Castle Episode 5×19, “The Lives of Others – Review: The 100th is a Perfect 10!
by Joy D'Angelo
Article Launched: April 3, 2013
Seriously, if you haven’t seen the Castle 100th episode, I suggest you go watch it! If your DVR failed you, it’s on ABC.com. Give yourself an hour of heartfelt love, fun and mystery – go watch Castle, “The Lives of Others.” If you did watch the episode, then you already know it was perfect. However, like most moments of delight, we tend to want to relive them. Hence the inventions of VCR’s, DVR’s, video cameras, film, heck even the idea of storytelling is about capturing a moment so it can be replayed. Art is about capturing moments, freezing them in a way that we can return to and re-experience whatever joys or lessons we experienced at that time.
Wow, okay, didn’t mean to go all philosophical on you! But in a world where increasingly it seems that smart television is equated with body counts and twisted thinking, a show with Castle‘s brilliant spark of light can get lost in the darkness.
While I didn’t mean to get philosophical in this review, it seems only fitting to take a moment to look at what makes Castle work and why it still works after being on air for a hundred episodes. A look at the ambitions for the 100th episode gives us the perspective on what show writer and creator Andrew W. Marlowe feels is quintessentially Castle.
“…we wanted to put the lens squarely on the Castle/Beckett dynamic, we wanted to do something that was fun, something that was basically a champagne glass of an episode — it has a lot of sparkle, a lot of wit.” – Andrew Marlowe (From: http://www.huffingtonpost.com)
For those who view the show as a crime procedural, the above statement may not make sense. To understand the Castle sensibilities, it helps to have an understanding of an earlier time, specifically the time of what is often called “The Golden Age of Hollywood” when film classics such as the 1940 film “His Girl Friday”, “The Thin Man” series of films from the late 1930′s through the mid-1940′s, and of course, “Rear Window.”
The first two of the above mentioned films come from the genre of “screwball comedy.” A hallmark of those films: an excellent script with quick sharp dialogue especially between the love interests who usually don’t like each other at first, and of which at least one has some kind of eccentricity. (For more on screwball comedy, check out, http://www.moderntimes.com
The last film, “Rear Window” is paid homage to in “The Lives of Others” via the murder Castle views in the building across from his while home alone with a broken leg. The film comes from noir genre: a mystery story with many twists and turns, odd characters, a heightened sense of drama, and a overall “darkness” to the story. While they are two different genres there certainly was some overlap. Take for instance this scene from the classic noir detective film, “The Big Sleep.”
The above represents some of the water in the well that Castle draws from. By taking elements from each, Put those two elements together, modernize the stories time and place, and you’ll build yourself a Castle.
A major different between the genres is what element drives the story. In noir, the mystery does, and it’s a big mystery: a murder, a large theft, international espionage, and sometimes all of the above. In the screwball comedy it’s the characters’ relationship that drives things, while the problem being dealt with can often seem contrived and usually is domestic. For instance, in “His Girl Friday” (1940) the issue is this: newspaper man Walter Burns (Cary Grant) doesn’t want to lose his best reporter and does everything he can think of to stop it from happening. It so happens that his best reporter is his ex-wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) and the reason she’d be leaving is because she’s going to be getting married again. Yeah, so the problem is he don’t want to lose his best reporter. Not! That’s screwball comedy.
With Castle, Marlowe fuses the two genres together. Like those screwball comedies, the heart of Castle is the relationship of Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). A mystery writer meets a police detective and sexual tension sparks fly. He’s cocky, immature, and annoying, and she would like to never see him again. Unfortunately, he ends up following her around on her cases with the city’s blessings. She doesn’t like it and can do nothing about a classic screwball comedy! Both characters have their issues, although Castle is clearly the eccentric. However, both also have a real mystery in their past. There’s been the issue of Castle not knowing who his father is, which has just recently been revealed. The issue that’s been front and center through most of the series is the unsolved murder of Beckett’s mother. Johanna Beckett’s murder provides that noir thread that runs through the show, but it’s existence is also part of the character of Beckett. It’s what has molded and shaped the person Castle first meets on that fateful day when he turned around quite ready to sign her chest. Likewise, Castle’s lack of a father figure and the upbringing resulting from that has shaped the character expecting to sign some woman’s chest.
