Castle "Scared to Death" Review: Ring Around the Hokey

By Alex Navarro

Mar 19, 2013

Castle S05E17: "Scared to Death"

After a two-week break following one of the better (if still ridiculous) dramatic arcs the series has had in a while, I was kind of hoping that we'd return to a rejuvenated Castle. It's not that this season hasn't mostly delivered—outside of some of its more lackluster standalone episodes, it's largely been quite solid—but after such a dramatic, James Brolin-flavored rush, and a couple of weeks to catch our breath, I was ready to return to the fun-lovin' murder-solvin', divorced-from-any-larger-story context. We certainly got that, but beyond a few good laughs, "Scared to Death" might have been the worst episode of the season yet.

"Scared to Death" lives in the same problematic area that last season's zombie episode took up residence in. The premise, which involved the thoroughly hokey notion of a spooky, demonic DVD that kills its viewers three days after they view it, was mired in a supernatural kookiness that might be believable in, say, a particularly murder-filled episode of Scooby Doo, but made no sense in a show that is, by and large, predicated in real-world crime-solving. I grant you that much of what happens on Castle is kind of silly and unbelievable, but there's a difference between, say, a crime-solving author with a CIA agent father tagging along on endless murder investigations with a super-hot lady detective whose mother was killed in a massive, far-reaching conspiracy involving corrupt senators and god knows what else, and actual evil spirits coming back and killing people.

Of course, actual evil spirits were nowhere to be found in "Scared to Death." Just like the dumb, dumb, dumb zombies episode, this one has an entirely corporeal evil at the center of it. But for long stretches of "Scared to Death," Castle, as well as Esposito and Ryan, were periodically convinced that something creepy, kooky, and altogether ooky was going on. Beckett, for her part, remained unconvinced, as any sane person should have. She attempted to reason with her suddenly cowardly compatriots, and even volunteered to view the DVD herself, despite grave warnings from Castle, who accidentally watched it at the crime scene.

And speaking of the video, it was maybe one of the silliest things I've seen mature adults attempt to appear fearful of on a major television program. It was an obnoxious hodgepodge of The Ring-inspired imagery that looked like it was constructed by a 16-year-old with terrible taste in horror movies and a fondness for crappy video-editing filters. And yet its hilariously delivered warning of, "You saw it. Three days. You die." was somehow completely terrifying to Castle, a grown-ass man who's seen plenty of other seemingly supernatural events pass by with entirely reasonable explanations.

It's not that I don't appreciate Castle's occasional childlike qualities. I like that he's a big, silly man-baby who plays the coward when it's funny, but can still be heroic when real trouble comes. But the writers' insistence of putting their characters through such nonsense plots is never not awful. These people are not stupid. We've watched them evolve over five seasons now, and the idea that Castle was actually terrified that a video was going to kill him was maybe just a bit more than I could take.

It was especially ridiculous given that the writers so clearly hated this plot idea, too. The Castle crew brought up The Ring no fewer than three times during the episode, which included a particularly bizarre cameo from Wes Craven, whom Castle called up to "hypothetically" discuss a way out of his predicament. It's one thing to maybe knock on the fourth wall a bit and poke fun at how stupid something like this is, but "Scared to Death" seemed almost embarrassed at times by its utter lack of originality.

Almost nothing about this episode worked. Not Castle and Beckett wandering into a spooky old hotel briefly seen in the video. Not Castle and Beckett wandering into an insane asylum on a dark and stormy night. Not the realization that all the victims were witnesses in the trial of a serial killer. Not the fact that the serial killer's dead body had apparently gone missing from its grave. None of it was scary, creepy, or even particularly entertaining. It just felt like the tossed-out entrails of various horror scripts being stitched together into a lazy, altogether unpleasant... thing.

Really, the only tolerable thing "Scared to Death" provided was a few decent jokes. Beckett's constant teasing of Castle over his death fears (not to mention her frequent, only half-joking sexual advances) was fun, and Esposito and Ryan's bro-dude fist-bumping over their own mutual cowardice in not wanting to watch the video was pretty great. But other than those few amusing bits, "Scared to Death" was pretty much a wash. Too often the episode became bogged down in its own unenthusiastic usage of tired horror tropes, and the result, which featured the daughter of a man originally accused of the crimes committed by the dead serial killer using the "scary" video and a defibrillator as a way to extract revenge on the witnesses who originally fingered her dad—it was a bit much, really.

Some shows can do horror and make it work. Castle is not such a show. Maybe some day, the show's writers will figure that out.



NOTES

– Ryan's assertion that he couldn't view the video because he's trying to have a child and doesn't want any evil spirits causing him and his wife bad juju was maybe the most honest character moment of this entire episode.

– I don't know why Wes Craven was in this episode. He didn't even make The Ring. Was Gore Verbinski just busy?

– In order to keep Craven on the phone, Castle immediately launched into a genuflecting diatribe on how great all of Craven's movies are, including his most recent movie, My Soul to Take. First rule in praising a director: Don't talk about how great a movie they made that everyone hated and nobody went to see was. They won't believe you.

– Just a quick "You're super old!" reminder that The Ring is an 11-year-old movie.

  • Comments (61)
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  • Glennen May 20, 2013

    Did anyone notice Espositos cup at the end of the episode? Its handle is shaped like a gun

  • smule1033 Mar 21, 2013

    I thought 'Scared to Death' was an amazing episode. It was funny, scary and interesting- a classic Castle episode. And the icecube reference at the end? Such a great scene.
    It was obviously a filler episode but I thought it was one of the best. Season 5 has been fantastic on the whole!

  • tamaabi Mar 21, 2013

    I certainly wouldn't call that a good episode but I know I did find it very creepy. But yeah, the writers have given us too many amazing episodes this season for this to really work for me anymore. Once the creepy is over, I'm just feeling kinda meh over it.

