Episode 17: Scared to Death
By: Carlos Uribe
Castle is a show about a mystery writer who helps his lover solve crimes.
If I had to describe this episode in one sentence it would be that it presented the perfect Halloween episode in March. It's actually really surprising that they didn't just hold on to the idea until next season because it really belongs in October. Scared to Death basically presents a weekly case that pays homage to horror movies. It actually reminds me a lot of the Scream series as it's very self-aware of what it's doing and it even takes time to dissect horror movie tropes. It all begins with a horror movie cliché. There's a scared girl in an apartment who is trying her best to stay away from an evil spirit. She calls 911 but they aren't really any help. The lights go out and she screams. The next thing we see is Castle and Beckett arriving at the crime scene. There's no sign of forced entry and she's dead. Her face looks like she was terrified of something and there's no evident sign of how she died. The immediate theory by Castle is that a ghost killed her because she said that “it” was coming after her. He sticks with this idea for the rest of the episode and the show largely plays with him. There's a logical explanation at the end of the episode because Castle is supposed to be set in the real world but it doesn't completely wrap everything up. There is one loose end it doesn't explore but it's irrelevant to proving the case. The weekly case was a fun homage to the horror genre. The whole investigation and dialogue were built towards paying tribute to the genre and it even had a Wes Craven cameo. The cameo didn't really add to the narrative but his presence really helped express the love that the writers have for the genre. Plus it's always cool when respected real-life figures show up on the series.
The weekly case gets more complicated when they figure out that the girl had receiving a package before she died. What did it contain? A DVD that proclaimed that the person who saw it would die in three days. Three days later and she's dead. The two different personalities of Beckett and Castle jump to two different conclusions. Beckett thinks that the killer sent it to scare the victim. Castle instantly believes that there's an evil spirit in the DVD that killed the victim. There are a lot of times on this show where even Castle is joking with his out-there theories but he actually seems to believe this one. He's afraid that he's going to die after watching the video to a ridiculous point. It's okay because Castle has comedy elements and this is a light-hearted show but they might have gone a little overboard with his irrational fear. The DVD is a clear homage to the Ring movies. Of course, Castle points it out to the audience in case you didn't get the reference. It's a bit annoying since I believe the Ring was a mainstream hit but it is a bit dated so I could see why they wanted to remind people it existed. What's interesting is that as soon as Castle watches the show seems to impose a three-day deadline on the characters. They really aren't going to die and Beckett knows this but there seems to be a race against the clock that wouldn't have existed otherwise. They do manage to get the bad guy a day early but right before the third victim is expected to die.
The DVD isn't the only homage the episode gets to play. They visit a scary asylum where they get to talk to a mental patient. His name is probably a reference to the real-life killer Leopold. There was a large red herring with Leopold where Beckett believed he was behind the murders. It was quite the opposite actually. He wanted to secure his appeal so badly that he sent his nurse to try and stop the third witness from dying. Why did the nurse agree? She's in love with him. It's so ridiculous but awesome at the same time. I wonder if they wrote that in to dig fun at American Horror Story: Asylum* or not. The climax at the episode just happens to take place at a cabin in the middle of nowhere. There's scary shots of Beckett in the woods trying to catch the bad guy and even the killer looks like she belongs in a horror movie. Those aren't the only references as there's a lot of smaller ones hidden throughout the episode. Castle himself believes that if he was in a horror movie he would die because he's the comic relief. He also refuses to have sex with Beckett until the deadline of the video has passed even after they caught the killer. Castle is a character who not only knows the horror movie tropes well but even respects them.
Scared to Death is a pretty good episode of Castle. It presents a great weekly case that simply has fun with the horror genre. It might belong better near Halloween but at least the show proves it can still present fun geeky episodes.
*I haven't seen it so I have no idea whether or not a nurse is in love with one of the patients but I'm assuming this is the case.