helens78: A close-up of Nathan Fillion's gloved hands resting on his gun belt in "Serenity".  Caption: Leather/Fillion Fetish (rpf: fillion fetish)
[personal profile] helens78 posting in [community profile] pacifi_cant
[community profile] pacifi_cant has its second wind, and that wind seems to be spelled M-E-T-A! I've volunteered to take on the following topic for [community profile] pacifi_cant, so here we go:

Castle: I Don't Know Why I Love You, But I Do - Why Castle Is Winning Us Over

To begin with, the title's a bit of a misnomer -- not only do I know why I love Castle, I can break it down for those of you who aren't familiar with the show or who don't know why anyone is so excited about yet another Moonlighting retread. Buckle up and come along for the ride! Let's start with

What is this Castle show?

Castle is a one-hour drama on ABC currently in its second season. It airs Monday nights at 10pm Eastern/Pacific, and you can watch full episodes on ABC.com (as long as you get to them relatively quickly -- only the last three episodes and a few extras are available!).

Castle stars Nathan Fillion as the title character, Richard (Rick) Castle, a highly successful mystery writer, and Stana Katic as Detective Kate Beckett, a tough, competent detective in the New York Police Department. Supporting cast members include Castle's mother, Martha Rodgers (Susan Sullivan), Castle's daughter, Alexis Castle (Molly Quinn), and four of Beckett's coworkers: her captain, Roy Montgomery (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), fellow detectives Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas), and forensics analyst Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones).

The conceit of the show is that Castle has decided to base his next mystery series on Beckett -- "Heat Wave", starring "Nikki Heat", is the first book in his series, and he's not going to stop there! Because of his connections to New York politicians (including the mayor), and because the NYPD is very interested in positive media attention, Beckett gets stuck with Castle -- who, thanks to decades of closely studying the criminal mind, psychopathology, and people in general, turns out to be surprisingly useful in the field. Beckett and Castle solve crimes together, bring killers to justice, and trade snark and one-liners like a couple who's just started dating, all while denying anything's going on between them.

The mysteries aren't meant to stump the audience -- we all know how a mystery series works, and it's frequently easy to guess whodunit as soon as the killer walks onto the screen. And the concept of a will-they-won't-they couple solving mysteries together has been done over and over in television: Moonlighting and Remington Steele come to mind first for me, but there are probably dozens of others that have popped up and quickly been canceled over the years.

So why Castle? Why is this one so much fun? Why did ABC renew it for a full season after its first run of 10 episodes, and how is it that they've already greenlighted a third 22-episode series? More importantly, why's it winning over fandom?

Oh, boy, am I glad you asked, because I -- in the interests of full disclosure -- am a huge fan of Castle, and I have all kinds of glee to share with you! So let's take it from the top, the first thing that made a lot of fen tune in (myself included), and talk about

Nathan Fillion: O Captain My Captain

Lots of fen love Nathan Fillion. It is a truism of fen that when an attractive actor plays a character well-known and very-well-loved, we are predisposed to like him in his future roles, even if those future roles are morally dodgy or look bad on paper. (See the warm response fandom's given Callum Keith Rennie's characters in Battlestar Galactica and Californication, in spite of the fact that his character in the first was a manipulative, murdering Cylon, and his character in the second was an alcoholic drug addict known for sleeping with underage women!)

So after Nathan Fillion's turn as Captain Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly (and to a lesser degree, his guest role on Buffy), as well as his delightfully toolish Captain Hammer in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, lots of fen have been waiting to see what he'll do next. A leading role in B-movie Slither, a short stint on Desperate Housewives, and a leading role in the hastily-cancelled Fox series Drive were not what fandom longed for. We wanted to see Nathan Fillion at his most charming-yet-smarmy, his ruggedly handsome best, front-and-center in a show lineup, and by golly, we wanted to see him every week -- without being cancelled after fourteen episodes. If a network was willing to give us that, we were willing to give their show a shot.

