Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

An open letter to CASTLE

(Welcome to new visitors arriving via this post! Castle is one of few shows that I genuinely look forward to watching each week, which is why I'm invested enough to write this. I can only assume that the same applies to anyone who reads this all the way through!)

Oh, Castle. Castle, Castle, Castle. I think it's time for someone to stage an intervention.

I've loved you since your first airing, and you know what? I still love you now. You're a wonderful show. You're witty and fun. You have two killer leads in Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, and the chemistry between these two is so charged that you could probably light a few city blocks with it. But you're not content to stop there; you've surrounded those two with a terrific supporting cast, between Detective Beckett's associate cops Ryan and Esposito, Castle's family (his mother and daughter), the no-nonsense medical examiner, and two successive precinct Captains who are committed, intelligent professionals. You have intriguing murder mysteries with cool circumstances, many of which have twists and turns to make things not completely obvious. And then you mix things up with changes to your formula, such as a great episode that had Castle and his mother being held captive inside a bank by armed robbers, or another one that had Castle and Beckett drawn into national security stuff. And despite setting a murder mystery show in New York City, you don't make that city look like the grim, murderer-around-every-corner place that other cop shows that have gone before have featured.

So yeah, Castle, I still love you.

But...there are clouds on your horizon, and you need to do something about them. Not sometime. Not in a while. Not a little bit at a time. Now.

Part of the problem is the nature of teevee today. You see, you can't just be like shows used to be and engage in very little continuity, if any at all, from one episode to the next. You can't do that these days. Audiences are used to arcs and long-term stories and "mythologies". You can't do like Star Trek used to do and have every week's mission be wrapped up and never mentioned again in subsequent weeks. No, now you have to acknowledge that James T. Kirk is a mess for some time after he has to stand by and let Edith Keeler die. And you get this, which is why you've given a reason for Beckett's having become a cop in the first place: her mother was brutally murdered, and the crime was never solved. And along comes this mystery writer who can't resist a mystery.

But these days, you also can't wrap up your mythologies too early, can you? No, they have to be strung along for multiple seasons. But you never know if you're going to have next season, so what do you do? You try to find ways to make those mythologies last, and last, and last. So we have a situation where every time Castle and Beckett manage to peel back the curtain over her mother's death, all that's revealed is...another curtain. That's fine for a season or two. Maybe three. A fourth, and it starts to get annoying. A fifth season of this? I'm sorry, Castle, but as good as the stand-alone episodes are, if the murder of Beckett's mother keeps resisting a solution, it's just going to get annoying. You are in danger of wandering into X-Files territory.

Maybe a lot of people don't recall it, since The X-Files ended up collapsing under its own weight (especially once the actors started getting noticeably irritated and the best writers moved on), but there was a time – seasons three, four, and five, mostly – when the 'mytharc' episodes were actual events that fans looked forward to. That wore off, though, because it became clear that every time the show got renewed, the mytharc would be stretched upon the rack even more. I fear that's what's happening with you, Castle, and it's getting difficult to watch. You haven't done much with Beckett's quest this season, but the final arc of the season is coming. Will it bring a solution? God, I hope so. But I'm afraid it won't.

That's not even the biggest problem you're facing, though. And this is where I am really concerned. See, along with the slow progress of Beckett's quest, you've had the slowly simmering romance between Castle and Beckett. And that's where you're starting to show signs of overseasoning the soup, as they say. It's like you've had this soup going on the stove, in a big pot. And you've thrown in wonderful ingredients: some garlic here, some onion there. A bit of beef stock, thickened with a roux. Chunks of stew meat. Potatoes. And so on...but now that the thing's been simmering for several hours and the bowls await, you're still throwing stuff in there. Hmmm...some okra! Maybe some terragon! Here's a pinch of saffron! There's a teaspoon of Korean chili sauce! And so on. Meanwhile, the guests are filling up on bread. And no one wants to fill up on bread.

