Castle "Room 147" Review: A Cacophony of Confessions

By theopratt

Feb 28, 2014

Whodunits have been done to death. That's just a simple fact of life. People have been trying to fool readers/audiences into not being able to figure out who the murderer is for hundreds of years. Just about every single technique for moving suspicion away from the guilty suspect has been invented, perfected, and reused over and over again. Whodunits are still fun and mentally stimulating, and they fool people every day, but it is very, very rare for someone to come up with something that has never been done before. In fact, it's nigh impossible.

Which is why "Room 147" was an especially enjoyable episode of Castle. It wasn't so much a whodunit, but rather a howdunit/whatdunit/whaaaaatdunit. The identity of the murderer was very much secondary to how in the hell what was going on was possible. Which was good, because trying to figure out what is going on can often be more enjoyable than figuring out who is responsible for it.

Now, I like whodunits more than most people (I straight up love them), but I found that "Room 147" benefited tremendously from showcasing a whaaaatdunit. You see, Castle has been around for a long time. It has more than a hundred whodunits under its belt. And no matter how good a writer is at crafting the character of a killer such that you won't suspect them yet still remember who they are later, it's practically impossible to do a great job of that a hundred times over. Especially without being repetitive. And like every long-running TV show and book series out there, Castle has been repetitive. How many times has it been the family member who doesn't talk that much? Or the roommate who they never suspect in any way? This show has thrown out some brilliant shockers in its time, and it still continues to deliver them, but a giant chunk of Castle whodunits feature killers with the same types of relationships to the victim, and the exact same motives.

This is something that Castle can't really escape. Hell, no one can. As I said, whodunits have been going strong for hundreds of years. But whatdunits haven't. And whaaaaatdunits have been done even less. They're rare, both on Castle and in fiction in general. Sure, this show is known for going outside of the box, flirting with the supernatural, and all that. But rarely does an episode come along where something seemingly unexplainable happens. Which is what happened in "Room 147." Let's talk about it.

This week's episode started with two people finding a body in a hotel room.




The NYPD soon discovered that the victim had specifically requested Room 147, and that he had been using a second, since missing phone while checking in. This wasn't the strange part. There are many reasons for why someone would have a second phone, and why that same person might request a specific room number. No, what was strange was that someone immediately confessed to the murder. Right off the bat. Without Castle and Beckett having to do anything really.





But here's the thing. She couldn't have done it. The woman who confessed had an airtight alibi, and simply couldn't be the killer. Now, this was strange. But it wasn't really crazy. Television has been around for a long time, and case-of-the-week procedurals aren't new by any means. Castle is one of many TV shows to exhibit weird and unusual murder mysteries. So believe it or not, there is precedent for someone believing adamantly that they killed someone, even though they didn't. However, the crazy factor in this case stirred up a tornado, hurricane, and earthquake all at once when two more people confessed to the exact same crime.




All three suspects knew things about the case that theoretically only the murderer would know. We saw through their eyes a memory of them killing the victim. And while there were some slight variations (the victim flirted a little with the woman, but not the men, for instance), the three memories were almost exactly the same. That wasn't the only similarity between the victims. All of them were very fuzzy when it came to the last two weeks. They weren't exactly sure about where they'd been, or what they'd been doing. It was all very hazy in a general sort of way.

Castle proposed that someone had made the three confessors (not the Catholic kind, mind you) forget what had happened the past two weeks. Somehow the murderer had made the three of them lose their memory, and had also implanted the same fake memory in them. After all, their calendars and schedules had all had the last two weeks removed. Someone was actively doing this to the "suspects." So now the NYPD had two questions: 1. How do you implant a memory ins someone of a action they never committed, and 2. How do you make someone forget what happened for the past two weeks. While the answer to the first question was still out of reach, the second question was quickly answered by this guy.




That's right, that one psychiatrist from "Vampire Weekend" and "The Fifth Bullet," Dr. Holloway (Phil LaMarr), was back. He found their case fascinating, and after examining the three wannabe killers he discovered that they had all been drugged. Now, I like LaMarr and his character on this show. But his role in this episode illustrated an issue that I've had with Castle in the past. One which was on prominent display this week.

