Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Episode Close-Up: Castle (2009-2016): 8x22 'Crossfire'

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“Ok men – and women – the big one, the one we’ve all been waiting for….” The time has come to say goodbye to Castle. And how better to start this swan song review than to include a little pep talk from Griffindor Quidditch captain Oliver Wood? A Harry Potter mention at the beginning of a Castle review, you ask (I know, that gives away my age and interests)? Strange, right? Castle’s writers are probably hoping for a cooler analogy, but this is the one I got. Okay, I’ll stop with the HP references for now, yet there’s much that reminded me of the wizarding world in Castle’s final episode “Crossfire”, as you will see – if only the showrunner’s wishful thinking that they could somehow magically fix a beloved show that has been dwindling all season…

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The series finale, episode 8x22, was penned by the guys that took over from Andrew Marlowe and Terri Edda Miller as showrunners last summer, Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter. Veteran Castle director Rob Bowman once again called the shots. They were tasked with winding down a less than stellar season when it came to ratings and their audience’s feedback on the season so far. Additionally, they had to incorporate the possibility of not all cast members returning for the following year, and the planned season finale possibly being the series finale. “Crossfire” was shot back at the beginning of April, so before news broke on exits, behind-the-scenes drama, and, finally, the show’s cancellation.

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The official synopsis to this episode reads: “With their best lead in hand, Castle and Beckett are ready to take on LokSat. But an unforeseen twist puts their case – and their lives – in jeopardy.” The final showdown with LokSat, right. Introduced as the new (and rather far-fetched) conspiracy theory of the season, this guy was the even bigger and badder wolf behind Senator Bracken, the murderer of Beckett’s mom. Seemingly out of nowhere, this dirty CIA operative murdered Beckett’s former team at the Attorney General’s office, which left her and technical analyst Vikram to investigate in secret. Of course, being the noisy child that he is (and largely due to fan protest caused by the much reduced Caskett screen time), Castle got in on the action and their best lead, Caleb Brown, gave the investigators a cell phone and a date on which LokSat would contact him. The time for the meeting and to follow the most promising lead had now come.

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The episode starts out in typical procedural drama style with a murder – Duh. We get the close-up of a guy happily swinging in the driver’s seat of a car to "Sunshine Day" by The Brady Bunch. Yet, what looks like a daddy driving his pre-school kids home for the night turns out to be a guy driving to a deserted area to dump and torch the car – with a body in the trunk. Our mystery murderer (much like Peeves the Poltergeist) sings and whistles tauntingly, gives a final quip to the person banging on the car trunk from the inside, and drives off. Cut to Beckett and Castle preparing to take the phone call, that will hopefully give them a trace on LokSat. Castle tries for some levity by wondering:

“Could my ex-wife be LokSat? That would actually make so much sense!”

But it falls flat. The call comes and the detective and writer are informed of a drop point in an abandoned warehouse outside of Brooklyn. Yeah, that’s not suspicious at all… Even worse, surprise surprise, the criminal mastermind has used countermeasures to make his call untraceable. How rude!

Across town, Ryan and Esposito are meanwhile investigating the murder from the beginning of the episode. While the body is unidentifiable, luckily enough, there is a high-end briefcase with the body, whose serial number should conveniently tell the boys who their victim is. Ryan, Esposito and Lanie are still not in on the big conspiracy Beckett, Castle and Vikram are investigating and therefore continue to go their untroubled ways while the others prepare for the big showdown.

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Castle enlists the help of his P.I. buddy Haley, who he trusts and entrusts with the protection of his family, should anything happen to him (huh, where did that deep connection come from? And can you say foreshadowing?) Meanwhile, Beckett fends off Rysposito’s inquiries as to what is going on. She then sets off for the meeting point with Castle as her backup and Haley and Vikram in the vicinity to help out should things go south. Watching this, I can’t help thinking that, even though this is only supposed to be a stake-out, the Beckett we know would never have taken clever, but untrained writer Rick Castle as her only backup and put him in harm’s way like that…. Needless to say, things do go south from there, as the guy they are observing turns out to be an imposter and the one he was supposed to meet with never shows. Instead, a hit squad shows up in two black SUVs and engages the writer and detective in a shoot-out. With cell phone signals jammed, no bullets left, and Hayley out of range, there is no chance of help. Well, that escalated quickly!

