Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 5

It’s a bit of a lackluster fifth season for Deep Space Nine, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t bright spots. Here’s our take:

  1. “Apocalypse Rising” – 4
  2. “The Ship” – 5.5
  3. “Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places” – 7
  4. “Nor the Battle to the Strong” – 5
  5. “The Assignment” – 2.5
  6. “Trials and Tribble-ations” – 9
  7. “Let He Who Is Without Sin” – 1
  8. “Things Past” – 1.5
  9. “The Ascent” – 7.5
  10. “Rapture” – 5.5
  11. “The Darkness and the Light” – 1
  12. “The Begotten” – 4
  13. “For the Uniform” – 3.5
  14. “In Purgatory’s Shadow” – 4.5
  15. “By Inferno’s Light” – 5.5
  16. “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” – 6
  17. “A Simple Investigation” – 2
  18. “Business as Usual” – 1.5
  19. “Ties of Blood and Water” – 2
  20. “Ferengi Love Songs” – 5
  21. “Soldiers of the Empire” – 6
  22. “Children of Time” – 4.5
  23. “Blaze of Glory” – 3.5
  24. “Empok Nor” – 1
  25. “In the Cards” – 8
  26. “Call to Arms” – 8.5

The average rating for the season is 4.4, not terrible but a bit weak. There are some good episodes this season, even some great ones, but there’s also a lot of crud at the other end of the scale dragging the average down.

The worst episode of the season is a rare three-way tie between “Let He Who Is Without Sin,” a character study of a grumpy Klingon; “The Darkness and the Light,” an overblown bit of noir that kills off some of Kira’s more entertaining old resistance buddies; and “Empok Nor,” another bit of noir which forces the usually sparkling Andrew Robinson to play a duller, flatter version of Garak. All of these rate a 1 for having tedious plots (if any at all) and wringing the joy and life out of the performances. In fact, a pall of noir hangs over a lot of the lowest-rating episodes this season, suffused with angst, tension, and cynicism. “The Assignment” (2.5), “Things Past” (1.5), “A Simple Investigation” (2), and “Business as Usual” (1.5) all feel like the writers’ room was full of frustrated 40s detective pulp scribes.

On the other hand, there are some brilliant episodes this season, too. The best of the lot is “Trials and Tribble-ations,” coming in at 9 with a joyful celebration of both the spirit and the silliness of classic Star Trek. The loving recreation of the classic sets, costumes, and props, plus the ingenious ways our DS9 crew get to have their own adventure in the background of one of the great comedy episodes of the original, make this episode a delight to rewatch. The same spirit of fun animates “In the Cards” (8) and “Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places” (7), two episodes that part the gloom of war and politics for a moment to let the relationships between the characters flourish. And the season ender, “Call to Arms” (8.5) is a gripping action piece that throws all of our characters into unexpected situations for the start of the next season.

There may be a lot to skip this season, but there are definitely some episodes that are well worth going back to.

Image: Sisko and Dax blending in on the original Enterprise, from “Trials and Tribble-ations” via IMDb

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Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 4

Season 4 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has some great episodes and some fairly bad misfires. The Klingons, having been quiet for years, are suddenly feeling aggressive again, and our favorite Klingon, Worf, joins the station crew to help them deal with the consequences. This story fuels a good part of the season, but there’s plenty more to see, too. Here’s our take:

  1. “The Way of the Warrior” – 7
  2. “The Visitor” – 9
  3. “Hippocratic Oath” – 5.5
  4. “Indiscretion” – 5.5
  5. “Rejoined” – 8
  6. “Starship Down” – 8
  7. “Little Green Men” – 8
  8. “The Sword of Kahless” – 1.5
  9. “Our Man Bashir” – 10
  10. “Homefront” – 3
  11. “Paradise Lost” – 5
  12. “Crossfire” – 2
  13. “Return to Grace” – 4
  14. “Sons of Mogh” – 1
  15. “Bar Association” – 7
  16. “Accession” – 2
  17. “Rules of Engagement” – 2
  18. “Hard Time” – 2
  19. “Shattered Mirror” – 3.5
  20. “The Muse” – 2
  21. “For the Cause” – 4
  22. “To the Death” – 6
  23. “The Quickening” – 4.5
  24. “Body Parts” – 6
  25. “Broken Link” – 4

The average rating this season is 4.9, the same as in season 3, but season 4 gets there a different way. Where season 3’s episodes were mostly in the weak-average to average-good range, season 4 sends its episodes to the far ends of the scale. Only a handful fall in the 4-6 okay-but-not-great range; most are either well above or well below.

