This Castle review contains spoilers.
One of the things some of the commenters on past reviews have pointed out, you almost always know, much like a Scooby Doo mystery, whodunit on Castle because Castle rarely varies: it’s the first suspect we meet—the one who inevitably is rejected because he or she has an alibi. This week’s episode, “The Wrong Stuff,” may just be the right stuff because it sticks to this formula but plays with it in such a way to truly surprise.
What is no surprise, from the very beginning of the episode, is that this is going to be a lot of fun. “The Wrong Stuff” opens with a Martian murder, followed quickly by a scene in which two apparent robots are apparently shooting rayguns at each other (with lighting so dim, I had a brief flashback to Pacific Rim). Regular Castle viewers would quickly sort out that what we are actually seeing is one of Alexis and Rick’s classic lasertag battles. But our shock is almost as great as Castle’s when he actually enters the room to reveal that he is not Alexis’s actual opponent: “You’re playing laser tag? Without me?!?” It turns out Alexis is playing with her friend (?) David, and allowing him to use her dad’s equipment. This disturbs Castle, but not nearly as much as when Martha and her newest “beau” come down the stairs and Castle sees that Martha’s paramour is wearing Rick’s jammies. “Those were my softest pajamas,” he later tells Becket. “And now I’ll have to burn them.”
No surprise that he’s only too happy to leave the apartment to help Beckett investigate their latest murder.
Especially when they discover that that murder, while it did not take place on Mars (where, as Beckett points out, they really don’t have jurisdiction), it was committed in a sealed environment that replicates conditions on Mars as part of a privately funded plan to send a mission to the red planet. Anyone familiar with the show can probably imagine Castle’s glee. Which is effusive. This is not unusual for Rick (he’s had similar reactions to past cases at sci-fi conventions and dude ranches), but this incident trumps them all. In fact, it’s so over the top as to make us a bit uncomfortable. After all, a man is dead. Someone has lost a son.
Luckily, that’s one of the few things that distracts from what is otherwise a funny and clever episode.
The humour flows throughout. From Castle’s discomfort at finding not one but two men in his stead—and jammies—to the cute irony of Caskett finally coming home to an empty apartment only to realize that the silence is discomforting and immediately heading out to surround themselves with New York’s teeming masses, “The Wrong Stuff” has a wealth of wit. And virtually everyone gets in a quip or two.
But Ryan, who is far more likely, in the series, to be the butt of the joke than to crack one, gets all of writer Terri Miller’s best lines. Most come from his lack of enthusiasm about the idea of traveling to Mars, something Castle simply cannot fathom. When he asks Ryan why he doesn’t want to go, Kevin tells him, “I prefer my oxygen without a can,” going on to say “If I wanted to fly thousands of miles to see a lifeless orb, I’d just visit Jenny’s grandmother. Same hostile environment, same freezing temperatures, same noxious atmosphere.”
She must be quite a lady.
That the episode is funny isn’t much of a shock, since Miller (Andrew Marlowe’s wife) is responsible for writing some of Castle’s more chuckle-inducing tales. She’s responsible for last season’s farcical (until the end) finale For Better Or Worse, The Good, The Bad, And The Baby, as well as Cuffed, wherein Caskett—who have been handcuffed together–must escape from a tiger.
Miller’s episodes also tend to be fairly clever, taking the show’s weakness (its lack of originality) and turning it on its head. This week’s mystery, for example, is a not even thinly veiled Murder On The Orient Express. What makes it more than the kind of outright (but perfectly ethical) narrative theft we see too much of on the show is how the murderers did it, using the team’s rover to actually end the victim’s life and helping them to alibi themselves for the time of the homicide.
This ending surprises us because it so effectively because we are so very used to Castle’s usual Scooby Doo structure. We pay attention to who that first suspect is, knowing that, four times out of five, that’s our killer. Then we watch as other suspects are added to the list and then, one-by-one, removed from it until no one (even the first one) is left. Some twist is then presented that explains how it really was Old Man Wickles who killed the victim(s) of the week. In The Wrong Stuff, as the list of candidates dwindles, we become sure that it must be one of the first people we saw attached to the mission. We never suspect the rover (who would). But in one of the better jokes ever on the show, even the rover is alibied when we are told about halfway through the episode that it was docked elsewhere at the time of the murder.
Murder On The Orient Express is certainly not the only allusion we see on the episode, though it is the only one that is not overtly called out. Other elements of “The Wrong Stuff” certainly reference 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien, which work well. What works rather less well is the fact that we are told what is being referenced. Had Castle merely instructed MIRA to “open the pod bay doors” and the episode stopped at doing a good job of giving us the scene of Caskett first searching for and then running from some Giger-esque presence in a Nostromo-like environment, these allusions would have read as quite accessible Easter eggs.
Instead, they read like a combination of under-estimating your audience and overstating your cleverness. Never a good mix.
Still, all-in-all, a fairly strong episode. And one not without some subtlety. In the opening scene, as we view the vast and alien Martian landscape, the scene is scored with the kind of music we generally associate with sci-fi epics. As the episode goes on, this type of music reappears from time to time, continuing to underline (without bludgeoning us with it) that, but for location, the team worked together to overcome obstacles in order to commit the first extra-terrestrial murder. Hats off to Robert Duncan for writing the music, and director Pail Holahan for weaving it in so well.