Rating: Castle, Season 7

Castle comes roaring back in season 7 with the best showing since the first season. Despite a few missteps, this season really delivers. Here’s our take:

  1. “Driven” – 3.5
  2. “Montreal” – 6
  3. “Clear and Present Danger” – 6
  4. “Child’s Play” – 10
  5. “Meme is Murder” – 1
  6. “The Time of Our Lives” – 6.5
  7. “Once Upon a Time in the West” – 9
  8. “Kill Switch” – 10
  9. “Last Action Hero” – 10
  10. “Bad Santa” – 7.5
  11. “Castle P. I.” – 10
  12. “Private Eye Caramba!” – 10
  13. “I, Witness” – 6
  14. “Resurrection” – 0.5
  15. “Reckoning” – 1
  16. “The Wrong Stuff” – 8
  17. “Hong Kong Hustle” – 6
  18. “At Close Range” – 4
  19. “Habeas Corpse” – 7
  20. “Sleeper” – 4.5
  21. “In Plane Sight” – 8
  22. “Dead from New York” – 4.5
  23. “Hollander’s Woods” – 3

This season’s average is 6.2, much better than the previous season’s 5.4, buoyed up by no less than five episodes scoring a full 10.

Season 7 shakes up the established formula as Castle and Beckett get married and Castle starts his own private investigator business as a way of continuing to work cases after being barred from officially consulting with the department. These developments give the characters some new areas to explore and lead to some great episodes. Other changes are not so productive. After resolving the case of Beckett’s mother last season, the writers felt obliged to shove in another long-running personal mystery for the team, which leads to Castle disappearing on his and Beckett’s wedding day only to resurface two months later with amnesia. This storyline never gains any traction, only acts as dead weight on the season, and eventually just sputters out to an uninteresting conclusion.

The season’s worst episodes, though, are a blast from the past, as Castle’s personal serial killer returns yet again in “Resurrection” (0.5) and “Reckoning” (1). There’s nothing new to see here, just the same old overused bag of tricks. “Reckoning” at least ends with a satisfying conclusion as the team finally pulls itself together to deal with the killer once and for all, but it’s a real slog to get there.

But we can forgive this season its missteps when it delivers an amazing five (five!) episodes that win full marks from us. “Child’s Play” has Castle and Beckett looking for clues to a murder among schoolchildren. It is always a delight to see Castle’s goofy joy at dealing with children, and Nathan Fillion plays him with a warmth and humor that are so rare to see in men on screen. “Kill Switch” puts Detective Esposito in a tense stand-off that gives one of our favorite side characters a chance to shine. “Last Action Hero” is a fun-filled homage to action movies as the team investigates a crime among a group aging action stars. “Castle P. I.” gives the characters some room to grow as Castle starts up his private investigator business. And “Private Eye Caramba!” delves lovingly into the melodramatic world of telenovelas. With a mix of the serious and the silly, these episodes deliver the whimsy and crackling case-solving we love Castle for.

Image: Castle and Beckett investigate a murder in a Mars mission simulator in “The Wrong Stuff” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Castle, Season 6

It’s a return to form for the sixth season of Castle. Here’s our take on this season’s episodes:

  1. “Valkyire” – 7
  2. “Dreamworld” – 2
  3. “Need to Know” – 5.5
  4. “Number One Fan” – 8
  5. “Time Will Tell” – 8
  6. “Get a Clue” – 6
  7. “Like Father, Like Daughter” – 8.5
  8. “A Murder is Forever” – 6
  9. “Disciple” – 2
  10. “The Good, the Bad, and the Baby” – 9
  11. “Under Fire” – 8
  12. “Deep Cover” – 2
  13. “Limelight” – 6
  14. “Dressed to Kill” – 5.5
  15. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – 2.5
  16. “Room 147” – 8.5
  17. “In the Belly of the Beast” – 3
  18. “The Way of the Ninja” – 7.5
  19. “The Greater Good” – 5
  20. “That 70’s Show” – 3
  21. “Law and Boarder” – 6
  22. “Veritas” – 2.5
  23. “For Better or Worse” – 3

The average rating for this season is 5.4, not the best that Castle has done, but a decent showing and better than the last couple of seasons. This season does well when it plays to its strengths: offbeat crimes and the interactions of its characters.

The three lowest episodes this season, coming in at 2, try to break the formula: “Dreamworld,” in which Beckett gets tied up in an international conspiracy; “Disciple,” in which Castle’s pet serial killer returns with a new friend; and “Deep Cover,” in which Castle gets tied up in an international conspiracy. None of these episodes works well or delivers the crime-solving comedy we expect from this series. I’m beginning to get the sense that someone in the Castle writers’ room really wanted to write spy thrillers but couldn’t hack it. Every time Castle tries to do international intrigue, it just bombs. At least this season mercifully more or less ties up the overdrawn story of Beckett’s mother’s death.

