Episode 7: Swan Song
By: Carlos Uribe
Castle is a show about a mystery writer who helps his lover solve crimes.
Swan Song is a fun episode that starts with a simple weekly case: a rock-and-roll star is found murdered in his trailer. This is a musicican that is inexplicably clean from all drugs and has just made it in the music world. There's a lot of theories out there about who killed him. The first suspect is a man who simply wanted to get his daughter back. She's a groupie who had left her work and life to follow the band. This suspect was hoping to scare the victim so that he wouldn't sleep with his daughter. The second suspect is a songwriter that the characters mistook to have a vendetta against the victim because the writer claimed the band leader stole his song. The songwriter reveals that he's actually been hired to write new music for the band but notes that the music is different from the music that the band is used to playing. The conclusion that the detectives jump to is that the victim was hoping to go solo and that one of the bandmates killed him. The bandmate they suspect reveals that he had suspicions that the victim was going to leave the band but he provides a solid alibi that he couldn't have killed him. That's because he has a sex tape as his alibi. This is when the case stops being simple and gets complicated. It's revealed that the victim had belonged to a cult for most of his life and he had escaped. The next suspect is the cult leader but that's a bust as well. This does lead the detectives to find the real killer. It turns out that the killer was another bandmate who was getting kicked out of the band. The victim was going to replace him with the person who taught him with guitar. That's his best friend, who he had helped escape from the compound. It's true that the weekly case went somewhere very far from where it was initially investigating at first but it was made acceptable since it eventually did tie back to the music.
What made this episode remarkable isn't the weekly case. It's how the epsiode was shot. There was a documentary crew who was following the band. Since the victim was the only reason the band was successful, the documentary crew are able to integrate themselves into the investigation. This leads to all of the characters, except Beckett, acting differently for the sake of the camera. Beckett is uncomfortable around these cameras until the end, when she plays a prank on one of the cameramen. How the characters reacted around the cameras is a summary of their characters. Castle acts like he has all the answers and is all dramatic but he also tries his best to cast Beckett in a positive light. Javier acts like he's all tough and tries to be a hero. Kevin is more reserved but claims to be the brains between the two. Lanie tries to seduce the camera while Gates tries to appear like a tough and good boss. Beckett acted uncomfortable because it's difficult to truly get to know her. When she does let her guard down, she has some fun. The documentary crew also capture some inimate moments between Castle and Beckett that threaten to expose them to Gates but they conveniently “lose” those moments. This leaves Gates being angry at them for acting immature while she talks about how adult the precint is. What's interesting isn't just what this episode did but what it didn't do.
What do you associate with mockmentaries like Modern Family and The Office? It's the talking heads. It's where the characters can try to express their thoughts to the camera. It's a bit of a surprise that Castle doesn't employ that tactic. It would be an easy way to allow the documentary conceit to show exactly where each character is at in their life. This episode doesn't do any of that. It shows us where they're at through action. It's the scenes where Castle and Beckett having a moment where they touch but then panic when they realize a camera is on them. It's the scene where Lanie invites Beckett to the morgue just so she can draw attention to her body. It's the scenes where Gates checked up on the investigation just to be on camera. The epsiode could have been lazy and just had the characters tell us what they wanted to convey. It's made clear that the documentary crew had shot scenes of them talking to the camera. The writing was strong enough that it didn't have to. Adding the camera changed the behavior of the characters to reveal their personalities and thoughts. The talking heads would have simply felt like a cheap tactic considering how strong the other material is. The only difference Castle made in it's style is by making the characters aware of the camera.
Castle delivered a perfectly fun and light episode with Swan Song. It used the documentary aspect in a way that most shows simply don't. Most shows prefer to deal with the talking head rather than the camera's actual effect on the character. It's a fact that people simply act differently when there's cameras on them and it's this behavior that reveals who they are or trying to be. Swan Song had a strong weekly case but it's made memorable by the format.