Castle Season 8 Episode 4 is well-titled. Â On the surface of things, “What Lies Beneath” is a fun, light episode. Â Of the four CastleÂ Season 8 episodes that have aired thus far I found it to be the least annoying. Â It works especially well when you block out the structural plot cheats that have set up the current situation in the first place. Â The question is: how many viewers will do that?
Let’s Talk Caskett
Nathan Fillion, who plays writer Richard Castle, recently did an interview with TVLineÂ that reiterated the idea that the new showrunners Alexi Hayley and Terence Winter are trying to bring the show back to what it used to be. Â You can see evidence of that in “What Lies Beneath.” The episode hits many of the old Castle signature charms. Â For instance, over the years, the importance of coffee to Captain Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) – and to the Caskett relationship – has been well-documented. Â The coffee theme is played with a lot in this episode, Â starting with the first scene after the murder. (Remember when we’d just get the shots of the dead body and not the actual killings? I miss that.) Beckett is at the 12th precinct trying to make a latte – but it doesn’t taste right. Â Near the end of “What Lies Beneath” Â Castle makes her one with a little heart on top.
Castle fans know that move! (I think it’s the most epic in the Season 5 episode “Still.”) Â The coffee is Â perfect and Beckett lights up while drinking it. Â She sadly admits she “can’t make it” the way he does – even though he’s shown her how to. Â Castle then admits he didn’t tell her the “secret ingredient.” Furthermore, he’s not going to tell her.
Castle: Â “Well, now, if I told you that, you might not need me anymore”
Beckett: “Then don’t tell me.”
There are all kinds of emotional sparks and looks of longing going back and forth between Castle and Beckett and it’s nice to see – until what lies beneath the situation comes to mind. Â That’s really the big pink elephant in this episode – and CastleÂ Season 8 in general. Â The entire situation is built on a foundation of sand. Â This split between Castle and Beckett reminds me of a daytime soap-opera trick. Â A young child is sent away – to camp, boarding school, or to live with relatives. Â Two years later that “child” comes back having graduated from college and is the new love interest for some character or another. Â In the story’s actual arc and timeline it makes absolutely no sense. Â In fact it’s impossible. Â However, it’s a soap-opera, so viewers go along with it. Â The love story between the two soars. Â That’s how this entire “Beckett’s left Castle and he’s trying to win her back” story feels. Â It doesn’t track at all with the last seven seasons of Castle -Â if anything it’s like a reset of Season 4 – yet, here we are.
Castle, the great mystery writer who figures out people’s motives the way MAcGyverÂ figured a way out of every sticky situation he found himself in, is completely focused on winning his wife back without giving a single thought as to why she might have left. Â He has a right to display more anger and hurt, but maybe he did learn something back in Season 4Â – when it comes to Beckett things aren’t always what they seem. Â I could go with that, except the Castle we know would not then be taking this situation at face value. Â Beckett leaves him right after her entire team from D.C. was killed. Â Sure, the case is “closed,” but this is Castle we’re talking about – a man who supposedly knows Beckett better than anyone. Â He has no questions about this? Â Nope. Â He just wants his wife back. Â Regardless of how adorable it is when Fillion’s Castle flashes those baby blues and plays the ruggedly handsome card mugging for Beckett, the story beneath the situation makes it more infuriating than endearing.
Meanwhile, Beckett, who actually doesn’t have a plausible reason to have left in the first place, is shown to be upset and sad about the fact that she can’t be with him. Â One way the show is trying to make this reset fly in terms of Beckett’s actions is using to great advantage what Fillion once described as his co-star’s ability to “act chemistry with a wet paper bag.” Â KaticÂ has Beckett’s feelings about her husband out in full force. Â Even when she’s trying to be stern you can see love, admiration and raw desire on her face.
In an early scene with Castle’s mother Martha Rogers (the always fabulous Susan Sullivan) Martha wants to know why Beckett has left and reminds Beckett that Castle is someone she can always count on. Â This is not news to Beckett. Â Beckett assures Martha (and the audience) that she doesn’t want to divorce Castle, and Beckett’s guilt and sorrow about what she’s putting Castle through is obvious. Â If there was an overall direction given to Katic about this scene (and this episode) it might have been, “Make sure the audience knows Beckett loves Castle every time his name comes up to her.”
