ABC Studios // 2011 // 985 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mac McEntire // September 17th, 2012
Partners. In crime.
After an explosive cliffhanger at the end of season three, season four of Castle hits the ground running, with more crazy mysteries to solve, as well as increased dramatics for the two leads, as their simmering romance boils over.
Bestselling mystery writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion, Firefly) and NYPD Homicide Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic, The Double) continue to work together to solve crimes. After Beckett is shot by a sniper after pursuing her mother's killer, she and Castle's relationship becomes strained.
Along for the ride are fellow cops Esposito (John Huertas, Generation Kill) and Ryan (Seamus Deaver, Army Wives), sassy morgue worker Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones, Up in the Air), Castle's teen daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn, Avalon High) and his outrageous actress mother Martha (Susan Sullivan, Falcon Crest).
As we all know, any good mystery begins with "the hook," a big attention-getter to draw in the audience, setting up the plot to follow:
The hook: Beckett is shot! Castle whispers a secret confession! Tensions mount at the hospital!
The book: Cut to later, as Beckett tries to get her detective groove back as she rejoins Castle and the rest, investigating a young woman's death while secretly pursuing another lead in mother's case.
* "Heroes and Villains"
The hook: A scumbag is about to attack a woman in an alley when a mysterious figure cuts him in half with a sword.
The book: The suspect is a masked vigilante, complete with swords, red and gold body armor, and cool acrobatic moves -- a comic book superhero come to life.
* "Head Case"
The hook: A huge amount of blood is found at a crime scene, but there's no body. (Castle: "Walking dead!")
The book: The case involves a secretive cryogenics company, delving into all kinds of mad science, including heads in jars.
* "Kick in the Ballistics"
The hook: The gun from a fatal shooting is traced back to its owner, Detective Ryan.
The book: Turns out the gun is the one stolen from Ryan last season by the serial killer known only as "3XK." Ryan is overcome with guilt from the killing, determined to track down both the shooter and 3XK.
* "Eye of the Beholder"
The hook: At an art exhibit, a man is found impaled on one of the sculptures.
The book: A sexy insurance investigator joins the case, and sparks fly between her and Castle, much to Beckett's frustration. There might be more to this third wheel than it seems, though.
The hook: The host of a Ghost Hunters-type reality show is killed by an apparently invisible force.
The book: The scene of the crime is one where several murders had been committed over the years. Beckett wants to stick to the facts at hand, but Castle wonders what if the killer really is a ghost.
* "Cops and Robbers"
The hook: Castle and Martha are in the wrong bank at the wrong time, when gun-toting thugs storm in take everyone hostage.
The book: Castle tries to think his way out of the situation, while Beckett, on the outside, tries to come up with her own solution, all while the whole city looks on in terror.
* "Heartbreak Hotel"
The hook: A man in an Elvis costume is dragged through a casino to a back room, where he faces thugs with baseball bats. That man is...Castle?
The book: To solve a case, Castle, Esposito and Ryan do some unofficial and very illegal "off the books" sleuthing in Atlantic City.
* "Kill Shot"
The hook: A woman is shot dead on the sidewalk, a sniper having picked her off seemingly at random.
The book: The sniper brings back memories of Beckett's shooting, shaking her to her core. While working the case, she struggles to get her confidence back.
The hook: Castle and Beckett wake up in a strange room, handcuffed to each other -- and not in a fun n' sexy way.
The book: Our heroes try to escape, while also trying to sort out who abducted them, and why. And what's that clawing on the other side of the wall?
* "Til Death Do Us Part"
The hook: A naked body comes flying out of nowhere, landing on a sidewalk fruit cart. (Esposito: "Birthday suit hit the fruit.")
The book: It's the week of Ryan's wedding, so love and drama is in the air while working the case, appropriately about a female "black widow" killer who seduces and kills men.
* "Dial M For Mayor"
The hook: A dead body is found in a City Hall motor pool car, last used by the mayor.
The book: Castle's loyalties are divided, as the mayor is a good friend of his, and the one who pulled strings to let him hang out with the NYPD. Castle doesn't want to believe the mayor is involved, while Beckett insists it's a possibility.
* "An Embarrassment of Bitches"
The hook: A dog show judge is strangled by a leash.
The book: Every long-running detective show has to do a "the pet is the only witness to the crime" episode, and now it's Castle's turn. Suspects include obsessed trainers, a reality TV star, and a kooky canine psychologist.
