Castle, “The Blame Game“ is a solid episode. Finally! It has a few things that need to go, but Castle Season 8 episode 12 is one that gets most of it right!
The Set Up
How Castle, “The Blame Game” starts out is…okay. The symbol on the mirror is intriguing and the shadow of the gunman as she sees him in the mirror is scary. Then comes the overkill. (Sorry, but writing about a show that thrives on puns and double entendre, it had to be said.) The viewer gets to see the body crumpling to the floor and the blood splattering on the mirror. We then hear writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) saying “Booyah” – while the camera is still on the mirror. It feels like the writers think this is a game of “Halo” and they just scored a headshot. It’s not. This is supposed to be the murder of a young woman, there’s no victory in this.
I miss the days when Castle would not show actual shootings. Doing so makes the show less about the killing and more about solving the crime. Seeing the gunman and going to black – or to the next scene – on the sound of the gunshot would have been in true Castle style. Then the blood splatter on the mirror would be placed on the mirror for when the body is found at the crime scene.
Why do the showrunners keep pushing the showing of graphic killings onscreen? It’s not part of this show’s long time aesthetic and isn’t what made it a stable success for nearly 6 seasons. Show creator Andrew Marlowe, who was also the showrunner for those six seasons – made this point early on:
I think having the key emotional relationship between Beckett and Castle that people could tune in to see every week while they were watching a procedural was helpful. (…) There is a feeling that the conventional procedurals – the “Law & Order”s and the “CSI”s – they keep going further into sensationalist areas to try to maintain their audience and there’s a lot of darkness that comes out of those shows and the world is at a difficult place…(www.thefutoncritic.com)
The world is still in a difficult place. Since Castle is a U.S. show, I’ll mention that just this Sunday there’s been yet another mass shooting by a random gunman where six people were murdered in Michigan by a Uber driver. So, no, watching causal onscreen killings to set up a procedural story is not what I want to tune into Monday night. Nor is this part of the original formula that’s pulled in the Castle audience.
Solving a murder and bringing the killer to justice is a satisfying thing to watch play out. Strange crime scenes are also a kind of distraction from the reality of the murders. In that way the symbol on the mirror is completely in line with the show’s history.
However, on Castle, if someone dies onscreen, it’s a big emotional deal. We’re talking things like the killing of Dick Coonan (Jay R. Ferguson) in “Sucker Punch,” the last stand of Captain Roy Montgomery (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), or the final takedown of Jerry Tyson aka 3XK (Michael Mosley). Otherwise, the focus on Castle has been on finding the killer – not watching the kill. It’s getting to the point that I feel like just skipping the Castle opening scenes altogether. There are lots of shows that feature watching someone die in their openings, Castle was rarely one of them. Now it’s an unhappy norm.
Also somewhat disappointing is the restaurant meal with writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), his mother Martha Rodgers (Susan Sullivan) and his daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn). Normally I like these scenes, but something about this one felt heavy-handed in its setting up of the punchlines. (Although, it’s nice to hear Alexis apparently does occasionally go to class.) Plus, the first thing that crosses my mind is if someone like Stephen King hasn’t been talking to you for a long time and then you get a call out of the blue to collaborate on a big project, shouldn’t someone have at least double-checked?
Despite these issues in the setup, it’s certainly not the worst I’ve seen in this season or even in the series. In terms of onscreen killings that honor goes to the Castle season 8 premiere. For generally bad story setups that still manage an overall good experience, I still cringe when I think of how detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) was kidnapped in season seven’s “Resurrection,” in order to set up “Reckoning.” There’s also how she got into that mess for “In the Belly of the Beast” in season six. I mostly liked both of those episodes as well.
I love the feel of the crime scene! Although Castle isn’t there it still feels like the typical Castle dynamic. Maybe it’s because Beckett was always the team leader, and in this episode the respect for her authority is strongly felt. One of the overall things I enjoy about Castle, “The Blame Game” is that writer Michal Zebede has brought back the smart, serious, always on point Kate Beckett we’ve known for years. Some of this is also the direction by Jessica Yu. Beckett is the focus of the scene – we are watching her take in all the evidence and there are a number of shots of her actively processing the situation.
The other thing that happens without Castle here is that it gives everyone else more to do and we’ll be seeing lots of him in other places. Tamala Jones as Medical Examiner Lanie Parish adds just the right tone of respect about the victim’s death and Detectives Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) follow suit as they give Beckett the rundown on the deceased: 34-year-old TV producer Emma Mathews (Calli Ryals). Besides, Castle never wears gloves in these scenes and yet he touches evidence – it has a way of pulling me out of the story’s illusion. It’s fine he’s not there. On a totally superficial note: Beckett’s hair is fabulous and to Castle costume designer Red Carpet Luke – I’m enjoying the new dapper Esposito. That scarf looks fabulous on him!
