Castle season 8 episode 20 review: Much Ado About Murder

This week's Castle is a Shakespeare-tinged affair, featuring Firefly's Jewel Staite as a special guest star...

This review contains spoilers

8.20: Much Ado About Murder

Much Ado About Murder. The title alone pulled me in simply because, well, I’m a scholar of Shakespeare and the Renaissance and I think Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, in which Nathan Fillion played Dogberry, showed us that the man can legitimately pull off the Bard. Add to that the allure of former Firefly shipmate Jewel Staite showing up, and, boy-howdy, I’m in.

Did the episode actually live up to my hopes? Sorta. But certainly not the way I expected it to.

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For starters, it was actually pretty light on the Shakespeare, all things considered. The plot revolves around the murder of an actor, who himself is potentially on the point of murdering Shakespeare. The episode opens with the performer, Zane Cannon – famous for his action-film franchise and a notoriously bad actor – stumbling through Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy as though he’s never heard the thing before, in preparation for his big opening night. Hint to Cannon: learn your lines before you begin rehearsal. Makes you look less of an ass. Might also save your life.

It’s ironic that his murder, moments later, cuts him off just as he finally puts his coach’s advice into practice and he begins to perform the words as though he actually understands and feels him.

As the team investigates his murder, Shakespeare again is invoked when they question the scorned girlfriend, a method actress living the part of Ophelia, who initially refuses to answer them until addressed as such. Castle steals from the Ghost in Hamlet, while Ryan slips in a phrase from Henry IV, Part 2 and then quotes Hamlet’s Polonius—until Esposito puts a decisive end to it.

As red herrings are produced and disproven—the girlfriend is quickly alibied out, the brother who should hate Zane Cannon doesn’t—most of the Shakespeare references remain in the form of quotes or near-quotes. It’s only when we get to the confrontation between Castle and the “most infamous cartel boss in history,” El Oso (the Bear), that writer Christine Roum does more than scratch the surface. In the course of their discussion, during which it is revealed that the criminal had no interest in killing Cannon and was instead going to be checking the New York Times to see if the actor’s upcoming Hamlet was good enough that El Oso would consider giving him the rights to produce and play the cartel boss in a biopic (one which El Oso has kidnapped Castle to force him into writing), the two banter about whether El Oso is more Macbeth or Richard III, with the bad guy dipping momentarily into King Lear (“Are you the royal fool who thinks he can mock the king he serves?”) in his intimidation of Rick. But that’s pretty much it for Shakespeare in this outing. A bit disappointing really.

What was not disappointing were the things I didn’t expect.

The bit with them discovering Rick’s mother Martha in the bed of a hotel room paid for by the victim was a good bit of comedy. For a split second, we jump to the same conclusions that Ryan, Espo, and Castle do. After all, Martha Rodgers is a free spirit. Why shouldn’t she be having a bit of fun with the younger actor? But it’s quickly revealed that she’s teaching him the ways of the stage, not of love.

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And then there’s the moment where we learn a little something about Rick’s childhood. “I grew up in hallways just like this, spending time in my mother’s dressing room, experimenting with her costumes, her makeup.” The boys, of course, turn and are obviously gearing up to give Castle a hard time about his crossdressing, but Rick cuts them off with a terse, “Oh, get over it.” As an American currently living through a dark period in the US when transsexuals are being legally banned from public restrooms in some states and cis-gendered people are being harassed for using those bathrooms because they don’t look enough like the harassers’ idea of what men and women are supposed to look like, it’s hard not to see that moment as a rebuke of the transphobia that’s reared its head in this country. In fact, because we never see Castle say it—it’s only heard during a fairly benign reaction shot of the boys over Castle’s shoulder, his jaw moving, but not really in time with those words—it’s tempting to wonder if this wasn’t a clever bit of editing to get rid of an original bit of good-natured but potentially offensive ribbing on the part of Ryan and Esposito in order to replace it with something that calls out gender-policing.

A girl can dream, right?

And while we’re on the topic of gender non-conformance, the subplot about Ryan as a stage father, trying to bring a bit of Busby Berkeley to his daughter’s preschool play production is cute: never more so than when his wife has to give him the news that he’s been fired by the other parents, and his daughter shows up at the precinct in costume to ask Daddy to help her run lines. It’s always nice to see Seamus Dever’s real-life wife Juliana show up as Ryan’s Jenny, and Madelyn Witkin, in her acting premiere, is adorable as Sara Grace. What’s not as fun is watching Ryan fairly consistently play the fool. It does get old.

What’s new, and not in a good way, is Beckett forgetting date night. Kate is a detective. Details matter to her. Add to that the fact that she tells Rick that constantly trying to one-up each other for date night isn’t fun so much as an added pressure, and it just doesn’t make any sense that she’d forget something that happens every week.

And while it was nice to see Jewel Staite, I’d have preferred her to have something meatier to do. They cannot do these Firefly-geek Easter eggs all that often. The least they can do is make them count.

Still, as so often happens with Castle episodes, despite the fact that there are disappointments in Much Ado About Murder as a whole, many of the individual moments save it. And yet…

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We only have two episodes left this season and LokSat to wrap up before the end. So it’s disappointing to have wasted an entire episode without so much as a mention of the myth arc that has run through the entire show. The fact that there’s so little time left (at least with Stana Katic’s Beckett in the picture) to wrap things up means it’s hard to imagine that the result won’t be rushed and disappointing. We’ll find out soon enough. 

Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Dead Again, here.