This review contains spoilers.
8.6 Cool Boys
This week’s Castle, Cool Boys, leaves me a bit numb and possibly angry. Then again, after this weekend, I think we’re all a bit that way. And so it’s likely some of that has rubbed off here.
There’s a common assumption that critics examine artistic endeavours in isolation—as discrete objects in their own self-contained worlds. But that’s never true, if only because it cannot be. The essence of any review, for instance, is that it’s a subjective opinion. True, it’s supposed to be the opinion of someone who has dedicated a chunk of her/his life to self-education on a genre or topic (and hopefully some basic communications skills), but in the end, it really is just a person talking from her/his own perspective. And I “own” mine.
So keep that in mind.
Cool Boys is, at best, a poor episode, and much contributed to that. Some of it I’ve talked about before. We still have an almost completely sidelined Lanie. After showing us, in previous seasons, just what Tamala Jones offered, having her show up for literally seconds every couple of episodes is almost worse than writing her out of the show entirely. At least the latter would give the character and the actor dignity, without leaving the impression they were just trying to shave some change off the show’s budget this season.
Especially since the other explanation for her reduced role seems to be the appearance of Hayley (swapping out black women—ew!). Except that Hayley doesn’t really seem to have enough to bring to the table to justify the exchange in the first place. I like Toks Olagundoye and think she did a great job on the short-lived series Neighbors, but her role here seems to be Rick’s go-to for information from unofficial sources. Are the writers forgetting that Rick used to be the show’s go-to for information from unofficial sources? Whatever it was they needed to know, and whatever level of sewer it needed to come from—whether those running under City Hall or the local don’s favorite watering hole or even a building sporting some federal investigative acronym—Rick could be counted on to be poker-buddies (or something) with someone who could deliver. So why do we need Hayley again?
And with Alexis and Martha brought in again to meet what feels like a contractual obligation (rather than narrative need), and Esposito and Ryan acting as the antagonists to a great degree, most of the episode falls to Nathan Fillion and guest star Adam Baldwin to carry.
Baldwin returns as Ethan Slaughter, the brutal, angry, and quite dangerous (for his partners as much as any suspects) detective working gangs. When he re-enters Castle’s life, he’s under investigation and liable to be facing dismissal—thus even more heavily compromised—and is looking into the theft of a valuable piece of tech from a supposedly uncrackable building. His informant Victor, however, ends up dead, and he looks good for it, at least from the boys’ point of view. The rest of the episode is devoted to Castle and Slaughter trying to stay one step ahead of Ryan and Esposito while trying to track down Louis, the hyper-intelligent young man that Victor led astray (and into larceny) and figure out the real reason for the break-in, all while Castle keeps Slaughter on a leash so that he doesn’t seriously hurt or maim anyone along the way. If it sounds lacklustre, you’re right.
In his previous outing on the show, Baldwin was obviously there to play to geeks: there were all sorts of cute little Firefly Easter eggs in his 2012 appearance Headhunters, and he and Fillion’s Jayne and Mal chemistry was more than a bit evident, with Adam again the over-the-top brawn to Nathan’s brain.
Cool Boys is different though. From the beginning, Rick only agrees to work with Slaughter if the latter keeps his violent tendencies in check (for the most part). As the case unfolds, we find that Slaughter is a lot more than he seems. He cooks when he needs to think. He majored in musical theatre. And he understands that sometimes, you need to put the needs of the woman you love ahead of your own, as he tells Castle near the end of the episode.
And this is where things go off the track for me. It’s not that I don’t like a little redemption. I’m addicted to Once Upon A Time, and that’s 90% of what that show is about. No, the problem here, for me, comes down to the show’s use of Adam Baldwin.
If you’ve been living in a cave, you may be unaware of the part that Baldwin played last year in bringing an ugly misogynist movement to light and giving it legitimacy and a name. That his tweets have compared gay marriage to marriage between a father and son. His attacks on Wil Wheaton. And his and his followers’ scorched earth tactics against those who dare to disagree openly. His tweets this weekend show why his presence at fan conventions has become more and more of a point of dispute for many.
But, I hear you say, there is a difference between an actor and his work, and there, I totally agree with you. Mel Gibson holds views about homosexuality that make me want to hold my gay friends closer for safety, but I can look at his Hamlet and say, “Wow, that’s actually one of the best ones out there,” and absolutely mean and defend that statement.
But there is a line, and I feel as though Cool Boys crossed it.
The problem is both one of narrative and of bad (maybe) timing. Narratively, it makes no sense whatsoever for Slaughter to suddenly return and be everything he isn’t without actually changing what he is. What I mean by that is that we are a composite of our experiences. And before we didn’t know what Slaughter’s experiences were, so we assumed there was a backstory that explained the violent and manipulative person we were seeing.
But now we find that actually, he’s educated. In the arts. The performing arts. He enjoys cooking. In an apron. And he’s taken full responsibility for the blowout of his marriage to his ex-wife by acknowledging that he could not give her needs the necessary weight in the marriage. So, yeah, a divorce can make someone bitter, I get that. But most chorus boys don’t become ultra-violent cops, and coming to grips with your role in the disintegration of your marriage is usually what dissipates the bitterness—it doesn’t make you threaten suspects with physical injury. And trust me, if you majored in Musical Theatre in college and you’re a guy, being called “sensitive” doesn’t even register on your gender-protectivity scale. (Oh, and if you’re going to write your characters as having majored in musical theatre, or as the son of a Broadway actor, the performers should be able to do a vaguely passable Riff and A-Rab. Fillion and Baldwin were terrible in a bit that was already sorely out of place.) In other words, the character no longer makes sense.
What makes suspicious sense is the timing. It’s been a little over a year since Baldwin’s ugly antics went from being a fairly little-known phenomenon to an issue that could very well begin to threaten his career. There were petitions and boycotts against his appearances in Australia this year, and — though no official statement has yet been made on the topic — it’s hard not to imagine that the negative publicity may have affected a planned project with Dark Horse announced last October, which appears to have since stalled.
So to bring Baldwin back to the show after such a year, put him next to his buddy Fillion (whose cred is intact), and redesign his angry, misogynist (even in this episode—his interaction with barely legal Alexis is enough to make you hurl your cookies, let alone the references to the nympho roommate) Neanderthal character so that we can see that under it all, he’s really just a guy who wants to cook you a meal and take you to a musical? Sorry, I ain’t biting.
Maybe it’s all innocent. But if it is, the one thing it has in common with the rest of this season is the unbelievable tone-deafness it displays on the part of everyone involved.
Final note: The saddest thing about the episode, however, is the absence of Kate Beckett. Not because we miss her (which we do, in the abstract), but because the episode moves along just as well without her as it might with her. And I’m not really sure that that’s something the showrunners should be pointing out so clearly to us. But given the last couple of episodes, they certainly do seem driven to do so.
Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, The Nose, here.