I should’ve put a spoiler warning on this whole post, for the most recent episode of “Castle”
I already explained why I like “Castle” so much, and if you’ve been unfortunate enough to follow me on the Twitters, you’ve seen that turn into a full-blown new-favorite-TV-show infatuation. And there’s one bit from the first part of the recent “Major TV Event” that sums up everything I like about the series:
A serial killer is at work in New York, obsessed with Detective Beckett’s “alter-ego” Nikki Heat, calling her and taunting her to catch him before he kills again. The FBI arrives on the crime scene, with a tough expert profiler (played by Dana Delaney) claiming jurisdiction over the case and being dismissive of Castle and Beckett’s casework. She brings a ton of high-tech equipment and a cadre of FBI agents into the precinct and takes over the situation room…
…and then, they all cooperate and work together to try and solve the case. Everybody is friendly and supportive of each other. On a crime show! All it takes is one commercial break before they’re all making wisecracks at each other and gossiping.
Which proves that there’s no cliche they can’t deflate. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been getting older or what, but over the past few years, I’ve developed a lot more respect for creators who aren’t just obsessed with novelty, but can spin and rework formulas and genre tropes into something new. And this is exactly how you do genre fiction: be confident enough to acknowledge cliches and recognize why they’re useful, and then use them as tools instead of just crutches.
Take for instance the “Bones”- and “CSI”-like super-futuristic VR holo-screens they toted in for this episode, causing me to emit a pained groan. They brought them in, set them up, had Castle make a joke about them to make it clear they weren’t taking this stuff too seriously, and then took advantage of exactly what they’re good for: cramming a ton of pseudo-detective work into a limited amount of screen time. Basing a code on Castle’s books is a neat idea; having to crack the code could’ve been clumsy and tedious without an injection of TV-universe technology.
Another great touch was having Susan Sullivan reminiscing with an old episode of “The Incredible Hulk” she’d appeared in. It’s tough to hit just the right level of “meta” enough to acknowledge you’re in on the joke, but not so much that it makes the whole thing pointless (e.g. the Firefly reference earlier in the season that didn’t quite work as well).
The beauty of it is that if you’d described just the plot of this episode to me, I would’ve dismissed it as just another police procedural, and probably a hopelessly cliched one at that. But the plot is usually secondary on this show — why else would they put a “surprise” exploding apartment cliffhanger in an episode titled “Tick tick tick…” — because everything is driven by chemistry.
(And Beckett was totally in a different apartment, of course. That’s the one TV gimmick that’s been enabled by cell phones, instead of being ruined by them.)