Castle “Dead Red” is an episode that at times feels like one long bad joke. I haven’t been this stunned by a Castle episode since last season’s “Sleeper” – and my thoughts then were pretty bad.
A successful shark jump means giving the audience what they want – even if it means making the character who two seasons ago said such a stunt was foolish and a mistake now thinks it’s a great idea. It’s not about forcing the audience away from the story they want to see into some other story that they don’t. Unfortunately, that’s just what Castle has been attempting to do.
I suppose as a viewer I’ve been the sleeper. The Castle 7 x 21 “In Plane Sight” episode had the annoying pairing of writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and his daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn) as detectives on a plane – complete with Alexis suddenly having wonderkid detective abilities and the wherewithal to talk down a desperate killer – but I was willing to believe that the show really wanted to get back on track. This is despite the fact that it was an episode that reminded me of another Castle father/daughter detective pairing that happened mid-season six – which I also hadn’t liked. (This may offer a clue about how long these Paul Lee spin-off ideas have been percolating.) Between the solid ending of 3XK serial killer arc and the two episodes that followed,”In Plane Sight” I was convinced that Castle had remembered the core of what made the show great. Now, in looking back at my article about “Sleeper,” I can see and accept that Castle has continued to barrel down the same path it was ongoing then, only now it’s with a total disdain for its audience, which, unsurprisingly continues to dwindle.
Why Can’t Boys Just Say They’re Sorry?
In the season premiere of season two. Alexis is stood up by her friend Owen because he lost track of time while playing video games. Worse, he tries to convince Alexis that what he did was “no big deal.” While she was disappointed about the movie, it’s his attitude about what he’s done that makes her livid.
Alexis: Why do boys do that? Why do they always have to justify everything? Why can’t they just say they’re sorry?
In the episode Castle is able to take this idea as a revelation and goes to apologize to Beckett – and it gets him back in the precinct. He never does answer the question though. Perhaps that’s because the answer is that usually “boys” are doing what they want to do. Owen’s not sorry he was playing video games, he’s mad that Alexis has an opinion about his change of priorities. The last thing Castle wanted to tell his daughter is that Owen just didn’t care enough about how she felt. The justifying is about creating a “reason” for pure callousness while trying to hold on to the relationship. If he can convince her that it was no big deal then she’ll stick around. Castle, “Dead Red” pushes most of the buttons the showrunners know viewers have been saying they dislike, and then tries to justify it all with another weak plot twist.
As soon as the murder happens I know Castle “Dead Red” will be problematic. It’s never a good sign when the episode starts out doing the actual killing onscreen. This is not The Following, nor Criminal Minds. Glorifying murder has never been what Castle does. It’s about solving the crime, not watching it happen. The last few episodes in season eight had stopped the murder porn practice which the season had started out with, but now it’s back.
Speaking of porn, the next scene with Writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and the redheads – mother Martha Rogers (Susan Sullivan) and daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn) is all kinds of inappropriate. First of all, was I the only one who thought the Kelver baby vest was an adorable idea? Sure, it’s useless, but tons of people will give diapers, layettes, and booties at a baby shower. The vest was unique idea and no worse than people who give a new father baby clothes with the dad’s favorite team or college Alma mater. It’s one step beyond an NYPD onies.
Martha and Alexis’s relentless teasing and shaming which was meant to be funny seemed over the top. Also, the whole Castle “is our favorite reality show” was a fail. Like, really, the point of Castle is to watch the antics of Richard Castle? The show has been trying to steer the viewer to this idea since season seven, and have really been hammering it in for season eight. As the ratings have shown, this idea is not a popular one.
Then comes the truly icky part. Martha notes that Castle seems to be far less upset about Beckett having moved out and we get this crass, supposed-to-be-funny reply:
Well, you know, Beckett just asked for some time, so I’m just giving it to her. Every day. Sometimes twice.
