Castle "Under the Influence" Review: Your Tale Is of the Lamest

Castle S05E11: "Under the Influence"

Last week, I asked Castle's writers to take a break from all the relationship drama and symbolism that has been weighing down the show for the last several weeks. I did this not because I am tired of Castle and Beckett's relationship, but because it wasn't really going anywhere new. We've seen Castle and Beckett run into similar (if not the same) problems week after week, only to kiss and make up and also solve a murder each and every time. I like Castle and Beckett together, but I feel like I'm past the point where I want the show to constantly remind me they're together. A quip, a minor argument, an off-hand reference, that's all I really need until the writers get around to finding some big, honking story twist that will throw everything asunder. At the outset of this week's episode, "Under the Influence," I thought maybe Castle was going to grant my wish. Turns out it was one of those dark, twisted wishes, like the ones granted by that monkey's paw on The Simpsons.

This was most definitely an episode devoid of relationship drama. The most back-and-forth bit between Castle and Beckett came at the very beginning, where Castle chastised his girlfriend for choosing the Garry Marshall romantic concoction Valentine's Day as ideal viewing for their evening. After that, Castle and Beckett practically disappeared from the episode, save for occasional meetings where they pored over evidence pertaining to the death of a young female DJ, whose body was unceremoniously dumped at a construction site following a lavish party at an aging pop star's home.

Instead, it was Esposito who took the reins this week. No, not Esposito and Ryan, but single, solitary Esposito. And that right there is where it all went wrong.

Jon Huertas is a fine actor and entirely capable of providing an enjoyable mixture of goofy bro-dude-ness and genuine-ish tough-cop bravado, but somewhere along the way, Castle's writers decided that Huertas needed his big moment, his own episode fraught with emotions that let Esposito be not only a bad-ass cop, but a bad-ass cop who cares about the kids, man. It was a humanizing touch that, quite frankly, I don't think his character or this show needed.

At least, not in the hokey, hamfisted way it was delivered in "Under the Influence." It didn't take long for the investigators to figure out that DJ Beat (no, seriously, that was her DJ name) had a checkered history of her own. And despite having cleaned up her act years earlier, she evidently still had ties to a local criminal mastermind, of sorts (Michael Irby, doing his best pre-surgery Mickey Rourke), who'd been using underage criminals to do his bidding for years. In this case, he'd saddled DJ Beat with one of his other rapscallions, a 14-year-old boy (Nadji Jeter) who would work parties with DJ Beat, stealing high-priced items from the homes of her wealthy clients. Only this time, something went horribly wrong, and now the girl was dead, the kid wasn't talking, and the mastermind was likely gunning for the kid.

All of this was kind of hacky and has certainly been done in some form or another on just about every cop show imaginable, which is to say nothing of the obvious Oliver Twist influence—which the writers were at least good enough to spell out for everybody in conversation. Unfortunately, the writers went the extra step of making the situation particularly unbearable by having Esposito take the wayward kid in, even though he was refusing to talk and would probably skip out first chance he got. But Esposito saw something of himself in the teen. He saw a troubled young mind much like Esposito's own when he was growing up, and Esposito was going to save him, dammit.

If I'd been able to feel any real connection between Esposito and the kid, maybe I'd have bought into this episode more. But Esposito's entire role on Castle is to be the "heavy" of the group—the tough bro who is never not a tough bro, even when he's trying to be emotionally available—and instead we saw him sarcastically jibing back and forth with the kid, who was obnoxious, albeit no more so than your average teen. And when the kid inevitably tried to flee Esposito's abode via the fire escape, all that really happened was that Esposito brought him back to the precinct in handcuffs and wouldn't let him leave. Oh, he regaled us with an elaborate chase story, but that's all we got.

Between the lack of an interesting connection between Esposito and the kid, and Esposito's multiple visits to the mastermind's office/bar that featured him doing the craziest "good cop gone bad" routine I've seen in ages—come on, I wasn't the only one taken aback when he threatened to kill the guy in cold blood, right?—I just couldn't get into this episode. It was too much of what I don't care for in regards to the Esposito character, and not enough of what makes him likable. I certainly get the desire to grow your actors and their roles, but I don't get the impression that anyone in Castle land has any really heady ideas about where Esposito is headed.

