In this postmodern television landscape, a lot of shows are attempting the meta; Castle does meta as well or better than any show on TV. At the moment there are four books available (in the real world) by fake author Richard Castle about fake detective Nikki Heat, based on fake detective Kate Beckett, which have real reviews on Amazon by the likes of real mystery writer James Patterson. There are also a couple of books featuring Rick Castle’s earlier character Derrick Storm, and a comic book, Palace, about (if I have this straight) an actor who played a detective on TV and then used the knowledge gained to become a real detective. Can Nathan Fillion, private dick, be far off?
Castle‘s uncanny knack for self-reference is baked right into the premise, introduced and fully savored in the show’s 2009 pilot episode. The opening shots are of body parts, a bright rivulet of blood, and flower petals raining onto a dead young woman. Dovetailing into a scene of a book launch party, where the guest of honor struts and autographs breasts, this macabre tableau seems part of a work of fiction. But, it is revealed to be an actual crime scene. Thus begins the delicate interplay of fact and fiction.
It was easy to expect this series to be just another cop-with-an-unlikely-partner show. Maybe the easiest comparison — and the one I was guilty of — was to Bones. (While the latter has similar potential for book/show interweaving, the writers haven’t taken much advantage of its pedigree. Temperance Brennan is named for a character in a series of mystery novels by Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist-turned-writer, but the show is based not on the books, but on the life of the author. In turn, the TV version of Temperance Brennan writes books featuring a character named Kathy Reichs. See how much fun that could be?)
Let’s get down to the plot. At the aforementioned launch party, Richard “Rick” Castle, is unveiling a new book in a highly successful series, wherein he has just taken the risky step of killing off long-running lead character, Derrick Storm. His agent/ex-wife is less than thrilled with his decision, and with his inability to produce any new material in a timely fashion.
Over at the bar, we meet two other characters critical to the series, Rick’s daughter Alexis (Molly C. Quinn) and mother, Martha (Susan Sullivan — hey, did you know she was in the pilot of The Incredible Hulk?). This simple scene nicely illustrates the dynamic among the three generations. Put simply, teenaged Alexis is the adult.
The crime scene Beckett is investigating mimics one in a Richard Castle novel. You see, Beckett knows this because, despite her buttoned-up, all-business exterior, she’s a fangirl. Much to the amusement of her colleagues, she’s read all the books, and knows the details when she sees them. She brings in Castle for his help. And, we’re off…
If not for the charisma of the two lead actors, this story could easily fall flat. The cops wind up arresting a typical crazed fan; you know, the kind with a wall of newspaper clippings in his house. But Castle believes there’s a better, less obvious suspect who would “make a better story.” There is much discussion about whether the crimes in question were committed by a serial killer or not, with the distinction that serial killers don’t have motives. This rather odd assumption forms the basis for an important decision on Kate’s part and, in turn, the plot. I think a lot of other beloved crime drama characters would argue that serial killers most certainly do have motives, however twisted, and I also think Kate should know that. But, no matter. They solve the crime and in the process, Castle finds the inspiration for a new series of books.
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