You don't want to know what's on Appellate Judge Mac McEntire's murder board.
Our reviews of Castle: The Complete First Season (published September 22nd, 2009), Castle: The Complete Second Season (published September 27th, 2010), and Castle: The Complete Third Season (published September 29th, 2011) are also available.
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.
Facts of the Case
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:
• "Heroes and Villains"
• "Head Case"
• "Kick in the Ballistics"
• "Eye of the Beholder"
• "Cops and Robbers"
• "Heartbreak Hotel"
• "Kill Shot"
• "Til Death Do Us Part"
• "Dial M For Mayor"
• "An Embarrassment of Bitches"
• "The Blue Butterfly"
• "Once Upon A Crime"
• "A Dance with Death"
• "47 Seconds"
• "The Limey"
• "Undead Again"
Castle: "Do you know what Laney and Esposito were fighting about?"
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ABC Studios
Review content copyright © 2012 Mac McEntire; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.