The distribution of ratings shows a certain level of confidence by the writers this season. You can tell that they felt comfortable enough with the characters and the setting at this point that they were ready to try new ideas, even really weird ones. What if we spent an episode in the holosuite playing a James Bond pastiche? What if we met a suicidal Klingon? What if Quark, Rom, and Nog were the Roswell aliens? What if there were a conspiracy to stage a military coup on Earth?

Some of these ideas really flop, like “Sons of Mogh,” scoring only a 1, in which Worf has to deal with his brother Kurn, who is depressed about the loss of status their family has suffered in the empire. The story presents the kind of ethical dilemma Star Trek specializes in—suicide is an honorable end for a Klingon with no hope, but it is unacceptable for a Starfleet officer like Worf—but never goes anywhere interesting with it. The episode boils down to Kurn standing on one side of Worf shouting “Kill me!” and the rest of the station crew on the other shouting “Don’t!” There’s nowhere interesting for this story to go.

On the other hand, some of these ideas pay off brilliantly, like “Our Man Bashir,” a full 10, which finds Dr. Bashir and Garak playing a swinging-sixties spy game in the holosuite for much higher stakes than they expected. DS9 largely avoids the Next Generation shtick of having the holodeck go haywire so the crew can have an adventure in period garb, but this episode figures out a way to make the holosuite matter: after a transporter accident, the main station crew’s physical patterns are stored on the holosuite until they can be rescued, but if the game shuts down they could be lost forever. This set-up gives us several delightful results: Bashir, the doctor playing spy, and Garak, the spy playing tailor, take their witty repartee to new heights in this episode, while some of the other regular cast get to go full ham in their holosutie roles—Nana Visitor as a sultry Russian agent and Avery Brooks as an omnicidal mad scientist steal every scene they’re in.

The rest of this season largely follows suit. Some ideas, like sending Worf and Dax on a quest for a lost Klingon artifact in “The Sword of Kahless”, just sputter and die. Others yield fantastic episodes, like “Little Green Men,” a hilarious romp through pulp sci-fi tropes, or “The Visitor,” a touching meditation on the power of love and memory.

While the Klingon war story at times just feels like a holding action while waiting for the Dominion to make its move, it also gives the series some new avenues to explore. This season does a lot of interesting work by overturning the status quo and seeing what happens to familiar characters in unfamiliar situations. Worf, Quark, Odo, and Dukat all find themselves cut off from their people in different ways; Sisko faces the possibility of treason within Starfleet; Dax has to grapple with the legacy of her past lives in ways she has not faced before; and Rom and Nog start new lives outside the traditional bounds of Ferengi culture.

Season 4 has a lot going for it, even if not every idea works. There’s a lot here that’s well worth coming back to.

Image: Bashir and Garak all tuxed up from “Our Man Bashir” via IMDb

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Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 3

We’re back with season 3 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and things are starting to look up as the series moves further toward developing its characters and its longer-term plots. Here’s our episode ratings:

  1. “The Search, Part I” – 4
  2. “The Search, Part II” – 5.5
  3. “The House of Quark” – 8
  4. “Equilibrium” – 4.5
  5. “Second Skin” – 5.5
  6. “The Abandoned” – 2
  7. “Civil Defense” – 6.5
  8. “Meridian” – 3.5
  9. “Defiant” – 4.5
  10. “Fascination” – 4.5
  11. “Past Tense, Part I” – 3
  12. “Past Tense, Part II” – 3
  13. “Life Support” – 4
  14. “Heart of Stone” – 7
  15. “Destiny” – 6
  16. “Prophet Motive” – 6.5
  17. “Visionary” – 6
  18. “Distant Voices” – 3.5
  19. “Through the Looking Glass” – 4
  20. “Improbable Cause” – 6
  21. “The Die is Cast” – 5
  22. “Explorers” – 6
  23. “Family Business” – 5
  24. “Shakaar” – 4
  25. “Facets” – 5
  26. “The Adversary” – 4.5

The average rating for this season is 4.9, a good step up from last season’s 3.9. There are few particularly good episodes this season, but also few particularly bad ones. Most sit comfortably in the okay-but-not-great 4 to 6 range.