I know, I know. It's 'Will they or won't they'. Problem is, you've long since gone past the point of 'Will they or won't they', because now, the way you've written these two characters, you've made it clear that there is absolutely no way that they can not end up together and still have that be in any way satisfying. It just can't happen. And you know what? That is absolutely fine. When you create two characters who clearly must be together, then it's fine to get them together. You have to. And why not? You know how many crappy romances I've seen that tried so hard to convince me that two boring characters really belonged together? You've done something rare here, folks. You've created two interesting, three-dimensional characters who are obviously supposed to be together. Stop screwing around, already.

Again, I know, I know. Everybody will throw that old piece of shit from the 1980s, Moonlighting, in your face. Everyone will point out how that show lost all its steam and went down the tubes once its two leads finally slept together. What no one will remember is that the sexual tension between those two was the only interesting thing about them, so when that was gone, so were they. David and Maddie were like when you strike up a conversation with someone who happens to share a passionate interest in something that you have a passionate interest in, something you'd despaired of ever seeing that same passion in anyone else again...and yet, after you talk a while about your shared passion, you discover that you have exactly zero interests in common other than that one thing. So please, Castle, don't take any cautionary tales from Moonlighting. You are orders of magnitude a better show than that one was. I have faith that you are good enough writers that you can keep these two people interesting and engaging even after they end up together.

So I'm genuinely perplexed by the developments in your most recent episode, "47 Seconds".

This was a very underwritten episode. First of all, the mystery itself was not terribly engaging. I enjoyed the cat-and-mouse detective stuff, and I liked the eventual scenario that unfolded that resulted in that tragic bombing you depicted. That was good...but about five minutes in, I was wondering, "Is no one intrigued that somehow this reporter has managed to set herself up in the exact right spot to have her camera going when the bomb detonates?" That wasn't handled very well.

I also was not bothered at all, as was my friend SamuraiFrog, at the way the romantic developments in this episode were driven by a nasty bombing. That struck me as a real response, a human response; tragedies like that bombing do tend to make people rethink, at least for a time, their own approach to the things in their own lives that they value. Again, I'm fine with that. Really. So what was my problem?

My problem is that you, my beloved Castle, took an approach to the Castle-Beckett romance in this episode that does not belong on this show. Your approach, as evidenced here, belongs more on one of the greatest tributes to Cheesy Romance ever, and one which appeared on your own network thirty years ago. I'm talking, of course, about The Love Boat.

You remember The Love Boat. Each episode was an hour long, and would follow a few couples while they went on a cruise. The formula was pretty rigid. In the first act of the show (each show had four acts), couples would meet somehow. In the second act, they'd spend time together and start falling in love. In the third act, there would be a Big Complication – one would discover something about the other, and they'd spend the next chunk of cruise moping about the boat. And then, in act four, usually they'd figure out the way past their problem and leave the boat as a couple. Now, sometimes the show would break formula by having couples fail, but usually, this is the way things went about. And lots of times, the third act 'problem' was there just because it was structurally required to be there – otherwise there's no happy final kiss in the fourth act, and we can't just follow a happy couple around the ship for twenty minutes, can we? So we'd get the Romantic Comedy version of the 'Idiot Plot'.

An 'Idiot Plot' is where the characters are kept precisely as dumb as they need to be in order for the story to be as long as it has been predetermined to be. Remember the West Wing episode called "The Stackhouse Filibuster", the one where everyone in the White House is just wandering around all flummoxed because nobody can figure out why some old fart Senator is filibustering a bill until finally Donna Moss, a junior staffer, both figures out what he's up to and happens to be the only person in the White House well-versed enough in Senate procedure to figure out what to do next? That's an Idiot Plot. Smart characters are made to act stupid by a script that requires them to be stupid until a certain point. Or, for another example, virtually every episode of Three's Company ever made. Thus we have dumb misunderstandings that just go on and on because characters can never just say, "Hey, can we talk a minute about something that's bugging me?"


"OK. The other day, you said this:_______. What was with that? Because I was thinking, ______"

"Oh! You're misunderstanding me. What I really meant was _____, so we're fine."

"Oh, OK! Great."

So what did you do, Castle? First, you had Castle's mother tell him that it's time to, as it were, 'shit or get off the pot'. "Stop finding reasons to not tell Beckett how you feel. Just do it. And if she doesn't feel the same way, move on."

