Appellate Judge Mac McEntire has a bulletproof vest with "Internet Critic" written on it.
Our reviews of Castle: The Complete First Season (published September 22nd, 2009), Castle: The Complete Second Season (published September 27th, 2010), Castle: The Complete Fourth Season (published September 17th, 2012), and Castle: The Complete Fifth Season (published September 10th, 2013) are also available.
Solving murder has never been so much fun.
Castle isn't the highest-rated show on TV, and it hasn't racked up huge amounts of awards. However, there's no denying it has a following. Look it up online and you can see the series has legions of passionate admirers. When you're a Castle fan and you meet another Castle fan, there's a slight smile and a nod among you, as you both think, "Yeah, this person gets it." Just what is it about this show that makes it so beloved by those who watch it each week? As its third season arrives on DVD, let's take a look…
Facts of the Case
When we last left bestselling mystery novelist Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion, Serenity) and NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic, The Spirit), he had left her for the Hamptons to spend the summer with an old flame. Now, it's months later, and Castle storms back to New York in an unexpected way.
Before long, Castle and Beckett are back on the job, with help from fellow detectives Esposito (John Huertas, Generation Kill) and Ryan (Seamus Deaver, Army Wives), sassy morgue worker Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones, Up in the Air) and fatherly Captain Montgomery (Ruben Santiago-Hudson, American Gangster). At home, Castle is supported by his wise-beyond-her-years daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn, Avalon High) and his outrageous actress mother Martha (Susan Sullivan, Falcon Crest).
As always, any good mystery begins with the "hook," a big attention-getter to draw audiences into the plot. The third season of Castle sticks to this like glue:
• "A Deadly Affair"
• "He's Dead, She's Dead"
• "Under the Gun"
• "Anatomy of a Murder"
• "Almost Famous"
• "Murder Most Fowl"
• "Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind"
• "Last Call"
• "Nikki Heat"
• "Poof, You're Dead"
• "Lucky Stiff"
• "The Final Nail"
• "One Life to Lose"
• "Law and Murder"
• "Slice of Death"
• "The Dead Pool"
• "To Love and Die in L.A."
• "Pretty Dead"
"The key to any good story is authenticity. It's making it feel real for
the reader. That's why writers work so hard making all the details
The above quote from the show sums up what makes Castle work so well. Those not familiar with the series tend to dismiss it as "just another procedural." A quick glance at the series and its high concept "a cop and a mystery writer are partners" gimmick can make many think the show is by-the-numbers television. Fortunately, Castle rises above these criticisms week after week. Why? It's all in the details. The dialogue in every scene of every episode is peppered with little witticisms, providing endlessly quotable lines, and making the show endearing and watchable. There are plenty of little details in the themes and visuals as well. Notice how the steampunk/time travel episode begins with horses galloping in slow motion through Central Park, an image meant to evoke the distant past. Or how a victim talks about preferring coffee from ceramic cups rather than paper cups, just before he dies. Afterward, there's a shot of Beckett at the police station, holding her own coffee in a ceramic cup the same way, demonstrating an emotional connection between her and the victim. Little details like these can be seen throughout the series, making much more than just another procedural.
All that clever dialogue has to be performed by talented actors, and Castle has a great cast. Nathan Fillion continues to combine Castle's cocky wisecracking with a genuine heart. Castle does a fair amount of growing up this season, growing closer with Beckett and dealing with Alexis getting older. Most of Beckett's character development comes in episodes dealing with the ongoing mystery of her mother's murder. Stana Katic successfully sells Beckett's combination of determination and sadness during each twist in the case. As always, Fillion and Katic have great chemistry, tossing the flirty one-liners at each other in rapid fire throughout each episode. More importantly, the simmering romantic tension between the two simmers a lot harder this season, as by now there's no question that the two have feelings for one another. The question now is, where those feelings will take them, and whether (or how) they will act on them. This means we get more dramatic moments between Castle and Beckett as opposed to constant humorous banter. The serious moments are handled just as well as the funny ones, though, and it feels like a natural growth for both characters.
The supporting cast shines as well. Captain Montgomery's character comes to the forefront this season, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson excels, showing his character as not just a father figure for the rest of the cast. He reveals the depth of the captain's courage and integrity as he has his big moment in the spotlight. Huertas, Dever and Jones continue to add a lot of personality to their supporting roles. Susan Sullivan gets some serious dramatic moments in addition to her usual comic relief scenes, and she makes the emotion feel real without going as over-the-top as she is with her comedy. Molly Quinn continues to be excellent as well, as Alexis is worldly in many ways, such as how she deals with her dad, but innocent in other ways, such as the ups and downs of having a new boyfriend. One episode ends where Alexis gives a speech about her relationship with her dad, and how much she cares about him. I thought, "This is awfully sappy for this show." Then, the writers pulled a fast one on me, ending the scene by making me laugh out loud with a very funny line. This goes to show that the smaller character moments can be just as surprising as the murders.
