Castle "Secret Santa" Review: It's Raining Fat, Bearded Men

By Alex Navarro

Dec 04, 2012

Castle S05E09: "Secret Santa"

Castle sure loves him some Christmas. Loooooooves it. Lurves it, even. Dude is evidently something of a Christmas freak, going to absurd lengths to get just the right (giant-sized) tree, decorating every square inch of his ludicrous apartment in tinsel, lighting, and colorful ball things, and even adhering to a tradition of strict family attendance, a tradition that heretofore had remained unbroken in the 18 years since Alexis was born. But suddenly, all of this tinselly tradition was threatened when in "Secret Santa," the women of his life decided to make other plans. Could Castle save Christmas, while also solving Santa Claus's murder?

Oh, did I forget to mention that the episode cold-opened with Santa's bloated corpse falling out of the sky and nearly crushing a family to death in the process? Probably should have led with that bit, huh? Oh well. Next time!

Yes, it wasn't quite a holly jolly Christmas for old St. Nick—or, at least, the portly fellow pretending to be him who fell inexplicably out of thin air and undoubtedly sent a little girl into years of therapy for Christmas-related panic attacks. But Castle was initially more bummed about mom and Alexis deciding to make other plans on Christmas Eve, bitching to Beckett that tradition is tradition, dammit. Beckett, for her part, seemed wildly uncomfortable every time Castle brought up Christmas plans, which we learned later on was for good reason. But before we got to that, Castle had to spend two thirds of the episode moping around, wondering why nobody wanted to adhere to his damned Christmas customs. Also, he solved that murder. Eventually.

While I have enjoyed this season of Castle quite a bit, I have to admit that the responsibility for that has largely been on the backs of the cast. The murder mysteries, while never the central focus of the show—let's face it, most of us are just here to watch the title character be an impossibly clever goofball—have been especially throwaway for much Season 5. Now, I don't know if it was the holiday spirit, or just a case of better-than-average writing, but "Secret Santa" had a particularly engaging, if convoluted, mystery for Castle and Beckett to solve. How, exactly, does a 200-pound elderly gentleman with a flowing white beard and bright red suit find himself with a bullet in his back, floating down from the heavens right into the middle of Central Park?

Of course Castle was ready to entertain the idea that maybe the real Santa got sleigh-jacked, but not quite in that "a-little-too-serious" kind of way we saw last season with existence of zombies. Fortunately, that sentiment didn't last all episode, and we learned soon enough that our airborne Saint Nick actually used to be some kind of Wall Street bigwig, one of those corporate mercenary types who spent much of the early 2000s backing people into unmanageable home loans that eventually resulted in foreclosure. How, exactly, does one of such dastardly DNA end up as Santa Claus, you ask? Through a series of twisty-turny events involving soul-crushing guilt, years of binge eating, and a chance viewing of Miracle on 34th Street, of course!

You see, this Wall Street executive had a change of heart after seeing that film, that great beacon of Edmund Gwenn-shaped hope that has so often been referenced in TV and other films over the years. He said goodbye to his seemingly loving, if slightly haughty, wife (we met her later in the episode), packed his bags, and disappeared into a life of Santa-tude. He literally dropped everything and became a rentable Santa, apparently out of some need for redemption. So that's a sweet, if slightly insane, story, but how the hell did he end up dead and flying, in that order?

That part actually managed to capture my attention in a way most of this season's murders haven't. The sheer volume of steps involved from getting this fellow from Point Santa to Point Dead was staggering enough that I couldn't bring myself not to pay attention. Sure, I do find the idea of a former corporate bigwig-turned-Santa-Claus crafting an elaborate heist involving incriminating documents of his and his former partners' crimes, a $30,000 antique clock, a cherry red helicopter (that's how he ended up airborne), and a corporate Christmas party hosted by his former cohorts all a bit much to take in at once, but "Secret Santa" did a good job of meting out the details in such a way as to not overwhelm us. Just when we thought things might be getting a bit too crazy, Castle and Beckett stepped in to have a little talk about what Christmas means to them, or Esposito showed up just long enough to give Ryan a bro-talk about the act of baby-making. I sort of wish I was kidding about that last one.