Which Castle does. Except we have to have the lamest damn thing in the book: Just as Castle gets halfway through the sentence "Kate, there's something I've been meaning to tell you," or however he phrased it, someone else comes along to interrupt. Really? That kind of tease? That may have worked when this romance was fresher, but not now. These two people have been through too much together, and been too much for each other, to have such a lame rom-com event happen. That's bad enough, but it's also dumb. Castle knows there's a huge case going on, so why is he thinking to have this conversation at Beckett's desk in the middle of the precinct house? Why, so he can get to the brink and then have someone come up and say, "Hey we got a break! Captain's waiting!"

See? Idiot plot.

And it got worse.

Castle gets to the precinct later on, after Beckett has already started interviewing a suspect. He's claiming amnesia because the event was so horrific, and as Castle looks on through the one-way window, Beckett says, "Last year I got shot in the chest and I remember every detail of what happened."

And Castle gets angry. You see, when she'd been shot, Castle had whispered to Beckett that he loves her...only to have her later claim, after surgery, that she didn't remember anything...although she would later admit to her therapist that she did. And you know what? That actually made some sense. That's the worst part. There had just been some major developments in the case of her mother's shooting. Her Captain had just been discovered to have involvement, and he'd been killed on account of that case. And Kate got shot at his funeral, by a sniper. She would later suffer PTSD over all this. Beckett had a lot going on, and it's completely reasonable that she wouldn't have felt up to dealing with her feelings for Castle at that time. Believe me, I get it.

And I also get why Castle was angry when he learned that she remembered. Believe me, I get that, too. He's thought all along that he's closer to her than just about anybody else, and to discover that she's kept something so big from him has to have hit him hard. I get that, too, and I get why he left angry. These were totally believable developments and totally believable reactions.


Castle goes and tells his mother about this, and as noted above, she's always been his voice of reason. So, please oh please, explain to me how this awful exchange could happen?!

MARTHA: She isn’t dead.

CASTLE: She might as well be. I really thought we could have a future together. You know, I was– I was willing to wait… Turns out it’s all just a big joke. She knew. This whole time, she remembered. And she didn’t say anything… because she was embarrassed because she doesn’t feel the same way. I’m such a fool.

MARTHA: Well c’mon. Let’s go home. Break out some of the good stuff, okay?

CASTLE: Well I’d love to. I’ve got to be getting back.

MARTHA: Back? Why on Earth would you go back, knowing how she feels, knowing that she lied to you–

CASTLE: No, no, no. This isn’t about her. This is– this is about them. You know? It’s about doing something real. Something that matters. I’m not willing to let that go.

MARTHA: Richard, love is not a switch. You can’t just turn it off. You can’t work side by side with her and not feel anything.

CASTLE: Watch me.

Really? Really?!

Come on. It's bad enough that you're going to have Castle and Beckett act like doofs. But now you have to drag Martha down, too? Because what she should have said is:

MARTHA: She isn’t dead.

CASTLE: She might as well be. I really thought we could have a future together. You know, I was– I was willing to wait… Turns out it’s all just a big joke. She knew. This whole time, she remembered. And she didn’t say anything… because she was embarrassed because she doesn’t feel the same way. I’m such a fool.

MARTHA: Oh, for God's sake, Richard. You've had three marriages and Detective Beckett's never had a relationship last more than eight minutes because she's so busy being a cop. I ought to knock your heads together.

CASTLE: Mother, I don't think you--

MARTHA: Be quiet, Richard. Just be quiet. That woman had just found out that her mother's killer is still out there and harder to get than she ever thought possible, she'd just buried her Captain and mentor, then she'd just been shot and on top of all that, had you tell her that you loved her! And that was before the months of recovery from emergency heart surgery and post-traumatic stress! And you watched the woman you love get shot.


MARTHA: My point, Richard, is that neither of you is going to win any awards for emotional stability or maturity. But this isn't a disaster. You don't know what she feels. You're not a mind-reader. You STILL NEED TO TALK TO HER. Until then, this moping is no better than when you were ten and I wouldn't buy you that bike.