As lovely as that Martha and Beckett scene is, it highlights one of the huge flaws in this elaborate lie the show has created for Beckett. Â Supposedly Beckett is doing this to keep Castle safe, not because she thinks she can’t count on him. Â She can count on him, but she’s working with some guy she just met to figure out who the person or persons are responsible for murdering her former colleagues in D.C. and were trying to kill her? Â This is about as logical as the notorious premise that took down the 1980’s show Moonlighting: Maddie falls for some guy she met on a train on the way home and marries him before getting there. Â Why? Â The showrunners said they were trying to bring back that spark from the earlier seasons….
About the Overall Episode
Far less impressive than Katic’s performance as the distraught woman in love is the blatant sexism in having BeckettÂ draped across a couch in her office wearingÂ short dress with the door open. Â Adding insult to injury is her having conversations with her subordinates while in that position. Â It’s one thing to acknowledge that Beckett (Katic) is sexy and gorgeous. Â I have no problem with Beckett at times using her sex appeal while undercover and it’s great when they use it in scenes that involve Castle and Beckett. Â However, there is no way in hell a police captain lies down in her office like that after summoning a person she supervises to her her office for some information -never mind she staying like thatÂ while listening to the report! Â This completely undermines Beckett’s new role as an authority and reduces her character to the equivalent of one of Charlie’s Angels. Â
This is one of the huge ways CastleÂ Season 8 is nothing like the show viewers have come to love over the years. Â Bada** Beckett was a detective – the best at the 12th – and that was before Castle ever showed up. Â In this episode I watched Beckett do…not much. Â This episode was all about Castle, detectives Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever), Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Castle’s daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn) getting to do all the action. Before getting into all of that, I want to talk about the one storyline that 100 percent worked in “What Lies Beneath”
The Bromance – Ryan and Esposito
This so-called “B” storyline is the most organic and authentic story that’s come out of CastleÂ Season 8. Â Ryan and wife Jenny (Juliana Dever) are expecting their second child, and it has Ryan even more concerned about money than before. Ryan’s been worrying about money since Season 6. Â Last season, he actually did and those forays into security provided both amusement and heartache. Â Esposito listens to Ryan’s concerns and suggests than instead of getting a second job he think of making more money in his first:
Esposito: “Promotion. Â The sergeant’s exam is in a week. Â Let’s take it.”
The scene rings true in terms of the friendship between these guys. Â However, it also serves as a Â reminder that Beckett jumped from detective to captain while the way these things normally occur are promotions up the ranks. Â I suppose one could say that Beckett’s duties before this were those of a sergeant, but she still skipped over lieutenant (U.S. police ranks). Truthfully the show’s been vague about the idea of Beckett’s rank for a while, probably because the story was built around her as a detective and Castle following her around on cases. Â That’s partly why this new story turn about her being captain is wobbly.
Getting back to the bromance, Ryan thinks this is a great idea and says he’ll call in to get them both signed up. Â The problem that arises is this: when Ryan calls their is only slot left to take the exam. Â Ryan takes it and then tries to hide it from Esposito – who of course finds out. Â The time and place Esposito finds out is at a ridiculous party Castle is having to convince them to pass along information about the case – behind Beckett’s back. Â Castle overhears that Ryan is strapped for cash and offers him 500 dollars a week to do this – and Ryan accepts. Â There are huge issues with this. Â Yes Ryan’s always been Castle’s boy, but he’s also the guy who believes in the rules and doing what’s right. Â In Season 4, it’s Ryan that Captain Victoria Gates (Penny Johnson Jerald) about Beckett and Javier running off without backup. Â Although both he and Esposito have done favors for Castle before in return for some kind of confrontation, doing so to go against Beckett’s orders seems odd. However, this bit is actually part of a larger problem. Â We’ll come back to it.