But this season more than makes up for its occasional missteps with a lot of average-to-good episodes that are enjoyable to watch. Our top pick this season, “The Good, the Bad, and the Baby,” at a 9, finds the team working backwards to uncover what led to a dying man staggering into a church holding a baby. One of the lovely things about this episode is how eagerly Castle jumps into the role of taking care of the baby, a refreshing reversal of the usual trope that men are useless with children. As runners-up at 8.5 we have “Like Father, Like Daughter,” in which Alexis enlists her father’s help for an Innocence-Project-like case, and “Room 147,” an intricate mystery in which multiple people inexplicably confess to the same crime.

Image: Beckett and Castle investigate, from “Room 147” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Castle, Season 5

Overall, season 5 of Castle gets our lowest rating for the series, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great episodes worth going back to. Here’s how we rated it:

  1. “After the Storm” – 2.5
  2. “Cloudy with a Chance of Murder” – 3
  3. “Secret’s Safe with Me” – 5.5
  4. “Murder, He Wrote” – 6
  5. “Probable Cause” – 1.5
  6. “The Final Frontier” – 8
  7. “Swan Song” – 7.5
  8. “After Hours” – 6
  9. “Secret Santa” – 9
  10. “Significant Others” – 6
  11. “Under the Influence” – 6
  12. “Death Gone Crazy” – 6
  13. “Recoil” – 4
  14. “Reality Star Struck” – 5
  15. “Target” – 0
  16. “Hunt” – 0
  17. “Scared to Death” – 6
  18. “The Wild Rover” – 4
  19. “The Lives of Others” – 10
  20. “The Fast and the Furriest” – 5
  21. “Still” – 2.5
  22. “The Squab and the Quail” – 4
  23. “The Human Factor” – 4
  24. “Watershed” – 1.5

There are a bunch of decent episodes this season in the 4-6 range, but there are also a lot of bad episodes (including some utterly awful ones) that drag the average rating down to 4.7, a little less than season 4’s 4.8. The overriding problem this season is the push to squeeze more drama out of a series built on quirky mystery capers and fun characters. Whether it’s the saga of Beckett’s mother, the return of Castle’s own personal serial killer, or the overdrawn relationship drama between Caste and Beckett, every attempt to inject seriousness and angst into this series just falls flat and takes the air out of everything that makes it great to begin with.

The urge for drama is certainly the problem with the worst episodes of this season, “Target” and “Hunt,” a two-parter which gets a rare double zero from us. These episodes don’t feel like they belong in Castle in the first place. Instead of a murder-of-the-week in New York with some entertaining shenanigans by Castle and the gang, we get an underbaked attempt at a spy action thriller when the abduction of Castle’s daughter Alexis brings his long-absent father out of the woodwork, and he turns out to be, like, geriatric James Bond or something. This episode features two of our least favorite tropes: hurting a woman so that a man can have feelings, and a strained father-son relationship. Yuck.

On the other hand, this season does deliver some great episodes that live up to the best of the Castle crime comedy goodness. “The Final Frontier,” at 8, is a fun romp around a sci-fi convention with a wink and a nod to Nathan Fillion’s beloved Firefly role. “Secret Santa,” at 9, sees the gang investigate the death of a flying Santa Claus and ends with a gloriously goofy Santa-vs.-Santa brawl. But the best of the season is “The Lives of Others,” a full 10, in which Castle, laid up at home after a skiing injury, thinks he’s witnessed a murder Rear Window-style in the apartment across the street. I won’t spoil the ending of this episode, but it’s a fantastic payoff that really celebrates the strength of the team.

There are episodes worth seeing this season, but there are definitely a lot we’ll skip on our next rewatch.

Image: Castle checks out the neighbors, from “The Lives of Others” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Castle Season 4

Season 4 of Castle is mostly solid, with a mix of highs and lows. Here’s how we rated the episodes:

  1. “Rise” – 2
  2. “Heroes and Villains” – 9
  3. “Head Case” – 6
  4. “Kick the Ballistics” – 2
  5. “Eye of the Beholder” – 6
  6. “Demons” – 8.5
  7. “Cops and Robbers” – 7.5
  8. “Heartbreak Hotel” – 6
  9. “Kill Shot” – 6
  10. “Cuffed” – 5.5
  11. “Till Death Do Us Part” – 6
  12. “Dial M for Murder” – 5
  13. “An Embarrassment of Bitches” – 6
  14. “The Blue Butterfly” – 4
  15. “Pandora” – 1.5
  16. “Linchpin” – 1.5
  17. “Once Upon a Crime” – 6
  18. “A Dance with Death” – 5.5
  19. “47 Seconds” – 5
  20. “The Limey” – 3
  21. “Headhunters” – 1.5
  22. “Undead Again” – 8
  23. “Always” – 0

The average for this season is 4.8, a bit of a comedown from season 3’s 5.9. Still, this season has a lot to offer. The average is dragged down by a bunch of boring hyped-up drama episodes, but this season still delivers the crime-solving comedy action we come to Castle for.