You can tell that both the writers and the actors are more at ease with the characters and ready to push them in interesting directions. This season Kira has to reckon with the consequences of her violent past as a freedom fighter, Jake takes his first faltering steps as an adult, while Sisko the elder gets a promotion to captain, a new ship, and a handsome bald head. Even minor characters such as Nog, Garak, and Kai Winn experience substantial changes. No one faces as much of a challenge this season, though, as Odo, who discovers his people only to learn the horrible truth about them.

Our lowest rating this season goes to “The Abandoned,” at 2, in which Odo tries to show a young Jem’Hadar an alternative to violence. Despite a strong performance by Rene Auberjonois, this episode falls flat. There is little development and no payoff in this story. Other episodes do a much better job of both exploring the Jem’Hadar and showing us how Odo deals with the atrocities committed by the Founders. It also hews uncomfortably close to the racist 90s discourse of “superpredators.”

At the other end, we have the delightful “House of Quark,” at 8, as our highest-rated episode. This episode is a violent but entertaining comedy of manners as the bloody, honor-bound world of Klingon dynastic politics collides with the cowardly but cunning financial chicanery of the Ferengi. Armin Shimerman and guest star Mary Kay Adams play marvelously off one another as the lovable Ferengi rogue Quark and the imperious Klingon grande dame Grilka, while Robert O’Reilly, who plays the normally intense and calculating Chancellor Gowron gets to do a bit of slapstick comedy. Also worth noting is “Heart of Stone,” at 7, in which Odo confesses his love to what he thinks is a dying Kira, and Nog seeks Sisko’s support for joining Starfleet Academy; both stories give us some excellent acting and interesting character development.

This season sees some significant shifts toward the long-term storytelling that would define DS9‘s later seasons. Although most episodes remain standalone (or self-contained two-parters), many of them bring important changes to characters or plotlines which are picked up by later episodes. The politics of both Bajor and Cardassia, as well as the relationship between them, see major upheavals this season, while the threat of the Dominion becomes more sharply defined and its relationship with the Alpha Quadrant more complicated.

Got any favorites of your own from season 3? Let us know!

Image: Grilka and Quark in a marriage of (in)convenience, from “House of Quark” via IMDb

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Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 2

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine took some time finding its legs, and season 2 is still pretty wobbly. Here’s how we rated this season’s episodes:

  1. “The Homecoming” – 5
  2. “The Circle” – 4.5
  3. “The Siege” – 6
  4. “Invasive Procedures” – 4
  5. “Cardassians” – 2
  6. “Melora” – 2
  7. “Rules of Acquisition” – 3.5
  8. “Necessary Evil” – 5
  9. “Second Sight” – 2
  10. “Sanctuary” – 2.5
  11. “Rivals” – 2.5
  12. “The Alternate” – 1
  13. “Armageddon Game” – 4
  14. “Whispers” – 6
  15. “Paradise” – 1
  16. “Shadowplay” – 5
  17. “Playing God” – 4
  18. “Profit and Loss” – 2
  19. “Blood Oath” – 5
  20. “The Maquis, Part 1” – 4
  21. “The Maquis, Part 2” – 5
  22. “The Wire” – 6.5
  23. “Crossover” – 5
  24. “The Collaborator” – 6
  25. “Tribunal” – 2
  26. “The Jem’Hadar” – 6

In all, not a great second season. The average rating is a meager 3.9, and there are no standout episodes like season 1’s “Duet.” You can tell that the actors were still growing into their roles, and the writers were still figuring out how to balance the optimistic, episodic tradition of Star Trek with the morally complicated ongoing stories they wanted to develop.

We have two episodes at the bottom of the barrel: “The Alternate” and “Paradise,” both rating only a 1. “The Alternate” promises some interesting development for Odo’s backstory when the crew finds remains of a similar being in ancient ruins, but only delivers a bog-standard fathers-and-sons-with-a-bad-relationship story. “Paradise” similarly promises a critique of the Federation’s techno-uptopia when Sisko and O’Brien crash on a planet where their technology doesn’t work, but delivers only a manipulative extremist who loves to give interminable monologues. These may be the most disappointing examples, but a lot of other episodes this season have interesting ideas in them that they can’t manage to do anything good with.