It’s bad enough that the Caskett relationship continues to be reduced to a base sexual component. The phrasing here is cheap high school boy locker room talk – we’ve gone below fratboy with this one. It’s certainly not the way one talks about the supposed love of your life. Worse is that Castle, once again, is sharing information about his sex life with daughter. This is grossly inappropriate. Alexis turning 21 does not make her any less his daughter.
Perhaps to try and wipe away the disgust at the total disrespect we’ve seen Castle have towards his wife, we get to see Captain Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) being more like her former detective self and interacting with Medical Examiner Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones) and Detective Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever). We learn that the victim is Grigory Mishkin (Nikita Bogolyubov) Then Detective Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) walks into the crime scene and says “Howdy.”
This is a completely random out of nowhere change – just like the changes in Castle season 8. Lanie and Beckett both look at him askance. Why on earth….?
Esposito: Yo, was just getting played out, so I thought I’d try something new.
Beckett and Lanie immediately tell him that “Howdy” is just “wrong.” Esposito just shrugs it off.
As cute as this scene is, it’s impossible to miss the editorial point about what’s been going on with Castle. Esposito’s response says there’s nothing wrong with his changing things up, so if you don’t like it, tough. I do miss the fun interactions of Lanie, Esposito, Ryan and Beckett at the crime scenes. Interestingly enough, I didn’t mind Castle not being there. Maybe because the last episode and the previous scene was so filled with Castle antics that it was good to have a breather?
I wonder if the writers realize that scene also dramatizes how unnecessary and ridiculous the changes have been. The entire sequence reminded me of the honeymoon episode in Castle season seven. There the writers editorialized about how viewers should just be happy that Castle and Beckett had gotten married and ignore all the faults in how it was done, It’s a defensive move to try and make the viewers feel silly about their opinions. It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t now.
In under four minutes this episode has managed to thumb its nose at just about every complaint and criticism the season has received. About the only thing that is good about Castle “Dead Red” is that Beckett is back to acting like the strong and intelligent leader that she’s been in the past. Thank goodness, because that’s the only thing that makes this episode bearable.
We got a touch of Beckett being back at the crime scene, but when she goes to the Russian consulate it’s even better. Beckett is thoughtful, diplomatic, and very much a woman of authority. We’re going to assume that the talk Beckett said she had with the police commissioner is why she gets to have this meeting, because this kind of international thing is usually handled above the precinct level.
The exchanges and performances at the consulate are just right. Consulate General Pavel Oborin’s (Endre Hules) dry tone on having “a spirit of cooperation” manages to be serious yet humorous as it winks and nods at all of the political negotiations that we hear about in the news. Likewise, the scene with Beckett and Mr. Mishkin (Boris Krutonog), the grieving father of the victim, is well done. It opens with Beckett expressing her condolences in Russian, but then switching to English. Speaking the language well is a nice way to put a foreigner at ease, so it makes sense to use Katic’s foreign language skills here. Krutonog plays Mr. Mishkin’s stoic sadness realistically, so when the outburst about his son hanging out with “Diplobrats” occurs we can appreciate the clever humor of the word without losing the seriousness of the man’s loss.
These scenes felt more like the happier times of the Castle series. There’s an underlying respect in dealing with the death of a person, even as it uses witty quips like “diplobrats.”
Next up is the precinct scene, which was shown as a sneak peek. At the time many were touting the words of “jovial Russian security officer ” Vasiliy Zhirov (Nick E. Tarabay) as speaking for the fans about how bad it’s been to have Castle and Beckett be split up. It made as much sense as splitting up Boris and Natasha. This is a good way to look at it, but in the context of the episode it’s also somewhat mocking of the audience’s dismay. Then of course, if you know anything about Boris and Natasha…she’s the smart kick to the dumb but funny villain.
If one were to take Boris and Natasha as being a similar pairing as Castle and Beckett it would be completely redefining what the dynamic between Castle and Beckett has been for most of the series. It goes back to the whole trying to shift the main focus to just Castle that started in season seven and has completely taken over season eight.