The bottom of the heap is the finale, “Always,” that we gave a complete 0. This episode is one more step in the long, drawn-out saga of Beckett’s mother and has absolutely nothing to appeal to us. A number of other episodes also hang out near the bottom of the pack, including “Headhunters,” at 1.5, which, despite reuniting Nathan Fillion with an over-the-top Adam Baldwin, spends too much time wallowing in the dysfunction of Castle and Beckett’s relationship. There’s also the bizarre two-parter “Pandora” and “Lincpin,” both at 1.5, which takes the Castle crew into a hard swerve from crime-solving into international intrigue. It’s not something this particular writing/production team does well.

At the top end, though, we have a good set of wacky cases-of-the-week, which are just what we want from Castle. The best is “Heroes and Villains,” at a 9, about do-it-yourself superheroes. Some of the other great episodes this season similarly dig into geeky subcultures, like ghost-hunting in “Demons” (8.5) and zombie LARP in “Undead Again” (8).

Along the way there’s also a good batch of episodes in the mediocre but perfectly serviceable 5-7 range. There’s a lot to like this season, even if there are several episodes well worth skipping.

Image: Beckett and Castle research superheroes, from “Heroes and Villains” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Castle, Season 3

Season 3 of Castle keeps the mystery/comedy engine chugging along nicely with some fantastic episodes. Here’s how we rated them:

  1. “A Deadly Affair” – 8
  2. “He’s Dead, She’s Dead” – 8
  3. “Under the Gun” – 8
  4. “Punked” – 9.5
  5. “Anatomy of a Murder” – 7
  6. “3xk” – 2
  7. “Almost Famous” – 9
  8. “Murder Most Fowl” – 8.5
  9. “Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind” – 10
  10. “Last Call” – 10
  11. “Nikki Heat” – 6.5
  12. “Poof! You’re Dead” – 4
  13. “Knockdown” – 1
  14. “Lucky Stiff” – 7.5
  15. “The Final Nail” – 6
  16. “Setup” – 1.5
  17. “Countdown” – 1
  18. “One Life to Lose” – 6.5
  19. “Law & Murder” – 6.5
  20. “Slice of Death” – 7
  21. “The Dead Pool” – 4
  22. “To Love and Die in L. A.” – 4.5
  23. “Pretty Dead” – 4
  24. “Knockout” – 0.5

This season’s average rating is a pretty good 5.9, but that average is the product of a lot of really good episodes and a bunch of real stinkers.

The bottom of the barrel is the final episode of the season, “Knockout,” which gets a measly 0.5. This episode and the earlier “Knockdown” (1) are both part of the interminable story arc about Beckett’s mother’s murder and the shadowy conspiracy surrounding it. Another interminable story arc is introduced this season with “3xk” (2), in which Castle picks up his very own obsessed serial killer, which seems to be an accessory that every tv detective must have, no matter how boring or implausible. These plus the tedious terrorism-themed two-parter “Setup” (1.5) and “Countdown” (1) drag this season down by a lot. We come to Castle for the quirky murder-of-the-week stories and the fun interactions among the characters. Serious Drama just gets in the way of the fun.

But there is definitely fun to be had this season! There are two episodes that we rated a full 10; “Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind,” a fun X-Files pastiche that pits Castle and Beckett against space scientists, men in black, and (not quite) aliens. After that comes “Last Call,” about a murder connected to the discovery of a secret Prohibition-era stash of fine whiskey. Both of these episodes offer good mysteries for the team to solve while leaving lots of room for the usual antics. Beyond those two, there are plenty of episodes in the 8-9.5 range as well.

This season also solidifies a trend, emerging in the first two, in which the week’s case takes the team deep into some particular subculture—be it steampunk, stage magic, or pizza—before finding a familiar human story at the center of it. These episodes give Castle and the boys (Ryan and Esposito) lots of room for goofy side adventures while Beckett rolls her eyes and gets on with the business of crime solving. And what else can you ask for from Castle?

