Appellate Judge Mac McEntire really is ruggedly handsome, isn't he?
Our reviews of Castle: The Complete First Season (published September 22nd, 2009), Castle: The Complete Third Season (published September 29th, 2011), Castle: The Complete Fourth Season (published September 17th, 2012), and Castle: The Complete Fifth Season (published September 10th, 2013) are also available.
"There are two kinds of folks who sit around thinking about how to kill people: psychopaths and mystery writers. I'm the kind that pays better."
The second season of a TV series is always an interesting beast. During the first season, the characters and their world were introduced, and viewers got a feel of the show's overall themes and concepts. Then, when the show miraculously returns for a second year, the question is, where will the creators go with it? In the best of cases, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Farscape, the creators build on what they've established, progressing the characters and their stories in exciting new directions, but doing so in a way that feels natural to what was previously established. In the worst of cases, such as Heroes, the second season falls short of expectations, as creators scramble to recapture what made the show initially popular.
To outsiders looking in, Castle might look like yet another network procedural show in an endless sea of network procedural shows. Upon watching it, though, I was immediately impressed with the razor-sharp dialogue, likable characters, and talented cast. Now it's time for the second season, and I'm pleased to report that it's the better kind of second season, one that not only maintains everything that makes the show great, but improves on it.
Facts of the Case
Blockbuster mystery novelist Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion, Serenity) continues to follow tough New York homicide detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic, The Spirit) on the job, as research for his new series of mystery thrillers. She takes the business of solving murders seriously. He takes it…not as seriously.
Castle is backed up at home by his wise-beyond-her-years teen daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn, A Christmas Carol (2009)) and his outrageous actress mother Martha (Susan Sullivan, Falcon Crest). At the station, Beckett is supported by fellow detectives Esposito (Jon Huertas, The Hurt Locker) and Ryan (Seamus Dever, General Hospital).
As we all know, every good mystery begins with a "hook," a big, attention-getting moment that draws the audience in, keeping them involved with the plot that follows. Castle once again follows this to the letter:
• "Deep in Death"
• "The Double Down"
• "Inventing the Girl"
• "Fool Me Once"
• "When the Bough Breaks"
• "Vampire Weekend"
• "Famous Last Words"
• "Kill the Messenger"
• "Love Me Dead"
• "One Man's Treasure"
• "The Fifth Bullet"
• "A Rose for Everafter"
• "Sucker Punch"
• "The Third Man"
• "Suicide Squeeze"
• "The Mistress Always Spanks Twice"
• "Tick, Tick, Tick"
• "Wrapped Up In Death"
• "The Late Shaft"
• "Den of Thieves"
• "Food to Die For"
• "A Deadly Game"
Castle: "We need a slogan. 'She's armed. He's
Why Castle? When everyone else keeps going on and on about how much they love stuff like Lost or Law and Order or some reality show crap, I'm over in the corner, waving my arms around while jumping up and down, preaching the greatness and glory of Castle. It's the whole package—great writing, great acting, great direction, humor, drama, romance, intrigue, and action. It's everything you could want in a TV series.
Chief among the show's strengths is the razor-sharp dialogue. The writers must spend days (weeks? months?) fussing over each sentence, punching up the wordplay to make every line an outstanding one, no matter what the scene. Both the big dramatic movements and the quick move-the-plot-forward snippets are loaded with witty, clever turns of phrase. Then, there's a cast of talented actors, led by Fillion and Katic, who manage to sell the dialogue with both style and ease. The result is a show that's endlessly watchable and quotable.
The big selling point is the Castle and Beckett relationship. As usual, she is by-the-book, approaching cases looking only at the hard evidence and following procedure. Castle, on the other hand, thinks like a writer, questioning the motivations of the suspects and always asking "What's the twist?" Because he's not a cop, Castle isn't beholden to the police's various rules, which gives him a freedom to pursue clues in ways the cops can't—not to mention that he seemingly knows everyone in New York. His "I know a guy" connections open doors that the cops otherwise could not. Aside from the mysteries at hand, there is the frustration and/or sexual tension shared between Castle and Beckett. The smartest decision the writers have made was to give Beckett a sense of humor. Some viewers have asked why she isn't suing him for sexual harassment every two seconds. It's because she knows that when he makes a lewd comment, he doesn't really mean it, he's just messing with her, to see how she'll react. Instead, she messes with him by not reacting how he'd expect. The two of them play this mental game throughout the season, and it's always great fun to see who will outwit who.
Our heroes are bolstered by an equally-excellent supporting cast. The writers have a lot of fun with Alexis, with her teenage drama and/or mischief often mirroring the main plot in some way. Martha gets a little more to do this season, with a romance with an old high school friend, and some questioning of how her life has gone and where it's going when it comes time for her to move out of Castle's place and live on her own again. As usual, having her on the show informs us of Castle's character, and how he ended up the way he has. At the police station, there's more development for Esposito in an episode devoted him dealing with his past. Ryan doesn't get as much focus, except for an ongoing subplot about his oft-mentioned girlfriend, leading the others to wonder whether she exists only in his imagination. A lot of comic relief comes from the wisecracking medical examiners who work the morgue, the sassy silver-tongued Lanie (Tamala Jones, Daddy Day Camp) and the world-weary Perlmutter (Ayre Gross, The Experts).
My only complaint about the first season was that although I loved the characters and dialogue, the actual mysteries weren't that impressive. The writers must have felt the same way, because the cases are much more clever and engaging this time around. If you were to watch the first act of "Fool Me Once" and then skip to the final act, you'd swear it was two separate episodes. The crazy twists and turns in this one takes the plot in a wildly different place from where it began. It's not the only example, as the cases keep taking unexpected left turns, ending an episode in a different place—both physically and thematically—from where it began. You could argue that the cases aren't realistic, but the entire series has already established itself as a slightly heightened reality, so the strangeness of these murders fits right in with the show's overall tone, even improving upon it.
The season hits its high point in the two-part episode that has Beckett pursued by a super-sinister serial killer. It's not often that Castle makes with the big blockbuster action, but when it does, the show really brings it. The generous location shooting in New York and the huge set pieces make it feel like Castle: The Movie. As big as the production is, it's also "big" in its emotion, pushing the characters to their extremes. This one also introduced a new sparring partner for Castle, an FBI agent played by Dana Delany (Desperate Housewives). When the episode first aired, the show was still new enough that viewers wondered if the killer would succeed in taking out Beckett, to have her replaced with Delany's character. Star Trek fans know this is as the "Lt. Shelby" trick, in which producers make the audience believe a main character is going to die by introducing a new character as potential replacement. By now, it's not a spoiler to say that Beckett survives, considering Stana Katic is back for a third season, but that doesn't dilute the intensity of the two-parter.
Video on this five-disc set is solid, although some scenes set in overly red lights tend to have slight color bleeding. The audio is great all around, with the dialogue, sound effects, and quirky score coming through loud and clear. The bonus features seem interested in showing off the crewmembers not usually seen in DVD bonus features. These include a set visit with Huertas and Dever, a location shoot visit hosted by Fillion, and a look at how the production team stages crime scenes with equal parts special effects and research. There are also deleted scenes, bloopers, and a "for beginners" featurette on the first disc that brings Castle newbies up to speed.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
No commentaries this time around? They were best bonus features on the season one set, both amusing and informative. What a disappointment.
We snobbish film critics like to go on and on about theme, plot and character, but, really, at the end of the day it's all about being entertained. Castle: The Complete Second Season is pure entertainment. Highly recommended.
She's armed. He's not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ABC Studios
• Deleted Scenes
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