This review contains spoilers.
8.4 What Lies Beneath…
There are several things that make for a great Castle episode.
The first is a great case. Because this is Castle, however, what we mean by “great” is a little different than you might expect on some other shows. Castle will never win any (important) awards for its storytelling. As I have repeatedly suggested, the writers seem to do their brainstorming while reading the TV Tropes page: even Castle’s best stories are usually nothing more than one overused story idea after another strung together to make a somewhat cohesive whole. And the killer is almost always the same—it’s the first person we meet (other than the victim) who has a connection to the murder.
What tends to salvage a plot for the series is how the writers play with us and their characters while telling their story. Castle is seldom a very serious show, despite the fact that it’s about homicides, and it’s that sense of fun that turns the trite into a treat. Whether it’s a choice of setting (murder in a Western fantasy town), killer (an actually invisible person) or encounter (Star Trek: TNG’s Jonathan Frakes insisting he’s Castle’s biggest fan while asking for an autograph), it’s always that touch of the ridiculous-but-still-somewhat-credible that allows us to look beyond the storytelling retreads.
Everything else good on Castle comes down to the relationships and the actors who make them work.
Whether it’s the “bros” Esposito and Ryan, the secondary romance of Esplanie, the domestic-but-loving weirdness of Castle and his biological family Alexis and Martha, or the main attraction of Caskett, this show works because, in almost every scene between members of this extended family, the love the actors have for their characters, their fellow castmates, and their work shines so brightly it’s hard to notice anything else.
Until it’s not there. And again this week on What Lies Beneath, there just isn’t a lot of it to be found.
The first missing piece is a result of a bad decision last season: the break-up of Esplanie. As much as I liked Javier and Lanie as a couple—they were a great foil for Caskett—the problem with breaking them up wasn’t them not being together. It was the seeming decision to sideline Tamala Jones’ character Lanie as a result. Relegated to a functional position, the sharp wit and take-no-prisoners insights and jibes she has provided in the last couple of seasons could have done a lot to get us through this dark non-Caskett period. Allowing her to alternate heart-to-hearts with tossing darts at both parties would have been a welcome stand-in for the show’s frustrated audience.
And while we have had a lot more of Castle’s family so far this season (in the form of Alexis, mostly), it’s not been an entirely welcome change. I love Alexis, and seeing more of the actress on the show has been something I’ve wished for in the past. But how you do a thing is as important as the fact that you’re doing it, and the show’s use of Alexis leaves much to be desired.
In the past, we’ve enjoyed Castle’s daughter because, with such a cut-up as a dad, she’s had to be the adult in the relationship: living her life and maturing despite her father’s antics. So having her seemingly abandon that independence (yes, I know she’s supposedly still in school, but there’s little evidence of that) to work full-time with her dad doesn’t make sense from a story point of view. The reason for her sudden switch of career goals, of course, is obvious: with Caskett split up and not even operating in the same space, Fillion has to have someone to play off of. But watching his daughter substituted in for his love interest is more than a little uncomfy.
We did get to a solid scene with Martha this week, but again, it just didn’t work. Martha’s concern is touching. And her advice is absolutely solid. But the fact that she so thoroughly misunderstands (by design) the situation between her son and Kate rewrites what could be a very touching scene for them and the audience into a frustrating one both for Beckett and for us. It’s a waste of Susan Sullivan’s considerable talents.
The one bit of sunshine in the episode, character-wise, came from the boys, but it was fleeting. The quick shared genuflecting, and Lanie’s response, could have been plucked out of the best of moments between the boys, and for a moment, I thought they might be relied on to carry the episode. Unfortunately, the writers chose to take them in a different direction, driving a wedge between the two and having them alienated from each other for most of the episode, over something stupid. After all, it’s not like Esposito would have begrudged Ryan the open spot on the exam list if Kevin had taken the time to explain.
And in this way, they paralleled Caskett. If showrunners Hawley and Winters promised us lots of the funny, sexy early-Castle banter during this relationship hiatus, that’s certainly not what they are delivering. In order to spar, the two would have to be in the same space at least. But for the vast majority of the episode, they are not, and so, as with the boys this episode, there cannot be any of that chemistry. Nor is it possible to sizzle the way they are known for when at least one of them, and probably both, are hurting as badly as they are. Even when they are in the same space, the overwhelming feeling is one of loss and sadness, and it casts a pall over the entire episode. The simple truth is that you can never go back again, something the show’s creators seem unaware of.
What is also not on the page and was a potential stroke of genius was the idea of the potential witness as a pathological liar. If the relationships could not save What Lies Beneath, there was the possibility that this story could. It had a strong start with the uncovering the layers of the victim’s lies and them discovering the true reason for those lies at the twelve-step meeting. The scenes where the leader shows his vow of honesty at everyone’s expense and those involving the less-than-honest but still-sprightly older priest were charming fun. But the idea quickly fizzled out when the gang resorted to a garden-variety trap to catch the not-actually-the-killer before Scooby-Dooing the wife (as the only potential suspect—and usual first victim-related character we meet). It was the easy and thus less interesting way out of what could have been a good plot.
Still, because the episode didn’t spend the majority of its time bogged down on the faked breakup of Caskett, it was an improvement over last week. But that may not matter much with its ratings in the US in decline from the disastrous season premiere. The lack of any traction on the Caskett in terms of fixing thee relationship early in the season (as they did with the issues brought up in the seasons six and seven premieres) tends to indicate that Hawley and Winters may have chosen to drag this out to the winter hiatus. I think, at this point, we have to ask if the show will have much of an audience left to see the reunion of what used to be one of the most entertaining couples on TV.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, PhDead, here.
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