The repartee between these two is immediate and classic: he is smitten, while she’s annoyed…but intrigued. That barbed humor and sexual innuendo has been going on for five seasons, even as the two moved forward: from him being her unacknowledged attraction and, very acknowledge annoyance, to them becoming actual friends, to them falling in love, to them- at the end of season four – becoming lovers. Along the way, the murder mystery of Johanna Beckett has been solved, but not resolved, which is also how one can describe where Castle and Beckett are in their relationship. They are together and in love, but not yet at that fully committed “till Death do us part” step.
Most shows that deal in romantic tension have been afraid to go the route that Castle has. The fear was always that it would kill the chemistry, a thought stemming from the mythical idea in television known as “the Moonlighting Curse,” which falsely asserts that the 1980′s television show Moonlighting had a rapid fall in ratings because the show allowed the leads to finally fall into bed together. Why that idea has held is beyond me since there is a lexicon of movies that say the couple getting together in timely fashion is a successful trajectory, the “Thin Man” series of films being just one example. The 100th episode of Castle, in taking a moment to highlight and savor the best of what makes it special, also highlights that, contrary to popular opinion, allowing a romance to take its natural course makes better television.
Another aspect of screwball comedy is a cast of interesting supporting characters, and Castle has that in abundance. All the regularly cast characters of Castle got to play a role in the 100th. Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) are the pair of detectives under Beckett’s supervision. What today we call “the bromance” is the remnants of comedy teams like Frick & Frack, Laurel & Hardy, and the later 70′s “buddy” films. Then there’s also Castle’s wildly outlandish, dramatic mother, Martha Rogers (Susan Sullivan). She’s sometimes a lady, and sometimes a broad, but despite her seemingly self-centered flighty ways, she always has the loving wisdom of having been around awhile to help ground her son when he needs it. Castle’s daughter, Alexis (Molly Quinn) has been the other grounding force in his life. The precocious red-haired girl whom he jokes is the one raising him, is one of the best father-daughter relationships on television ever. There’s Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones), Beckett’s best friend and confidant, and last but not least the captains. The first captain, the now deceased father-like, Roy Montgomery ( Ruben Santiago-Hudson ). The current captain is Victoria Gates (Penny Johnson Gerald), the resented and sometimes feared by-the-book boss. These are the characters that build the world of Castle and Beckett. While these other characters may not be show’s leads, without them, the show just wouldn’t be Castle.
“The Lives of Others” highlights all of the these characters and creates one of the best episodes of Castle to date – which is a very high bar. From the Charlie’s Angels pose of Ryan & Esposito in the doorway, the breezy Martha heading to her spa retreat and “missing” her son’s birthday, the worried Alexis on walkie-talkie as her father breaks into the apartment next door, Lanie’s concern for her friend in looking at one of their more brutally killed murder victims, and Captain Gates’ fury at Castle for once again breaking the rules and causing trouble, it’s a full and funny world.
Causing trouble, is a big part of Castle’s character, but trouble like Dennis the Menace, not Al Capone. He is definitely the eccentric half of the screwball romance. His having broken his leg showing off while skiing is a very in-character behavior. The hilarious comedic moments Nathan Fillion creates throughout this episode, whether it’s playing with a remote-controlled helicopter or pouting because he can’t go on a case, are both funny and real – not an easy task. No nonsense Beckett is still there, softened a bit, but still quick with the teasing, and wry commentary, like “So long as by writing you don’t mean staring out the window and ogling your neighbors.” The characters the show started with ninety-nine episodes ago are still very much there.
Only they’ve added new things, which is what happens in life. Beckett’s scolding of Castle isn’t accompanied by ear twisting. It’s with her reaching down to her wheel-chair bound boyfriend for a hug. Those things about Castle that used to annoy Beckett beyond measure she now find endearing, as witnessed by the sweet smile on her face as he blustered about how he would be doing no such thing as ogling. (Stana Katic, as usual, says volumes with a look. I could write an entire article on just the changes in Beckett’s physicality and expressiveness over the last five seasons and how it relates to her character. But that’s not this article.) Castle’s gleeful fascination toward murders, which was a mainstay of comedic moments when the show started, is no more. Now, the thought that he’s witnessed a murder isn’t a cool thrill, it’s a call to find justice for the victim.