And ABC did just that, giving us ten episodes of Castle to see our sometimes-bad-boy leave his mark on the small screen again. Rick Castle is a character you can really see Fillion sinking his teeth into: from the series opener, "Flowers For Your Grave", where we first see Castle with his charm and smarm turned to maximum at a book release party, to the much more somber face he wears in later episodes like 1.10 "A Death In The Family", as he tracks down information about a case in which he has a great deal of personal investment, Fillion's given a full range of things to play with. He's a son, a father, a perpetual 12-year-old, a responsible adult, an amateur detective, a professional writer and student of the human condition, and a lot of other complicated things, all in one very well-put-together package. It's clearly a role he's having fun with, and the enthusiasm really carries over to the work.

But let's face it: a series needs to have more than a single well-loved and familiar actor, even an actor we desperately want to see doing great things, in order to keep fandom tuning in week after week. So what else has Castle got?

It's got something really near and dear to much of fandom's hearts, for one thing, so let's go straight to the next thing on the Glee List, which is

Maiden, Mother, Crone? Screw That: We'll Take Awesome Women In Three Generations, And You Can Call Them By Name, Buster

Alexis Castle. Kate Beckett (and Lanie Parish). Martha Rodgers. A lot of shows can't give us one well-rounded female character, or maybe they give us one for a season or two and then quickly shuffle her off-screen. Castle has been giving us not one, not two, not three, but four! brilliant female characters to get to know and love, and what's more, we get them in three different generations, all with relationships outside the men in the cast. Castle passed the Bechdel test in its first episode:

Martha: Really, dollface! Who does homework at a party?
Alexis: I have a test next week.
Martha: So do I. Liver function. You don't see me studying. All right, give me a hit of the bubbly.

1.01, "Flowers For Your Grave"

Putting three generations of women together often results in the classic Fates roles: maiden, mother, and crone. None of those single-word stereotypes describe the women of Castle very well, so let's talk about them a little more, shall we?

Alexis Castle is fifteen years old and already wise beyond her years. In a family with Rick Castle and Martha Rodgers, someone needs to be the adult, right? That seems to be Alexis's theory, and she fills the role quite well when she has to, doing her homework at release parties, getting good grades in school, even waiting up when Martha or Castle has a late night.

But she's a teenager, too. She goes out with boys and worries about what to do when they turn out to be jerks (although without a huge emphasis on the "should I have ZOMG SEX?!" that permeates so many shows with teenagers). She considers whether or not she wants to join the cheerleading squad. She does science experiments involving tomatoes. She even gets an internship at the NYPD and solves a mystery of her own. And as much as Castle wants to protect her from everything that could possibly hurt her, she makes (and wins!) strong arguments for deciding for herself what she can and can't handle -- and almost always turns out to be right. There's no "Father Knows Best" tone underlying Alexis's decisions: this is a girl who may still be growing into herself and her identity, but it is her self and her identity, no question.

As for the "mother" stereotype, neither Kate Beckett nor Lanie Parish is a mom (as far as we know), nor are they dominated by the demands of their families or the men in their lives. Both of them are strong women in their 30s, both of them have made great strides in their chosen career paths, both of them are competent people who know what they're doing in their fields. If they have caretaker instincts, it's none of the audience's business, and it certainly isn't taking over their storylines; we haven't seen either of them pining away over men or lamenting their lack of babies.

We do see a little bit of interplay between them that shows us what good friends they are, though; eyerolls when one of them comes over too fangirly, nudges when one of them is clearly missing some interpersonal cues, and a shoulder-to-shoulder oh-no-you-didn't freezeout when Castle goes too far are all hallmarks of their friendship. (And I, for one, would certainly welcome more nods to that friendship!)