  • Vicky8675309 Mar 21, 2013

    I like the show Castle but I did not like anything about this episode except for Kate Beckett's coat...awesome coat!!
    Accurate and well written review!

  • Televisioneer Mar 21, 2013

    Kate's wardrobe is awesome. Love all her coats.

  • cuculhain Mar 20, 2013

    I don't mind if they don't touch on the whole father-is-a-spy thing for a while. But isn't Castle the father of a young girl who was just kidnapped and taken out of the country, and almost killed??? At what point does that man, who is suppose to be a great dad, go right back to the job he doesn't really work at, get paid for, or need to show up at because he is a millionaire writer??!??

    I know Alexis is the only other character on the show CASTLE with the last name Castle, but I don't expect them to show her going to therapy for PTSD or even mentioning it every week. But to have the main character (the guy who built his own murder wall for Kate's mother's murder) no take a week off on camera as part of that story arc is kind of ridiculous.

    I know Firefly had a problem with it's episodes being aired out of order, and this one left me feeling the same way. No mention of a possibly life altering event. Jokes about pregnancy superstitions. It felt like the episode was written before the kidnapping.

  • xubxerox Apr 01, 2013

    On that issue I defenitly have to agree with you.

    Otherwise the episode was silly but ok.

  • residentevil4 Mar 23, 2013

    What if this is a month later?

  • cuculhain Mar 24, 2013

    then they should have acknowledge that, no mention of it means it wa written without prior knowledge, or they are ignoring the implications, and I like the show too much to believe that.

  • Televisioneer Mar 20, 2013

    I felt the same way exactly. It's as if that life altering event never even took place.

  • Ninjaandy Mar 20, 2013

    *SPOILERS*

    I didn't like a single thing about this episode. Not one. From Wes Craven's stupid appearance (where the dialog delivery made me painfully aware that he never actually spoke to actor Nathan Fillion) to the pointless ripoff of The Ring (which I admit scared the crap out of me), nothing worthwhile happened here.

    Speaking of The Ring reference, this wasn't a loving homage, and despite its scariness The Ring isn't exactly a "classic" of horror cinema, so why did they do this? It just seemed random.

    Another problem was that everything was obvious -- as soon as the killer walked onscreen in the first five minutes, I knew it was her, from the way they were clearly trying to make her *not* look like a killer, and because I know this show's MO. And when the nurse ended up being involved? Well duh.

    If I'd believed for even half a second that the writers would entertain the possibility of actual evil spirits, or an unresolved cliffhanger ending, I might have found this, if silly, at least more narratively interesting. But no. This was the epitome of lazy filler. I'm afraid that, following the ridiculous but acceptable "Castle's father is a spy" episode, last night's episode provided strong evidence that the writers are out of ideas, and that this show is done unless they totally jump that shark.

  • marlonjones Mar 20, 2013

    Just watched 5 seasons of Castle at once in the last month. It was friggin awesome all the way and i'm glad a show has had characters and their dialogue the same and consistent from the pilot til now. And I'm glad the relationship between Castle and Beckett didn't change a damn thing (how refreshing, thank you writers). But i'm reading this review now and seriously? Dude, you're either watching something entirely different, or you shouldn't be watching this in the first place! Seems like you're more interested in the intellect of you own word combinations than anything else...to each his own, but this was not a review worthy of Castle's awesomeness...
    As for the episode, i thought nothing wrong and was thoroughly entertained again. But yeah, their have been a few cases on its own during the last 5 seasons that were less entertaining (not many), but Castle and crew always are, so it doesn't matter...the cases come 2nd to them. If you're a true Castle fan, you can't complain at all! My two cents!

  • Vicky8675309 Mar 21, 2013

    a true Castle fan can complain if the episode is bad--are we supposed to just shut up when an episode is truly bad? I think fans are the perfect people to let the writers know when they are screwing up. By "true Castle fan" do you mean turn your brain off or do you mean close your mouth and don't point out the flaw. I think we should actually point out the flaws when they show a really bad episode so they can learn from their mistakes.

  • marlonjones Mar 21, 2013

    very good point...but in the case of Castle, there is no such thing as a 'bad episode'...duh...nah, seriously, you are absolutely right! Not what i meant!

  • Shreela Mar 20, 2013

    Castle goes redic a few times each season, and I usually laughed at them. But not last night - it seemed forced I guess.

  • lostcause78 Mar 20, 2013

    This was exactly the kind of fun silly episode Castle needed, after the serious double episode with the kidnapping of Alexis.
    How about we get someone who's a fan of the show to review it, or rather not even a fan, just someone that overall likes it.

  • Televisioneer Mar 20, 2013

    I'm a big fan of Castle, have watched it since the first episode, and have previous seasons in my DVD collection which I watch over and over. So I believe I can tell a crappy Castle episode when I see it.

  • mnementh01 Mar 20, 2013

    Well, quite obviously you can't!

    This was a welcome return to Castle of old after the total crapfest of "Hunt", giving us some decent humourous situations on the way.

    Rick Castle is an author after all, who lives in his imagination most of the time, so it was entirely in character that he would concentrate on the "fantasy" elements of the case, while Beckett as a "rooted in the ground" detective would follow the logical route.

    I was massively disappointed with the two episode story, so for me, this was an excellent return to form for the show.

    Long may it continue.

  • Televisioneer Mar 20, 2013

    I suggest you watch the pilot and first few episodes again. Now that's funny. The last episode was just lazy and lame.

  • lostcause78 Mar 20, 2013

    This was hilarious. I loved Castle being cursed and trying to "save" Beckett from a similar fate

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