Castle, “The G.D.S.” Goes Hollywood – And Not In A Good Way

Castle Season 8 Episode 14

“It’s a crime when Castle and Beckett go Hollywood” is the commercial tag that comes on before Castle season 8 episode 14, titled, “The G.D.S.” begins.  This is a fake out because although writer/private investigator via an online course Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is in L.A., Captain Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) is nowhere to be found.  Not to worry, her replacementsubstitute, stand-in Hayley Shipton (Toks Olagundoye) is at his side along with the boy-crazy, devil-may-care, brand new computer expert and security systems master whiz-kid, Alexis Castle (Molly Quinn).  Welcome to the Hollywood-style Castle reboot that ABC is banking on its viewers falling in love with.

No, I’m not saying Castle is moving the show’s fictional location to L.A. – at least not in this season. However, the content, subtext and storytelling has the worst of Hollywood thinking all over it.   This was a painful hour of television for this long-time Castle viewer.  I didn’t think anything could be worse than the “Cool Boys” episode last fall, but I was wrong.

An Overview of The “G.D.S.”

The one thing I did like about this episode was the setup of how the murder was introduced.  That actually did feel like a classic Castle murder sequence.  Also, none of this review is about the actors. There’s not bad acting going on.  The problems with Castle season 8 episode 14 are all from it’s content, the point of the story, and Castle season 8 in general.

From the moment Alexis starts talking about working on her tan and boys – when supposedly she’s there to help her father with the missing time stuff – that sinking feeling you get when you sense bad news is coming hit me.  It gets worse when Hayley chimes in with “Surfers are hot.”  Then in the hotel room she and Hayley are both scoping out the hotel messager.  This is the idea episode writer and co-showrunner Alexi Hawley has of a mature adult women?  Wow.  Basically he’s created the sorority girls to Castle’s fraternity.  With Alexis being a 22-year-old college student her behavior makes sense, but how old is Hayley supposed to be again?  Plus, them both checking out the same guy feels weird – it’s kind of like Hayley is Mrs. Robinson and Alexis is Elaine….

Another disturbing sight: watching Hayley strut around as Castle’s partner.  The person that should be there is Beckett, but yet it’s Hayley watching his back and looking great while doing it.  She even gets elevated to being called a detective by Castle.

Hayley’s looks are then matched up with Kendall Frost (Summer Glau).  She’s Castle’s rival for the spot in the G.D.S. and Hayley, just to help Castle out, initiates the whole frat boy dream of, “let’s have two hot women kissing for the entertainment of a guy” thing.  It doesn’t stop there either.  Both women have to show that night at the guy’s place.  That’s Hayley’s great detective skill and way of having his back.

At least when Beckett used her looks on a case it was her being undercover to get information or to get the culprit for her own case.  Hayley does this whole routine so that Castle can go look for a knife that will make Castle the one to solve the case and win the open spot in the “Greatest Detective Society.”  (Yeah, so much for focusing on justice for the victim.)  So, not only is this a sequence of a male fantasy but Hayley’s doing it as a favor for Castle!   This kind of sexism has been going on all season, but this is the most blatant thing yet.

The L.A. police detective coming in the next morning and kicking Castle and Hayley off the case is yet another Hawley chance to diminish another great moment from Caskett.  It mimics the scene from the Castle season 3 episode, “To Love and Die in L.A.”   Then there’s the long and intimate conversation Castle and Hayley have about how Hayley is involved with his disappearance and the way she talks about “being fond” of Castle and Alexis.  The tone of it is all about foraging a deep connection between him and Hayley, the same way Beckett talking to Castle about Royce (her old police academy instructor) did back in season 3.

The worst thing about Hayley being there with Castle is seeing the three of them act like a little family. “Your father is right, Alexis.” says Hayley, and her tone is as if she’s Alexis’s stepmother!  This dynamic is in the end scenes with the three of them as well.  When is the last time you’ve seen Beckett, Alexis and Castle being like that – if ever?  It’s like they’re setting up for Alexis to have yet another new stepmother, a role we’ve never gotten to see Beckett play in Alexis’s life at all

As for the secret of Castle’s missing time being about LokSat, that was infuriating.  Apparently the only reason to dig up the closed case of Johanna Beckett’s murder was to make it become a case about Castle.  Now it’s about his guilt and his protecting Kate Beckett – a woman who used to be one that needed a partner, not a savior.  I guess it was too good to last.  Even though the viewership for Castle had been climbing for six years straight in the Hollywood way of thinking is that the way to make a show better is to make it all about the guy.