When Castle gets to his meeting place, 143 Nicholas Street, he gets a call from Beckett who is checking to see how his meeting with King is going. Apparently, he’s running late – for a meeting with Stephen King. No big deal, right?
Wrong. Running late for a meeting like this something one would have called to let the other person know. Let’s just chalk this up to another one of those sloppy setup bits, because if he’d tried to call King back he should have gotten the disconnected number Alexis does later on, and it’s all about getting him into building – which is when the episode really starts to take off.
Before we head into the building, let’s talk Caskett. If the whole LokSat thing weren’t looming in the background the phone call between Castle and Beckett would have been completely golden. They really sound like a happily married couple – as opposed to sexual playmates. Unfortunately, LokSat is still in play, so even while enjoying the scene one can’t help but think this is a bad idea if you want to convince people you’re still broken up. What, now that Rita (Ann Cusack) knows the truth they aren’t concerned about anyone “keeping an eye on them”? (That happened in Castle, “Dead Red” – if you missed it check out the review. ) That LokSat storyline continues to be the poisoned well of Castle season 8.
The scene where Castle is inside the building and all the lights shut down is the episode’s turning point. (If you want to see it was also a sneak peek.) When Beckett gets a text from Castle saying to meet him at that address we all know it’s a trap – but Beckett has no reason to think so. It totally works – and so does that black pants suit she’s wearing. It’s sharp, stylish and appropriate. It feels like this season of Castle has been feeling out how Captain Beckett should dress. This outfit nails it.
Ryan and Esposito are left to interview Emma’s coworkers. Jennifer Perez (Elena Evangelo) whom by her countenance seems to have known Emma a little better, and TV news producer Lila Campo (played creditably by Amy Robach from Good Morning America.) They give the first clue – Emma had found “proof” about something, as well as the red herring – a rival producer named Nick Buckley (James McAndrew). He leads Ryan and Esposito to the second clue. Emma had been looking at old VHS tapes of two children wearing medallions with the odd symbol that was on the mirror.
There’s no point in spending much time with how the story figures out who the killer is because to those viewing becomes apparent early on that it’s “Todd,” aka Brandon Northcliff (Kevin Christy). They do make an effort to disguise it. Having him get poisoned is a nice touch.
This is just part of a series of puzzles Castle figures out. Although what would Todd have done if they hadn’t figure out that puzzle? Maybe all of the antidotes would have worked regardless of what they did?
Still, even with the poisoning, while watching the action realizing that the killer is Todd is a case of “one of these things is not like the others.” We’ve all seen (or read about) these kind of scenarios before – although more from the movies, not Dateline. As such, Todd sticks out as not belonging even before the situation with the gun (which is super dark.) He’s the only one without an actual story that lured him to 143 Nicholas Street, and he’s the only one without a significant other.
The thing is, knowing Todd’s the killer doesn’t distract from viewers wondering how the heck everyone is going to get out of this situation, nor does it tell us why he’s so deranged and what the symbol is about. Those are the actual mysteries to be solved and it makes for good TV. In the past Castle has done many episodes where the issue isn’t who, but why. This fits right in.
Earlier I mentioned that what Castle, “The Blame Game” does excellently is give us back Kate Beckett. It also gives us back Richard Castle. It’s what I meant about seeing his serious demeanor in an appropriate situation. Castle is using his outside the box thinking often in this episode and it doesn’t ever feel over-the-top impossible – just smart.
The time with Castle in the room does start to become too long though. Luckily, the second part of the puzzle breaks in when Castle and the other men are shown that their significant others are in a near identical room.
If the moment those lights start shutting down in the hallway is when the episode takes off, Castle and Beckett realizing they’ve both been abducted is when it soars! Even though they are in separate rooms the stakes instantly becomes about them. It reminds me somewhat of season four’s “Cops and Robbers” in that even though they aren’t physically together – and for a while can’t even talk to each other – the sense of their connection is a central element. It also shifts the focus on Beckett for a while. This switch is critical.
