In ABC’s Castle, “Much Ado About Murder” is the Play the Thing?

Castle, "Much Ado About Murder"

This episode of Castle has taken on Shakespeare…sort of.  The play supposedly being done in Castle, “Much Ado About Murder” is Hamlet, and they work hard to link the case mechanics to that story.  On top of the Hamlet thing, the title is a twist on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.  Although Castle 8 x 20 may not do justice to the Bard,  it does create some intrigue. Add in the recently announced firing of the Castle co-lead Stana Katic and you get a subtext of commentary to the audience about the show’s current issues – especially if you’re remotely familiar with the works of Shakespeare.

The episode itself holds together until about halfway through, and then disintegrates into a hodgepodge of a nonsense with Castle, as the all-knowing guru of detective work, making giant leaps of logic in a single bound.  By the end of it all there’s a feeling of numbness.  One may not even be completely aware of why exactly.  For those that know about Katic being fired from the show, that certainly figures into it, because the realization of what to expect in a possible season 9 is again brought home.

Although Castle, “Much Ado About Murder” isn’t as bad as, “The G.D.S.”  it does present another silly and over the top story with no real emotional center.  Honestly that middle sequence where Castle is captured is about two steps above Galavant – all it needed was someone breaking into song.  This, is what viewers have to look forward to, camp, camp, and more camp.  As Galavant has shone, this is not something that wins ratings.

What is the most disturbing thing about Castle, “Much Ado About Murder” are the underlying misogynistic messages scattered throughout.  It’s cementing the realization of what’s been going on all season. The frat boy humor and sexist ideas that we’ve been seeing suddenly all click into a larger picture and darker agenda.

There’s a bitterness and anger towards women being projected in this episode that is cringe-worthy. How did a show that was once such a positive example of a woman’s equal worth in the world and the yin-yang of a balanced male female partnership turn into a forum to bash women as neurotic beings who kill because a man breaks a promise?  Well, it starts with the vision of new showrunners Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter,  but I’ll discuss that more at the end.  For now, let’s start with the plot of Castle, “Much Ado About Murder.”

The Set Up

An actor is standing alone on a stage going over what are some of the most famous lines in English literature: “To be, or not to be? That is the question”  (That’s the question alright.  Will there be a season 9 or not?) Then it’s another onscreen murder where we get to watch someone die.  Honestly, it’s like you should skip the first two minutes of every Castle episode this season.

From there it’s a Caskett domestic scene.
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In earlier seasons the opening Caskett bit was often at the crime scene.  After they got together, those beginnings gave viewers insight into Castle & Beckett’s expanded relationship, while also setting up a connection to the case they would be walking into together.  Now the Caskett opening scene has become a kind of Trojan horse.  The hope is that viewers will stay tuned in for that first 15 minutes that gives the show that half hour for the Nielsen ratings – even though you aren’t going to see much of Castle & Beckett together in the episode.  This practice started out in season seven and it generally works because regardless of whatever else is going with Castle, on screen Katic and Fillion still can deliver sparks.

This particular Caskett scene is cute enough. Sexual quip? Check. Chat about a life beyond work? Check. Castle being enthralled by some new toy with Beckett being amused? Check.  The scene actually shows how important Beckett is in terms of a balance to Castle’s enthusiasm.  Otherwise these Richard Castle scenes start to drag (like it will in the middle of the episode.)

However, I’m not sure what’s with the 1980’s eyeshadow on Beckett.  Maybe it’s part of her having to do the whole “Yolo” joke? (Whatever the reason, it’s distracting.  In a season that seems designed to find ways to trash Beckett perhaps that was the point?)  Also, the chances of Beckett forgetting it’s her turn for date night – especially if it’s got a competition thing going on – is zero.  Remember the 100th episode?  How about the drawer thing on Valentine’s day?  Even on that first trip to the Hampton’s – who’s the one who “forgot” her swimsuit?  I guess this is the frog-eating clone of Beckett that’s been all over Castle season 8.

Anyway, the end of this scene has Beckett getting the phone call about the murder, but the next scene shows that Castle has gone to the crime scene. Why…?  This is something that has been a real problem.  The premise of Castle is that Castle is shadowing Beckett for inspiration.  Now she just blithely sends him to crime scenes for the hell of it.   Him being a P.I. doesn’t cover this.  P.I.’s gets hired – they don’t just show up at crime scenes.  This time the situation is particularly annoying because they don’t even bother trying to give a reason why Castle should be there.