Why These Changes Show the Worst of Hollywood Thinking

This is an old rule I learned in screenwriting around the time I was taught your lead character must be a white, straight man (like the target audience): if you have a woman right there in front of your leading man and she’s not stirred by him, the insecure young men film and TV target will wonder what’s “wrong” with him. Is he gay? Is she? The real reason, I was informed, to put women in a script was to reveal things about the men. Any other purpose I assigned to the women was secondary at best, but I could do what I wanted there as long as the women’s purposes never threatened to distract the audience from the purposes of the men. Once I realized that merely passing the Mo Movie Measure test was enough to “distract” the audience from the men, I quit screenwriting and have never regretted it.

What has made Castle different from shows like The Mentalist is that in its pilot the show did not adhere to that bolded statement.  Beckett was allowed to have her own purpose – being a homicide detective.  She’s the one who wants to find justice for the victims, and she’s the one with a painful past.  We want to see her succeed just as much as we want Castle to succeed in winning her over.  It’s this difference – Beckett being a fully realized character outside of her connection and attraction to Castle – made the Caskett pairing the most interesting one of the several will they/won’t they type of shows that have been on the air.  

In contrast, Castle season 8 episode 14, “The G.D.S.” has removed Beckett from the picture with nary a mention until the very end.  Then the story being told in the episode, and the woman put in to replace Beckett (who is irreplaceable)  completely fulfils those bolded guidelines above.  That is why “The G.D.S.” doesn’t feel at all like a Castle episode.

Before moving on, let’s get clear about something: none of these changes in the show’s tone, or the structure of this episode are accidental or because of anyone’s schedule or time off.   An actor’s availability has nothing to do with bonding Castle to Hayley, or deciding he needed to be invited to a secret detective society.  Back in September the new co-showrunner Alexi Hawley did an interview over at Give Me My Remote where he said one of the things he wanted to do was repilot Castle.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t kidding.  “The G.D.S.” (what I think of as, “The Gosh Darn Spinoff”) creates a totally different idea of the show.

The Road to  “The G.D.S.”

In viewing Castle season 8 episode 14 I watched a show that used to be about two great characters reshaping itself into being about just one of them.  All roads now lead to Castle, and the way this season has twisted itself around to get viewers here have ripped apart the storylines of prior seasons.  The worst of this is what’s been done to Beckett’s character.  Her being a good detective, and a thorough one – that’s been cast as her being an obsessive woman “that likes being broken.”  It’s the same kind of sexist thinking that paints a women with power and authority as a witch – but with “b” instead of a “w.”

The idea doesn’t fit with the prior seasons of Castle, but it’s an idea brought in by Hawley, as part of this road to changing the show’s basic DNA.  For seven seasons viewers watched a woman who put in the time and effort to not be defined by her mother’s murder.  Not only did she go to therapy to work on herself, but she developed the patience and willingness to not let trying to get Bracken fill her every waking thought.

It’s not that Beckett gave up on getting Bracken, but she starts living a fuller life and brings Castle in on all of it.  His contributions as her partner are what lead to her being able to finally have him arrested and put away.  Her story became their story.   With,”Veritas” the Bracken story was done, and since then Beckett had clearly moved on.

Castle season 7 was the start of this shift to focusing everything onto Castle, so Beckett doesn’t do much. However, the second half of the season has Beckett thinking about her next career moves, ways that she could, in larger ways, get justice for victims.  Also on her mind was her life with Castle and them thinking about starting a family.

Then came the wonderful season 7 finale, “Hollander’s Woods.”  It gave Castle a backstory that Beckett is then able to help him resolve.  That resolution is his moment, just as Beckett finding the tape and arresting Bracken were hers.  It’s a nice reversal that proved, once again, that it’s Castle and Beckett’s teamwork that is the key to solving murders, and to the show’s success.  Beckett shows how much she trusts Castle and knows how valuable he is when figuring out a case.

