Castle and Cerebus Shifts

CastleI 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.


castle married

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

5 thoughts on “Castle and Cerebus Shifts

  1. One of the troubling things about a relationship in a series (whether it is television or in our case novels) is that we wish the best for our favorite characters. Forty years ago, MacMillan and Wife became a little silly despite the fact that it was a mystery movie series. Thirty years ago, the same thing was the case for Hart to Hart and even Moonlighting. Twenty years ago, we had Lois and Clark and by then I wanted to throw a shoe to the TV set because the writers had them being in peril right before they got married. There was a movie with Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts called I Love Trouble. It featured two rival newspaper reporters in Chicago investigating a murder in Wisconsin. It was going well with the two going after each other while getting the story. What came crashing down was the scene where they wound up in a wedding chapel and guess what? They got married. Naturally in the end, they save each other and catch the villain. But it was too much of a comedy and the mystery part seemed to become lost. The one thing that shows like Castle remind us writers of one thing. Our main characters have feelings and they have passion for another person. You showed that with Hope and John in that first novel. What I appreciate was that you had those two be very intimate and with Hope’s age and her Catholic values and they do not have sex right from the very start. John shows Hope that he can be a gentleman and a host to his guest and eventual girlfriend. Both fell in love with each other and both cared for each other. I have a situation brewing in my second and third novels in my Blanchette High Series where my mature main character (Molly) falls in love with someone four years older who is also immature and clumsy. Both make a pact that they will do everything as girlfriend and boyfriend but no sex. Why? Molly’s values kicked in, especially when her friends tell her stories about how they got into trouble with a relationship. Relationships can be much deeper as both the boy and girl (or man and woman) really care for each other–deeper than any sexual action in bed. This is something that many writers forget. This is why many TV shows which have a relationship can turn it into a two-dimensional thing rather than the real reason why they love each other.

  2. I get what you’re saying about the mood whiplash, but I thought it worked just fine, so you are clearly objectively wrong and quite possibly insane. Which may sound harsh, but there’s really no middle ground in this sort of disagreement.

  3. I completely agree with what you’re saying about Castle. My family and I are die-hard mystery show fans, and I couldn’t help compare this wedding episode with the wedding of Agent Seely Booth and Dr. Temperence Brennan on the Fox series Bones. The wedding on that show was head and shoulders above the “Casket” nuptials. In that case, the mystery was a stand alone piece that didn’t mix into any story arcs, and the weaving of the wedding into the plot (i.e.- I can’t get married until I solve this murder, how can I have a facial when I’m supposed to be interviewing suspects?) added some comedy, and a little bit of drama as we watch the characters try and handle the ultimate balance of personal/professional lives. Instead, it almost appeared as though the writers were bored with the Castle/Beckett romance, and just wanted to get that story arc over as fast as possible. In this case, I believe it would have been better if Castle had proposed at the end of the comic episode, and then there would have been an episode featuring the wedding. Adding another episode between the proposal and the honeymoon would have, in my humble opinion, given this major event in a story the proper attention and influence it deserves. If they were going to just cram it in the last five seconds of a show, why not flame it up in true Castle style and have the couple elope in Las Vegas? I almost would have preferred that.

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