Castle, “Setup” (3.16) and “Countdown” (3.17)

A review of the two-parter after the jump…

“I hope that Fallon’s going all Jack Bauer on her ass.” – Detective Javier Esposito

Normally I only have a short list of things that bothered me about episodes of Castle: any reference to the invisible boyfriend Josh, forensic magic and of course a lack of Alexis. But these tiny issues don’t have an overall bearing on my feelings about the episode overall. These past two weeks – this week especially – the episodes have been chock-full of a grocery list of problems that led me to believe the writers just didn’t get it right this time. Too bad this episode wasn’t written by guest writers or even unknowns… it was written in part by the series creator himself Andrew W. Marlowe. Every episode of the season is written in part by him, but this is the first time he’s completely missed the mark on what his own show is all about.

Castle is not a thriller or even a drama most of the time. The show is a police procedural with the unique characteristic of having a witty writer following the detectives around to make quips and give the audience a personal story to follow. The strongest aspect of the show is its character work, especially in Castle’s family and his partnership with Beckett. Of course there has been UST since the beginning between the two and that is also part of the show’s allure, but it was never the main selling point, and the teasing the audience has received as of late has left me a little put off by the entire story-line between them. When in “Knockdown” (the first episode I reviewed here at The Signal) Castle and Beckett finally shared the moment every fan had been waiting for, I was  – as  everyone else was – ecstatic. Not so much when it was left unaddressed and even worse so (in my mind) like it never happened for the following three episodes. The past two episodes played heavy on that tension between the two of them, leaving no room for humour of any kind. It didn’t feel like the same show.

Let me set the scene: Castle and Beckett discover through an investigation of a supposed break-in that their suspect may be a terrorist. Mark Fallon, an officer from the Department of Homeland Security (a surprising, but not unusual guest spot by Adrian Pasdar) is sent in to aid in their investigation. This leads to Castle and Beckett finding themselves in various hot spots (figuratively) such as being exposed to radiation, getting stuck in a freezer and finding themselves in front of a bomb as it is about to go off in the official climax of the two episodes. The main plot is eventually unveiled – Castle and Beckett must find the aforementioned bomb and disarm it before it goes off and wreaks havoc all over New York City. Naturally, they have a very limited time line.

The first episode in the two-parter, “Setup”, was pretty standard Castle fare – body discovered, investigation begins, new mysteries unveiled, cute quips etc. However, the episode opened with a cliffhanger, a moment taking place 36 hours after the events in the episode take place. It was unclear at first what was going on in the opening scene, but viewers could gather this much – Castle and Beckett were exposed to some kind of biological agent. So the majority of the events preceding the time-line catching up to this are overshadowed by the audience constantly questioning “What happened? How did they get there? What’s going on?”. As a seasoned viewer of police procedurals and of course, of Castle, I had a strong idea that this conflict was not going to last the duration of the episode. I was right on the money, about halfway through we find out what was going on and it is almost immediately resolved, not exactly holding the tension.

A similar thing happened at the beginning of the second episode, “Countdown”, the episode I take most offense to. I feel like it would almost be easier to list my complaints in point form to make sure I address everything:

  • Something from the first episode: HILARIOUSLY BAD BACKDROP OF NYC. It was so clearly fake, and they focused on it for so long I couldn’t help but laugh. It was obviously a photograph or large painted backdrop. The lighting was all wrong, looking like there was a light reflecting off the sky (somehow) rather than the lights from the buildings bleeding into the sky. Not exactly the best ending to the episode.
  • The re-appearance of the mysterious/invisible Josh. Or as my friend referred to him – boyfriend ex machina. Only back to create conflict between Castle and Beckett and acting in his first major role in the series since his brief appearance taking off a motorcycle helmet. HERE HE COMES TO SAVE THE DAY! Why is Josh acting as an EMT when he’s a surgeon? Why is it that when the police contact him he somehow has any valuable information whatsoever concerning Beckett’s whereabouts? She says he’s never around. How does this make any sense? He’s just a writing tool personified, he has absolutely no character in and of himself.
  • The tone of the episode was all wrong. This seemed more like 24 than Castle, including Pasdar‘s ridiculous over-the-top Jack Bauer-style antics. Different opening titles too, which are way too dramatic. The show relies on its sense of humour to attract the audience and they totally missed the mark on this one. Everything was so serious in tone, but it was clearly obvious to me that Castle and Beckett would make it out unscathed. The tension they were trying to accomplish with this storyline just completely fell flat. There was nothing keeping me hooked throughout the episode, a bad move for one with such a dark plot. A different friend of mine suggested a potential hypothesis for this being due to this article, the writers of Castle were slightly annoyed with Nathan Fillion expressing interest in working on another show, so they decided to get back at him or mess with him. At least that would explain the drastic change of tone between these two episodes and the entire rest of the series.
  • Castle and Beckett getting into HIGHLY DANGEROUS situations which get resolved within minutes. This happened in the first episode of this two-parter, where the partners get stuck in a hazmat tent of some kind due to being exposed to supposedly “high levels of radiation”. A commercial break + a few minutes later they are informed that the radiation they were exposed to was not enough to cause medical harm… Huh?! At the beginning of the episode they are stuck in a freezer which is supposed to incite stress and tension in the minds of the audience. Too bad a commercial break + a few minutes later they are saved and ready to continue the hunt for the bomb despite having both passed out due to the low temperature. Finally, at the climax of the episode, the duo finds themselves face-to-face with the aforementioned bomb, with only minutes to spare. After an embarrassing attempt to use cell phone technology in one of the highest trafficked markets in the world to race against the clock to diffuse the bomb, both parties realize that was a stupid idea and are prepared to accept their explosive fate. They stand there until the last possible second (not an exaggeration) when Castle suddenly gets the bright idea to pull out all the wires! Somehow, this works. Nothing bad happens and the counter is literally sitting at zero as our heroes celebrate not being blown to bits. This kind of subverts the traditional standard that bombs are intricately designed devices that need careful precision to disarm, but it also kind of makes a joke out of that whole tradition. First of all, this was a dirty bomb, by definition, dangerous and unpredictable. Secondly, after years of 24 have taught us, messing with bombs is a bad idea. Finally, if it was that simple, wouldn’t this whole plan have easily been derailed? Why would the terrorists make it that easy? Kind of a huge plot hole if you ask me.

So, in conclusion… disappointing.


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