Christmas episodes are always aggressively cheesy. Sometimes that cheese is purposeful and ironic, and sometimes that cheese is just a byproduct of sincere Christmas cheer. Cynical and irritable as I may be, I generally prefer the more sincere Christmas specials, just because I like the idea of some period of the year, no matter how over-commercialized and sacrosanct as it may be, bringing people a lot of joy and excitement. And Castle is the perfect character to represent that holiday cheer, because you can totally believe that he sincerely loves Christmas. There's nothing out-of-character about it. Nor is there anything out-of-character about his quiet acceptance of the changes inherent to time and the notion that not all traditions are meant to be held indefinitely. People change, circumstances change, and traditions are meant to evolve along with them. So when Beckett confessed to Castle that she'd taken the Christmas Eve shift at work because that's her holiday tradition—along with an almost Batman-esque piece about watching over families as they celebrate the holiday—it was no surprise that he was cool with it. If anything, he almost looked downright proud of her. Aww.

In the end, the murderer was caught, like always, but "Secret Santa" offered greater joys than simple crime solving. It was a nice, sweet episode full of Christmas cheer that never teetered over into painful schlock. I don't even like Christmas, but after watching Fillion, Katic, and the rest of the Castle crew have such a merry old time this week, the icy patches around my heart have somehow begun to melt. I think that qualifies this as a pretty good Christmas episode, don't you?


– So Alexis has a boyfriend now. I have no idea if he's going to last beyond this episode and lead to an inevitable "meet the father" situation somewhere further into this season, but the thought of Nathan Fillion going full-on psycho dad on some poor college freshman sounds like something I'd enjoy watching.

– I mostly enjoyed Esposito and Ryan's back-and-forth over their traditional "Beers and Madden" Christmas Eve plans, but I never want to hear the words, "Go home. Make a baby, bro," come out of Esposito's mouth again. I don't care that he was speaking literally of Ryan going home to impregnate his wife. Phrasing, people. It's all in the phrasing.

– Beckett's moment of confession regarding her traditional Christmas Eve shift was really sweet, though I do wish the writers would stop having Castle and Beckett hide stupid details about their lives from one another. It's lousy, manufactured tension that doesn't need to be there. It's safe to say that if either of these characters were hiding anything relationship-destroying from the other, they'd have figured it out by now. This is the very definition of sweating the details.

– Pun of the night: Castle's response to Beckett's comments over the plausibility of their victim actually being Santa. "Don't you mean, less CLAUSABLE?" That scene really deserved to conclude with the sound of a slide whistle, for maximum impact.

– We never did find out if the fluffy red jockstrap was real or a metaphor. I hate dangling plot details like that.

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  • TeriShannon Dec 09, 2012

    Great episode but would have been better with a mistletoe kiss and a gift exchange. I love Castle now matter what as it is the best show on TV.

  • sanchfi Dec 06, 2012

    Love this episode!! So.... how long do we have to wait for next episode??

  • bdondavis Dec 06, 2012

    Did anyone else notice that the dead Santa's name was Edmund and his wife's name was Gwenn?

  • JT_Kirk Dec 05, 2012

    Uh, Santa's corpse wasn't bloated, he hadn't died 3 weeks ago underwater and swelled up with gasses.

    Anyway, this was a cute episode, but relied on far too many red herrings to stretch it to the full hour. The moment we learned he was a wall street executive who changed his life, and his neighbors had their house taken by a predatory lending company that went belly up years ago, this case was on an obvious path that our heroes weren't following.

    I was glad that there was only minimal friction between Castle and Beckett regarding the christmas shift issue. Castle tried to be cool but couldn't; Beckett had a very personal thing she was trying to step away from but couldn't. It seemed very human that they brought it to a head and then just accepted that the other had strong feelings and needed to be respected but not changed. That way the O Henry moment at the end felt much less syrupy and more honest - they hadn't nearly broken up over this, so their move to rectify was just part of what was working in their relationship rather than a band-aid over a fractured relationship.

