Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Castle" Finale: Beckett's Betrayal

Stana Katic in "Knockout," the season finale of Castle. Photo courtesy of wetpaint.com.

I've mentioned before that I prefer Castle when it doesn't take itself too seriously. I like that the show can be fun and light-hearted despite the murder that opens every episode. While I do enjoy some of the more serious episodes - the second season two-parter "Tick, Tick, Tick..." and "Boom!" is excellent - I prefer it when even those episodes have some humor, such as the entertaining interaction between Dana Delaney's Jordan Shaw and Castle in the aforementioned two-parter.

This week's finale, however, was extremely light on the humor. Other than an early moment in which Castle brags to Ryan and Esposito about the upcoming publication of a graphic novel based on his characters (which is a real thing, apparently), the episode's tone was one of ominous seriousness, akin to one of the more dramatic episodes of Law & Order: SVU. Which is exactly the sort of thing I don't like to see on a normally lighthearted show like Castle.

I'm not saying the season finale was bad - it had a lot of scenes that worked, and the two major twists were extremely well-executed - but there were moments when the tone veered too far toward the dramatic, and those moments rang hollow. For me, the two most jarring scenes were Castle's confrontation with Beckett and his removal of Beckett from the hangar before Captain Montgomery's last stand. The first scene in particular, in which Castle tells Beckett she needs to stop investigating her mother's murder, and accuses her of having "crawled inside [her] mother's murder" to hide, rang false to me. While the beginning of the scene was good, addressing the tension between Castle and Beckett in a straightforward way, the moment escalated quickly into melodrama, with Castle blaming everything from Beckett's endangerment of her own life to her bad relationships with men on her mother's murder.

Besides the unnecessary melodrama, I didn't like this scene because it didn't fit with the previously established relationship between the two protagonists. I don't buy for a second that Castle really thinks Beckett refuses to open up to him because of her mother's murder, and I also don't buy that Castle would really try to convince her to stop pursuing the man who killed her mother. He knows what this case means to her, and he also knows from previous experience that any attempt to tell her what to do on this case will be ignored. The scene seemed less like an interaction that sprang organically from the characters, a more like a plot device added to the episode to create drama.

The thing was, the writers certainly didn't need to create drama. The revelation that Captain Montgomery (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) was involved with the case and was betraying Beckett, and his final decision to sacrifice himself in order to save her, was a dramatic enough arc in itself, and one that earned the emotional payoff much more than Beckett and Castle's fight. (The arc even worked despite the clich├ęd "good cop dies right before his retirement" element that I sensed was coming ever since Montgomery announced that he was retiring.) This arc led to one of the best emotional scenes in the episode - the fight between Ryan and Esposito. Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever played that scene beautifully, but the real reason the scene worked was because it was completely organic to the characters and the situation: their betrayal at finding out that their boss and role model was dirty was honest, and it didn't even seem over the top when Esposito punched Ryan.

Of course, the scene that everyone will be talking about during the hiatus is the final scene, in which Beckett is shot by a sniper while speaking at Captain Montgomery's funeral and Castle finally tells her that he loves her. That moment, like the Captain's death, was an emotional scene that felt earned rather than forced; it made perfect sense that Castle would articulate his feelings for Beckett only when he realized he might have lost her forever, and I hope that this revelation will lead to some actual movement in the will they/won't they relationship between the characters. If Beckett wakes up in the hospital next season and doesn't remember Castle's words (and yes, she will wake up in the hospital; I knew all along she wouldn't be killed, even before I read an interview with creator Andrew W. Marlowe in which he revealed that she would be back next season), again stalling the resolution to that particular plot thread, I'm going to be majorly annoyed.

I've been fairly hard on the episode, largely because of the over-dramatic scenes and lack of humor (although Castle acting as a pallbearer in a suit and sunglasses, while the other pallbearers were all cops wearing dress blues, was a nice visual gag), but I seem to be in the minority here. Sandra Gonzalez of Entertainment Weekly loved the episode, finding it completely devastating and emotionally fraught. Indeed, her two favorite scenes were my two least favorite scenes, demonstrating that one person's melodrama can easily be another person's emotional impact. My boyfriend, an avid Castle fan himself, was also quite fond of the episode, and didn't find the more emotional scenes jarring or melodramatic.

