There are no new stories, there are only new characters. We have really new characters.
— Andrew Marlowe, Castle executive producer, New York Times, 7 March 2009
Mystery writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is flattered when he learns that a killer has been mimicking his murder scenes. He imagines that his poker buddies will be jealous. “In my world,” he asserts, a copycat is “the red badge of honor, the criminal Cooperstown.” New York homicide detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) is not impressed. In her world, that is the real world, murders are not badges of honor. They are cases to be solved.
With this and a couple of other too similar exchanges, Castle establishes the attractive opposites at its center, the womanizing, resolutely unserious novelist and the stern, utterly dedicated cop. That she also happens to have read all his novels makes her a lucky cop, because she recognizes the patterned killings. Called in for questioning by police Castle is slick and silly, explaining away his “rap sheet” (disorderly conduct, etc.) as “Boys will be boys.” Kate is only annoyed. “This whole bad boy thing you’ve got going might work for bimbettes and celebutantes,” she chastises, “Me? I work for a living.”
This sort of banter takes up a good portion of the Castle premiere episode, each instance of it reinforcing the always-already familiar premise. The show is not unaware of this problem, as it sets up Castle’s decision to kill off his series’ hero precisely because he was becoming banal. “There were no more surprises,” he tells his precocious daughter Alexis (Molly C. Quinn). “I knew exactly what was going to happen, every moment of every scene.” How preemptive.
But acknowledging — even drawing attention to — the series’ essential predicament is not in itself a solution. As soon as Castle complains of the equally predictable book promo party where he and Alexis are chatting — “Just once, I would like someone to come up to me and say something new”…. guess what happens? Kate approaches, badge flashing, saying something that passes for “new.” That is, she’s hauling him down to the station for “a few questions.”
“That’s new,” says Alexis as her father’s jaw drops open. But it’s not really. Instead, Kate’s arrival on cue indicates the show’s fondness for clichés, of timing and theme as well as situation. If Alexis’s precociousness is its own banality (when her father returns from his evening “downtown” with the cops, she cutely asks how it went: “Anyone make you their bitch?”). Like daughter, like father. He and Kate are yet another mismatched pair of cop show heroes, delivering to expectations very nicely. He’s charismatic and virile (enough) while being vulnerable and, apparently, a sensitive dad (his angry ex-wife is currently his promoter and complaining bout his writer’s block, rather dominant in a not-so-nice way). Kate, for her part, is tough (reminding her new, unwanted partner that she wears a gun), but also has a difficult past that he intuits right away. Or, he tells a story that might be her past, by way of illustrating that she has a story, and she goes along, not correcting his version of her (essentially, she’s “from money” and someone close to her became an unsolved case, inspiring her to become a “good-looking, smart” cop).
Castle’s way with women is at least facetiously attributable to his hard-partying but deep-down sweet mother Martha (Susan Sullivan), who brings home men she cares nothing about, while son and granddaughter look on with seemingly bemused expressions on their faces. Just how said son became a best-selling writer is less clear, though he does play poker with Stephen J. Cannel and James Patterson, appearing as themselves and offering the sort of wry self-reflexive commentary that — again — you might. When he describes the case he’s working on with Kate, his fellow slick professionals offer advice: “You need a character that thinks this kid’s innocent and keeps digging until he finds the truth.” Ah yes, finding the truth, just what Castle sees himself doing.
If the meta-texting is occasionally obvious, it is also Castle‘s primary appeal, its gimmick, if you will. Castle knows from gimmicks, knows how and when they’re most effective. And Kate, she’s something of a gimmick in herself, partly charmed by this rascal and also partly bored by him. As they compare notes on their first case together (the episode is named for one of his self-described “lesser books,” “Flowers for Your Grave”), they compete and also collaborate. Extolling his own virtues, Castle notes, “I’m also pretty well versed in psychopathic methodologies,” then adds, “Do you know that you have gorgeous eyes?” Yecch. For a moment, Kate is rightfully put off by such staleness. But then, after they’ve solved their case and Castle goes home to begin typing up the new story, his writer’s block is suddenly gone. He has found a muse. And you know what happens next.