I didn’t think I’d actually write about this, but I just can’t seem to let it go. I’m a big Castle fan. Well, not big–I don’t buy memorabilia, follow series news, or even know anything about the cast. But I’ve seen every episode and own all the seasons on DVD, and that’s pretty big for a boy who just isn’t that into mystery series. Perhaps it’s the crazy mash-up that is the show: it has been called a “combination of Moonlighting and Murder, She Wrote, albeit served with a generous helping of Law & Order and seasoned liberally with Nathan Fillion’s natural wise-ass charm.”
In any case, it’s always fun to catch on a Monday night (or Tuesday morning). I love the character of Richard Castle, and wish I could find my own Katherine Beckett. But here’s the thing: the show’s not perfect. It’s a high-wire act, balancing between humor and drama…no, actually it swings back and forth laughing and waving wildly. As the show progresses the writers develop the technique of dropping one or three outright insane episodes into every season, interspersed with episodes that are red and gritty. I think I’ve mentioned before somewhere that the show doesn’t so much suffer from Cerebus Syndrome (and it’s reverse) as enjoy it tremendously.
Normally this is part of the fun, but it takes a great deal of writerly dexterity to pull it off, complicated footwork, and recently the writers missed a step. No, they pretty much tripped over their own feet and face-planted into the audience right in front of the judges. It was bad. So bad, that I want to hold it up here as an example to other writers.
DON’T DO THIS.
No, I don’t mean “For the love of Pete, don’t get married!” But this is the scene where Castle and Beckett become Casket, a “consummation devoutly to be wished” by many Castle fans, especially after the series ended last season on a cliff-hanger instead of a wedding led up to by many episodes. And therein lies the problem. After a season-long buildup last season, and a romance-arc climax then deferred, a few episodes into the new season they decide to just do it–get married. It was very well done; I didn’t cry, but only because of my Y-chromosome.
But. They tacked Castle’s epiphany and re-proposal and the Wedding of Richard Castle and Katherine Beckett (with family only), on the end of one of the show’s Silly Episodes! A cliched silly episode! It is almost a truism that, if a television series lasts long enough, there will come an episode which completely rips off Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. The Main Character gets knocked out, or drugged, or has a near-death experience, or just dreams, and finds himself living in a world without him. Or in one where he made significantly different decisions. He wakes up, having learned the lesson of blah blah blah… They even broadcast the theme at the beginning of the episode by having Castle reference the movie. And they had fun with it: Castle spent much of the episode “re-meeting” Beckett and the rest of the detectives, finagling his way into their case, and Learning His Lesson. I laughed. A lot.
But then Castle wakes up, realizes no matter how screwed up things are right now he and Beckett are Meant To Be, and re-proposes. She says “Yes,” and fade to the minister and the vows. Wait, what? I’m not making this up. I wish I was. As much as I enjoy the show (and the Honeymoon Episode was hilarious), I wanted to attend a Castle convention just to punch a writer or two.
Because you can’t do that. I mentioned the show’s penchant for Cerebus Shifts at the beginning of this rant, but there are rules. Well, a rule. It’s called Keep Your Promise To The Viewer. Let me give you an example: Wearing the Cape. I ended WtC on a somewhat tragic note. Once I realized I was going there, I went back through my manuscript and made sure that, as humorous as the story got at times, the reader never forgot that the stakes were Life and Death and sometimes Death was arbitrary. Early on, I informed the reader what kind of story this was, and I kept my promise. To do otherwise is to lose readers.
The Castle series writers forgot that: they flirted with Mood Whiplash. Actually, no flirting was involved–with both the canceled wedding last season and this Wonderful Life/Marriage episode, they slapped the viewer upside the head with a wet fish. They tried to pull off what they normally pull off beautifully episode to episode, something deeply silly, then something serious, but in the same episode. It didn’t work, and the whiplash was extreme.
I’m willing to bet that now the writers are listening to fan backlash and wishing for a time machine. Did it kill the series for me? Hardly. As I said, the next episode was hilarious and note-perfect (and next week’s looks to be one of the more serious ones). I still love the writing, love the acting, love the fun. But I’ll continue to love the series despite their having muffed this crucial character-arc climax so badly.
Come to think of it, there are a few scenes in my books that make me feel the same way in hindsight. But once it’s written, it’s written. All you can do is go on to the next story, and I’ll go on watching Castle as long as they keep getting it right 90% of the time. Who am I kidding? 75% of the time. It’s still that good. Besides, watching someone as smart and professional as Kate Beckett put up with a goof like Rick Castle–and even find him adorable–ventures into the realm of wish-fulfillment for me. He’s a lucky dog. Which was kind of the point of the whole hallucinatory episode. -M.G.Harmon