Part of getting Kate Beckett back is the sense of equal time for the characters. Not just screen time, but time to enjoy and celebrate who Castle and Beckett are individually. Over on the men’s side it’s been Castle’s strength of being able to figure out puzzles that gets the men through the initial stage. Here it’s Beckett’s skill as a detective, strong sense of logic, and her awareness of the need for caution that saves the women from making the same mistakes the men did. In particular it’s how she saves the annoyingly bratty Meadow (Vedette Lim) not once, but twice. The first time is from keeping her from activating her peanut allergy with disguised cigarettes. The second keeps her from sharing her husband’s fate. It’s a great combination of Beckett’s experience with people, common sense, and bad*ss Beckett.
Beckett’s more realistic view of people has her take the bullets out of the gun. Her world-weary expression when she realizes the set up with the gun is indicative that she’s more annoyed than scared by the person who has them locked in the room.
Patty: What kind of sick new test is this?
Beckett: I don’t know, but it seems a little unsophisticated.
The look on Beckett’s face when Meadow then takes the gun is priceless. Again, it’s like, “Really? This is what you’re doing?” Beckett knows the gun has no bullets. It’s like she was hoping this wouldn’t happen, but she’s not at all surprised. Then there’s the way she disarms Meadow. Beckett is baack!
Meanwhile in the other room it has never occurred to Castle that one of the guys could snap. His tendency is to see people through rose-colored glasses, something that we love, but has gotten him into trouble often. In this case it sets up the death of Simon (Kai Lennox). The sealed barrel trick is one I’m not thrilled with it, but that’s because I’m not a fan of things like the movie franchise Saw), but it serves the plot. Could they have established Todd as the killer without this. Yes, but not as strongly. It also gives us a Castle “Probable Cause” kind of moment in that when Beckett and the other women see that Meadow’s husband is dead and Castle is holding the gun, Beckett doesn’t assume that Castle shot the man.
These final split room scenes accomplish something important. By highlighting their different skills it ends up showing why Castle and Beckett are always better crime solvers when together! Now that it’s done, it’s time for these guys to get out of their respective rooms, Castle and the remaining two men use brute strength while Betty and Patty (Idara Victor) Macgyver some C4 and blow open the door!
Patty is also the one who clues in Beckett – and the audience – that this setup we’re watching is similar to an experiment that was designed to test separation anxiety in stressful situations. …Don’t try to figure out what this has to do with the kids on the videos doing puzzles because the dots don’t connect. It’s enough to see that the current situation is testing the people in the rooms in numerous ways, and the information links it to the catalyst that Ryan and Esposito find out about the kids in video that eventually leads them to finding Castle and Beckett.
Speaking of stressful situations, Beckett with the rigged gun is a nail-biter!
Thank god Beckett’s not the type to shoot first and ask questions later, but darn it, seeing her on high alert with a gun slinking down the hall is awesome! Todd cuts the couple’s reunion short by insisting everyone keep moving.
Hayley Shipton (Toks Olagundoye) is in this episode because…she’s a part of this season’s cast and it’s a chance to push more of the whole Hayley and Alexis as best buds story this season has been pushing. At this point in the story it’s benign enough that Hayley’s the trigger for Alexis realizing something’s gone wrong, although it certainly could have been done without her. If Hayley weren’t in this, Alexis could have realized her father was missing because he didn’t show up for whatever, made the same phone call and then gone to Ryan and Esposito. They could have scrubbed the traffic cam footage from that building – legally, at that. (Remember the days when Ryan used to handle the video stuff? Then they threw in Tori Ellis, and now it’s Vikram that do all the video tech and computer work.)
Anyway, Hayley and Alexis are the ones who sound the alarm that Castle and Beckett are missing and once the guys run that license plate number, the “why” of the case starts to fall into place quickly. Brandon Northcliff is the little boy in the videos. His parents are the psychiatrists who conducted the experiments Patty mentioned. They did these unethical experiments to their own kids! Brandon is said to have “fled the country” to get away from his parents. We know better, but we’ll go along with the story order.
The girl in the video isn’t Emma though. That’s Brandon’s sister Faye who recently committed suicide. Her tie-in to the psychiatrists is that she used to walk their dogs as a teenager. With a reported break in the night before Emma was killed the working theory for Ryan and Esposito becomes the psychiatrists must have killed Emma to stop her from running a story on them and now – for some reason – must have Castle and Beckett.
Ryan and Esposito, plus Hayley and Alexis now head out to search for Castle, Beckett and the suspected killers by storming the Northcliff house located on “a secluded property outside of Hartsdale. Why are Hayley and Alexis going with them and what we later see is a group of cops from the tactical unit? It really doesn’t make sense, but there’s a lot of that going around in this season.