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The rushed, clichéd and slightly silly drama only continues to escalate from there. A guy in a big-ass barbeque taco truck, who turns out to be Mason Wood, the head of a renowned L.A. detectives’ society from a few episodes back, surprisingly comes to Caskett’s rescue.  Castle and Beckett choose to trust him and the top secret spy equipment he offers them, and decide to put their affairs in order before going underground. Vikram then blabs to Ryan and Esposito about the case, thereby putting the loyal detectives in danger, since they predictably insist on helping their friends. Castle makes sure his mother and daughter are safe, while Beckett tries to guide the investigation from inside the precinct.

Ryan: "You can fire us both for insubordination if you want, but we got this!"

Castle and Beckett then each take off on their own and now we know that we must be headed for doom. He gets abducted and is questioned with a truth serum (really? Been there done that. Can you say Veritaserum? 70s spy thriller? Low budget, C-grade action movie?), while she foolishly agrees to team up with Mason Wood, who, unsurprisingly, turns out to be the big bad wolf. Ryan and Esposito find Castle juuust in time before he is lethally injected and engage in the final battle of Hogwarts an
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epic shoot-out with LokSat’s guys to end all days. Yet, always the clever hero, Castle somehow realizes that one wall of the room they are cornered in is made of paper-like material and leads outside. So he knocks a hole in it and finds Beckett and Mason Wood just in time to distract the latter, so Beckett can disarm and arrest him. The lovers rush to each other and embrace in a desperate and relieved hug. All’s well that ends well.

Well, not quite. We are only in minute 39 of 43 and while the whole episode was filled with far-fetched and artificial drama, this would have been an unmatched letdown of suspense. But one step after the other. Back at the precinct, Castle embraces his mother and daughter, while Kate lovingly watches on (yep, still not part of the family, nice reminder and slap in the face there, Castle writers), and Esposito, Ryan, and new buddy Vikram take off to hit the bar scene – at 7 am (and it’s not like Ryan has a wife and two kids at home, who might be worried about him…).

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Finally, it’s time for Castle and Beckett to return home and engage in some awkward flirting. While he decides to cook her breakfast, she goes into the bedroom to get changed. And here comes the twist we’ve been waiting for: Out of nowhere, Caleb Brown, the thought dead source of LokSat’s cell phone, steps out into Castle’s kitchen and shoots him in the chest. Hearing shots fired, trained NYPD Captain Katherine Beckett does not quietly rush to her husband’s help, but screams his name, alerting the killer to her presence and getting herself shot. But not before fatally wounding the shooter of course. Riiiight. She then also drops to the ground and instead of trying to reach one of the many phones or technical devices in their apartment, the only thing Castle and Beckett can seem to think of is crawl to each other, lie down, and hold hands in preparation of dying together…. And this, folks, would have been the ending we’d have gotten, had Castle been renewed for a ninth season. ‘Luckily’ ABC gave advance notice to the showrunners that the show had been cancelled, so a sloppily put together, lovey-dovey scene was added at the end.