And I haven't even gotten into the lousy episode ending, which simultaneously displayed such a fundamental misunderstanding of how the music industry works as to render it laughable (and not in a funny way) and required you to remember a tossed-out character connection that the episode more or less forgot about for 40 minutes of its run time. And you know what? I'm not going to bother. This was a bad episode for reasons upon reasons. Any further dissection of said reasons barely seems necessary.


NOTES


– For those who want more about the ending: Look, I get it. Leaking someone's album ahead of its release can cause irreparable harm to their sales, but that happens to literally everyone's album. Especially the "week before release." Have you ever looked at the internet? Everyone's album is on it weeks before it comes out. This is not a clever, elaborate plan by the killer. This is just writers not understanding the problems of an entire other segment of the music industry.

– And while we're on the subject of fundamental misunderstandings of modern music: DJ Beat? MC Thug? THESE are the best fake hip-hop names they could come up with? It's like this show is written by my parents.

– They even got the Assassin's Creed III mention wrong (there's no two-player co-op mode in that game!) But then again, fundamental misunderstandings of how video games work are sort of part and parcel with television writing. Remember when Prince of Persia was on Life?

– Castle and Lanie were both correct: Choosing a Garry Marshall-level disaster of a film for your movie night results in an automatic turn forfeit for the choosing participant. Those are the rules. There is no getting around them.


What did YOU think of this week's episode?

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Just as dreff22 says......Castle needs more of Senator Bracken; this is the most important subject of this season (and the writers seem to have forgotten that). The relationship between Castle and Beckett is getting the show nowhere new; nothing there to boost up the story. I like that they're finally together but c'mon where's the twist that will make it more interesting. Getting to know more about the other characters (Esposito, Ryan, Martha, etc.) can be revealed little by little during the season; and this is not relevant for the show.
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I don't agree at all with this review, in fact the Esposito parts of the episode were the most interesting ones imo. The actor did a great job and it was long overdue for the writers to actually try to give Ryan and Esposito some character depth. I don't like to see them become caricatures and side-kicks to the whole Castle-Beckett relationship rollercoaster. Don't get me wrong, I was rooting for them to become a couple too, but the show has been consumed with that angle for such a long time, that it's obvious the writers haven't given much thought to what lies ahead. Ever since these two hooked up the show has been more boring with each episode, all the tension is gone and they haven't found anything exciting to replace it with. It was totally believable that Esposito would behave like this, esp. given his background, which was the (very obvious) connection to the kid. Sometimes justice on the streets is different than justice in the police department. It's a step towards the right direction, namely make the team more tight and exploit the other characters in the show too, besides Castle and Beckett.
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Castle needs more of Senator Bracken. *is waiting for the Feb 4th episode*
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I would have loved to know more about Esposito but the pathos I-see-myself-in-this-kid-and-need-to-save-him was a bit too much for me. The break from the constant couple drama was welcome and the killer-starlette was obnoxious enough that I could totally see her doing that. Tbh, I'd have bought the leak thing as a show of her stupidity (she was dumb, let's be honest), except that the producer's reaction didn't match because he seems to consider it was a big deal.
I didn't dislike the episode but it was too uneven (I loved some part, kudos for the bodyguard protecting his privates the last time Espo went into the bar :D) for me to completely enjoy it.
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I have to disagree with almost everything you said in this review. I thought this episode was pretty decent. We got to know a bit more of Esposito. About why he joined the police force and also that he was in military before the force. So there was something in his younger days who had helped him clean up his act and join the military and he now feels obliged to do the same as was done to him.
The names...okay that i agree they're bad but then again, it's just names. No biggie.
And onto the case, well, people have killed for much lesser right?
I'd say this episode is a nice chance to shed some light onto Espo's back story and it worked for me. Might not have worked for you but it did for me.
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I missed Alexis and Martha - but mostly I missed Castle and Beckett. I agree with the review - this wasn't a great episode. Instead of toning down the relationship arc - the switched it of and put the characters on the shelf. Espo is best together with Ryan or Lainy - it was a bit thin having him on his own. And the case was no fun.

