Castle: A Review
I normally don’t care much for cop shows and legal dramas. I find them overly formulaic with cardboard characters and the same old clichés you have seen a thousand times before. Characters aren’t really characters as much as they are stereotypes: the naïve rookie, the chubby old veteran eating a donut, the asshole sergeant, the tough girl trying to prove herself. Ultimately the message is boring too, “crime is bad” yeah that’s the most original thought of the century. Then there’s the tired old conundrum of “how far should we go/where’s the line” which always is resolved somehow. Our hero cops always get their man, and always manage to do so without doing anything too controversial or odious. It is the television equivalent of a bran muffin; safe, bland, and utterly unappealing yet for some reason everyone keeps consuming them.
So when I discovered Castle, which recently wrapped its eighth season, I was pleasantly surprised. The premise is quite simple. In the first episode we are introduced to Richard Castle, a millionaire mystery writer who is behind on his latest deadline due to an awful case of writer’s block. He assists the NYPD with solving murder cases though officially he is merely shadowing NYPD Detective Kate Beckett who is the inspiration of his newest mystery series. A somewhat goofy initial premise, but a genuinely unique take on the tired old police genre. Castle, played by Nathan Fillon, is definitely what makes the show work, providing a good deal of comedy as an at times immature and impulsive character that clashes with the by the book nature of police investigations. As a writer, he thinks creatively and out of the box, but to the show’s credit the cases get solved by good old fashioned police work just as much as Castle’s imagination. He’ll contribute to the resolution of each’s episodes mystery, either by coming up with a new angle to look at the case or offering a unique insight on a new lead, but his wackier theories and suggestions get proven wrong just as often.
But I enjoy Castle for more than just its entertaining premise. It also offers one of the healthiest examples of an onscreen relationship I’ve seen in recent years. One of the central plots of the show is the interaction and later relationship between Castle and Detective Beckett (played by the truly enchanting Stana Katic). In true television fashion, Castle tortures us with the clichéd will-they-or-won’t-of-course-they-will conundrum for the first few seasons. From the first episode Castle’s impulsive and off-the-rails attitude clashes with Beckett’s by-the-book adherence to the rules, which informs we the viewers that by the laws of fiction the two are destined for a romantic fate together (it is the eleventh commandment of television that “If thee dislike one another then though shall one day get busy”). However, the two actors do share excellent chemistry together, and the show does do a very believable job of showing that for all their differences Castle and Beckett do complement one another well, both professionally and personally.
What truly set the relationship of the two apart, however, is what happens after they inevitably get together. It is beyond a cliché that in any television series if a couple is popular with the viewers they will break up….multiple times….often for multiple seasons, teasing the viewers constantly until we honestly don’t care anymore (“Oh Rachel got off the plane in the season finale of Friends? Snore.”). Breakups, misunderstandings, arguments, and the hinted at possibility of reconciliation are the common plot points used by television to create drama and suspense and drive ratings. This inevitably means that the only healthy relationships we see are boring ones, usually carried out by minor characters in the background. And we wonder why divorce rates are sky high and why most Millennials see relationships as an alien concept?
Castle takes a radically different approach. Castle and Beckett manage to remain committed to one another across the entire arch of the show’s run, and do so without becoming boring or stale. They support one another, care for one another, and very much are partners in their relationship. Yes, they also have disagreements and face challenges in their relationship, but when this occurs they acknowledge them, talk about them, and resolve them….which is what grownups in healthy, mature relationships actually do. Their relationship might easily be the healthiest role model for one on television I have seen in a long time, and seeing monogamy and commitment portrayed in a fashion that is still entertaining and captivating to watch is beyond satisfying. Given that the mass media’s default position is to glorifying sleeping around, carnal gratification, and artificial drama, this is a truly refreshing portrayal of love and marriage as something that is both good for the individual and society as a whole.
Additionally, I find the character of Kate Beckett refreshing as well. Too often in modernity, the entertainment industry equates a strong female character with simply giving a woman masculine traits or making all her male counterparts incompetent misogynists. That is not the case here. Detective Beckett is tough, intelligent and entirely the equal to her male colleagues, but accomplishes all of this while still maintaining a distinctly feminine identity. The show also isn’t afraid to allow her to be vulnerable at times, both emotionally and physically (without going overboard and falling into the “dumbass in distress” cliché). It’s also indescribably satisfying that Castle never indulges in the “I am woman, hear me roar” rant that often occurs in shows that show female characters in traditionally male dominated roles. In fact the whole matter never really comes up at all. There’s no sexist sergeant constantly questioning whether Beckett can do the job. We get no long winded, high and mighty speeches about how she has to work twice as hard to prove herself. Castle never bothers even asking the question “Is Kate Beckett equal, as a woman, to her male counterparts”, it just shows us she is in every episode.
Castle is certainly not without its flaws. The mysteries have a tendency to follow the same pattern (the first suspect is never the actual murderer, and the guilty party is almost always some overlooked character we meet in the first few minutes of the show). We also have some of the usual storylines that progressives of all stripes lap up: a terrorist plot that’s being carried out by average joe Americans to drum up support for the War on Terror, a steely lecture on the dangers of drones, and endless murders motivated by corporate greed. However, this is vastly outweighed by its better points. Not only is it one of the few original ideas for a crime drama I have ever seen, it also one of the few shows that actually promotes a message of somewhat traditional morality. More crucially, it does so in a way that actually is reconcilable with the modern world, showing one can be for morals, marriage and traditional masculine and feminine virtue without being a total caveman.