Did Andrew Marlowe, the creator of the TV show Castle, misname the show?
Think back three short years ago. Castle appears as a midseason series with only ten episodes written and produced. From the first sequence, we learn most of what makes this show so charming: the juxtaposition of glamour shots of author Richard Castle (actor Nathan Fillion) at a swanky book launch party and crime scene shots of Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). Two worlds destined to intertwine.
Note: If you don't want intertwined SPOILERS, read no further, until you watch the finale for yourself.
For all the witty allure and fun, light banter between the two leads, there is only so much crime-of-the-week storytelling viewers can take before the tales begin to blur. A series succeeds based on its underlying backbone, a far-reaching story arc that can tie multiple episodes together. The X-Files had Mulder’s search for his abducted sister. Adrian Monk constantly searched for the man who murdered his wife. Ditto for CSI: Miami’s Horatio Caine.
Richard Castle is basically a man-child, a kid in a grown up body. While he has emotional baggage, it’s not the stuff that makes good, compelling drama. Since this is a cop show, there has to be a character that can’t move past The One Case that’s stymied everyone else. There always has to be a detective that will shoulder the burden for that one special case and forge ahead, finding clues here and there,and never giving up. Kate Beckett is that cop. She has that case. It just so happens to involve the murder of her mother.
Early on, in the pilot episode, Castle tries to put Beckett in a nice little box. Using his writerly imagination, he postulates why she became a cop and, then, detective. In one of the best scenes of the entire series to date, the camera lingers on Beckett’s face, her façade of toughness visibly eroding before our eyes. With that one scene, you get additional information that echoes throughout the series: Castle often goes too far, and Beckett hides more than she reveals. He is intrigued by what lays hidden behind her steely cop face, and, over three seasons, more and more of her backstory is uncovered.
Season 3 demonstrates how to move a story forward without reaching the end and resolving the very dramatic tension that propels the show each week. In the episode “Knockdown,” Beckett and Castle are interviewing the former detective who investigated the murder of Beckett’s mother, when a sniper’s bullet kills him on the spot. The subsequent investigation uncovers the presence of a mystery man behind everything, including the hiring of professional hit man Hal Lockwood (Max Martini). As Lockwood goes to prison, Beckett swears to him that she’ll visit the prison every week until he names the man who put out the hit on her mother. The events of this episode not only show how ragged, determined, and blinded Beckett can be when it comes to the subject of her mother, but it also gave us The Kiss. (link and scroll to watch or re-watch in action.)
Granted, it was designed to be a distraction for the bad guys, but Rick and Kate lingered for just a moment, their eyes meeting. For a light-hearted police procedural, the acting is, at times, superb. After three years of will-they or won’t-they suspense, they finally took a step. And, yet, what marks the writing of Castle is how many times Rick and Kate can make a move forward, only to have them take two steps back…and make it believable. “Knockdown” ends with the plausible event: Beckett’s boyfriend arrives to comfort her. Thus, Castle and Beckett are apart again.
Interestingly, the title of the season finale is “Knockout,” an obvious move to link the two episodes. On one of Beckett’s visits, Lockwood offs a convict (one of the two former detectives who investigated the murder of Mrs. Beckett) before having a confrontation with Kate. She smiles grimly when referring to Lockwood’s mysterious employer: “He can’t hide from me.” Lockwood merely returns her stare: “You can’t hide from him.” During an arraignment hearing, Lockwood escapes with some trained hit men dressed to look like NYPD cops. A manhunt ensues and, during the squad room scenes, Castle postulates that there has to be a third cop involved in the cover-up. Thus, not only do the police search for Lockwood, they also sift through years-old information searching for the identity of the third cop.
In the three seasons this show has aired, there have been some genuinely great moments. “Knockout” had more than its fair share. Jim Beckett, Kate’s father, talks to Castle to urge him to help Kate back down. Captain Montgomery (Ruben Santiago-Hudson in perhaps his best episode ever) and Castle have a scene together where we learn how the captain and Beckett first met. Naturally, Castle and Beckett have a fight when he asks her to back down. The good thing is that they get to address the elephant in the room: their romantic feelings for each other. And, like every other episode, it’s left unresolved. Why else would we tune in each week? Finally, there is the first of two scenes between Montgomery and Beckett. With exquisite somberness, the captain admonishes Kate not to let this case consume her. “We owe the dead justice,” he says, “but we don’t owe them our lives.” Life is a series of battles where there are no victories. “I will stand with you, detective,” the captain says.
In following leads, Detectives Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) discover the truth about the third cop right after we viewers have: it’s Captain Montgomery. In what is perhaps the most excruciating scene between Ryan and Esposito to date, Ryan, in shocked disbelief, speaks the words that the captain has to be dirty. Esposito decks him and the two fight. The anguish in their faces and voices is palpable, real even, and brings home the obvious fact that these two characters are as essential in Castle as Rick and Kate. If there was an Emmy Award for Best Co-Star Team, Huertas and Dever should be nominated annually. As they stand in an alley, backlit so that only their dark profiles are seen, they faced the unspeakable truth, and realize they must warn Beckett.
She is already at an airport hanger, brought there by Montgomery’s phone call. She gets a text message from Ryan and confronts the captain with it. In an episode already dripping with heart-wrenching scenes, this one hits it out of the park. As Beckett implores Montgomery to reconsider—even going as far as saying (begging?) “I forgive you!”—he just looks at her with all the paternal grace he can muster, and tells her “This is my spot.” Castle drags/carries a screaming, moaning, inconsolable Beckett away to safety. Montgomery, dirty cop that he is (or was), goes down and takes out all the bad guys with him, including Lockwood.
The funeral scene, complete with eulogy by Beckett is touching, but the moment is ripped away as a sniper’s bullet (again?) hits Kate. Castle, hovering over her, pleads for her to stay with him. In a moment of desperate clarity, he utters the words we all know he feels: “I love you.” She smiles, a tear running down her cheek, and closes her eyes.
Going into the episode, I knew that one of the team was not going to make it. After hearing that Montgomery was going to retire, I pretty much pegged him as the victim. I did not, however, see the turn of events that put him in the middle of the giant conspiracy surrounding the murder of Beckett’s mother. I can’t imagine that Andrew Marlowe, the show’s creator, had the captain as a bad guy from the start. But it works, and it doesn’t come off as some gimmicky, out-of-character thing like what happened to Clarice Starling at the end of Thomas Harris’s novel, Hannibal (when she willingly went off with Hannibal Lector).
In a show with humble beginnings and a funny premise, Castle is marked more by the episodes of intense drama than the humorous, crime-of-the-week variety. In fact, while watching last night’s show, I realized something: the humorous show, Castle, does drama well in the same manner that the serious show, The X-Files, did humor. From a midseason replacement series, Castle has grown and matured fast, both in the writing and the acting. For a program that is more about the characters than the plots, it is the interaction of the cast that gels this show into something greater than the sum of its parts. Yet, for all the charm and wit and charisma of Castle, the brotherly comradeship between Ryan and Esposito, and the dynamic between father and daughter and son and mother, the emotional core of Castle is Kate Beckett. It is her story that underpins the entire series.
And it is her story that might have just ended with this cliffhanger of a finale.