I've always thought this show remided me alot of Remington Steele which was my favorite show growing up - they could have episodes more or less relationship-oriented but were good at mixing them up with episodes with just fun cases (of course in RS they kept stringing the relationship-thing along until you as an audience started to question that they should actually end up together, but Im happy to say Castle seem to have avoided that pothole)
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disappointing.
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didn't Castle and Espo agree on forfeiting turn? I liked episode,mainly because there was no Martha and Alexis. Were there some cheesy stuff in there and been-there-done-that moments? Hell yes,but there were also great moments.
When Espo mentioned Assassin's Creed III, I roled my eyes. Marketing and promoting game,because game really isn't that good. Yes I played it and didn't even get halfway,when I stopped and just watched cutscenes on YouTube. Waste of money for that one.
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This episode was uneven at best. I guess that I admire it for taking a lot of chances, and in that sense I see it as a hopeful transitional episode. Sure, it was unfortunate that Castle and Beckett were extremely straight laced this episode, as their relationship looked more like season 2 than anything. Remember, back when they were still friends and only were kinda into each other? That being said, there was no stupid squabble that made them slightly angry with each other for some stupid reason that was easily explained at the end of the episode. So, hopefully the writers are transitioning away from these petty arguments, and are working toward a longer arc with their relationship issues. My suggestion: make the trouble come from the outside, and have them tested so that they have to have each other's back like, you know, two people in love. Seriously, it would be nice to see these characters, especially Castle, have a bit of trust in each other, instead of assuming that any rumor they hear about each other, from anyone whatsoever, is probably true.

I also see this as a hopeful transitional episode in respect to the focus on Esposito this week. Usually, Castle episodes like to keep everyone involved pretty equally, though there will often be "Castle" episodes and "Beckett" episodes. But this is the first time I can remember another character having their own episode. Sure, sometimes one character is having a specific issue (like Alexis having issues about going to college), but never have these issues taken center stage like they did last night. And while it's great Castle is trying this out, it was a little rocky. Esposito went back and forth between being a father figure for a kid, to being a dark, gritty cop/vigilante who threatened to kill a guy and make it look like self defense.

I actually thought that this was a good thing, in the long run that is. It's good that Esposito juggled a variety of different roles this episode, because that's what real people do. Good, three dimensional characters shouldn't always say or do the exact same thing. They should have multiple goals, not just one. They should feel conflicted sometimes, and doubt themselves and others. And sometimes they should go a little dark, especially when they're a former member of special forces.

So yes, I'm glad that Esposito was a kind mentor and went dark in this episode, because it makes sense for his character. He is a good guy who feels empathy for people, which is a big part of why he's a cop: to help people. However, he also has a dark past, full of crime and war, and he is very capable of doing bad things. This isn't the first time he's gone all gritty: previously he used his special forces training to track down a sniper, and he's occasionally taken cases a little personally. And yet, his actions still felt uneven in this episode, and I think this is because Castle isn't good at doing the whole three dimensional character thing.

Sure, Castle and Beckett are pretty three dimensional, but mostly this is because a lot of screen-time has been devoted to them. The supporting characters, on the other hand, don't have nearly as much backstory, and as such are only a few notches better than cliches. Martha, especially, is an old-fashioned actress, fitting this mold in just about every possible way. From her dramatic gestures, to her almost every other line referencing the theater in some way, and to the minor hysterics she employs when talking about everyday things, she is a walking cliche. This is true of most of the other supporting characters: Alexis is a goody-two-shoes who loves to study, be smart, and do everything that is expected of her, the current chief is almost always angry and hates Castle seemingly because she has nothing else to do, and Lanie is...really just there to dish out facts and attitude, and that's pretty much it.

Look, I'm aware that a lot of these characters have had moments where they show themselves to be interesting people, but this doesn't happen all too often. The last time Lanie actually was part of a larger story was an entire season ago. And I like her as a character, but almost all of the time she's just a pleasant vehicle for hearing gruesome information. And this is honestly representative of the show as a whole. None of these characters interact in the ways they used to. Remember when Alexis was an intern for Lanie? Remember that one time when Martha actually figured into a case? None of these things happen anymore.

It is no surprise, then, that the writers had a hard time making Esposito seem naturally three dimensional, since I guess they've been out of practice for a while. The same goes for Castle and Beckett's interactions. It seems that the writers are used to either major grumpy tension, or sign of their relationship at all. Basically, the writers need to reel their characters in a little and make them more believable. They have been spending too much time at the extreme ends of the pool, and need to learn what it's like to swim around a little.

