Sunday, 17 May 2015

Episode Close-Up: Castle (2009-2016): 7x23 'Hollander's Woods'


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Castle’s season 7 finale really was final in many ways: It ended a season of inner troubles for the show’s name-sake Rick Castle. It also really could have been the show’s final farewell, but, as we now know, it was only the farewell of Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller to their beloved characters. And what a send-off they gave them! After a season of Castle looking for answers and struggling with their repercussions and a season in which the show itself was looking for ways to move on after the mystery of the past 6 years had been solved, this episode gave the answers. All of them.

Opening: A woman with crosses carved on her face is running through foggy woods at night time. The focus shifts to a dark hooded figure, a couple hundred meters behind her, in pursuit of her. Its knife is gleaming in the moonlight. Cut back to the woman stumbling out of the woods and onto a street. She straightens herself and is suddenly lit up by headlights coming closer. You can hear a truck’s horn blaring. Now the woman’s got that dear-caught-in-the-headlights look and “BOOM!” scene cut to a large picture of Rick Castle’s face.

The episode opens in typical Castle style to a sinister atmosphere with a horrid crime about to happen, yet we only get to see enough to imagine what will happen before we are subjected to a drastic scene change (in mood and color) to the Castles’ apartment. The problems of a murdered
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woman are once again not so seriously set opposite the slightly more trivial problems of the multi-millionaire mystery writer. Castle will be awarded with “Poe’s Pen” during a ceremony and has to make the vain decision which of his giant heads should be hung up at the award ceremony: “serious and brooding” or “friendly, accessible, ruggedly handsome” Richard Castle. I have to agree with Martha on this one, when she says: “[We] like both his giant heads equally”. After some “head to head” puns from Castle’s side and some good old-fashioned family banter between him, Alexis, Martha, and an amused Kate, it really feels like the Castle-Clan’s got their groove back.

The euphoria doesn’t last long when Castle, Beckett, and the boys are called in for the death of the poor girl we saw in the beginning of the episode. Upon seeing the carvings on her face the cops immediately think of a ritualistic murder, but Castle recognizes the wounds as something even worse. It is a memory that takes him back 30 years. The day is finally here folks! After 7 years of wondering, bogus stories from Castle, and hearing in detail what made Kate who she is today, we finally get to hear Castle’s origin story: An 11-year-old Rick witnessed a murder in Hollander’s Woods committed by a dark figure in a porcelain mask. The killed girl had the same carvings as their murder victim of the present and it burned itself into the young boy’s mind. Threatened by the masked man not to tell, this murder became the drive and inspiration for Rick Rodgers to become Richard Edgar Castle. Here the memories of young Richard are nicely cross-cut against current witness accounts and the significance of this case finds a great canvas to be painted on in Nathan Fillion’s face. Ageing is doing beautiful things to his serious acting.

After all these years we finally get some answers. – Richard Castle

While the mystery of the present is grave, it unfolds in a way that is typical for Castle and that lifts some of the darkness through wit. Rick has a hunch and Ryan and Esposito doubt him. When asked to check into the 30-year-old murder the boys are less than amused.

Sure, we just have to call all municipal police departments in the area – Espo
– Aaand wait for them to stop laughing… long enough to beg them to check their dusty storage rooms – Ryan

As always Kate not so secretly believes Castle and in the end it turns out he is right. Like most of the time on Television it isn’t the obvious mentally unstable sociopath, but his psychiatrist that turns out
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to be the mass murderer. This episode once again foregrounds all the perks the unconventional partnership between Castle and Beckett has. She has all the means and strategies to tackle a case, while he is emotionally motivated and thinks outside of the box. Their trust in each other, something that has been questioned multiple times throughout the season, is there completely in those woods and in the barn, where Castle goes to face off the demon of his childhood. Kate has to listen to him being killed on the other side of a locked barn door, yet is calm enough to hand him her gun, when Castle sticks out his hand to her.

The showdown between Castle and his nemesis in the barn really works well aesthetically with the fight taking place in near darkness that resembles Castle’s first meeting with the killer, and rescue coming from the light outside the barn in form of Beckett’s gun. The breaking of the spell, the masked man had on our hero, is then also made apparent by the breaking of said villain’s porcelain mask on the barn floor. Richard Castle, freed of his past demons, now has a bright future ahead of him.