* "The Blue Butterfly"
The hook: Suddenly, the show takes place in 1947.
The book: In the present, a murder relates to a similar crime from the '40s. From there, a good chunk of the episode is a '40s flashback. The cast plays dual roles, with everyone in search of a valuable piece of jewelry.
The hook: A man is found shot, stabbed, strangled and thrown from a window. The body later disappears from the morgue.
The book: The season's big two-parter takes the show into the spy genre, as the CIA gets involved. There, Beckett meets Castle's former muse, a sexy female secret agent who inspired his writing before he met Beckett.
The hook: Picking up from the previous episode's cliffhanger, Castle and Beckett are on the verge of drowning.
The book: The spy caper takes on even more twists and turns, as our heroes search for the titular lynchpin -- a small event that a genius predicted will explode into a major crisis for the U.S.
* "Once Upon A Crime"
The hook: A girl in a red hooded cloak is found dead, possibly due to an animal attack.
The book: Is New York looking at a fairy tale-based serial killer? That appears to be so, as more storybook-themed bodies pile up.
* "A Dance with Death"
The hook: A TV dance show competitor is shot backstage mere minutes before taping.
The book: Is it a reality show competition gone out of hand, or something more? Similarly, Martha squares off against a sharp-tongued theater critic.
* "47 Seconds"
The hook: A bomb goes off at an anti-Wall Street protest.
The book: The show does its own spin on Rashomon, as the many witnesses to the blast have different stories to tell.
* "The Limey"
The hook: A dead woman in a hotel room. A man removes a piece of her clothing and kisses her before fleeing the scene.
The book: A hunky Scotland Yard inspector joins the case, just as Castle and Beckett are starting to grow apart, forcing Beckett to question how she really feels about Castle.
The hook: A homeless man comes across a teenager's body -- and three severed heads.
The book: While Beckett is busy preparing for a trial, Castle finds a new source of inspiration, Detective Slaughter (Adam Baldwin, Fillion's costar from Firefly), a cracks-skulls-and-ask-questions-later tough guy.
* "Undead Again"
The hook: The only witness to a murder claims the killer is...a zombie?
The book: Amid what looks to be a zombie apocalypse, Castle fears he and Beckett have become too distant, and he wonders if it's time to end their partnership. Also, sardonic medical examiner Perlmutter (Ayre Gross, The Experts) makes his once-per-season appearance.
The hook: It begins with a cliffhanger -- literally, as Beckett's hanging by her fingertips off the side of a New York rooftop.
The book: What appears to be a routine burglary leads to Captain Montgomery, which leads to the ongoing mystery of who murdered Beckett's mother. As Beckett sacrifices everything to find the killer, she and Castle confront each other about what they really feel.
Castle: "Do you know what Laney and Esposito were fighting about?"
Beckett: "Everything. They both want to be together, but neither of them wants to admit it."
Castle: "Ugh. Why do people do that to themselves?"
Beckett: "Maybe they just don't see it."
Castle: "How could they not? It's so obvious."
This season, the "will-they-won't-they" thing between Castle and Beckett reaches critical mass. The creators have stretched the sexual tension as much as they can. It's time to, as a great philosopher once said, "sh*t or get off the pot." The setup this season is that Beckett knows how Castle really feels about her, but he doesn't know she knows. She's not ready to act o her knowledge until after she's sufficiently dealt with the trauma of being shot. From Castle's of view, this appears as though she's being distant, and in the latter half of the season, his eyes wander toward other relationship possibilities. On the surface, this is all a nice excuse for the two to continue their partnership for a while longer, so we can have one more season of our quirky detective show. Yet it's gone as far as it can -- after everything these characters have gone through, they've reached the point where it can't go on any longer it's time for either true love, going separate ways, or the dreaded, oh-so-evil "just friends." The big moment comes in the season finale, "Always." It's a beautiful episode that gets to the heart of what the show is about, and yet viewers' enjoyment of the big moment will be based on what happens next.
Before we get to that, though, there's a lot of fun to be had. Chief among the positives is the whip-smart dialogue. Everything, from big dramatic scenes to small expository bits, are written with clever wordplay and sharp witticisms, delivering this dialogue is a cast that has clearly gelled over four seasons. Stana Katic shows Beckett's more serious side in the aftermath of her shooting. Fillion, then, is freed up to geek out in more humorous episodes. It's a busy season for Seamus Deaver, as Ryan deals with the possible return of 3XK, and then with the ups and down of getting married. Esposito and Laney have similar ups and downs with their romance while fulfilling their roles around the station -- him as the down-to-Earth tough guy and her as the sassy, smarter-than-everyone-else medical examiner.