This same problem applies with the cases of the week. I remember a time when the cases were wild and crazy, often bordering on the supernatural. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, steam-punk clubs, and homages to "The Man Who Knew Too Little" have all been the focus of great and entertaining mysteries. But this week's mystery was something else entirely. The best I can tell is that it was a lazy satire of the modern music industry? I think that was it. I mean, there was a DJ Beat and a MC Thug, and I'm pretty sure they were making fun of performer's names, but for all I know they were trying to be authentic. Because as several people have pointed out, their portrayal of the music industry was very flawed, considering that the backbone of the mystery rested upon a lie.

Stepping outside of the many problems I had with this episode, I still maintain that it could be a very good thing in the long run. If this trend continues, of supporting characters getting more of a spotlight, and of there being less silly squabbles in the Caskett zone, this show could actually become so much better. I have always, and still do, enjoy this show. But I am very aware of its faults. And I hope, so very much, that the writers are aware of these faults as well, and are trying to fix them as best they can.

On a final note, I just have to say that they did probably the worst possible job referencing Assassins Creed III. It has already been pointed out that the game has no coop mode. But one of the characters also said that the other "couldn't get past the first level," which is funny because AC III has no levels. It is a sandbox game with several missions, and the only things resembling levels are called "memories." I have a feeling that whoever wrote that scene just left the name of the game blank, and later filled it in with something that looked popular on the internet. Yeah, that one was bad.
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I actually thought the best part of the episode was when Espo when super dark cop. That was my favorite because it was so un-Espo like but yet delivered with just enough hint that heck yeah he would pull that trigger cop be damned. The rest was meh.
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I liked the episode.
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Castle and Bones need fresh writers. Both show are getting stale; dying on the vine.
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I don't think Castle is getting old - I think they still have stuff up their sleave. Bones need a good arc-story. It isn't really going anywhere - I still like it though
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I rather liked the episode but as soon as I saw Michael Irby listed as a guest star, I knew it would be him.

Michael Irby was awesome in The Unit. Basically - everyone was awesome in The Unit.
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I like Castle very much but last night's was a bit... boring & predictable? Maybe next ep will be better?
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Good review, the points are pretty spot on. Espo not noticing the kid's voice trailing off as he skipped out the window was downright embarrassing for a cop on a cop show.

As for the ending, it was overplayed at the beginning that it was the obvious choice for the whodunit, and it was a clumsy, dopey way to come together. Every red herring was written to cover up how lame this ending was, so it needed a LOT of red herrings.

Honestly, this didn't even feel like Castle and Beckett had any involvement in the episode, it felt like a backdoor pilot with just a few extra bits for the current show's stars to connect with. And yet it clearly wasn't drawn up that way, that's just how off this episode was.
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Oh, and the thing about album drops is their sales are based on retailers buying the albums, not consumers, so even with a leak like that the album was guaranteed to outsell it no matter what until consumer disinterest eventually caught up to retailer orders.
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Perhaps a season or two too late; last night CASTLE was banished from my DVR.
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I didn't have a problem with Esposito's character, but agree this was a blah episode. I've said it before, Castle writers really have a research problem. In writing a character who is all about research and authenticity these writers sure do get a whole lot wrong. The episode in the Hamptons for example (Murder He Wrote) was for me like going to the dentist.
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But, but, but they made a Firefly reference! When Castle was saying there was so much 'bling' to steal at the party and Esposito said don't call it that and said to call it Shiny instead. That was a Firefly reference, which is about 40% of the reason I watch the show.
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Unfortunately, I think Esposito said "shine" instead of "shiny," which would make this an unintentional Firefly reference at best.
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Yikes. that was probably the worst episode of Castle thus far. I like Castle, it is good tv. But that was just bad. Ripping music? Really?
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It wasn't the best episode, and it definitely didn't show any understanding of the music industry (or video games), but I still thought Esposito was pretty in character in this episode, he still was that muscle, it was just with a little bit of heart and I had no problem with that. It definitely could have been executed better and it pales to the early season writing for sure, but I didn't think it was nearly as bad as this review wrote it out to be.

And anyone who picks Valentines Day for movie night should lose all their turns, not just two. Come on now.
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Esposito was right: you should lose TWO turns.
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Why can't characters on TV string together two sentences about a video game without putting their foot in their mouth? I mean he could've just stopped at "I have Assassin's Creed 3" but nope, he had to keep going.
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