Ultimately, both these women defy stereotypes in many, many ways -- women in the NYPD are not exactly following a society-standard career path, and if we've ever seen either one of them "shriek like a girl", I sure don't remember it. Lanie's job requires her to be practically squick-proof, though it doesn't kill her dry and sometimes sharp sense of humor, and Beckett's job means she has to be tough and brassy even when a serial killer is looking her in the eyes and laughing. Both women do it with style, and they are prime examples of women in their 30s who are independent and making their own choices every single day.

So, right, that leaves us with the elder generation -- Martha Rodgers. She's Castle's mother. Surely that makes her a crone, right?

BZZT! Wrong answer! Martha Rodgers may be Castle's mother, but she is anything but a "crone". She's vibrant, full of life (more so than Castle himself, quite frequently!), and still owns and works her sex appeal. Life doesn't end at sixty, and neither does love, work, and making regrettable decisions in the name of bravery and passion. Hey, we all leap before we look sometimes, right?

I can't decide what my favorite things about Martha are. Her love and passion for acting, something that she still works hard at -- and still succeeds at? Her fondness for Castle and Alexis, and the way she refuses to apologize for the way she raised Castle? Not everyone her age could pull off being a single mother with that kind of aplomb -- she was a single mom raising her son in the early 1970s, if not the late '60s! -- but looking at Martha Rodgers, you know she's never once let the scum-suckers get her down. Maybe it's the way she's still looking for love... and finding it in various ways, showing the world that a woman in her sixties can be beautiful and elegant and sexy, while reassuring all of us that there's no reason to give up hoping for the right person to share your life with.

And she may be a grandmother, but she's no matronly stereotype. She takes Alexis shopping, encourages her to lighten up, and yet for all her devotion to both Castle and Alexis, she's not smothering either of them. She may be temporarily financially dependent on Castle, but if anyone in this household is going to say "I told you so" or "You should have listened to me", it's Martha... and while she might not always be right, she always has a point. And her dependence is limited to finance; like every other woman in the series, she doesn't depend on Castle to be her one link to the outside world, and her relationships aren't solely there to serve the men around her and their characterization. Martha is there for herself.

I'm really excited by the casting of all four of these women, by the way -- I think it takes a very strong actor to bring out all the qualities I've listed above without losing something of their characters to the needs of the story, which frequently revolve around Beckett and Castle and their relationship. But in all the time I've been watching, I've never thought of Alexis, Martha, or Lanie as plot points who are only there to serve the leads, and I certainly don't think of Beckett as being there to drive Castle's story along -- even if she isn't the title character.

But we really can't give all the credit to the actors for that. There's something more behind the scenes. These characters aren't just leaping off the screen fully-formed; it takes more than that. It takes a team. And it takes a team of writers who are willing to deliver

Snappy Patter, One-Liners, And Characters You Want To Bring Home: The Writing Staff Is Good At Its Job

I mentioned above that the mysteries themselves aren't always the most inventive plots in the world. This series, at heart, is very much the opposite of a show that presents you with a freak of the week time and time again and never lets you get close to the characters. None of the Castle episodes have been pure human interest, doing nothing but showcasing the relationships between the characters -- but none of them have been pure mystery, either, because in each episode we do learn things about the characters, and we get to see them interacting with each other.

It's really important to do things like that; for a show to live and breathe (and particularly for a show to win over fandom audiences), you need to be able to picture what characters are doing when the cameras aren't rolling. Who are these people when they're not on the clock? What do we know about them? In Castle, we know a great deal -- we know what Castle's home life is like, we know what Beckett does when she's not working, we see Ryan and Esposito giving each other a best-buddies-hard-time, and we know that Alexis is spending a lot of time on her classwork and her hobbies.

But it's not just the what, it's the how. We get character exposition not just from characters talking about their lives, but from characters being witty, entertaining, smarmy, snarky, charming, and sometimes... just doing their thing.

There's always a story. Always a chain of events that makes everything make sense. Take you, for example. Under normal circumstances, you should not be here. Most smart, good-looking women become lawyers -- not cops. And yet here you are. Why?