Moving along we get a chunk of time with Castle, Beckett, Ryan, Esposito, and Vasiliy. Castle is able to identify a sound picked up by ShotSpotter (Yes it’s a real thing.) as a Lamborghini Huracán (darn pretty car!) which seems like a very Castle-like piece of input. I’ve missed these moments, although, once again…
(Why Esposito played the recording at all is strange, but we’re glad he did.) With the car identified Ryan says one of the diplobrats – a Jurgen Kass (Luke Stratte-McClure) – drives that kind of car! Beckett sends the detectives to go pick him up, and after a look from her, Castle goes as well.
Ryan and Esposito bring the young man in and my first thought is that the kid is deliberately faking his accent…he’s not. The dialogue is back in fratboy land. (Which is a step up from the high school locker room stuff from earlier.) The scene flat-out doesn’t work. They’ve already got an exaggerated Russian character in Vasiliy, so this stacking on top of that tips the balance from fun into straight stereotypes.
Beckett and Vasiliy have a chat about how she really wants to get the killers and how he wants to go sightseeing in NYC. Beckett thinks this is great because obviously the head of the Russian consulate would insist on assigning someone not interested in working the case. While alarm bells are going off for everyone watching, none are going off with Beckett. Oh well.
Vasiliy immediately calls Castle and says he wants to show him a book he’s been writing. He calls Beckett and asks what he should do. Beckett says to keep him happy.
Castle: And if I keep him happy?
Beckett: Then I’ll keep you happy.
Okay, that was cliche, but cute and sexy. (I don’t think anything will ever beat, “Naps are good.”) At least it had more of that classic Castle vibe that’s been missing in many of the other sexual comments.
Then comes the series of Castle and Vasiliy adventures. Love how Vasiliy says he’s “the new Russia” and then threatens the first subject with having his feet cut off…. Then there’s the bit about wall-to-wall Russian models…. What’s hard is that the two Russians are completely comedic – but Castle is totally serious. Really. I’m supposed to take this seriously?
Frat Boys Gone Wild Hope Stepmom Can Bail Them Out
In terms of how boys like to try and justify their mistakes, this is where the writers decide to double-down on the LokSat story, I love Ann Cusack, but I hope they paid her a ton of money to come back and do this nonsense. Could you even follow the scenario? Rita (Cusack) the super spy of a covert U.S. agency comes back at Beckett’s request to the “secret strip club” because Beckett wants to ask her about this Russian thing. Yet Beckett can’t contact her and get help with LokSat? Oh, and by the way – Rita has been “watching” them – and Beckett has known about it. Rita says she thinks Beckett “blew up her marriage” and went down “the LokSat Rabbit hole.” Beckett is pleased because it means Rita couldn’t tell she and Castle were in fact broken up.
This is such a, “dear audience” moment. “See, our story does make sense because super spy Rita has miraculously appeared to help Beckett deal with a Russian murder – but can’t help her with anything else – says that Castle and Beckett really look broken up.”
Sorry, but it still makes no sense – because now Rita makes no sense.
The Wrap Up
Yes, eventually they discover that the victim’s father wasn’t his real father and killed him. The story is convoluted, with a lot of Castle running around doing stuff, but they get him. He’s to be deported back to Russia and sent to some kind of horrible outpost. Vasiliy makes a joke about Russian justice. Beckett and Castle run off to have sex somewhere in the Russian consulate because technically the consulate is Russian territory and that’s a country they’ve never had sex in. Besides if Rita didn’t know they were still together, what difference will it make if they screw around in a building that represents a country that has no right to privacy laws and most likely a ton of security cameras?
If you can’t tell, there’s much about this episode I didn’t enjoy, and the few things I did…can’t make up for what didn’t. Worse, it can’t solve the bigger problem of Castle once being a love story wrapped up in a procedural but now being about the antics of Castle and how he enjoys having a hot wife.
As soon as the murder happens I know Castle “Dead Red” will be problematic…. I haven’t been this stunned by a Castle episode since last season’s “Sleeper.”