The best episode of the season is “The Wire,” at 6.5. In this episode, we learn more (but less than it seems) about the mysterious Cardassian tailor, Garak. While this episode has its weaknesses, it blossoms in the nuances of Andrew Robinson’s performance as Garak the erstwhile spy, by turns ingratiating, crabby, frightened, playful, and remorseful as he dangles hints of his past life just out of reach of the doctor who is trying to help him cope with a hidden addiction.

But if this season doesn’t have much to offer in the way of great episodes, it does lay a lot of the groundwork for the seasons to come. Important elements of the ongoing narrative are established or developed, like the Maquis resistance movement in the Badlands, the post-occupation chaos of Bajoran politics, the return to Classic Trek‘s “Mirror, Mirror” alternate universe, and the slowly growing menace of the Dominion in the gamma quadrant. Just as importantly, it sets up some of the important character and relationship growth that would become the heart of the series. Doctor Bashir and Chief O’Brien’s friendship first stretches its legs this season, as does Dax’s history with Commander Sisko. Recurring characters like Garak and Rom begin to come into their own.

Season 2 is not the best that Deep Space Nine has to offer, but it lays the foundation for the greatness that is to come.

Image: The operations crew at work, from “Playing God” via IMDb

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Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 1

With everything that’s going on this past year, we’ve been looking for comfort rewatching, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine offers a special kind of comfort. While the show was “dark and gritty” by the standards of the 1990s when it came out, it has a Star-Trekian humanity and optimism that we need right now. 2020 makes us appreciate the message of: “We’re all a little messed up, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together to make things better. The world’s a little messed up, too, and fixing it isn’t easy, but it is possible.”

Here’s how we rated season 1.

  1. “Emissary” – 8.5
  2. “Past Prologue” – 5
  3. “A Man Alone” – 4
  4. “Babel” – 6
  5. “Captive Pursuit” – 4
  6. “Q-Less” – 1.5
  7. “Dax” – 4.5
  8. “The Passengers” – 5
  9. “Move Along Home” – 2
  10. “The Nagus” – 5.5
  11. “Vortex” – 2
  12. “Battle Lines” – 3
  13. “The Storyteller” – 3
  14. “Progress” – 4
  15. “If Wishes Were Horses” – 3.5
  16. “The Forsaken” – 7
  17. “Dramatis Personae” – 4.5
  18. “Duet” – 9
  19. “In the Hands of the Prophets” – 8.5

It’s a rocky start to the series. Despite a strong opening, a strong closing, and some good episodes along the way, the average episode rating is only a pretty weak 4.8. Much of this season is spent establishing the main cast of characters and the unique place of Bajor and its history with the Cardassians in Star Trek‘s universe. Much of what we love about Deep Space Nine—the ongoing story, the relationships among the characters, the recurring cast of side characters—is still just being built here.

The worst episode of the season is “Q-Less” at 1.5, Next Generation‘s omnipotent pain-in-the-ass Q’s lone appearance in DS9. Clearly intended as a bridge to ease TNG fans into the new series, for established DS9 fans like us it just feels pointless and out of place. The shaggy dog story of “Move Along Home” and “Vortex,” an early attempt to develop Odo’s character that is hampered by a truly abysmal guest performance, both rate pretty low as well, at 2.

At the other end of the scale “Emissary,” the premiere, and the finale “In the Hands of the Prophets” are both standouts, at 8.5. “Emissary” does an excellent job introducing us to the main characters and to the world of the station and Bajor, graced with a powerful performance by Avery Brooks as Commander Sisko, still carrying the trauma of losing his wife Jennifer. “In the Hands of the Prophets” adds a new level of complexity to the Bajoran story and introduces some important new recurring characters. One of the great things in DS9 is its villains: the smug Cardassian Gul Dukat and the sanctimonious Bajoran Vedek (later Kai) Winn could have been flat one-note villains in lesser hands, but Marc Alaimo and Louise Fletcher give them a depth and nuance that holds up against the stellar performances by the main cast.