Are there any negatives? The blockbuster two-part episode about terrorists and a nuke is an unfortunate change in tone. OK, I get it. The show takes place in New York, where the scars of Sept. 11, 2001 run deeper than anywhere else, so of course it's going to be referenced from time to time. It's not that the show mentions it, it's how the show mentions it. Early on, Castle, thinking like a writer, bemoans how an Arab terrorist is a cliché, to which Esposito responds with deadly seriousness, "Think back, bro." To me, those three words were really all that needed to be said. Unfortunately, the show doesn't stop there, but instead goes overboard with the current event-related themes, with discussions about how terrorism has changed daily life, and with Homeland Security depicted as cruel, heartless and violent. I'm not here to agree or disagree with the writers' personal politics, it's just that Castle, despite talk of death and murder, is a fun, lighthearted show, taking place in a world slightly heightened from our own. It's escapist entertainment. This jolt of real-world politics and themes introduces a harsh change of tone for the series, and that's why the two-parter doesn't work as well as it should have.
Fortunately, the season bounces back after that, with a stellar run of episodes in its final third. The trip to L.A. gets the characters out of their comfort zones and increases the sexual tension between Castle and Beckett, while furthering the mystery of Beckett's mother's killer. That same mystery takes on a number of new surprises in the powerful season finale. Dialing down the comedy and upping the drama, the finale is one of the best episodes the show has done. Not only does it contain some intense action set pieces, but it concludes with two gripping scenes that will be heartbreaking for viewers who've been invested in these characters since day one.
I was amazed by the flawlessness of the visuals on this five-disc set. If I didn't already know, I would have assumed these were 1080p Blu-rays, and not standard def DVDs. That's how jaw-dropping the picture quality is, with details, colors, and flesh tones depicted with marvelous accuracy. Audio is good as well, especially whenever the score kicks in. Extras begin with a funny and informative commentary on "3XK," with Huertas, Dever, and the director. From there, we get a "starter kit," which is a quick (too quick?) summary of the series for first-timers. There's also a roundtable discussion with Fillion, series creator Andrew Marlowe, director Rob Bowman, writer Michael Connelly, and comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, as they discuss real writers' lives in comparison to the fantasy version of a writer's life seen on the show. Two other featurettes cover the making of the L.A. episode, and all the work that goes into creating each week's "murder board." There are number of deleted scenes, which are mostly short, but contain a great moment between Castle and Beckett's father. Finally, someone must have been bored in the editing room, because they've included a music video for the rap song heard briefly in "Lucky Stiff," made up of clips from that episode.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Do a search for "Castle" and "Josh," and you will discover that Beckett's motorcycle-riding surgeon boyfriend is the most hated fictional character since a certain Gungan went out looking for his morning munchen. Part of the fans' disgust for Josh is because they want to see Castle and Beckett together, but part of it is that Josh is simply a non-character. Sure, he's a cardiac surgeon who rides a Harley to work each morning, and who struts around the hospital in a black leather jacket instead of a suit or scrubs, and that's kind of cool. I like to imagine that while Beckett and Castle are off having crazy "cop show" adventures, Josh is off having his own crazy "doctor show" adventures. But, no. Josh is only here to provide a complication in Castle and Beckett's ongoing romantic tension. We almost never see him and Beckett interact. Heck, we almost never see him, period, but instead mostly hear about him when he's not around. You could argue that we're seeing Josh only from Castle's point of view, and that's fair, but I say that if the creators had made Josh an interesting, well-rounded character, then that would have made his role as a complication in Castle's life all the more powerful and intriguing.
In fairness, Gina, Castle's ex-wife-turned-girlfriend-again, suffers from much the same problem, as she exists only to drive Castle and Beckett apart at a moment when they're feeling drawn together. Unlike Josh and Beckett, we actually see Castle and Gina's relationship at work in a few times. I know, I know, the emphasis of the show is on Castle and Beckett, and that's where the writers are focusing their characterization. Still, the presence of Josh and Gina doesn't allow us to see Castle and Beckett in new ways, and they don't appear to affect their growth in any specific ways, either.
Alexis's boyfriend Ashley also suffers from Ken doll syndrome, as we never know anything about him except that he's just a nice guy. Given how well-rounded and interesting of a character Alexis has turned out to be, shouldn't her romantic interest be similarly well-rounded and interesting? Ashley's role allows Alexis some development, though, as their relationship gets more serious, causing Alexis concern about her future. (Side complaint: What's with all this talk about Ashley being Alexis's "first love?" How could we forget about Owen?)
Castle exists in an odd space on television. It's not geeky enough to be considered a "cult" show, but it's too different to be considered "mainstream." No matter how you categorize it, Castle is pure entertainment. This season has a few flaws, but overall, the top-notch writing, acting and production values are among the best you'll ever see. Highly recommended.
Don't confuse me with your reasonableness. Not guilty.
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