Image: Castle and Beckett consult with a man in black, from “Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Castle, Season 2

We’re back with our ratings for season 2 of Castle, and it’s a decent second act for this crime-solving comedy. Here’s what we thought of it:

  1. “Deep in Death” – 5
  2. “The Double Down” – 6
  3. “Inventing the Girl” – 4.5
  4. “Fool Me Once…” – 5
  5. “When the Bough Breaks” – 6
  6. “Vampire Weekend” – 8
  7. “Famous Last Words” – 4.5
  8. “Kill the Messenger” – 8
  9. “Love Me Dead” – 5
  10. “One Man’s Treasure” – 5
  11. “The Fifth Bullet” – 8
  12. “A Rose for Ever After” – 3
  13. “Sucker Punch” – 2
  14. “The Third Man” – 5
  15. “The Suicide Squeeze” – 3
  16. “The Mistress Always Spanks Twice” – 7
  17. “Tick, Tick, Tick…” – 8
  18. “Boom!” – 4
  19. “Wrapped up in Death” – 7.5
  20. “The Late Shaft” – 4
  21. “Den of Thieves” – 4
  22. “Food to Die for” – 7
  23. “Overkill” – 3
  24. “A Deadly Game” – 8.5

The overall average this season is 5.5, a step down from the first season but still respectable. The episodes are fairly evenly spread between a number of weak offerings in the 2-4 range, a chunk of solid ones in the 5s and 6s, and quite a few good ones at 7 and higher.

Our lowest rating for this season is a 2 for “Sucker Punch,” the start of a long and tedious multi-season arc about political corruption and the murder of Detective Beckett’s mother. None of the episodes in this arc are much fun and most end up being unsatisfying dead ends with conveniently missing evidence, abstrusely shadowy conspiracies, and no end of boring angst for Beckett. When we want to watch X-Files, we’ll watch X-Files. We come to Castle for spark and wit, and these episodes have precious little of either.

At the other end of the scale, “A Deadly Game” gets an 8.5 for a story about a spy LARP gone wrong. This episode has the classic Castle qualities we love: a quirky premise that gives our characters plenty of entertaining rabbit holes to fall into before finally resolving in a serious and satisfying story of human emotion.

In many ways, this season is exactly what a season of Castle ought to be: not always brilliant, but usually imaginative and and entertaining, with room for all the characters to laugh, live, and grow.

Image: Detectives Beckett, Esposito, and Ryan from “When the Bough Breaks” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Castle, Season 1

We enjoyed the mystery/comedy Castle, despite some problems, and it makes a good comfort rewatch when we’re in the mood for something light. Here’s our take on season 1.

  1. “Flowers for Your Grave” – 10
  2. “Nanny McDead” – 6
  3. “Hell Hath no Fury” – 7
  4. “Hedge Fund Homeboys” – 6
  5. “A Chill Goes through Her Veins” – 7.5
  6. “Always Buy Retail” – 7
  7. “Home is Where the Heart Stops” – 9.5
  8. “Ghosts” – 6
  9. “Little Girl Lost” – 5
  10. “A Death in the Family” – 5.5

The short first season is excellent, with a lot of strong episodes from the beginning. At an average rating of 7, it’s one of the best seasons of any series we have. It starts right form the beginning with “Flowers for Your Grave,” at a full 10, the best of the season, which delivers a perfect combination of the mystery and comedy we expect from Castle with well-realized characters. Even the lowest-rated episode this season is a perfectly decent 5, for “Little Girl Lost.”

A big part of what makes Castle work so well is the characters. There’s Richard Castle, mystery writer and overgrown child, who foists himself on hard-nosed detective Kate Beckett in the name of “research,” but mostly just to pull her pigtails. There’s Espo and Ryan, the secondary-character buddy cops. There’s Castle’s flamboyant actress mother Martha and his teenage daughter Alexis, who seems to have gotten all the maturity that missed her father and grandmother. Any of these characters could easily have fallen into annoying caricature, but between smart writing and strong acting, they remain alive and enjoyable. Nathan Fillion’s sweet goofiness keeps Castle from being overbearing, while Stana Katic gives Beckett a depth and canniness that makes her more than a match for Castle’s antics. Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever, as Espo and Ryan, have a brotherly bond that only grows over the seasons. Susan Sullivan makes Martha infuriating and endearing in equal measure, while Molly Quinn makes Alexis both a rock of level-headedness in the madness of the Castle household and an awkward teenager growing into self-confidence step by stumbling step. The show may be named for one character, but it is the brilliantly balanced ensemble that makes it work.

Another part of the strength of Castle is how well it balances the mystery and the comedy. The cases that the team tackles are sometimes wacky, but they revolve around real and powerful human emotions, as all good mysteries do. Castle’s off-the-wall leaps of logic are often important in solving cases, but so is the solid investigative work that Beckett and the boys do. The characters often play off each other in funny ways, but they also have real and growing emotional connections. Castle is as much a show about family, in all its weird and wonderful permutations, as it is about solving crimes.

Any other Castle fans out there? Let us know what your favorite episodes of season 1 were!

Image: Castle and Beckett at work from “A Death in the Family” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.