At first Ryan tries making up for lying to Esposito while still trying to justify why he did it. Â In his mind he “has the responsibility of a family and Esposito doesn’t.” Â Esposito feels Ryan should have been “looking out” for his partner’s back. Â The truth is, neither guy is completely right or wrong. Â Ryan wouldn’t have even known or thought about the sergeant’s exam if not for Esposito, but Ryan also needs the money more. Â I’m sure the hope is that viewers take away a subtext that the Â situation between Castle and Beckett is a similar Catch 22. Â Being that two guys wanting to the exam is a more plausible scenario than the Caskett mess the hoped for congruency Â doesn’t hold up well.
What does hold up is Ryan deciding to give his slot to Esposito. Â It’s not until Ryan admits that he “did wrong” by Esposito that Javier is willing to listen. Â He’s truly touched by the offer. Â Luckily Beckett – who earlier had seen that things weren’t quite right between the two detectives – figured out what was wrong and “pulled some strings” to get them both into the exam.
I’d say those strings Beckett pulled were connected to deputy chief Victoria Gates. Â Although Penny Johnson Jerald is no longer on Castle I would love to see her back in a recurring role! Â She and Beckett had built a strong relationship of deserved mutual respect it would be natural for Beckett to pick up the phone and call Gates about something like this,
Beckett and Nancy Drew
The thruline of the Ryan & Esposito dilemma was good, other areas around the case were less so. This scene was released as a sneak peek, but it highlights everything that’s wrong about the state of things on Castle
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First of all, with all the people Beckett knows – like Victoria Gates, why is Â stymied by this? Secondly, Â note that Castle’s list glaring leaves out the mayor as having access to the “entire budget.” Â Despite Castle’s long history of leaving his friends out of a pool of suspects, no one even blinks. Didn’t Gates warn Beckett about this kind of thing back in Season 4 Episode 12, “Dial M for Mayor”?
In the Castle season 8 episode 4 scene we just saw, Beckett basically just sits looking at Castle with longing as he breaks things down for her and the detectives- although apparently Esposito already knew to check on the comptroller’s alibi before they even called Castle. Â This is likely because the information Castle is giving them is something all of them -the detectives and Beckett – would have worked with before. Â It’s certainly not the first case where an issue of money missing from the city government has come up.
When Beckett isn’t getting all emotional about Castle she’s making phone calls on a normal phone to track down information about the “who killed my colleagues” case. Â There’s a folder she’s got on her desk regarding the Vulcan Simmons case, and she’s asking questions about the cocaine they had from the drug bust of Simmons back in Season 6. Â So, let’s assume that person who was smart enough to send more than one team out to kill Beckett did not take any precautions like phone taps to make sure Beckett wasn’t still looking into things, nor have they taken note of the fact that right after the case was “solved” Beckett separated from Castle. Â (Yes, this is sarcasm.)
Basically we’re to believe that Beckett is being smart about things and that no one – in the precinct or out – will notice she’s doing things other than her job. Â Maybe that’s why she can notice that Ryan and Esposito are arguing over the sergeant’s exam, but doesn’t notice when they start working with Castle behind her back.
Then there is the problem with Alexis. Â Watching Alexis being as smug as her father and playing the supportive partner is nauseating. The way she’s standing behind him, the hand on shoulder like she’s his Rock of Gibraltar makes her look like his wife. Â Earlier she had to stop him from telling her how he kisses Beckett! Â What kind of father is this? Â Remember when Castle was actually a good parent? Â The dynamic is worse than watching her play Nancy DrewÂ with him – although there’s plenty of that in this episode as well. Â Really guys? Â You’re gonna bring Alexis along to a sting operation – and Castle is going to use his daughter to help pull something off without warning Ryan or Esposito? (Not to mention, who tries to do surveillance work from a bright red sports sports car? Guess it goes to show how worthless a 100 hour online P.I. course is.) Â I wonder how he managed that fancy computer virus? Â Someone had to have programmed it for him…at least they didn’t say it was Alexis.