Castle's daughter Alexis gets put through several subplots this season, with her separation from boyfriend Ashley, to fretting over college acceptances, to a new internship that makes her one of the team at the police station. Some viewers might annoyed at her constant moping about Ashley and/or Stamford, but Alexis's constant heartbreak represents change. She's often portrayed as the "grownup" in her and Castle's relationship, but now that it's time for her to grow up for real, that puts her and Castle in a new place. When Alexis worries about her future, Castle tries to assure her that everything will be OK, but, despite being the quick-witted writer he is, he just can't find the right words. This shows that they're both entering uncharted emotional territory. Martha, meanwhile, provides comic relief and occasional words of wisdom, while opening her own acting school, holding classes in Castle's living room.
This is the year the creators went nuts with theme episodes. It's nothing new -- previous seasons gave us stuff like a vampire episode and a steampunk episode, but this time around, though, it feels like a theme episode every other week. There' the superhero episode, the zombie episode, the haunted house episode, the fairy tale episode, the two-part spy caper, and more. The writers walk a fine line by introducing these outrageous elements, although things never get so absurd that they destroy the overall tone of the series. Instead, the creators get to have their quirky mysteries and their superhero/zombie carnage as well.
Two episodes deserve specific mention. "Cuffed" appears to be a Saw ripoff in its first few minutes, but then takes one crazy turn after another, to become something truly offbeat and exciting. "The Blue Butterfly" is the most gimmicky episode of the season, but, again, the creators pull if off with a deft hand. There's a sense that the 1940s setting is just an excuse for the actors to play dress-up, but the real fun is seeing them play multiple roles. Because it's a one-off, we get to see some real resolution for the characters' 1940s versions, a pleasant contrast to the "stretch-it-out" nature of a series.
All 23 episodes are on this five-disc set. Picture and audio continue to be stellar, with brilliant detail, and immersive sound. A handful of episodes get commentaries with producers, writers and actors, featuring behind-the-scenes anecdotes and pointing out small details viewers might have missed the first time around. A couple of featurettes take us behind the scenes, first with a in-depth look at the sinking car stunt from the season's big two-parter, and the second a look at legendary TV director Chuck Bowman, father of prolific Castle director Rob Bowman, who brought his decades of experience to directing "The Blue Butterfly." From there, we get an extended look at the show's actors participating in the "The Thrilling Adventure Hour" podcast, complete with footage from the shows, which are recorded before a live audience. It's only tangentially related to the show, but there's some fun stuff here. We're also treated to deleted scenes and outtakes.
A new face this year is Captain Gates (Penny Johnson Jerald, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). As a contrast to the late Captain Montgomery, who was a father figure around the police station, Gates is more adversarial. She doesn't like Castle and she doesn't approve of Castle's partnership with Beckett. Thing is, most of this tension she adds isn't relevant to the ongoing arcs. Often, she's just a mean boss for the sake of being a mean boss. To be fair, the creators make some attempt to humanize her later in the season. Also, because she's so by the books, this forces our heroes to investigate Beckett's mother's murder in secret. That's all well and good, but the tension she brings still rings hollow.
Then there's cross-promotion. The dance competition/reality TV episode comes off like an unofficial ad for Dancing with the Stars and other crap shows like it. The superhero episode is great fun, but the many Marvel Comics references -- and the prominent display of Deadly Storm, Marvel's Castle tie-in graphic novel -- reek of promoting the new partnership between Disney (ABC's parent company) and Marvel. I know multi-million dollar prime time network shows have to do stuff like this to keep costs in line, but do they have to be so obvious about it?
This season has a little something for everyone. Episodes like "Rise" and "Kill Shot" are Castle at its darkest and most dramatic, while episodes like "Heroes and Villains" and "Heartbreak Hotel" are the show at its silliest and most comedic. The rest of the episodes can be found in various parts in between.
If you're not watching Castle, you're missing out on some pure TV fun. Although the show is poised for everything to change in big ways in the upcoming Season Five, don't let that stop you from enjoying season four, as it's some of the most exciting and creative work the show's done to date.
Not guilty, boyo. Why am I narrating?
Review content copyright © 2012 Mac McEntire; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ABC Studios
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 985 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Podcast Footage
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site
* Richard Castle's Blog
* The Thrilling Adventure Hour