The Case

Let’s refresh our memories a bit about Hamlet.  In the play, Hamlet, designs a play with events similar to what he believes happened to his father in order to see if his Uncle reacts guiltily.  “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”   However, the play’s the thing that also shows what Hamlet believes to be true.  As the play is performed, members of the court watching begin to whisper because there’s enough there for them to connect the actions to life circumstances.  Is this just a play?  Is seems like it’s about what happened to Hamlet’s father – or is it what that lunatic (because he’s been playing insane) thinks happened?  Castle, “Much Ado About Murder” puts the audience in that same type of spot – and it’s at the crime scene where all the underlying possible subtext starts.

Zane Cannon (Jonny Cruz) is a famous actor who, although well-known, is said to be a terrible actor.  Specifically, after Castle and Detective Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) admit to loving the movie franchise Zane has starred in, they concur that Zane, “couldn’t act to save his life.”  Next is Erin Cherloff (Jewel Staite) –  a brilliant female director who’s never made it big.  The character’s name sounds very much like a play on Anton Chekhov, a name that’s associated with great theater (some consider his works second only to Shakespeare)…and method acting.

We’re then told that Zane had a reputation of sleeping with his leading ladies.  For this production that’s Naomi Fox (Emily Goss) who plays Ophelia.

Erin:  They had a messy breakup recently.  She just went all Fatal Attraction.  So she took a baseball bat to his 9VN (…) Look, I’ve worked with Naomi before – and she’s crazy.  But, actor crazy, not murderer crazy.

That Fatal Attraction reference is to the 1987 Oscar-nominated film that starred Glenn Close & Michael Douglas. The film isn’t very nuanced – a single career woman is a crazy psycho and a nice married guy  just happened to pick the wrong woman to have an affair with…. The sexism of the film is as famous as the stunning performances.  Take this quote from an AV Club article on the book (and subsequent film adaptation) Gone Girl:

One of the refreshing things about Gone Girl is that despite its Fatal Attraction veneer, it refuses to cast Amy as a villain–or worse, another “crazy b*tch.” If she’s driven to unspeakable acts in her quest for marital revenge, it’s because Nick drove her to the edge.

In other words, going Fatal Attraction is about being the “crazy b*tch” who is interfering with some guy who sleeps around with impunity.  That idea of woman being untrustworthy while men are allowed to cheat on their spouses is also a theme in “Much Ado About Nothing”, one that, depending on the director, sets women up as powerless over their destiny and suggests that women should accept that men can pretty much do whatever they want and not get upset over it.  These sexist ideas are ones some say Shakespeare was showing to speak out against them…but again, it all depends on interpretation.  This article is certainly not trying to cover all the layers of things that go on in a piece by Shakespeare – but if it sparks an interest in revisiting some, that’d be cool!

Even if a viewer doesn’t know Shakespeare, if they are fans of the show and/or Katic they know that she’s a method actor.  All of this can add up to thinly veiled remarks about what’s going on with the show – or not.  The play’s just a play, and an episode is just an episode, right?  The thing is, it’s an episode that is setting up the exiting of Katic from the co-leading role of Captain Kate Beckett  – all the while ABC seems poised to have a season 9 without her.  As a member of the viewing court, these kind of things do make a person wonder what was in the mind of those who came up with Castle 8 x 20.

Back at the precinct Beckett sees on the news the video that the “Stalkerazzi ” guy, Jake (Andrew Elvis Miller) took before Esposito threw him out.  Words viewers who stick around for a season 9 will be hearing a lot more of are said by the newscaster just as Beckett is asking why this video even exists:

Newscaster: Leading the investigation is none other than acclaimed mystery writer Richard Castle – with an assist from the NYPD’s 12th precinct.

Re: Castle, "Much Ado About Murder"

There’s maybe 30 seconds of Beckett in this roughly 90 second scene that jokes about a discreet hotel called “the Black Door.”   Detective Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) is who brings the news that the victim had a room there – and that the woman he brought there is still at the hotel.  Castle’s response is lascivious as he explains all about how one can rent a room at this hotel for secret trysts – until Beckett, Esposito, and Ryan all give him the look about how completely inappropriate his response is.  This is season one behavior, but at least not completely unheard of.

