Episode 1: Valkyrie
By: Carlos Uribe
Castle is about an author who helps the police with their investigations.
The premiere picks up on that swing set scene where Castle proposed to Beckett. He had defied expectations that he was going to break up with her and instead wanted to commit to spending the rest of their lives together. That was one part of the cliff-hanger that the last season had ended on. The other was Beckett's job offer to work for a federal agency that handled national security cases for the Attorney General. The show immediately reveals the answer to both: Beckett is going to take the job and she accepts Castle's proposal once she confirms he's not using it to keep her from advancing her career. It's like the show had set up a decision where Beckett had to pick between her job and her relationship but the answer was simply “yes”. She went with both. This makes sense even if it made a lot of their relationship conflict at the end of last season kind of melodramatic. The premiere skips ahead two months. Beckett is now working as a federal agent, Castle is finishing up a book tour, and the rest of the characters are basically living their normal lives. The issue with this set-up is that the whole series is based on Castle helping Beckett solve cases. Only Castle can't help because he doesn't have the national security clearance. He's not even allowed to know details about the cases because every piece of evidence is classified. I'm afraid the show doesn't tackle this issue properly. There were basically three options the show could have taken for the premiere. The first is the one I would have preferred: Beckett is on her own for the whole episode. This would allow the series to establish the new status quo and to truly establish the gulf it establishes between her and her fiance. This could leave room for the second episode to start upsetting the status quo. This is a strong decision because it gives viewers a hint of Beckett's new job without having Castle as an element. The show rejected this presumably because that would have meant having the titular character out of the main plot. The second decision is to have two cases: one in New York City and one with the FBI. This temporary two-case solution would have allowed the old show to co-exist with Beckett's new job and give the whole cast something to do. There is no rule that Castle can't be helping Javier and Ryan because he loves solving mysteries. The third option is to concentrate on Beckett's new job and to have Castle interfere. The show went with the third: this pushed the existing ensemble members to the background and didn't really show us how Beckett survives without Castle.
The main plot of Castle has to do with Beckett's investigation into a stolen motherboard. Castle is able to get involved when he spots a single piece of evidence: a picture of a blown transformer. He's able to use Esposito and Ryan to find it's location. That's basically the only time they really appear except in one scene at the end where Javier reveals the existence of ghost bases to Castle. The good news is the show advances Ryan's baby expectancy plot by having him prepare by practicing swaddling a doll but they are seriously underutilized in the premiere. It's like their not even main characters. Missing from the premiere are the captain and the medical examiner. It's too bad the writers couldn't find a way to work them into the show but they would have had no role to play. In many ways, this breaks up the team dynamic to the point where Castle barely registers as the same show we watched last season. It's a shake-up that might upset some viewers but it's temporary. There's doubt Beckett will return to being a New York City cop for whatever reason. Anyways, Castle's involvement is quickly discovered by the investigating agency. They basically reprimand him. Castle realizes it can't like before so he's able to set aside his curiosity. Only he gets kidnapped by the suspect. The suspect quickly dies and the boss of the federal agency scares Castle about the implications of trying to help Beckett. The case gets solved at the end of the episode...or does it? It doesn't as Beckett deduces it was all a distraction and set-up to distract from the real crime: stealing a chemical weapon. This leads to a cliff-hanger where Castle's life is put in danger because he was infected by the chemical agent. He has twenty-four hours to live. I'm sorry if I'm not dying to see the second part because there is zero chance Castle is going to die on a show named Castle. At least, not until the series finale. That's the gist of the episode. The big nature of the case is a bit annoying because it ramps up the stakes a little too high to truly be believable. There was a bigger problem with getting invested in the case: the team solving it.
A show is made up from it's team dynamic. We don't just watch a cop show to see crimes getting solved but to see a team we like go through the process of figuring out the perpetrator. Castle has been able to succeed for so long because Richard and Beckett have good chemistry but also because the team supporting them has good rapport. In other words, the team dynamic was a reason to watch an episode of Castle. What happens when you remove the dynamic? You get to see a case being solved by a team who you really don't care about. This is basically what happens on this case of Castle. You have Beckett. She's a good detective but it's always been her banter with Castle and relationship with her two junior detectives that help make solving crimes feel dynamic. This week she's paired with Rachel McCord (Lisa Edelstein). Rachel and Beckett actually make a good detective pair that could work well in their own show but there's two limitations in Castle. The first is that it's hard to get invested into their partnership when you know it's going to end after two more episodes. The second is that the show doesn't have a lot of time to actually develop it to a point where it's anywhere near as strong as Castle and Beckett. The rest of the team is basically pretty forgettable and their roles in the case are basically minimized. In other words, the only dynamic really at play here is between Beckett and McCord with an occasional interference by Castle. It just can't be as wealthy as it needs to be to make the process familiar or even fun. So while the case might have been well-written, the weak team dynamics means solving it isn't as entertaining as it should be. It certainly doesn't help that Valkryie's case is as ridiculous and over-the-top as it can be but it would be a lot easier to stomach if Castle and Beckett were solving it.
The final part of the premiere is with Castle's home life. I'm going to admit something I never thought I would say: I think it's time to let his home life to fade into the background. This premiere is a perfect example. Martha is basically given nothing to do and it's not like she really plays a major role in Castle. She used to be Castle's emotional center but I think Beckett has replaced her in that role. Alexis used to be a teenage daughter so having Castle be her dad helped humanize him but she's grown up. There is no reason to have her in the show beyond the fact that we have become invested in her. It's true I like Alexis but I have no issue permanently sending her to college where she can be happy. His home life used to help ground Castle and help direct him. It helped ensure audiences didn't completely abandon him. That's no longer the case. Castle has a new emotional rock that humanizes him at the same time: Beckett. So their roles on Castle are no longer justified. The plot we get this week with Alexis is pretty silly: she has a boyfriend whose a fruitarian. He's as annoying to the audience as he is to Castle. There is no purpose to him beyond creating false conflict and trying too hard to get cheap laughs. What's worse is that it seems out-of-character with the otherwise mature and grounded Alexis. What does she see in this guy? I don't get it and it's hard to imagine that this is the same Alexis we've gotten to know. So what gives?
Castle opens it's sixth season with an episode that has some structural problems. The team dynamic is largely gone, the case is over-the-top and ridiculous, the stakes are too high to believe, and we don't get a sense of Beckett's capabilities in her job without Castle as an element. What's worse is that the premiere reveals a huge structural problem with the series beyond the premiere: the unnecessary and presently unjustifiable of Castle's home life as a regular presence. At the same time, I didn't completely hate the episode. Beckett and McCord did have sufficient chemistry to keep the narrative going and the beginning was a nice resolution to the cliff-hanger. I just think that better execution or a different option on how to proceed should have been taken. The season premiere of Castle is good but it has some serious problems.