You see, the writers don't have the best track record of having their characters put forth possible explanations for the puzzles they come across. Sure, Castle is always happy to throw out a crazy theory, and the team will throw out some solutions of their own. In this episode, for instance, back when they found the victim in the hotel room, they at first suspected that he was having a dalliance with a lady of the evening, if you will. However, no one could suggest why he would have requested a specific room number, and made it seem like there were no possible explanations for the time being. I have noticed that on several occasions the writers try and make certain situations more unexplainable by not offering any possible solutions until the actual one is revealed. My "favorite" example of this is when a man dressed in a Santa suit fell out of a red vehicle that they knew couldn't be a plane,. No one could think of a single type of aircraft that would fit the bill, except a sleight powered by magic reindeer capable of flight. And just as there are a number of vehicles that just about anyone could think of for that particular instance (blimp, hot air balloon, helicopter), here there were several possible reasons for the room number request. These are some that I've thought up off the top of my head:

1. Room 147 has a particular view that is important to him.
2. He wanted to spy on the room across the hall from him.
3. He had stayed in that room previously and had really liked it for some reason.
4. Something had been left in that particular room for him/he had hidden something there years earlier and was now retrieving it.
5. A murder or some crime had taken place in that room previously, and he was investigating it.
6. He's a J. J. Abrams fan.

Now, I realize that this was a minor issue. So what if no one could think of a reason for the room request? The case moved quickly along anyway. However, in this same episode everyone was at a loss for how someone could have their memories taken away, or how another memory could be implanted. In fact, the NYPD shelled out almost no solutions at all for the various questions they were met with. Until the right answers popped up right in front of them, like Dr, Holloway stepping in at the perfect moment to tell them that a specific drug was responsible for the memory loss.

In the Santa case, there's a pretty good reason why the writers would want their characters to keep any and all hypothesis to themselves: a helicopter is the most obvious explanation. But in "Room 147," this was far from the case for most of the questions our heroes faced. Sure, the idea that drugs could be used to affect someone's memory is pretty obvious. But the room number request, the three wannabe killers who all confessed to the crime, the slight differences in their accounts, and the fact that the rooms in the memories and real life were different were all far from easily explained.

So why couldn't the writers have had Castle, Beckett, or anyone just throw some ideas out there? When a victim is found with two bit marks in their neck, we all know that Castle will yell out "vampire": at the top of his lungs, even though the entire audience knows that the actual killer will not be a member of the living dead. But he still says the thing that's on everyone's mind. So, why wasn't the word "hypnotism" mentioned once in this episode? Even if Dr. Holloway immediately shut that possibility down as being impossible, you'd still think that Castle at least would have put that hypothesis forward. Any idea put forward by anyone would have been preferable. But none was.

Which again, was strange. Because I'd have thought that if the solution to the mystery is really cool (which it was), you'd want to cut away the obvious, low hanging fruit so that the audience would know that the solution is going to be cool. Throughout this entire episode, I half expected the killer to end up being a hypnotist, and it would have turned out that s/he'd hypnotized three people into thinking that they'd committed his/her murder. That way the NYPD would be so bogged down with questions and weird theories, and their investigation would focus solely on the three confessors, that they'd have a hard time finding the actual killer. I, at least, would have enjoyed this episode even more if the writers had just batted this theory away from me early on, and basically said: "Sorry, you'll have to do better than that."

Because the solution was so much better than just "hypnosis did it." The inclusion of the cult, the Eternal Horizons Institute (EHI), the video that was filmed in a different Room 147, and the fact that the victim thought he was reprising his role all meshed together so well, and made the case so invigorating. And Doctor Gustavo Bauer (John Getz) made a great villain and victim all rolled into one. Basically, I'd like to see more whaaaatdunits on Castle in the future. Because while answering a whodunit is as simple as pointing to someone on the screen and saying "it's them," a whaaaaatdunit is a much more challenging, and often more satisfying, puzzle.

Let's be honest, the whodunit aspect of "Room 147" was lazily done. It could have been anyone. Literally anyone. The girlfriend, the...ummm....other woman? Or the other male actor who wasn't the victim. When we first saw the scene in the theater, I figured the murderer would turn out to be one of the three people there. But I at least assumed we're learn all their names, see them once again before the end, or learn something, anything, that would make them memorable or stand out in some way. But no. The identity of the killer was basically a loose end that Castle and Beckett got out of the way as quickly as possible, once the more compelling solution to the whaaaatdunit has been revealed.