Castle, Esposito and Ryan go to check out the hotel and discover  “the ginger” in Zane’s bed is Castle’s mother, Martha Rodgers (Susan Sullivan).   Did anyone think that reason was going to be anything other than she was giving him acting lessons?  I’m curious because the show goes through this whole thing where all three guys have leaped to another conclusion.  Meanwhile, that’s the first thing that came to mind when I saw her.

Once we get past that bit of nonsense, this is Sullivan’s scene and it’s a joy to watch.  Martha as a teacher, a lover of the art of drama, and the genuine desire she had to help Zane – all with just the right touch of Martha’s narcissism – shines through perfectly.  The moment where she thinks she might have said something to Zane that motivated him to do something, “that got him killed” reads as 100 percent real. In lesser hands…it would have been totally melodramatic.

There’s a Ryan and Beckett moment where she’s asking him for date night ideas and we get to hear about a date that honestly is just stupid.  It’s a date that sounds more like something Richard Castle would like, not what Beckett would.  I’m again reminded of Beckett’s valentine’s day gift of the drawer and how awesome that was.  Then I remember that was written when creator Andrew Marlowe and his muse, writer/producer Terri Edda Miller were involved with the show.  The current showrunners think that booty calls are romantic – hence the ongoing jokes about Castle’s over-the-top dates.  Broad comedy is the best they can muster in this department (and really, in most departments).

From here things start to get convoluted.  Zane had a half brother that was in jail, but just got out, but Zane had been involved in the crime that the brother went away for.  However, the brother says he’d covered for Zane because he was “the big brother” – but then he was mad at Zane because the guy never visited, never called, and never sent money.  (Yeah, my eyes had started glazing over at this point.) Now though, it was all good because Zane was going to set him up financially.

If you look at earlier seasons when Castle and Beckett did the interrogations what made them fun was the back and forth between Castle, Beckett and whomever they were dealing with.  Now it’s almost never Castle and Beckett doing them, and the interrogations have become strictly procedural.  The criminal tends to go on and on with minor interruptions by whomever is doing the questioning.  It’s boring.  Anyway, supposedly Zane had a deal to make the money he needed to pay off a 15 million dollar tax debt.

Kevin Ryan the Dance Dad

The only plotline in the episode that remotely feels like a classic Castle episode is the one involving Ryan planning the choreography for his daughter, Sarah Grace’s preschool play.  Now, Sarah Grace technically shouldn’t be old enough for preschool. Daycare, okay, but not preschool.  She was born in late season six, so she’s about two and at best has just started wearing pull-ups for potty-training.  The show did a soap-opera move and made her about four.  As I said in the spoiler review, given all the horrible plotline shifts that Castle season 8 has done, this is mostly an annoyance than a serious problem.  After all, it’s not like Castle is Downton Abbey.  Although some called that drama a posh soap-opera  the show had three children to juggle and managed to keep them all the right ages through the entire series.  That’s the British for you.

I’m sure fans wish they’d seen more of Sarah Grace when she was younger.  A second episode that featured Castle and Beckett babysitting a toddler was likely high on the list of  things they’d wanted in season 7 – because “The Good, The Bad, and The Baby” was a big hit in season six.   However, watching Kevin Ryan be the crazy dad obsessed with his daughter’s play is so spot on for the man who fans know the character to be, that it’s okay.  Ryan’s character was seen as being off kilter in the first half of the season, so this story arc is a real pleasure.  The interplay that he and Esposito have is fun and I love when Jenny Ryan (Juliana Dever) eventually has to come and tell him he’s been fired as the play’s director.

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That ending of Ryan’s arc is so adorable! I love that Esposito, who had secretly videoed Ryan doing the dance earlier to tease him about has ended up memorizing it!

The Problems

All the pieces of Ryan’s story are mixed in with the case, which is good because the case just keeps getting more tedious and silly – the breaks are a relief! The stalkerazzi guy, Jake, had been following Zane around and caught footage of him with some Mexican drug dealer named El Oso who’s connected to some Mexican head of a drug cartel that escaped from prison….blah, blah, blah.  He’s said to be the worse of the worse, a known ruthless killer of any who’s gotten in his way – including journalists. He’s also an escape artist from Mexican prisons, and has been impossible to find. We get a brief scene of the detectives and Beckett discussing the situation.  Castle decides since date night is now canceled due to work he’ll take his mother out to dinner.

