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.
– 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.