The quality of the acting shines in the season’s best episode as well: “Duet,” at 9. At its heart, it is a fairly simple story as Major Kira tries to prove that a mild-mannered Cardassian filing clerk is actually a wanted war criminal in disguise. Most of the episode is just two people in a room talking to each other, but every moment of that dialogue crackles with energy. In a modern tv landscape where writers think they have to kill off characters, concoct shocking twists, and splurge on special effects to keep viewers interested, “Duet” is a master class in how you write compelling drama.

Another delight of season 1 is seeing some of our favorite side characters in the early stages of their growth. Garak, the mysterious tailor, is intriguing from his first scene, long before his dark history as a secret agent unfolds. We also see Rom and Nog in the early stages of their transformation from bumbling idiot and conniving miscreant to bumbling sweetheart and upstanding Starfleet officer.

Got any favorite memories from DS9‘s first season? Share in the comments!

Image: Deep Space Nine season 1 cast via IMDb

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Rating: Castle, Season 8

The eighth and final season of Castle, sadly, is a bit of a flop. Here’s our rating for this season’s episodes:

  1. “XY” – 1.5
  2. “XX” – 0
  3. “PhDead” – 4
  4. “What Lies Beneath” – 5
  5. “The Nose” – 5
  6. “Cool Boys” – 3
  7. “The Last Seduction” – 6.5
  8. “Mr. and Mrs. Castle” – 3
  9. “Tone Death” – 8
  10. “Witness for the Prosecution” – 6.5
  11. “Dead Red” – 7.5
  12. “The Blame Game” – 4.5
  13. “And Justice for All” – 6
  14. “The G. D. S.” – 3
  15. “Fidelis ad Mortem” – 4
  16. “Heartbreaker” – 4
  17. “Death Wish” – 4.5
  18. “Backstabber” – 3.5
  19. “Dead Again” – 8
  20. “Much Ado About Murder” – 5
  21. “Hell to Pay” – 5
  22. “Crossfire” – 1.5

This season’s average is 4.5, the lowest of any season of Castle, and the problems are not hard to spot. Squeezed between the attempt to wring just a bit more drama and action out of some old and used-up plotlines (the conspiracy around Beckett’s mother’s murder gasps its last; intrigue shenanigans throw Castle and Beckett’s relationship back into will-they-or-won’t they spasms) and the introduction of new characters and story ideas that don’t get room to develop (Hayley Shipton, a British ex-spy who gets caught in the orbit of Castle’s expanding private investigator business), there just isn’t much room for this season to stretch its legs.

Shake-ups in the production also mean we lose Captain Gates and don’t see much of Dr. Parish, two of our favorite side characters. There were even rumors going into this season that Beckett might not return, which would have been disastrous. Fortunately, that didn’t come to pass, but Beckett spends so much time this season angsting about the conspiracy-that-will-not-die and her relationship with Castle, we lose a lot of the spark she used to bring to the series.

The bottom of the barrel this season comes with the opening two-parter, “XY” (1.5) and “XX” (0), in which we separately follow Beckett on the run from the endless conspiracy and Castle trying to find her. The conspiracy episodes of Castle never work well for us, and this one feels particularly like a desperate attempt by the writers’ room to concoct another arc story, having done several to death already. There was a time when continuity between episodes was a rarity on tv and arc stories were new and exciting. Now every series has an arc, and we’re more excited to see standalone episodes that have a satisfying beginning, middle, and end.

Fortunately, this season hasn’t entirely lost the Castle magic, and we do get a few good old quirky murder-of-the-week episodes. The two best of this season, both at 8, are of this kind; “Tone Death” takes the team into the seamy underbelly of competitive a capella singing, and “Dead Again,” about a safety inspector who keeps surviving what should be fatal attacks, prompting Castle to wonder whether they’ve stepped into a superhero’s origin story. These episodes have the fun mystery caper action we expect from the series.

It’s not the best way to close out the series, but it seems like the production had some troubles behind the scenes at the end. We can be glad for the good episodes we did get this season, even if it’s one we’ll only be rewatching selectively.

Image: Beckett and the boys, from “Tone Death” via IMDb

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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

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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

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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.