It’s right after this that things really start going off the rails into a bad action movie franchise. Castle is kidnapped. While kidnapping itself isn’t bad, the super long interrogation of Castle by “El Oso” in some undisclosed hideout that certainly doesn’t look like it’s meant to be in NYC is beyond silly. Martha shows up looking for Castle at the precinct and Beckett uses the “new tracking software” that Alexis (Molly Quinn) has put on her computer…whatever. At least Alexis isn’t in the episode – nor is Hayley.

The line in the interrogation that really burns is when El Oso says he would have never killed Zane with a pen.

“If I had wanted Zane dead, I would have cut him open where you are standing right now. I wouldn’t kill him with a pen. That’s cute. Do I look like a man that kills cute?”

Newsflash.  Killing is not cute. That scene was not “cute.”

After Castle convinces El Oso to untie him…we’re still going on in the scene. Now begins a story brought to you by the makers of LokSat…. Zane wanted the rights to El Oso’s life story so that he could play him in a movie. However, El Oso said Zane couldn’t act and had him go do Shakespeare in order to prove otherwise.

So why did he kidnap Castle?   El Oso wants Castle to write the script of this movie.  This takes at least four minutes of screen time.  It’s a long four minutes – and then there’s more!  We get to cut back to Castle having dinner with El Oso laughing and joking.  It’s basically a way to eat up screen time until the gun battle starts, because, yes, there’s a gun battle.

Castle’s new Yolo credit card has a trackable microchip, and Beckett is therefore able to have him found. It leads to there’s another long scene with helicopters, a swat team and guns blazing. It’s total overkill – just like the plot.

Let’s speed through the rest of this. El Oso’s brother is the one who set Zane up to talk to El Oso, because the brother is sleeping with El Oso’s wife and wants to take over the business.  It’s Castle who figures all of this out and gets to present the theory at the 12th precinct.  That starts off with this “Caskett” scene.


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Really? Beckett tries to pass this off as a date?   Oh, I forgot.  This is frog-eating clone Beckett.

For the record, it’s not been a rivalry that has made the Caskett relationship give off sparks and shine brightly in the series – it’s been the partnership. Their yin-yang connection has been the center-piece. Being opposite in their approaches is not the same as being rivals. That’s something that’s come into being more in seasons seven and eight. Sure, throughout the series there’s been some light bondage/submissive S&M undertones (safe words, ear-twisting, and jokes about handcuffs) – but that’s not about rivalry.

As it turns out, Castle’s theory about the brothers is only partially right, because it’s not the brother that killed Zane. It’s the director Erin. Why? Because Zane had promised her that she could direct the El Oso movie, but then reneged on it.

Erin: Do you have any idea how difficult it is as women breaking into directing film, and, and he took away my shot like it was nothing.”

This case ending is infuriating. The lack of female directors in Hollywood is a real issue – one that’s being discussed heavily as the industry is working to address the sexism that runs rampant in the business. This ending makes the entire thing seem selfish and trite. Last week the killer was a woman who is running a drug ring and callously rejects the would-be victim before shooting him in the head.  In episode 8 x 18, “Death Wish” the woman is the killer because of her career ambitions.

The Wrap Up

“Much Ado About Murder” say a lot about what a possible Castle season 9 will look like – and it’s not pretty. This theme of women who kill for career reasons has become a real theme on Castle – and it suggests anger and cynicism towards women – particularly ambitious women, is something running through the writer’s room over at Castle.  With that kind of emotion running things it’s not surprising what the showrunners have done to the character of Kate Beckett in season 8.  The fact that in a “cliffhanger” finale Captain Kate Beckett will be set up to die falls right in line with the general misogynistic tone that’s been coming out in this run up to this finale.  That ABC is going along with it…well, that doesn’t look great for them, even if they are the home of Shondaland.

So, is the play the thing?  That’s for you to decide.  Meanwhile, the episode ends with Castle getting the notes from the notorious drug dealer.  He still wants Castle to write his life story.  Castle is absolutely giddy – because glamorizing the life of murderous drug cartel leader is just so cool.  It’s so enthralling that Castle would rather go work on that then spend time with his wife on date night…. I guess he’s trying to get used to not having her around.

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