--Castle, 1.01 "Flowers For Your Grave"

The snappy patter and one-liners are worked into scenes and played out beautifully by the actors. It helps to have Nathan Fillion around, who can sell lines like "I'd be happy to let you spank me" -- but it also helps to have Stana Katic around, who's strong enough to toss those lines right back at him ("We make a pretty good team, you know... like Starsky & Hutch, Turner & Hooch..." "You do remind me a little of Hooch..."). But the best thing about the one-liners is that they don't read like the writers coming up with lines that are so clever they have to make it into the script: they read like things that these particular characters would say.

And that's probably not an accident. The writing staff seems incredibly aware both of what they're writing and what they're putting out on the screen, and yet they're classy about it, even subtle. That's very welcome, especially when it comes to tricky topics like our next one, which is

What, The Black Guy Didn't Do It? (or, Yes, It Is Possible Not To Fail At Diversity On A Major Network)

First of all, let's do a quick shakedown of the cast. Yes, Castle and Beckett are white (and because Castle's white, so are Alexis and Martha). Kevin Ryan is white, too. That makes five regular cast members who are white.

But then there's the rest of the cast: Jon Huertas as Detective Javier Esposito (Hispanic). Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Captain Roy Montgomery (biracial, African-American/Hispanic). Tamala Jones as Lanie Parish (African-American). This gives us three characters of color who are in positions of positive authority. They're not criminals, they're not evil masterminds, they're not bad boys from the street who have made good and are now working on the side of justice... they're a captain, a detective, and a forensic analyst, all of whom do their jobs well and look damn good doing them.

People of color watching this show are not stuck seeing reflections of themselves relegated to murderers (or murder victims), janitorial staff, or "lesser" characters -- people who have less education or are clearly struggling up from an underprivileged background. In a world where those are often the best parts available to actors of color, Castle is a wonderful breath of fresh air.

Okay, okay, I'll be honest -- I could stand for a high-profile Asian-American character in the cast (c'mon, producers, season 3 is coming; how about it?). But I also don't expect that seeing an Asian-American character on the show, as a guest star, will mean the Korean laundry owner, the Chinese restaurant owner, or the Japanese geisha-inspired prostitute -- all with thick accents, speaking pidgin English, as if the only people of Asian descent in New York City are immigrants with menial jobs. No, I fully anticipate seeing Asian-Americans as fellow detectives, beat cops, medical experts, lawyers, judges, politicians, and federal agents, because Castle's vision of the world just looks like that.

To be fair (or is this being cynical?), some of that may not be due to an urge on the part of the Castle creators and casting directors to deliberately cast for diversity. It might also have to do with the fact that, if your black characters are always bad guys, and your show is a mystery series, your audience isn't even going to pay attention to the other suspects once the black guy walks on. But it might also be true that if you're a producer, and you don't want your show to have the underlying message of "black guys are bad guys", you deserve a little shoutout for working hard to see that it doesn't turn out that way. As a fan of color, I can only say, THANK YOU, CASTLE!

(I should also point out that racism and sexism are not the only spectrums Castle does a fairly good job with: subcultures, in general, have gotten a better-than-average shake on Castle. As [personal profile] thedivinegoat reminded me, we've seen a bisexual character whose bisexuality was not treated as ZOMG CLEARLY EVIL, and as [profile] garglinggargoyle pointed out, we've seen an episode in which kinky people were featured, and jokes were made, but at least one character did not engage in poking fun at kink (and I don't know about the rest of you, but I came away thinking that that character wasn't just kink-friendly, that character is kinky -- hot damn and start the fic a-rollin'!), and while I'd rather not give away the ending, the truism that on Castle, the person-in-subculture is not always going to be the bad guy held up well here).