  • stanking Dec 05, 2012

    Alex, I never want to hear "fluffy red jockstrap" and "dangling plot details" in the same comment again. As you said, it's all in the phrasing. Eww.

  • theopratt Dec 05, 2012

    Miracle on 34th Street was mentioned in the show, but it was brought up in the beginning by Castle who says something like "why couldn't he be the real Santa Clause, like in Miracle on 34th Street?" So yeah, Alex made a pretty minor mistake in this review, which happens.

    In general I found this episode entertaining, as I do most Castle episodes. There are two things that got on my nerves though. One is the already discussed meaningless-micro-tension between Castle and Beckett. I'd even broaden that to most of the characters as well. This show, like many others, often creates a small problem between main characters that then is dealt with rather effortlessly by the end of the episode. Other than Beckett/Castle, the main ones are Esposito/Ryan and Castle/Alexis. Considering that this is a police procedural and not something like One Tree Hill or Orange County, the case-a-week aspect of the show already provides plenty of tension. Creating more week-by-week tension with minor character squabbles (most of which are unrealistic and very transparent) just leads to pointless filler. While sometimes these squabbles can lead to interesting/important character development (such as Beckett's reason for spending Christmas at the station), there are far better vehicles to bring this out.

    The second thing that bugged me about this episode was the whole "maybe he is the real Santa Clause" deal around the beginning. This is a fairly common device that has been used in other episodes, such as the one where Castle thought that a suspect was actually a werewolf. I imagine that if you walk into most police stations and observe officers investigating a case, none of they would raise their hands and say: "in all seriousness I think that's the body of Santa Clause, which means we should send out an all-points-bulletin for a crashed sleigh and we should submit a statement to children everywhere that they won't be getting any toys this year. Also, we should probably send someone up to the North Pole to try and contact his next of kin, unless anyone has Mrs. Clause's phone number." Now I realize castle is a TV show that is comedic in nature. Still, for a brilliant crime writer that actually solves crimes, Richard Castle is very well-placed to figure out what is actually happening when his team are met with strange occurrences. And yet, all of his initial theories are about crazy, crazy conspiracy theories, aliens, etc. So in this episode, when he and Ryan spent a good 5 minutes speculating that the victim was actually Santa Clause, it troubled me a little when both actors played those moments as if they were completely genuine, even though both characters don't really believe Santa exists. And of all the aircraft that exists in this world, it is disturbing that when they realized it couldn't be a plane that the only other guess given by anyone was a sleigh. Not a helicopter, blimp, or even a hot air balloon.

    One final thing I'd like to say doesn't have to do with something that happened in this episode, which is really because there wasn't a review that covered it. The previous episode, "After Hours" was almost a direct copy of an episode of "Person of Interest." I will not actually say which episode I am referring to, because if I did I would almost certainly ruin it for anyone who has already seen "After Hours." The episode in question aired last season and features the exact same, rather unique, situation that Castle's characters faced in the last episode of the show. I don't know if the writers of Castle were aware of this when they wrote the episode, but if they did, really? Castle is already a well written show that provides intriguing cases and great characters. It doesn't need to be spiced up with borrowed material.

    Yeah, sorry about the rant. Again, on the whole, this was a great episode.

  • JT_Kirk Dec 05, 2012

    I think Castle's silliness is really meant to just break the tension in the group, to take the opposite tack to a real person being horribly murdered, a palate cleanser so they can actually think fresh with new minds on the real crime. He's there to have fun too, he's a spoiled celebrity who abuses the idea of "research" to play copper. If you look at how they present Castle's books, they never have fantasy elements about them, so the intention is clear that he's just being silly, not really buying into the zombie/santa/whatever gimmick he's espousing.

