Castle season 8 episode 9 review: Tone Death

Despite an engaging musical side, this Castle season 8 return hasn't fixed any of the show's problem with its two leads' relationship...

This review contains spoilers.

8.9 Tone Death

This week, Castle returned from a long midseason hiatus with episode Tone Death. I’d love to say that the showrunners used this long break in order to fix the series after what was a disastrous first half of season eight. Instead, I am forced to report that, while this week’s mystery was fine—about average for the show—when it comes to what has been truly wrong about Castle, the new dynamic between Rick and Kate, this week’s Castle episode, Tone Death should more appropriately have been titled “Tone Deaf.”  More on that in a moment.

This week’s story revolves around the murder of a young woman, Robin King, recently released from prison and rebuilding her life. That new life happens to cross paths with Martha, who asks Castle to help find out what happened to the girl who was found dead in the theatre where Martha was rehearsing for a show. We soon learn that, while Castle and friends initially suspect that she’s gone back to her life of running drugs (red herring #1), her twice weekly trips to Spanish Harlem are actually due to her singing in a competitive a capella group made up of other girls she met in the pokey—girls who are being mentored by a non-profit called No-Backsliding Partnership.

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The girls, it turns out, were about to perform in an important a capella competition, one run by a man (played well, as most parts are, by John Billingsley) who felt they were not properly posh enough to take part, and who eagerly accepted a bribe in order to throw the competition. But when Robin overheard the chicanery, she confronted the organizer who asked to speak to her privately (red herring #2). However, while they are walking through the competition hall, she sees the video playing that has been created to introduce her group to the audience. In the video, the details of the accident that led to her incarceration (for stealing and wrecking the car) are recounted by the young man who supposedly “saved” her life and she realises he’s lying. She instead demands a copy of the video and runs off to confront him. Well, not really, but… (red herring #3).

You see, it turns out that she wasn’t actually driving the car that she was accused of stealing, which means she never committed a crime in the first place. But when she went to confront the person who was driving, Linda Weinberg, co-owner of the NBP non-profit, she instead ran into someone who killed her to keep the secret (unless you believe his eleventh hour confession about it being an accident).

So an appropriate number of those delicious herrings and a culprit that we meet in the opening stages of the investigation (not unlike a Scooby Doo mystery).

What makes this episode worth watching is the musical talent on display. It’s always a pleasure when Martha gets featured in an episode. Susan Sullivan is always pitch-perfect in the role, but so often, we here about Martha’s career rather than seeing it, which is strange considering how rife theatres are with intrigue. You would think the writers would take advantage more often. So getting the chance to watch her not just sing but repeatedly be exactly what the character is—an experienced performer and warm soul—that makes this a very special episode.

While we might have expected her to be all that given the milieu, the riff-off that Castle and Alexis stumble onto is as much a surprise for the audience as them. Their Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go is a delightful antidote to the tension of the preceding scene where it feels like father and daughter are moments from a violent encounter.

But what no one can have expected is, when Ryan and Esposito try to get some tough-boys witnesses at the competition to talk and the boys refuse to engage in anything but song, Javi bests them by playing bad cop a capella, harmonizing his threat to lock them up if they don’t change their attitude. It turns out that Jon Huertas can more than hold his own musically. If only the same could be said for Rick.

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But if showrunners Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter thought that this was the episode (which they promised) that was going to restore our faith in Caskett after the horrors of the first half of the season, then “tone deaf” doesn’t begin to cover it.

Because what fans have been trying to tell them is that they don’t recognise the characters or the relationship that Hawley and Winter have been portraying since they took over the show. That despite the producers claims that the estrangement between the two brings back the fun and excitement of the early days, what fans see is years of character development gone, a Kate Beckett that they loathe, and a Rick Castle so desperate for her love that he’ll put up with anything for merely the hope the that she’ll return to him. There has been nothing fun or exciting about any of this.

But wait, they assured us in interview after interview, now that Caskett are going to be together in private but broken up in public, it really will be fun.

I think it’s time we ask them what their definition of “fun” is.

When we first see Rick and Kate, they are in bed together. They’ve just enjoyed what is supposed to have been an energetic nooner, a “lunch meeting” that Beckett faked to have some time with the hubby. Despite the fact that she tells Castle that she has successfully completed her meeting “agenda” three times, neither of them look tired, sweaty, or even particularly endorphin-glazed. They talk about how much more exciting their public fighting has made their private time, but there’s no indication of it, and even the chemistry between the actors—something that has held the show afloat for so long—seems out of joint.

Later, we get to see that their public fighting is just that: ugly and brutal. They yell at each other, hurl accusations and insults, invent infidelities, and Kate even slaps Rick at one point. Even back when the show started and Beckett genuinely didn’t like Castle, she didn’t treat him like this. I get that they are now supposed to be portraying a possibly divorcing couple, but a couple that is still actively choosing to work together, or at least in the same precinct. Their behaviour isn’t just out of character; it’s unprofessional and could get Rick exiled or Kate fired. There is simply no reason for the writers to have actively escalated things so far beyond where they were when the two were actually estranged.

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And in fact, this is all the “fun” we get. Either the two are having (or talking about having) sex, or they are emotionally and physically abusing each other. It’s the kind of relationship that, if your friend was involved in it, you’d be trying to get them into counselling and hopefully into a different county from the guy/girl. Which is probably why Ryan and Esposito seem so freaked out. What should freak us out is that when, at the end of the episode, both Castle and Beckett both insist that they have hot dates with their respective lovers, the boys don’t immediately put two and two together and call Caskett on their duplicity.

Of course, that would be a different version of the boys. We haven’t seen the insightful, smart version of our favorite bromance since Hawley and Winter took over. And Bella has never written for the series (or much else) so he wouldn’t know better.

But we do. And it doesn’t matter how many times they reassure us—there is nothing fun or exciting or romantic about what we are seeing in Caskett right now. The love that we watched blossom between these two over all those years isn’t even mentioned. They no longer do the work together that helped them discover each other and themselves. The banter is gone. Their relationship has been reduced to sex. And while the two of them were hot together, that was never what their relationship was about. Nor why we have loved them.

If only we could get the producers of Tone Death to hear us…