Considering the past seven seasons, this new behavior of Beckett’s in season 8 is – to say the least – one huge story continuity break.  However, continuity is irrelevant when you’re attempting to smash the past and redo the story.  LokSat, the Castle and Beckett separation, it’s all done to elevate Castle to be “king of the world.”  Castle, “The G.D.S.” is about setting him on his throne.  Think about it.  Rick Castle has gone from being  Beckett’s partner to being a P.I. with a new team of women that work for him (not with him – he’s the boss.) With this episode he’s now labeled as being one of the best detectives in the world.

Everything in season 8 is fine – if you’ve never seen an episode of Castle prior.  If you’ve been watching all along it’s a total mess and Castle season 8 episode 14 is the worst of it.  First of all,  if there were such a thing as “The Greatest Detective Society,” Castle being chosen to join it on his own merits is insane.  He has never been positioned as a great detective.  Even as a P.I. the show has Castle getting made whenever he tries to follow someone.  Why? Because he’s a brilliant crime writer.  When he meets Beckett his ability to “write the story” proves to be a great asset to her detective skills and together they make a great team.  At least, that’s what the show used to be about.  Remember the show’s original intro?


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As the writer, Castle is narrating this story, but the story he’s telling is about him and Beckett.  Castle is about them and their relationship.  They are the show’s central characters.  Well, they were the show’s central characters.

With Castle season 8 episode 14 the story has being reframed as being all about Richard Castle as one of the greatest detectives ever.  What about the story of his muse Beckett, the one that celebrated her – with the invaluable help of Castle – being able to track down and bring to justice her mother’s killer?  It’s now being completely overshadowed.   Because of this LokSat scenario Beckett didn’t really get the person responsible for her mother’s death – it’s LokSat. Nevermind that this big bad LokSat makes no sense as a story to begin with.  The Castle story is now about how he went through great lengths to “protect Beckett” and has this burden of guilt about getting her team killed.  Apparently it had nothing to do with that search she did while working in D.C. – so in short, the LokSat case has nothing to do with Beckett at all.  She’s only an unfortunate victim. Oh, then of course there’s the whole idea that Castle just stumbled onto LokSat while out saving the world.  What a guy, right?

This is Hawley’s repilot of Castle. Within the Castle, “G.D.S.” episode, the writer Hawley makes a couple of editorial comments about the proceeding via talking about Castle’s first movie “Heat Wave” being a total flop.

Castle:  That was all because of this really obtuse studio executive.  What the hell was his name….

Trevor Nigel (Doug Savant) is the studio executive who gave him all the notes and changes on Heat Wave.  Nigel tells Castle that he knows the studio did a horrible job with Heat Wave – but wants Castle to know that back then he’d “fought” for Castle’s vision.  Now that he’s in charge of the entire studio:

Trevor:  It’s time to get back into the Richard Castle business.

Being that Hawley is a writer who left Castle after season four and has now returned as it’s showrunner it’s hard not to read into this.  Then again, would the writer cast himself as a series serial killer who rips out people’s hearts….

It’s not just Hawley who stated that changes were coming.  Back in January the former head of entertainment for ABC spoke about all the “great ideas” they had to keep Castle around for “years to come” (  “Spinoff” is the word I and others have been using, but actually a spinoff usually has a different name than the original show.  J.A.G.S. became NCIS, The Closer became Major Crimes.  Lee said he wanted to keep Castle around.  That’s more like “The New Coke” which I mentioned in a previous Castle article.  Coke wanted to keep the name but change the ingredients.  It failed because people expected a certain taste and quality from something labeled “Coke” and the makers of the product thought it was all about the name.  They were wrong.  It was about the content and it’s connection to that name.  After 3 months Coke brought back the original formula of their soda as Coke Classic.  If only TPTB at Castle could bring back classic Castle!

What is Classic Castle

The pilot for Castle built a strong foundation for what the show was going to be about.  First there’s the mysterious and artistic hint of a woman who’s just been murdered.  Then we meet Castle at a launch party for his latest book where he’s busy signing a woman’s bared chest and surrounded by female groupies.  This cuts to an image of Beckett walking towards the murdered victim.  Underneath her cool exterior we can see she’s emotionally affected by the sight of the dead woman covered in rose petals.  Added to that insight we get a moment of her kneeling by the body saying:

Beckett from the "Flowers For Your Grave"

Beckett: “Who are you?”