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It’s been two days since I watched this and I still can’t get over what the people involved must have been thinking. I mean, nice try and kudos for attempting to give a deserving ending to a beloved show that had excelled for 5 seasons and been decent for seven, and that you spent all season sabotaging left and right with storylines unfitting, sloppy, and untrue to the characters. But let’s take a closer look: A panning shot moves us from the half-dead lovers lying on the kitchen floor to a total shot of the Castles’ empty loft (why?), while in voice-over we hear the shadowy voices of Kate Beckett and Rick Castle from the pilot, where, after 42 minutes of him making advances at her, she flirted back for the first time and we got to see sparks fly. Okay, granted, that did make me sentimental and longing for the good old days. But why the empty loft? Did they both die? Is this what you are trying to tell me happened to that epic love story? No? 
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Well, the camera keeps moving to the suddenly filled again living room that is now packed with pictures and toys. In rush a young girl and two toddler boys from the direction of Castle’s study with Kate in hot pursuit. We are told by subtitle that it’s now 7 years later (well, hello again, J.K. Rowling with your unrelated epilogue of 19 years later) and everyone is in fact still very much alive. Not only that, but the happy little Castle family turned out just the way the time traveler predicted in episode 6x05. For 30 glorious seconds, while the happy family sits down to have breakfast, we get a glimpse of the future we all wanted for them, but that has no relation to what the show’s been doing to the couple and their story for at least two years. A final voice-over (from the paratext of seasons two and three and Castle headcanon):

Castle: “Every writer needs inspiration and I found mine.”  - Beckett: “Always.” - Castle: “Always.”

Aaand, yep, we are back to reality. While on the surface these seem like the perfect words to end the series (and I admit that there is a certain sap in me that had wished for “Always” to be the last words uttered), they still showcase all the little things that have been going wrong with the series for some time. Are the writers going through the motions of using established Castle-isms? Sure. But it just feels like they don’t get the meaning behind them and what the show is really about. In the last sentence of the show, Kate Beckett is once again, as she has been many, many times this year, simply degraded to an inspiration for a writer. That she is and has been a well-developed, strong, and independent character outside of that and a driving force for the show is once again completely disregarded.

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Besides the obvious lack of understanding for the show, showcased in that addendum, why would you even include the whole shooting scene in the kitchen? It doesn’t change anything that came before or relate to anything that comes after and just feels like bloody and unnecessary torture for the main protagonists. Story-wise I understand the appeal this scene would have had as a cliff-hanger, but in this final version of the episode, designed to give a nice send-off to the characters, the whole ending just once again underlines the sloppy compilation of the whole episode and even season.

So that’s a wrap people! Castle is officially over. The final goodbye, “Crossfire”, sadly served as illustration of why it was due time as well. Sound and score have always been top notch in Castle, with Robert Duncan’s to the point compositions that carry the mood and a sound department up for anything from drama, to comedy, to sci-fi, to romance. Stunts and visual effects deliver good work for the contexts they are needed in. But where the show’s been lacking and lacks here is in writing. Somewhere along the way things just got lost. And that’s not due to the “Moonlighting curse” or supposed behind-the-scenes drama, but simply bad storytelling. Castle and Beckett – their work, interaction and romance – have (until recently) always been the center of the show. While “Crossfire”
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finally puts the two of them back at center stage (luckily not too many distractions from Alexis, Hayley, or Vikram in this episode), it makes a cliché out of them. Sure, many declarations of love are kind of what you want to hear during the final hurrah of a romance, but if you can’t back it up with actions and especially if you have been working against that all season, it’s just not all that believable. Even the once really funny and enjoyable banter falls flat. And if you can complain about too much far-fetched and highly artificial drama in a fictional series, things must be pretty bad. Also, the community and camaraderie of the precinct family, that was another integral part of the show, is not given too much focus in the final send-off to Castle.  Performance-wise the main cast by now has a clear idea of who their characters are and embodies them to the point. They weren’t given too much to work with here, so the only one who really gets to shine (and does) is Nathan Fillion, when Castle is injected with truth serum and inadvertently sentences his loved ones to death.

All you can finally say to “Crossfire” is: Thanks for trying. And not killing off Beckett. Thank you for not completely ruining a great run and for a half-assed attempt at a happy ending that, if you don’t look too closely, may just pacify parts of the audience.


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