I think the difference between my take on the episode and the takes of those who thought it was great (and I'll repeat here, I didn't think it was bad, just uneven) is that I'm a recent Castle convert. I started watching the show midway through the current season, and while I've seen a number of episodes, they haven't been in any particular order and I certainly haven't seen all of them. In particular, I wasn't as involved in the Johanna Beckett murder storyline as someone who had seen the show from the beginning, and was thus unaffected by scenes that, to those who were more invested in the plot thread, were important and moving.

I think this underlines problem for a show like Castle, a problem that will leave viewers divided on serious episodes devoted to long-term story arcs. Castle falls squarely on the episodic end of the serialized/episodic continuum, which makes it easy for viewers to dive in at any point in the series without having to catch up on everything that has happened so far. This makes it much easier for the show to pick up viewers in later seasons (unlike, say, Fringe or The Vampire Diaries, for which you need to have a knowledge of all the previous episodes in order to follow the show), but it also makes it problematic to have an episode that, like this one, is so focused on the serialized arc.

For viewers who have been watching from the beginning its a great, emotional episode that answers a lot of questions, but for latecomers it is confusing (luckily for me, I had someone to explain the story) and overly dramatic, because viewers who only started tuning in later, or who missed a previous Johanna Beckett episode, aren't particularly invested in the story. An episode like this walks a fine line between accessible and incomprehensible, and the finale definitely stepped over that line a few times. That said, I still love Castle, and I'm excited to see what changes are in store for next season. I for one would like to see Ryan and Esposito promoted (together) to Captain. Or, alternately, Jane Lynch could leave her grating, increasingly inconsistent Sue Sylvester behind and come work for the NYPD. How cool would that be?

4 comments:

  1. I agree 100% on the Esposito/Ryan scene. Well-written and well-executed. I was hurting along with them when they burst out of that bar. But I disagree on the Castle/Beckett confrontation. When they called each other "Kate" and "Rick" one time each in that scene, it was so unusual that it almost stung, as if they were both letting down their guard a bit. Or as if they were each trying to make the other one feel more vulnerable. They were both angry and hurt, and while Castle has never tried to talk Beckett out of a case before, he has also never thought that she might lose before. Despite knowing she wouldn't back down, he had to try anyway, because he was so damn scared that she wouldn't make it out alive. The way that you described the "I love you" at the end is exactly how I feel about his last-ditch effort to get her to let it go. He thought (in a much less immediate sense) that he was going to lose her forever, and he (in a much less direct way) expressed how much he cared. Maybe it's a stretch, but that felt real to me.

    The mom's-death-leading-to-man-issues and you-shut-me-out-so-you-don't-feel-anything-real was a bit more cliche and something I wish hadn't been thrown out that way, but I think the intention behind the trip itself was pure gold.

    The dragging her out of the hangar while she screamed and kicked didn't seem true to their characters, and I think that could have used a little more thought, but I'm not afraid to admit that when I was sure that Montgomery really was going to go down for her, despite his crimes, I cried a little. I mean, I knew when he said goodbye to his family, but while he waited for the car to pull up...heart-wrenching!

    After I watched it, I went to watch a clip again, and hulu started at the beginning...I was blown away by how inappropriate the whole graphic novel thing seemed in contrast to what I had just watched. For people drawn to the comic lightness, this was not an ideal episode, but for the people who love the characters to death, there was a lot of solid material in this one.

    Okay, I think I'm done now.

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  2. Oh. I kind of agree. Sorry to disappoint.

    Not with the scene where Castle takes Beckett away. There, I think it was in character. And while I see where they were going with "Castle loves her too much, he has to get her to stop before she gets herself killed" reasoning for Castle confronting Beckett, I think he knows her better than to approach it the way he did. But he was scared, so I forgive the character (on the in-universe level) but not the writers. If that makes sense?

    So the thing about Castle is that the plots are not particularly original. They play to the tried and true, which totally works for them because it's comfort food, but they play it with emotional resonance and adorable humor. Like I said in my now lost comment, it's solid acting, fun writing, and charming characters that make this show great. They're not reinventing the wheel; they play the tropes and they play them well.

    And those scenes felt off because they were cliched but they weren't played as well as we've come to expect.

    I know that OF COURSE Kate Beckett survives, because we just can't have Castle without her, let me end on a completely emotionally involved fan level: Don't die!!! You're too pretty to die!!! Please, Kate, don't die!!!

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  3. "And those scenes felt off because they were cliched but they weren't played as well as we've come to expect."

    Hm. Yes.

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  4. Wait, this isn't about the Vampire Diaries at all...

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