But in the long run, that was in keeping with the tone of the episode. "Room 147" didn't care about the murderer; it focused practically all of its attention on the strangeness surrounding the crime itself. Now, if I had written this episode, I would have had the murderer be the third person who confessed. By the time he showed up, the NYPD didn't even bother investigating him. It would have been the perfect opportunity for the killer to get close to the investigation, see how things were going, and stay above suspicion. And we would have had multiple scenes with the murderer, without having to take the focus away from the mind-boggling puzzle that was how three people were sure they had committed the same crime in the exact same way. But instead, the murderer this week was a throwaway. Thrown carelessly onto a cold, hard ground.

Still, the brilliance of the whaaaatdunit far outshone the dullness of the whodunit. I thought it was great how the three wannabe killers all went off to drink together. It looked like they were going to start a club. It was a bit odd that the third guy felt left out about not having the chance to confess.




Like last week's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," this episode focused heavily on the case. Castle, Beckett, their wedding, and the social side of the show took a back seat. But there was a B story. Alexis showed up for the first time in a while. Her absence was in part explained by the fact that she'd been ridiculously busy. Simultaneously going to school and paying for her apartment single handedly was taking up all of her time. She didn't want to move back in to her Dad's apartment, or ask him for help, because that would basically be admitting to him that he was right about Pi all along. And while Alexis knew that she had made a mistake, she felt that it was her duty to fix it on her own.

Beckett secretly met with her in order to talk her out of this self-punishment that Alexis was inflicting upon herself. Staying away from Castle like this wasn't good for either him or Alexis. Beckett argued that it was best for everyone involved if Alexis moved back in with them. Now, I was a bit torn by this. On the one hand, I think that just because Castle is rich, that doesn't mean that he should bail Alexis out of every hole she digs for herself. But on the other hand, I like Alexis, and I like seeing her on this show. So if having her show up more often requires her to be less of a responsible adult, then I'm totally fine with that. And it certainly looks like she'll be around more often, seeing as she basically moved back in to the apartment at the end of the episode.


Overall, "Room 147" was a standalone episode that certainly stood out. The case of the week was so unique that I can't think of anything else like it, ever. The guest stars were fairly memorable, and we got to see a recurring character show up for a bit, which doesn't happen that often on Castle. As I've said many times in my reviews, I'm still waiting for that season arc. But if the standalone episodes are going to be this interesting and entertaining, I won't mind the wait that much.

Poll

Notes From the Bloody Fountain Pen:

1. Gates is back! Well, she appeared in this episode. For all we know she'll disappear for another five episodes or so. It's hard to tell with her. I think the problem is that she still doesn't have a reason or purpose. In this episode, she was basically an excuse for Beckett to deliver some exposition. In fact, most of the time she's around she just asks Beckett for status updates and occasionally orders people to do things that they were about to do anyway. Of all the main characters on this show, Gates is the most in need of a good arc. Anything, really.
2. Speaking of characters we haven't seen in a while, where was Martha? There were actors -- stage actors no less -- in this episode, and she was nowhere to be seen. This is just how like last week's episode had a lot of young people in it, and yet Alexis didn't show up once.

3. I wish they'd shown a quick scene of the murder actually being committed. Because right now it feels like the murderer really lucked out. I mean, that crime scene looked exactly like what happened in the video. Minus the fridge, of course. The bullet landed in the same place as in the video, and he presumably fell back with his hand on the chair. I'm not clear to what extant those things could have been faked after the victim was dead, but when they examined the body they made it seem like nothing had been tampered with, or was out of place in any way.

4. I didn't talk about EHI all that much in the review. For the most part, I thought they were a great part of the episode. However, I do feel like their treatment ideas didn't make all that much sense. I mean, is making someone actually feel like they're a murderer really the best way to cure them of alcoholism? Wouldn't the "memory" of killing someone in an angry rage, even if you know it isn't real, be traumatic in of itself. Couldn't someone not used to killing get PTSD from that? I realize that the point was that the treatment failed. But you'd think that no one in their right mind would think up such a thing in the first place. Right?

5. This is the third episode that Dr. Holloway has appeared in. Recurring guest stars are rare on Castle, and I personally would like to see him show up more often. But what about you? Do you think he should become a bit more of a regular installment, like Tory Ellis? Or should he just disappear again for another couple of seasons?

6. What did you think of "Room 147?" Did it open doors for you, or slam them in your face?




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  • HanhKim Mar 01, 2014

    I like your review, but I would like to add that it wouldn't be possible for the third confessor to be the actual culprit. You're assuming he'll think it's safe to come in and get the inside scoop because the detectives wouldn't think he's the real killer at that point since there are already 2 other confessors. The loophole in your idea is this: he couldn't have known that there were already 2 (or any) confessors at the moment. The drugs were supposed to erase their memory. No one could have guessed that their memory would return because of a trigger and/or that they would even come in to confess their supposed crime at all.