This is a detective who cares about the victims, a point that will be a core part of the character.

As the episode goes on we meet detectives Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) whom we get are her subordinates.  Medical Examiner Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones) is quickly established as more than just a colleague to Beckett when Beckett whispers a complaint about her lack of a dating life and Lanie tells her she needs lipstick.  However, it’s Esposito who lets us know Beckett likes the challenge of unusual murder cases – which later plays right into her being an avid reader of Richard Castle mystery novels.  Beckett can tell things about the murderer because she recognizes the display from one of his books.  So now, even before they’ve met, Castle’s given her insight into a case and we know they have a connection.

Going back to the book signing party the audience learns that there’s more to playboy ruggedly handsome mystery writer than initially thought.  Yes, he’s got a definite peter-pan syndrome going on, but he tells his publisher and ex-wife Gina that he killed off his main character Derrick Storm because it wasn’t fun anymore.  She warns him that he’d better come up with his new book and character or he’s gonna have to return his advance.

Castle being bored with the character turns out to be a symbol of his being bored with his current shallow lifestyle.  He shares this fact with his young teenaged daughter Alexis, who’s studying for a test at the bar – because he’s worried about her.

Castle: "Don't you want to have wildly inappropriate stories that you can't tell your children?"

Castle: “Don’t you want to have wildly inappropriate
stories that you can’t tell your children?”

That scene between Castle and Alexis tells us that he capable of caring for someone besides himself.  Not only because of what he says to his daughter, but because we learn that he let his mother move in with him.

We’d met his mother, Martha Rodgers (Susan Sullivan) just prior to this scene and saw that the apple doesn’t fall far the tree.  Martha is where Castle gets his fun-loving ways and quick wit.  It’s this second introduction of Richard Castle that makes him such an interesting character. Had he just been a partying playboy he’d have just been a rich and shallow guy who’s emotional development got stunted at 21.  Instead, Castle is a man who wants something different in his life – but hadn’t a clue about what that is. He needs to be inspired – and that cues him meeting the serious and buttoned-up Beckett.

From here on the sparks fly and the magic begins.  The banter that these two have is fun and clever, but the deeper magic happens when Castle tells Beckett why she became a cop.
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Before this moment, the banter was fun and naughty, with Castle being 100 percent on as his charming self. This is the first time Castle sees Beckett as more than a conquest or a story. His mask drops and the viewer can feel his remorse of having gone too far in ripping her past open just because he could. It’s the moment she becomes his muse – and he, slowly, begins to mature. He’ll always have that spark of childlike (not childish) innocence.

The Wrap Up

In the same way he’s a good father who loves playing laser tag with his kid, Castle growing up doesn’t mean the playfulness would go away – or should – go away.  What shouldn’t be happening is the regression of his character that’s been going on this season.  The lowbrow humor and the tone of the comedy has been beyond even the man we met in the very beginning.  It’s more like the guy we heard about in that episode – the one caught naked riding a police horse.  He also shouldn’t be partnered with and bonding to Hayley.  Sure, at the end he gives up the G.D.S. by saying this to the head of the organization, Mason Wood (Gerald McRaney)

Castle: I already work with the greatest detective in the world and I can not wait to get back home to her.

That’s a lovely feel-good statement – except Castle isn’t working with Beckett anymore.  Remember? Just in case you had the idea that this “G.D.S.” thing is a one time deal, Mason tells Castle he’ll be keeping an eye on Castle.  It can now pop up at any time and whisk Castle away on mystery adventure, because, really, he’s now one of world’s greatest detectives.

Here’s one last thing.  If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the whole scenario with Lanie, Ryan and Esposito it’s because everything else was so upsetting.  In brief, the storyline plays like a scenario written by an 18-year-old boy.  The idea of Lanie dating is a nice one, but the crass humor throughout this ruins what could have been a fun story.  Especially if it had actually been about her thoughts and feelings and not the set up for a bunch of fratboy jokes.   It would have been nice to have something in the episode feel right besides the murder.   Instead, it feels like Castle just had its heart ripped out.

(*An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified Jennifer Kesler with Jennifer Kessler).

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