One day you will look back and you will realize that every experience you’ve ever had, every seeming mistake or blind alley was actually a straight line to who you were meant to be. Castle

Another person in this episode that is seriously thinking about her future is Kate Beckett. Having taken the Captain’s exam she is now waiting for the results. While of course we are
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sure Beckett did as well on that as she does with everything she tackles, things are a bit more complicated. In one of the strongest, if not the best, scenes of this episode Kate is sent to 1PP for a disciplinary hearing. Here you can see power relations at play. In an almost empty marble and wooden court room Beckett is faced with two figures of authority towering above her. Shot in an almost bird’s-eye perspective and shady lighting Beckett is viciously attacked from the stand. Even her capability to be a detective is put in question and she is dismissed without getting a word in. In all 7 seasons Kate Beckett seldom looked this small. While everyone watching is still in shock, Beckett – already on her way out – finds her backbone and the whole focus of the scene shifts. She turns around and now the camera levels both her and her critics. Enter the Kate Beckett we know and love that faces things head-on:

I said you’re wrong. In every case you have referenced, I have not only successfully brought the killer to justice, but I did so with the utmost respect for the law and for the department I represent. And regarding my relationship with Mr. Castle, he is proven to be a brilliant partner, and he’s always had my back. And as for his fictional representation of me, I’m proud to have been his inspiration and I am proud to be his wife. You asked how do I expect to lead. By continuing to fight for what’s right, not for what’s easy. My job is to protect the citizens of New York and I will do it by doing my job better than anyone else and getting results. I don’t cross the line. I put myself on it. And if you have any more questions, you can ask the families of the victims which I have served. Beckett

In a slightly shocking turn of events Beckett’s outburst leads to her being asked to run for the New York state senate (remember the time traveler anyone?). After everything about herself, her career, and her choices was in question when she entered the room, Beckett now holds the moral high-ground again. A bright future ahead of her, she now has some decisions to make.
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Also Ryan and Esposito are celebrating their ‘maniversary’ this episode, which marks the 10th anniversary of their police partnership. To celebrate the occasion they engage in their usual banter and Castle-teasing.

In other words, what started out as a dark and traumatizing episode left everyone in a very good place. The episode provided closure for Castle, who really came full circle at the award ceremony for ‘Poe’s Pen Career Achievement Award’: Richard Castle is presented with the award by his friend (and real life mystery novelist) Michael Connelly. Connelly starts his speech with the very first words spoken in the pilot “Murder, mystery, the macabre…”. Then spoken by Gina, the words seemed to signal a final send-off for a writer, who had run out of fresh ideas and resigned to writers’ block. Now, 7 years on, those same words are used to announce said writer’s career achievement award, attesting to Castle’s greatness and perseverance to overcome all obstacles thrown in his way. Immature playboy Rick Castle of the pilot has experienced a lot of personal and professional growth, made apparent for everyone in his acceptance speech that is miles away from the chest-signing author of the pilot:

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few days, thinking about how I got here, the long hours, the blank pages. Most people think that writing is a solitary profession. That we spend our days in our imaginary worlds fighting, loving, dying, but we don’t do it alone, because anything that’s good in our writing comes from truth and the truth is I’m here because of the people in my life. Mother, you will always be a star in my eyes. And Alexis you amaze me every day. You two are my red headed pillars of unconditional love. To my friends at the twelfth precinct, you let me in, especially you two, Javier and Kevin. You made me your brother in arms and I thank you for that. And Kate, seven years ago I thought I would never write again and then you walked through the door and my whole world changed. You were right. You said I had no idea, but now I do. This is because of you, because of us. Always. Castle

With everyone we hold near and dear in the Castle-verse gathered for the ceremony, this might have been a great closing scene for the story, but luckily it only turned out to be the end of the MilMar chapter. With Ryan and Esposito in a good place, Alexis exploring her post-college opportunities, Castle having overcome his demons and Kate facing major career changes, the crew looks good for many more adventures. And in the words of Jenny:

Uhhh, I would so [watch] that!

©Always 100 Coffees | ABC

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