Back for Act Two, Castle picks up shortly after where it left off at the end of November, with Beckett and Castle reconciled to each other but keeping up the appearance of being separated while they investigate the LokSat mystery. This is where they should have brought us a couple of episodes into the fall; now, it feels torturesome to watch. While these episodes (particularly Witness for the Prosecution, which feels like a standalone episode amid this season) remind me a little of early-season episodes, where our leads were not yet a romantic item and there was much more tension between them, I am also primarily reminded painfully of how much has changed since. They are married now, but they are less of a pair than they were when they began. They are a pale shadow of the crimesolving duo who investigated together in sync. There is no spark anymore – only cool embers where there ought to be fire.
Furthermore, the writers have incorporated a lot of farcical elements into the show, wherein the investigations fall heavily into campiness, characters are lying to each other in what are supposed to be amusing misunderstandings, and genre clichés are heavily enforced rather than played with. In Tone Death, Beckett and Castle toy with Ryan and Esposito that they are seeing other people, when they are of course having secret rendezvous with each other. Their alter egos for their spouses are funny in of themselves, but Ryan and Esposito are the furthest thing from laughing. In Dead Red, Castle brushes off Martha and Alexis’s genuine concern for his mental and emotional wellbeing with a sex joke. These scenes are funny (in of themselves) because the viewers know the truth, but they are not funny at all to the supporting characters. Ryan and Esposito are hurt that Castle is cheating on Beckett and that she does not care because she is cheating on him too. Martha and Alexis are concerned for Castle’s sanity. None of them realise that Castle and Beckett are back together, nor do I think that they even suspect it. They are not going to appreciate being lied to, either. The comedy falls flat because of this – and unlike in a comedic farce, the misunderstanding is not resolved at the end of the episode.
Individually, each episode is a slightly different genre of murder mystery: Tone Death is a musical farce with melodramatic elements; Witness for the Prosecution is a courtroom whodunit; and Dead Red is a spy thriller with a heavy dose of comedy. I cannot say that I was particularly enamoured of any of them, although I found individual parts of each to be interesting and amusing. Esposito got a chance to sing in Tone Death, which – while surreal – certainly made for a memorable interrogation scene. Witness for the Prosecution gave Castle and Beckett the most opportunity to work together (although it felt as though the previous episode had never happened as far as the supporting characters were concerned) and felt the most like a traditional Castle episode. I also appreciated that they examined a case from a non-traditional angle for the show – namely, as a case already in court that they had to reopen in order to either convict or acquit the defendant. Finally, Dead Red gave Beckett a chance to use her Russian language skills and for the writers to explore (and sometimes spoof) various Russian stereotypes in mostly amusing ways.
Each episode’s storyline was neatly self-contained and would have been more enjoyable without the tension of Castle and Beckett pretending to be angry at each other after a whole half-dozen episodes of pretending to be genuinely separated. This is getting old fast.
Thus, unfortunately, each new episode feels progressively more tedious than the last one. While Castle and Beckett are secretly reconciled – a relief, to be sure, – the investigations still feel like we are going through motions while we wait for either them to break up or publicly reconcile. The tension is still very much unresolved, and it is no longer titillating and romantic unresolved sexual tension as it was in earlier seasons. I can tell that the characters want to publicly reconcile – Beckett herself has said so multiple times – but each episode has brought them no closer. Really, if they do not resolve this tension soon, this season (which is potentially the show’s last) will have proven to have been a disaster.
Had the writers chosen to go with the fake in-public-only separation angle from the beginning of the season, episodes like these three would have been more welcome. However, I personally don’t think that the misunderstandings with the supporting characters are truly funny regardless. The trust in the relationship between Castle, Ryan, and Esposito, as well as between Beckett, Martha, and Alexis, has eroded almost to the point of being irreparable. Even the trust between Beckett and her detectives, and Castle and his family, has been significantly damaged. Beckett and Castle are taking their colleagues and relatives for fools. So are the writers, for that matter. Honestly, I expect better treatment for the supporting characters after seven seasons of development.
While I still want to trust the writers and appreciate that the story is complex (and not mine), I am finding it steadily more difficult to wait to see how they resolve the issues that they have raised with the various character relationships this season. For a light-hearted show, the conflict presented thus far is heavy with dark elements. There is only so much drama comedy can take before it turns tragic.