Castle Season 8 Episode 3 “PhDead” Review

Castle Season 8 Episode 3 “PhDead” Review

Castle Season 8 Episode 3

Castle Season 8 Episode 3 is a difficult one to watch because it’s trying hard to be something it isn’t: Castle Season 2, 3 or 4.  The entire point of the Castle Season 8 two-part premiere was to facilitate this reset, and while there are moments that reminds viewers of the show’s golden past, that’s the problem.  It reminds us that writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Captain Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) moved beyond this point three seasons ago.  It doesn’t help that the reason we are being put in this position is completely illogical.   (Not sure what I’m talking about? See my review of Castle Season 8 Episode 2, “XX”).  Again, this is a Castle “PhDead” review.  I’m not going to make you go through all of that again by doing a straight recap.

The Setup

Of course, some of you may be reading this review because you didn’t get past the episode’s first five minutes and want to see if it’s worth bothering to see the rest.  This season, the new showrunners Alexi Hawley and Terance Paul Winter seem to be all about viewers seeing the actual murder enacted.  Not that it didn’t happen before, but it wasn’t the norm for Castle.  The murder in Castle “XY”was cold and graphic.  This one is just stupid.  Really? Someone is able to take a run towards the victim (while holding a flashlight no less) and hit him with such force that he was impaled onto the conveniently sharpened broken tree branch sticking out of the trunk?  The laws of physics say no go! (Especially when we find out the killer is this little whip of a college girl!)

However, badly planned murders are the least of the episode’s worries.  The real issue is this whole Castle and Beckett reset story.  Castle wakes up in his empty bedroom looking dejected, wanders out into the living room, and lights up like a kid at Christmas because of a package sitting on the table.  What’s got him all excited is a “home operating system” named Lucy.  This ruse manages to bring to mind the brilliant Spike Jonze film Her.  I’m sure it’s the intention, as one aspect of that film is that Theo (Joaquin Phoenix) can’t understand why his marriage fell apart and why he and his wife keep unintentionally hurting each other.

Unfortunately the name “Lucy” also brings up the inane movie Lucy.  Both films featured Scarlett Johansson, which goes to show you that a good actress can’t fix a bad script.  Although the idea of this “home operating system” may have been to evoke some of the good vibes felt about the Jonze movie, the ridiculous plot moves that brought us to this point, and that will continue on in “PhDead,” definitely are more reminiscent of Lucy.  Plus, it’s hard to take Castle’s heartbreak very seriously when the sight of a new toy makes him all aglow.  Some would say he should be more angry than heartbroken to begin with, but that’s because they are trying to apply logic to a story that has none.

The next scene is the one that where many viewers gave up and turned the channel. (I swear that at the end of it I heard at least a half million TVs being clicked over to NBC’s Blindspot. ) Beckett is in the gym beating up a heavy bag being held by Vikram Singh (Sunkrish Bala) – that AG analyst whom started all this mess (well, he’s the character in the story responsible). Yes, Beckett looks tough and awesome; she’s all hot and sweaty, and then, in a response to “can’t she hit any harder than that,” lands a kick to the bag so hard that it knocks Vikram over.  Woo.  Hoo.  Then comes the bombshell.  She helps him up and they walk over to her locker.  Normally, I wouldn’t put anyone through this kind of trauma again, but a picture’s worth a thousand words and you don’t want to read that much about this:

Here is a perfect example of what I said earlier: Good acting can not save bad writing.  I’ll even give Bala a pass on his performance here, because, really, how could anyone say the things he has to say with any conviction? Katic is hitting all the right emotional tones – but the things she’s saying ring false – because for the character we’ve watched over the last seven seasons they are false.  All the choices she’s making – her willingness to go do this on her own and “blowing up her marriage to get justice for Rachel” – are from the Beckett we knew in Seasons 3 and 4.  We also have seen her evolve way beyond this. In terms of the Beckett’s character arc, it makes no sense.  It’s merely a forced-upon-her plot that Hawley and Winter have used to take a sledgehammer to the show.

Then there’s the other plot point that is just one continuous Jedi mind trick.  Beckett keeps talking about leaving Rick as a way to “keep him safe.”  The last episode kept saying it, and the faulty logic continues.  How on earth does leaving Rick alone in their apartment with no clue about what’s happening keep him safe?  The last episode showed everyone just how well that worked out.  The killers hunted him down, kidnapped him, and tried to torture him to get information on Beckett.  Beckett came to recuse him.  So, now, because she’s left him, does she think these killers are going to think she no longer cares about him, just like that? Does she think they won’t try to use him as leverage against her?  It’s creating the same situation as before: Castle won’t be on guard because he doesn’t know what’s going on.  I don’t know if it’s worse that they’re making Beckett this dumb or that they think the audience is.