The Castle Comedy
Supposedly the goal of the showrunners was to make this season of Castle like the show viewers fell in love with. Â Aside from Fillion and Katic being allowed to generate enough electricity to light up Times Square during the now rare times they’re onscreen together this is nothing like the show people fell in love with. Â Not. Even. Close. Â In that show Castle and Beckett actually worked together as true partners, not with Beckett in one place looking moony-eyed while Castle smugly gives not-that-hard to find information. Â Beckett was savvy and bad-a**ed – not laying down on the job. Â Plus, in no way, shape or form did we have to deal with super detective Alexis Castle. These issues alone make the show a zombie of its former self – and they’re just for starters.
This quote from that same TVline interview with Fillion explains a trend that carries over from Season 7, the long drawn out comedy scenes that feature Fillion.
“One of the things that Terence and Alexi are really big on, and I agree, is they don’t consider Castle to be a drama,” Fillion said. “It’s never been much of a drama; it’s far more a comedy with dramatic and heartfelt moments. And they wanted to bring it back to a time when it was funny, when it was great, when it was the lighthearted show that everybody fell in love with.”
What? Â Castle is now a comedy? Â (It’s become a joke, but that’s something entirely different.)Â Â The show has always been billed as a dramedy with a equal mix of comedy and drama. Â The fact that Fillion is saying Castle is actually a “comedy with dramatic and heartfelt moments” shows how they are trying to make the show over into something it never was never intended as.
This idea of it being a comedy with a few dramatic moments certainly explains the long strings of comedy sketches and endless one liners and sight gags. Â The hammering home of Â Ryan and Esposito being in sync all the time gets old quickly. Â There’s that elaborate set up for jokes about a 12-step program for “pathological liars.” Â That bit drags on and on through through two scenes. We get Castle throwing a Mexican themed party so that Castle can wear that silly giant sombrero. Â Ryan and Esposito completely miss the obvious move of Castle placing a tracker on Esposito’s back. Â So much for Esposito’s special forces training. Â Even that icky scene between Alexis and Molly is there because someone thought it’d be funny. Â It serves no purpose otherwise. They’ve already established Alexis gets too much information about her father’s marriage.
The fact that Fillion agrees with idea certainly explains a few things that happened in Castle season seven. Â The first half was filled with similar long-drawn out comedy sketches. Â For example: the endless gunslinger showdown in “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Â How about in “The Last Action Hero” – that’s the one where Castle goes off with his movie idols to go steal a toy model car. Â The P.I. arc during that season was also full of the sight gags and too long comedy bits. In fact the first P.I. episode gave Season 7 the lowest live rating not only of that season but of the series – at that time (Castle season 7 ratings). Â Â Castle this season has since gone lower. Â With this new showrunner direction apparently one of the complaints about last season – that Richard Castle was being overly silly – is going to become a permanent fixture – ratings be damned.
The Wrap Up
Despite all of the problems this episode holds, it’s not the worse of the season (see my review from last week!). Â That’s because the actual case in the episode works well. Â It’s full of typical Castle twists and turns: Â a “nice” mobster, a corrupt priest, a victim who turns out not to be who he says he is – the usual Scooby-doo stuff. Â The Ryan and Esposito bromance story really carried its weight, funny, heartfelt and well played by the actors. Â It’s also hard to resist a good Martha and Beckett scene, or sweet moments between Castle and Beckett. Â Everyone brought their A-game to those scenes – even when the context beneath them were all lies created by this smoke and mirrors soap-opera of a storyline.
However, at the top of this article I wondered how many viewers would be willing to ignore the context and just enjoy the moments. Â The early ratings report has CastleÂ second in the demo and third in viewers withÂ a 1.2 demo and 7.31 million viewers. Â That may seem higher than last week’s ratings – which were a 1.2 demo and had 6.76 million viewers. Â However,Â because of a football game that aired in a major market, last week’s final ratings were adjusted down from theÂ 1.3 demo and 7.33 early ratings report. Â Castle has the same situation this week. Â Expect the final ratings to show as being lower than last week. Â Regardless of how you felt about the episode, this is not a good sign for how this new formula is being recieved.
How did you feel about this episode? Â Leave your thoughts about it in the comments. I’m really curious to see how it impacted other viewers!
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[Photos via ABC & Getty Images]