    I do agree with you that someone -- anyone -- should have mentioned hypnotism. Once they called that doctor to interview the woman, I immediately thought it would be plausible that another psychiatrist/psychologist could have implanted those memories into the three witnesses to make them believe they did it. It was shoddy writing for the characters.

  • theopratt Mar 01, 2014

    You're right that as written it wouldn't make sense for the third confessor to be the murderer. The point that you made about all three of them losing their memory would certainly make it difficult for someone to plan out such an elaborate murder, know that there would be two other suspects, and then step in as the third.

    But, if you tweak around a few of the facts and events in the episode, it becomes fairly believable for the third guy to be the murderer. Here's how I would have done it. The third guy happens to be a family member of one of the victims of the sweat lodge incident (like the actual murderer turned out to be). He wants revenge, so he starts investigating the cult. He learns through spying on them that a treatment they offered went bad, and that some of the patients from it want to sue the cult. But the cult covers it up, like they always do, so he decides to bring it out in the open.

    He's been monitoring the cult's activities, so he knows that their memory has been messed with, and their calenders/planners have had the last two weeks removed. He also knows that one of the cult's members has been doing this while driving a red van. So, he commits the murder exactly as it happened in the episode. He then discreetly ensures that people who took the treatment see images of the murder/pictures of the victim. This triggers their memories of the murder, and gets them both to confess.

    This is plan A. If they don't remember, or don't confess, he plans on confessing himself. He'll tell them about his fuzzy memory, the missing calender/planner entries, and he'll give them the license plate of a suspicious red van he saw outside his house. The van will lead to the cult, the patients who have lost their memory, and eventually the trial cover up. Even if this doesn't lead to the patients, he observed the first confessor yelling at the victim in the street, so he knows the NYPD will eventually find her.

    Lucky for him, though, both the patients confess. He's monitoring both of them, and waits for the perfect moment to step in. He knows by this point he doesn't need an alibi, and since he stayed out of view of the hotel security cameras, they won't be able to directly tie him to the murder. It doesn't really matter though, at this point they'll consider any suspect who gives an accurate confession to be entirely innocent. It brings him no small amount of enjoyment to know that as long as he accurately describes the video, and not the actual murder, he can confess to his own crime and that will lift him from any and all suspicion.

    There is one piece of evidence, though, that he knows could make him suspicious. He wasn't actually a member of the therapy trial. If the NYPD ever get their hands on the patient lists, or the cult ever shows that he's never received treatment from them, he'll suddenly become the NYPD's prime suspect. But he's fine with that. In fact, he'll looking forward to that day. Because it means that the NYPD will know enough about the therapy trial cover-up that they'll be able to bring down the cult. And he'll have no trouble going to jail, because that means that the leaders of the cult will be behind bars as well.

    So yeah, that's a way how the writers could have made the third confessor the murderer. He wasn't an actual member of the therapy trial, he was just pretending to be.

  • HanhKim Mar 01, 2014

    I like it. It has an intelligent criminal as well. But as you've mentioned, I think the writers were going for an interesting howdunnit rather than whodunnit so the focus was on the crime itself and not on the mastermind behind it. In the end, they chose to write a one-dimensional criminal who could easily be forgotten.

    I want to mention that I still really enjoyed this episode of Castle. I like when the writers think outside the box to deliver us a story that's unlike any other. I hope they continue to work at this level and to challenge themselves. Sometimes their big leaps don't work out (the many FBI level cases come to mind -- they were big but they just didn't have much emotional impact). Now I don't mind this. Even if they fail at impressing us, I love it if they keep trying.

  • theopratt Mar 01, 2014

    I couldn't agree more. This show has enough fan love for Castle and Beckett that every episode could only feature the two of them in one room and hordes of people would watch and love it. So it makes sense that a number of Castle mysteries are safe, and don't make big leaps. But when they do, they either really really deliver, or just make me really happy that they tried. It's a lot better when this show risks and fails, rather than not risk at all.

  • Glennen Feb 28, 2014

    This episode was great because it confirmed that the cake is gone. (come to think of it, he was a fruitcake, a name that sounded like pie and eats only fruit :D ) Also, Alexis is back :)