and Michael Bowen (as Sgt. Ortiz) play this scene beautifully, never lowering their weapons or each flinching, even as bewilderment creeps into both their expressions when they each realize the truth of the moment. This may well be one of my favorite non-Caskett moments of the entire series.
But while the mystery itself is good, there’s an important moment buried in it which undermines not only the episode’s bookends but an ongoing conceit of this season: that of the supposed rift between Kate and Rick.
For a good portion of the season now, the two of them have been pretending to be broken up in order to keep Rick safe from LokSat. Supposedly, if LokSat knows they are together, they will come after Rick to get to Kate, but will leave him and everyone else she has or does still care for alone.
Yeah, don’t get me started on the stupidity of that.
But in the meantime, she’s been not only sleeping with him, she’s actually spending what looks like every evening with him after work, and staying with him every night in his apartment. In short, they’re actually living together. Which is why Martha almost catches them together when she turns up at his home one morning, ostensibly to cook him breakfast but really to crow about her new book. Kate even says, after sneaking out, “That would be the height of irony, huh. Manage to hide our relationship from LokSat only to get outed by your mom.”
There have been a lot of scenes devoted to playing with the fact that their relationship is secret and that that secrecy is either adding spice to their sex life or that they are having to be very careful around their friends, including their two best friends, Ryan and Esposito, who just happen to be accomplished detectives. But like the Player Queen, it almost feels as if the writers are expending way too much energy here to drive home the point that their relationship is secret.
And that’s probably because it’s just implausible that it would be. Let’s assume—although it’s assuming a lot—that Castle has managed to fool his mother and his extremely perceptive daughter on the matter. The idea that the two of them have also pulled the wool over Ryan and Esposito’s eyes is patently ridiculous. As Beckett points out in her lecture to the recruits, part of their job is knowing how to read someone—because you don’t get a second chance. They see Castle and Beckett almost daily. How can they not have seen?
And this is where the episode deconstructs itself more than a little bit. During the group interrogation sequence, it is established that recruit Dave Chambers is not exactly the most skilled of his cohort. After all, not only is he taking performance-enhancing drugs just to keep up, but he breaks under the mere promise of interrogation, dashing out into the hall to escape what has to be one of the more inescapable locales one could imagine. Chambers is not exactly top cop trainee material.
And yet, once they do interrogate him, he fairly casually reveals an important fact: that the victim, recruit Bardot, and their mutual colleague, recruit Decker, are involved in a romantic relationship. Bardot and Decker could both be kicked out if that relationship is discovered—it poses a danger to them, hence them hiding it; but even a third-rate police trainee can see what’s plainly before his eyes. It’s necessary that we believe it’s reasonable for him to know this for the mystery to progress, and we accept it without a second thought.
Which shines a big bright spotlight on the basic problem with the secret relationship issue between Caskett. LokSat is watching Kate. Kate knows LokSat is watching her, which is why they are keeping their relationship a secret. How infantile does she think LokSat is (and thus do the writers think we are) not to think that LokSat wouldn’t at least occasionally follow her home? Or post surveillance outside her home? Would a person so powerful that he could get Bracken killed in solitary in a federal prison really be so careless that just the news that the two had broken up would keep him from doing any actual investigation into the matter?
Of course not.
By creating, in recruit Chambers, a character so obviously inferior to those around him, but endowing him with the ability to see one secret relationship, the showrunners and writers have highlighted just how infantile they think we are that we would continue to believe, week after week, that everyone around Caskett, from high-powered criminal to skilled and experienced detective bros, cannot see another.
There is, of course, a way out of all of this. And that would be the “surprising” revelation that they’ve actually fooled no one. But that would create a level of complication and complexity that we’ve not really seen in Castle. At this point, I think the most we can hope for is to learn that Ryan and Esposito, at least, have not been fooled… or at least have figured it out by this time.
But you’d be hard-pressed to convince me to wager a fiver on even that much.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, The G.D.S. here.