  • theopratt Dec 06, 2012

    I completely agree about his humor being used to break the tension of very serious murders. However, I would apply that to the actual jokes he makes about crime scenes and also how he gets exciting when they find a really cool murder (discovering the steam punk club for instance). However, while I don't think he believes most of the "supernatural" things they come across, he does often go down certain paths of thinking when he should be going down others. Again I'd like to point out (as I said in my above comment) that it wasn't until they saw the helicopter with their own eyes that they realized it was probably used to drop the body. Before then, they rightly thought that a plane couldn't have been used, as it would've made too much noise, and the only other vehicle they mentioned was a sleigh, as put forth by Castle. Instead of thinking about what vehicle Santa would drive, they should have been able to think of a helicopter or even a blimp or a hot air balloon. I'm surprised that Castle didn't come up with a stealth craft figuring into a conspiracy. And as for Castle not buying into these gimmicks: in season 2 episode 19 "Wrapped up in death," Castle thinks that he's become cursed and believes so throughout the episode until he finds out how to "break" the curse. So at least once, that I can remember, he actual believed in the gimmick. But look, I completely realize that him acting childish is a comedic tool that the writers use to lighten the mood. Usually it doesn't really bother me. However, it is infuriating when I find myself almost yelling at the screen: "Oh, so it IS a helicopter, why didn't ANYONE even MENTION that possibility." Yeah.

  • MarkFawcett Dec 05, 2012

    "So yeah, Alex made a pretty minor mistake in this review, which happens."

    I agree minor mistakes happen, but I would point out that as this was the whole crux of the next paragraph, made the paragraph contextually wrong. He watched IAWL, in which George Bailey considers suicide, which he does too. He leaves the house, goes to a bridge to commit suicide and is rescued by his "angel", Mr Dunne, the other Santa in this ep. He becomes the inspiration for JS to become a Santa too for a chance of redemption.

    I really am not having a go at Alex, I just thought it was reasonable to point out as it did seem to be part of the inspiration for the murder victims story.

  • writergirl06 Dec 05, 2012

    Um... I watched the episode a few hours ago and the movie that inspired him to become Santa Claus was definitely It's A Wonderful Life, not A Miracle on 34th Street.

  • stockhop Dec 05, 2012

    I swear the movie santa watched was "it's a wonderful life" not "miracle on 34th street"...?

  • Renraku Dec 05, 2012

    Ok, so I imagine this has been brought up before but this episode mentioned it again so I am going to take this time to rant...
    Beckett keeps making a big deal about keeping their relationship a secret because it is against police policy and they wouldn't be able to work together...and yet Esposito and Laney dated without it being a secret and nobody seemed to care. And now they might be again...and again nobody cares. What is this mysterious "Police Policy" (read "Plot Device") that Beckett seems to be so afraid of. Enough already writers.
    We have spent 4 years watching them hide their feelings and now that they are a couple exactly nothing seems to have changed. It's season 5 guys, just let it happen already.

    Ahh that felt good :)


  • flyPBA Dec 05, 2012

    Laney is not a police officer ... she works in a different city department ... the Medical Examiner's office ... in a completely different part of the city from the police station/precinct where Beckett et al work. That is why Beckett asked him why he came all the way down there to give her the info.

    Would be no different from Esposito dating a EMT or a Fire Fighter.

  • remediosbuendia Dec 05, 2012

    I think it makes perfect sense. I don't think there's a policy against colleagues dating or even marrying, but dating your partner is probably something they don't approve of. Also, given that Castle is not actually a police officer, not to mention how much Gates dislikes him, this would just be the perfect excuse for her to get rid of him.
    As for Lainey and Esposito, they're not partners, and Lainey is not in the police.

  • kanniballl Dec 05, 2012

    Agreed. I think one of Becket's comments early in the relationship is that finding out would give Gates the ammo she needed to finally get rid of Castle.

    The rule of partners dating might or might not be set in stone. But even if it's not in stone, it would be a big enough justification to get rid of him. You can make the argument that the two of them either get into so much trouble because of their feelings, or their feelings will just put them in harms way when they keep (inevitably) getting into trouble.

  • lostcause78 Dec 05, 2012

    I don't really see little reveals between Castle and Becket as "relationship threatening" at all. They don't really play them up to be so.
    It's just the whole process of merging the other part of their lives together. Was sweet how he was proud of what she did for christmas.

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