Season 6, Episode 14 (Smells Like Teen Spirit)
Despite it being the middle of February, this week, Castle and Beckett went back to high school to solve the murder of a wealthy young prep-school girl. Unsurprisingly, we had the clique of mean girls, the jock ex-boyfriend, the loner girl, the creepy nice boy, and the obstructionist principal. Furthermore, as this was a private school for primarily wealthy families, we also had the obnoxious and powerful parents, the staff being more concerned about reputation than a murder, and unlimited resources. For some reason, murder at a normal high school just is not as intriguing for television.
In order to make the story more interesting, it appears as though the girl was killed by telekinesis (a tribute to Carrie by Stephen King) from the loner girl that she bullied. Castle is quite stuck on this theory, as the evidence initially points to it, but Beckett is rightfully sceptical. Like most Castle episodes, seemingly supernatural cases have ordinary causes perpetrated by people with ordinary motives. Still, this episode strings the audience along well. We initially see what appears to be supernatural forces at work, and it is only at the third act twist that we realise how everything fits together.
As it turns out, the victim attended the same school that Castle spent the latter part of his final year of high school at. He was expelled right before prom for pranking. What he did would have only merited a slap on the wrist for a wealthy student with connections (as indeed his co-conspirators were), but as Castle — then Rodgers, as the principal immediately points out — was only a scholarship student, he was sent packing. The prank? Managing to procure a live cow in New York City, coax it up twelve flights of stairs, and set it loose on the roof. Honestly, E for Effort on that one!
The principal has not changed in twenty-five years, meaning Castle’s trip down memory lane is more of a humiliating torture session than fond opportunity for nostalgia. The principal insists on calling him “Mr. Rodgers” in a condescending and derogatory manner, referring to him as a writer “of sorts” and seemingly refuses to let bygones be bygones. Honestly, what principal would do this? At a private school, should he not be trying to butter up Castle as an alumnus “of sorts” for donations? So what that he disapproves of Castle’s choice of writing mystery fiction? He gets rich off of them. Furthermore, I would think that the cow would have been amusing enough that the principal would want to laugh about it now that the perpetrator is a successful adult.
This brings me to my point: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Everything we have done and once were make up the person that we are now and bring us to the situation in which we now find ourselves — successful or otherwise. Castle’s success is not in spite of being expelled from multiple high schools, but rather because those events led him to pursue being a writer. Art imitates life. Our choices and circumstances continue to shape us. Sometimes, it takes a string of terrible choices to lead us to the right career path and people we love. Good choices can still lead to dire situations that still push us to the right place that we need to be.
Ultimately, this is not an episode about high school, but an opportunity to see Castle and Beckett reminisce about how their past choices have led them to each other. Neither of them ended up attending their high school proms, but they would they have traded their present relationship for merely the opportunity to go to a school dance?
One doesn’t have to watch the episode (or the show, for that matter) to know the answer: Absolutely Not.