CASTLE: Or when you didn't get that part. Last month.

MARTHA: We're not talking about me, darling.

And then, instead of Pouty Castle and Confused Kate, the episode should have closed out with the case getting solved, and then, at the very end, something like this:

BECKETT: Would you like to go for a drink?

CASTLE: I'd love to. But first...I just have to ask something.

BECKETT: Sure, what?

CASTLE: I actually heard some of your questioning, with that suspect. He tried claiming amnesia, and you said that you got shot...and that you remember everything from that day.

Beckett is silent.

CASTLE: I guess I'm wondering...if you really remember....

There's no question what he's referring to.

BECKETT: I remember it.

There's no question what she's referring to, either.

CASTLE: So I'm wondering...where do we go from here?

BECKETT: For that drink? To talk about it?

CASTLE: Are you ready to talk about it?

BECKETT: I don't know, Castle...but I'm kind of tired of not being ready to talk about it, if you know what I mean.

CASTLE: Yeah, I think I do. [beat] So...we try to talk about it and see where it goes?

Beckett's eyes are wide. This is uncharted territory for her.


Castle steps aside and gestures 'Ladies first', and she leads him to the elevator. Both look apprehensive as the doors slide closed...they can't go back, now.

That would have been an honest way, a real way, to deal with this. But instead, you gave us a deeply bizarre thing where Castle decides that he's going to act all professional and disengaged. His mother asks, "Can you work alongside Beckett and not care?" And Castle says, "Watch me." But even so, he manages to say things, here and there, in Beckett's presence, that allude to what's eating him, and she notices that something's up. When the case ends, she invites everyone out for a drink, but Ryan and Esposito have to get home; Beckett says, "I guess it's just us," and Castle just says, "Yeah, I'm going home, too." And he does, giving her one last scowl before the elevator closes between them.

Seriously, Castle, what the ever-loving HELL is that?!

Here's what I'm thinking. Here's what I'm hoping, anyway. You know that you've got to put these two together at some point. You just have to. There's no way you've created this show and not realized it at this point. But you're also thinking in terms of the teevee season, which means that your Big Events can only happen in the first couple weeks of a season, or during November, February, and May sweeps. That's it. Which means that you've decided that (a) you can't have your Big Development until the season finale, and (b) you have to build up to it over several episodes.

And what does that mean? Well, in the preview for next episode, we have Beckett talking to Laney about whether it's time for her to open up...and meanwhile, Castle is cavorting around with some bimbo-of-the-week. Instead of having these two wonderful characters behave in a way that is true to themselves, you've turned them into plot devices in a damned Love Boat style romance, and the next three or four episodes are going to be the equivalent of the third act of a Love Boat episode, when our two romantic leads are moping around and talking sadly to Isaac over their daiquiri's. So instead of doing something natural and organic and character-driven, you're forcing these two characters in whom lots of viewers (including me, you dips!) have a lot of investment to serve as cogs in a machined plot than as people. And that, ultimately, may be deeply damaging.

Of course, the next episodes are already written and mostly shot, I assume, so by the time I'm writing this, the damage is either done or in the process of being done. So I'll end by expressing my hope that this dropping of the ball is a momentary aberration, a deviation from the norm; and my fervent desire that you'll get back to letting your characters determine what happens, and forget about letting the nature of the teevee season force you into delaying what really should be happening now.

And really: if you're all gunshy because of Moonlighting, for God's sake, stop that. You're better than Moonlighting. Act like it!

Your (not at all creepy) Number One Fan.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Wow, long entry.

I've lost the thread on Castle in recent months because of things going on in my real life (i.e., I haven't been able to catch the show because I've been busy, and I'm currently sans DVR), but after reading all this... well, I'm very, very disappointed. I've been afraid for sometime the show wasn't going to have the guts to deal with its own premise. And I think you're absolutely correct that the writers are gunshy because of what happened Moonlighting (I actually enjoyed that show more than you seem to, but you're right about it being very different than Castle, and certainly it was created in a very different time in television. But for better or worse, it continues to stand as some sort of cautionary tale for all TV writers.)

Here's hoping the Castle crew pulls their collective head out soon.