The showrunners aren’t shy about saying they’ve dumped this plot on the show, as opposed to creating something that grows out of the story that’s been building steadily over the years. This is what Hawley said to The Hollywood Reporter

“The reality is they’ve really been together since season five. The wedding was last season, but as a couple they’ve been together and happy for several seasons now. For us we thought, ‘Let’s throw an obstacle in their way.’ (…) Happily married is awesome, but it’s also not a value add in terms of dynamics. So we really came into it going, ‘What can we do to make this thing feel new again?’ “

New?!  Did he really say this would make it feel new?  Yes.  If there’s one thing a reset does not do, it’s that.

I could get into and spend a lot of time discussing all the different ways being happily married has its own “value add” in creating interesting dynamics and “obstacles,” but I want to stick with reviewing this episode.  The one comment I will say is that when your idea of an interesting dynamic involves fraternity parties, you will likely have a problem understanding that marriage has challenges far more intriguing than beer pong.

What’s Wrong With These Pictures?

There were a number of things throughout the episode that were troublesome beyond the root issue of the entire situation feeling like it’s built on false pretenses.  Let’s take a quick look at those areas.


Here’s another Hawley quote about the Castle and Beckett breakup, this time from Us Magazine

“We’re using this to actually put the spark back in, and the stakes back in, which give us the fun and the juice… Obviously there’s some heartbreak in it as well, but it makes it much more emotionally impactful every week, because there are stakes now.”

Hence the whole “new again” oxymoron used in the Hollywood Reporter article.  Part of the idea of this reset was that somehow the only way Castle and Beckett could have sexual tension and flirtation was if they were split up.  There are a number of callbacks to classic Caskett scenes from earlier seasons: Beckett yanking Castle by the tie to talk to him, Castle boosting her up so she can climb through the vent.  Both actors play their parts well, but the scenes don’t feel new; they feel out of place and zombie-like: there’s a spark of life, but it’s still clearly dead.
By the way, what’s to keep Beckett from yanking Castle by the tie to talk to him when they are happily married?  The writers, both past and present, seem to think that once together, all the fun ways these two interact had to disappear into the ethers.  Meanwhile, most couples tend to have very similar ways of physical communication both before and after they’re married, especially in those early years.

Alexis Castle:

  • Castle using his daughter as guy bait – a guy that could be a possible killer at that – was so far away from the loving responsible parent he used to be!  Alexis is not trained in “undercover work” and has no real experience in it. And yet, here we are.
  • Detectives Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) have no problem with Castle bringing Alexis with him to investigate a crime scene. Never mind that they aren’t even supposed to be working with Castle, but then they don’t even blink that Alexis is there.  Seriously?
  • They continue to try and make Alexis more like Beckett.  The references Alexis makes about S&M have a sexually teasing vibe similar to the one Beckett has, in particular it reminded me of the Season 2 episode, “The Mistress Always Spanks Twice.” The problem is Alexis is talking to her father!
  • Overall, the Alexis and Castle pairing continues to feel icky.  There’s no getting away from the fact that Castle’s partner in crime-solving was the woman he wanted to sleep with and eventually married.  Every time they link Alexis and Castle together this way that undertone of sexuality is there.  Blowing bubbles with cigar-shaped bubble wands doesn’t change it.

More Spoon-feeding of Plot Devices:

 One of the issues with Beckett being captain is that the role of captain on Castle has always been an office job that involved a lot of management and political skills.  In this episode, Beckett comes out into the field to check on the dead body – to the shock of  Ryan and Esposito.  As she strides past them she tosses out this news:
Beckett: What? Do you think I’m gonna be stuck at the office just because I’m captain?

Being that it’s been the role of the 12 precinct captain to be “stuck at the office” and not out in the field for the last seven seasons, it’s a reasonable assumption for them to make – as it is for viewers. Doing so would be sticking to the rules of the Castle universe.  It’s those rules that make it hard to believe that Beckett would ever want the job in the first place. However, this season the writers couldn’t care less.  It was far easier to change the job description the title has demonstrated for seven seasons than to think creatively about a position that would be a legitimate promotion and a fit for the character.

Chad Gomez Creasey is the writer of this episode and tweeted this last night as “PhDead” aired on the west coast.

