Recurring Cast: Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Jon Huertas, Seamus Deaver, Molly Quinn, Susan Sullivan, Tamala Jones, Penny Johnson Jerald
Castle has pulled off a pretty impressive trick; it has convinced the world it is a good show. I didn’t realise how awful it truly was, until I read the book accompaniment of the show, Nikki Heat. The book was cheesy and generic, milking the over-the-top cop clichés. Of course, that isn’t a bad thing, because it was played for the jokes; I fully recommend the book for any Castle fan. However, when watching the show afterwards, I realised how cheesy the show also was. It is your typical cop show, with the determined, by-the-books detective, the personal case that makes that cop break a few rules and this season we even get the ‘turning in your badge’ scene. However, Castle has taken these clichés, breathed life into them, given us three-dimensional characters we love spending time with and has us, the audience, waiting with bated breath in between each episode, totally hooked and loving every moment. That, right there, is the very essence of a good show.
Last season, the overarching plot of Kate Beckett’s mother’s death being wrapped up in a dangerous conspiracy was the main theme, constantly cropping up and throwing twist after twist at us. While I was glad that the mystery was more central to the show, rather than just a narrative device to make us like the characters more, I was worried Castle would fall into the flaw that eventually tripped shows like ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Doctor Who’ up. Too much plot and not enough fun. The first episode heads down that route. It is unlike anything Castle has given us before. Kate Beckett is shot and there is a dark 45 minutes of intense drama. Interesting developments are laid out and it looks like we are going to be treated to much more exploration of this conspiracy. However, the main plot thread doesn’t actually feature that much. It crops up once or twice briefly, but only truly comes into play for the finale. Instead the writers realise that they have more than enough material to keep the show running for another season without over-complicated proceedings. And this is a very welcome development.
It isn’t even as though this season is made of filler episodes. In fact, this season is the most consistently enjoyable season yet. There is always a twist on the episode, making it much more enjoyable. One episode Castle and Beckett wake up, handcuffed together with no memory of how they got there. Another episode sees Castle team up with a new cop, more ferocious and unpredictable than Beckett (played by Adam Baldwin, causing multiple nerd-gasms for those waiting to see Fillion reunited with the old Firefly gang). One particularly enjoyable episode saw the same cast transported into the murky worlds of 1940s Noir, as Castle’s imagination took us back in time. At the same time, the writers aren’t even using too many of their cards that they have been saving up. It would have been easy to bring back the Triple X Killer for an exciting thrill-ride. However, one episode merely name drops him and the tension still spikes up a notch. It could have been a disappointing cop out, but the writers are always in control, coming up with a touching story about Kevin’s character distraught at the fact his stolen police gun was used to murder a woman. It was a great story that gave Seamus Deaver a meatier part than he has ever had to do in the show before. Then there are the more emotional story arcs. Beckett begins to suffer from PTSD, putting this hard-core cop figure at her weakest yet. Then there is the love story between the two leads. The show tackles their relationship head on and rather than getting lost in conspiracy theories, the show explores how far their connection can be pushed. It is a much more satisfactory use of time and the final episode really pulled at the heart-strings. I haven’t been this invested on an on-screen couple in a long time.
There are a few flat beats; just a few. No one is quite sure what to do with Penny Johnson Jerald, the new captain. She is more threatening than Montgomery and she doesn’t get along with Castle. It is an interesting, different take on the role of Police Chief. However, it does mean that she cannot be involved as closely with the group as Montgomery could. She is little more than a background figure here, playing the same role she had much more fun with in 24. The show also re-treads old ground. We are still treated to episodes where Beckett or Castle’s eyes would wander and the jealous snipes from the opposite party is beginning to get tiring. The stars handle it well though, squeezing enjoyment out of it yet. In many ways, it feels more fitting here, as Castle begins to get bored of waiting of Beckett, but it is essentially a story we have heard so many times before. There is also one beat that is brushed quickly under the carpet, where it turns out Castle’s family has a dark past. It feels like another clichéd story arc coming into play, maybe to replace the Beckett story, but I will give that line of plot time to develop, before criticising it too much.
Holding the show together are the characters of Castle and Beckett. They have grown so much since Season One and I am loving the journey. Beckett’s character benefits from the ‘mother’s murder case’ card being played less. She gets to remain fairly light-hearted up until the finale. And then her character gets serious and it is so much more satisfying. I like how she is essentially the hero figure we love from these cop shows, but it is taken to such extremes, we stop sympathising with her character. Like Castle, we see Beckett as this self-destructive force. We love her character and her determination, but at the same time, we can see that her mind is clouded, which makes the finale so unpredictable. It is a great way to send off the show. Castle is less three-dimensional, but there is something enjoyable about his ‘what you see is what you get’ charm. Fillion needs to work to make the same arc work for so long, but he manages it, coming across as more pathetically in love than ever. His character is so funny, charming and sincere that it truly is impossible to hate both the actor and character.
Final Verdict: Castle is more enjoyable than ever, the relationship between the two leads sparking more than ever, and the show finding new ways to stay fresh and exciting.