Yes, Castle’s being bored still causes him to do silly, annoying things like spy on his neighbors. However, before the messes he got into were caused by a sense of irreverence, now it’s his sense of justice that has him sneaking into his neighbor’s apartment. Of course, the idea is insane, and while gathering evidence he trips, falls, and can’t get to his crutches – just as the neighbor has returned home. He is still our Castle, just as Beckett is still Beckett. After assuring Castle that she’ll be home with dinner in a half an hour, she glares at the amused Ryan and Esposito and says, “shut up.”
Castle is however a modern story, which means more than just the fact that there are computers and cellphones. Our modern storytelling involves insight into the characters minds. The sense of psychology we have to today was neither fully formed nor common knowledge during Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” Today a good story deals not only with what motivates a character, it’s very much about the why something does. The mental journey that leads to changes in behavior is as important as seeing the physical changes.
The evolution of Beckett has been a major part of the Castle story. From a woman who tried to hide that she was interested in reading the love scene in Castle’s book, who did everything she could to hide her emotions, Beckett has become a woman to whom the hardest part of pulling off Castle’s surprise party is pretending to not believe him when he says he witnessed a murder. She’s no longer a woman who can’t keep her mind on a date because she can’t stop thinking about a case! (For me, Kate saying she’s figured out the murder, but wasn’t about to leave the party to go close the case was more epic than her saying “I love you.” Kate has never put play before work. Never!) With the help of Castle, a series of harrowing experiences and a really good therapist, Kate Beckett is now a woman open with her affections, and, to the great relief of many fans, says in words – not just actions – ”I love you.” Granted, by the way the scene played, it was not the first time Castle has heard those words from her. Nor was her saying the words some huge revelation for the audience. Still, it counts as a milestone as it’s the first time the audience hears verbalized what has been demonstrated over and over all season.
How cool and appropriate is it that the milestone of those three words are in this milestone episode! Castle’s words to her after his party also verbalize a truth for him. We all know Castle has always though Kate Beckett was extraordinary for her bravery, her sense of justice, her beauty. At the party he says that that his faked “Rear Window” surprise party, is the best birthday ever, he means it. When they’re alone, eyes overwhelmed with emotion, he tells her that no one has ever done for him what she did. It’s a milestone moment of understanding for him. (And a fabulous Nathan Fillion moment!)
No one has ever known Castle well enough, or cared enough, to create a party based on his interests and passions. He’s always been the one doing for others, the one with the grand gestures of demonstrating his love, in what we now has been an attempt to win love and approval. He’s never been with a person willing to do for him. However, in his demonstrations of showing love, he’s inadvertently been teaching Beckett how to show love. For those well-versed in the show’s history,it’s in season three’s ”Pretty Dead” where Castle tells Montgomery how to pick out a gift for his wife. He says to give her the thing she said she wanted when she thought you weren’t listening. It’s what Castle actually did in season three’s “Lucky Stiff.” He overhears Beckett tell his mother she could use the money left to her by her boyfriend to create something that honored his memory, which clues him into what she would do if she gained a sudden windfall of cash. Then he goes and does just what she’d do if she came into extra money – starts a law school scholarship fund in her mother’s name. Fast-forward to this season. When Castle and Beckett are stumped on a case, Castle suddenly gets gleeful and asks if his Valentine’s day gift was a made-up impossible mystery for him to solve. Beckett rolls her eyes, says no, and focuses them back on the case. Obviously, though Beckett was listening then – and all the way back in season three.
With kisses and cuddles, quick one-liners, a perfect birthday gift, a hat tipped to the best of noir, and visual cues to a more glamorous time (thanks Red Carpet Luke!) Castle’s 100th episode, “The Lives of Others” is a love letter to fans, reminding them of all that they enjoyed in the beginning as well as cementing in place the changes that have occurred since then while showcasing just how brilliant the the show is in all aspects: writing, acting, production values, and just overall creativity. Castle is now in field where most shows make don’t ever get to. One hundred episodes is a number that says success as much as it says syndication. Despite the lack of acknowledgement from the television academy – which to date still has no place for the hybrid known as dramedy – I know that years and years from now, pundits will be looking back at Castle and asking, “why was that show never nominated for a Emmy?”
Emmy or not, this hundredth episode , full of fun, love and hope, shines brightly above a TV landscape that has been getting even darker than when Castle first appeared on air. Congratulations, Castle!
The next new episode of Castle is April 16th! After getting in your taxes, a new fun episode of Castle will be just the thing, and judging from I’ve seen of it, that what we’ll be getting! See you then!