Yes, we see alright.  Being that Creasy isn’t the showrunner, the choice to toss out the show’s history can’t be blamed on him, but this attitude that’s displayed about causally breaking continuity for plot reasons is yet another example about how little respect is held for the show and its characters’ history.

Another example of spoon-feeding happens when Beckett gets a chance to speak to her best friend, medical examiner Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones).  This happens because Esposito prompts Lanie to go talk to Beckett as she’s leaving the crime scene. Now, why Lanie would even need this prompt to go check in on the best friend that didn’t call her back the night before is part of another issue, but let’s finish up with this one first.

Lanie:  Girl, please, Castle is a grown-a** man and he knows that you love him very much.  I’m sure he’s okay.

How does Castle know Beckett loves him very much?  She just walked out on their marriage to “take some space.”  This little Lanie and Beckett moment is about trying to tell the audience it’s all going to be fine.  Lanie doesn’t even know why Beckett has left – no one does.  Normally, Lanie would be asking questions, but again, that wouldn’t be convenient to this concocted plot the showrunners have going on.

Peter Pan and the Lost Boys:

There are a few things about this case that were troublesome to me, and it took me a bit to be able to isolate what it was.  There’s an undercurrent of misogyny going on that I honestly can’t ever remember seeing on Castle before.  It seems like all of the female characters are shone in either a sexual, crazy, or pathetic light, even when they’re strong and in positions of power.

  • We’ve got this older dean of the university sleeping with a young student which gets him his scholarship.  This is a situation that if reversed would be calling the victim a slut and gold-digger and the dean a “dirty old man.”  What we get is nothing about the victim, and that the dean is this pathetic and desperate woman leaving lipstick messages on the guy’s mirror.
  • Then we’ve got the professor who is running a secret study for the Army based on the Stanford Prison Experiment.  Now that experiment had nothing to do with what our professor’s study was doing.  She’s supposedly working on “extracting secrets from unwilling subjects”  – again, not on her own, but for the U.S. military (which doesn’t say much about the U.S. military, but that’s a common Castle theme). Castle gets to swagger around and talk down to this woman and put her in handcuffs without any actual evidence.  Even Beckett says that if Castle says the woman is a suspect, there must be something to it.  There’s nothing to it.  She has nothing to do with the murder; she just provides information.
  • The actual killer is this small young college student who didn’t get a scholarship because it went to the victim.  Due to the situation of the experiment, after she helps him escape, she “snaps” and, defying all laws of physics, impales him on a tree branch.
  • Beckett has walked out on Castle and is now “obsessed” with getting justice for Rachel and the team, even more so than she was for getting justice for her mother!  Remember, she made that deal with Bracken to stay away from the case in order to protect herself, Castle, and all the people she cared about.  She had her priorities straight.  It’s not until Bracken slips up and an opportunity presents itself that she and Castle together work on bringing him down.  Not this time.
  • I’ve already mentioned sexy Alexis being used by her dad.

Meanwhile, the initial suspect who the victim turned in for hazing is a wise-cracking, ‘cool’ guy who makes fun of Ryan and Esposito’s attempt to turn their 40 -something selves into young college students.  Later, we find out that the hazing guy actually made “amends” to the victim by getting him an apartment to “do some studying,” so there’s this “see, he’s not so bad” attitude about the guy whose hazing antics got a pledge sent to the hospital.  (Did I mention that this entire case makes little sense?) With Alexis playing Wendy to Castle’s Peter Pan, what this episode needed to balance it was a Captain Hook, not a Captain Beckett.

The Wrap Up

After watching Castle Season 8 Episode 3 I felt…numb.  Were there occassional moments that made me  smile?  Yes, but they would be immediately followed by the reality of the storyline.  I’d realize that I was smiling because the bit reminded me of something from the early seasons, not because of what was actually happening in the current situation.

Despite reading all of the various interviews about their reasoning for splitting up Castle and Beckett, seeing this reset put into action made it painfully real.  It left me with the hollow sense that there’s only thing that’s going to fix this show. Castle wakes up at the end of an episode and hears Beckett in the shower just like the infamous scene from the 1978 season of Dallas.  You know the one: Pam Ewing wakes up and finds out that the death of her husband, Bobby, which was the focus of that entire season, was all just a bad dream. For Castle, it would be that Beckett never left.

For more news and reviews about Castle Season 8 and other shows you can follow me on Twitter.

[Photo credit: Mitch Haaseth/ABC]

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