Let’s get back to the scenes that matter, like when everyone is trapped in the new room! Part of it was released as a sneak peek.
Beckett looks like she wishes Castle had put a little more thought in before pulling that lever, but she isn’t about to leave her husband alone in this crazy game to die. These two always have each other’s backs, and she will back his play.
There’s another element going here as well though. By the time Castle pulls that lever he and Beckett have already figured out the person running the game is Todd! On a rewatch, there are moments where you can see them both reach that conclusion. It makes Beckett’s “fine” more like, “fine, we’ll do it your way.” This is why she doesn’t mention he should go for the sake of Alexis. It’s more than just she’s backing his play. If necessary, she’s also going to be protecting him from Todd. In Beckett’s mind, if one of them does have to die it’s not going to be Castle! Besides, the two of them against Todd have the best shot of taking him down. It’s so clear! Once the others have gotten out Castle looks at Beckett:
Castle: So what now?
Todd thinks this is a general question, but it’s Castle talking to Beckett about how are they going to take this guy! What happens next is hands down the best scene in the episode, and really, the best scene of season eight.
Todd: I’m sorry, I thought we could run out the door.
Castle: Really? So it’s not because we broke your rules?
Beckett: Well, he did say that there would be consequences.
Watching them each let go of their levers and step toward “Todd” is Caskett at work. It’s that perfectly synched Castle and Beckett magic that’s just unexplainable! Let’s watch the whole thing!
Honestly, I could cry. I have missed seeing Castle and Beckett together like this! The equality in their partnership truly shines! Beckett is looking at the possibilities and checking in with Castle to see what he’s thinking. Castle with that quirky outside the box thinking discovering he could unscrew the levers is just like him. There’s never a sense that Castle or Beckett are unaware of the other’s plan. It’s that classic Caskett mind-meld that has been a trademark of the show for so long, yet been largely missing in action all season.
Ryan and Esposito come in with their tactical unit and if it had ended there we’d be golden. Unfortunately it turns into a Hayley and Alexis thing. Hayley is just unnecessary, but the whole thing of Ryan and Esposito calling Alexis “their best person” is more of this idea of everyone treating Alexis as this super sleuth. It doesn’t even hold in this episode – she doesn’t do that much. I’m so tired of having this idea shoved at us. It does not work. It takes time and training to become a detective and she’s had neither.
Another problem with Alexis being here is that this should be Castle and Beckett’s moment. They did this together and it should be about them. A scene at the precinct with the guys bringing Todd/Brandon in and Alexis running up to her father would have felt much better.
However, even Alexis greeting her father at the precinct wouldn’t have worked if she said the same line she says here:
Alexis: I can’t leave you alone for five minutes?”
Why, why, why, do they keep having Alexis do and say things as if she’s his wife and partner? It’s practically the same line Beckett says to Castle on their honeymoon!
Beckett: Castle, I leave you alone for five minutes and you end up in a showdown?
It’s funny and appropriate when Beckett says it, but so not okay for Alexis! Castle season seven actually addresses Alexis acting like his wife/mother/partner in the episode “Child’s Play.” As Castle said then, it’s weird! It’s weird Castle writers – please stop it. There are other ways to show Alexis loves and is concerned about her father besides her behaving as if she’s his wife and partner. This character desperately needs a life of her own away from her dad!
The Wrap Up
This scene with Castle and Beckett at the loft is the finale one of the episode.
Sigh…that was lovely. It’s a perfect Castle ending and captures the heart of what the show is about.
Yes, I know. It’s not everything about how the episode ends, but you know what? How that other thing ends isn’t worth discussing. If ABC wants to create a Castle spinoff they should go make a pilot and leave the actual show, Castle, alone. That’s not going to happen though. Reading through the next few press releases it’s obvious that the Alexis & Hayley problems continue on.
Castle, “The Blame Game” isn’t perfect, but it’s miles ahead of anything else this season. Thus far it’s the only Castle season 8 episode I would willing watch again. Granted, I would skip the beginning and the very ending, but it’s the first of the season where Castle and Beckett act like themselves. It’s a huge improvement and as a longtime viewer I’m grateful for the reprieve. I wish I could feel this return to the show’s center will last, but the things that don’t work are things that the showrunners keep pushing forward regardless of ratings, the critics, or the fans dismay. There is though the fact that Paul Lee is out as ABC’s head of entertainment – maybe something will change in the last few episodes of the season. Anything’s possible, right?
Castle Season 8 episode 12 is a solid episode. Finally! It has a few things that need to go, but “The Blame Game” gets a lot of things right.