It feels a bit like a backhanded compliment to say something like "YAY SHOW OMG THANK YOU FOR NOT FAILING", but please bear with me on that, because I have somewhere else to go with it. Namely

If Your Charm Ain't Doin' It, You Might Have To Show People You're A Real Person: How Rick Castle Is Not A Static Character

When we first met Rick Castle, he was autographing a cheerful fan's cheerful bosom. In the pilot episode, he goes on to crack jokes at Beckett's expense, offering to let her spank him and piping up that his safeword is "apples". He's got smarm working 24/7 in the beginning, and then...

Beckett doesn't go for it. And doesn't go for it. And doesn't go for it. And while Castle's smarm and charm are certainly an integral part of his character, there is a difference between Castle when he's "on" and Castle when he's got his guard down a bit and he's behaving like a person instead of a caricature of himself.

And not only do we get to see it, it seems like a natural outgrowth of his personality. Holy shit, people, working with Beckett is changing Castle every episode.

Peter Wingfield once said that the reason he didn't want to work on long-running series was that you find out exactly who a character is at the beginning, and he never changes, no matter how long you play him. I will grant you that Castle will probably never grow up completely, will probably always have a curious streak a mile wide, and will probably always be smarmy and snarky and charming and witty -- but the fact that he's learning to let his guard down and grow up a little is a very welcome thing on a show like this. As someone settling in for the long haul, someone who will gladly watch this series for ten years if it goes on that long, I want to know that my characters are going to grow a little. I want to know that we're not just going to be watching the same series of events over and over for ten years. And I love that we're getting evidence that it's true. Rick Castle of "Flowers For Your Grave" is emphatically not the same Rick Castle by the time we get to "Tick, Tick, Tick..."/"Boom!" Where's he going to be in season 3, I wonder? I'm so excited that we're getting to find out!

But then there are the things we don't necessarily want to see change... at least not yet. A lot of people think it killed Moonlighting, and I for one thought it really put a weird tone all over Remington Steele. So for the moment, I for one am pretty darn relieved that when it comes to the question of "Will They Or Won't They?", the answer so far is

NOTHING HAPPENED: They Aren't Doing It Yet (Unless You Read The Fanfic)

Castle. Beckett. Attraction? Yes. Annoyance from one when the other has a date? Sure. Relationship? No. Hell, even sex hasn't happened in canon. Right now? They're not doing it.

Unless you read the fanfic. :D There's plenty of room for them to be doing it, and there's no reason the fanfic shouldn't go there. Castle/Beckett shippers, the world is your oyster, and the show gives you everything you could possibly need in terms of subtext. It might happen in the show; it might not. Post-show stories, though, there's no reason on Earth to think your ship won't sail. Go, go, go!

But possibly what I love most about the Castle/Beckett subtext is that it isn't the entire show. There are plenty of things to be watching the show for besides the question of whether the leads will ever get together. If you don't ship Castle/Beckett, you don't have to feel like that's the only thing the show exists for; there'll be things for you, too. There's certainly room for other ships. I personally vote for some Beckett/Parish. I wouldn't say no to some Castle/Parish, either (and Nathan Fillion is helping that ship along by talking about how gorgeous Tamala Jones is on his Twitter all the time, woo), although I think there's a tricky line there -- after all, that may cross a Girlfriend barrier.

Oh, wait, did I miss one? I might possibly have missed the biggest, most glaringly obvious pairing there is? I did? What was that? I can't hear y--

Ryan And Esposito: So Freakin' Married That... Can You Even Read Them As Just Buddies?

Ryan and Esposito. Esposito and Ryan. They're always a duo (a duet, even), they finish each other's sentences, they bicker, they pick on each other, they make "bro" jokes... it's such a lovely friendship that some people have found themselves wondering "Is there a het reading for this relationship?"

I suppose there is if you squint; after all, Ryan's brought his girlfriend to work and thus "proved" she actually exists. But in a fandom where even the gen feels off if there's no Ryan/Esposito interaction, I have to wonder.

I love that Ryan and Esposito aren't just two interchangeable background characters that we're throwing together because they happen to be there and be pretty. These are two distinct guys, each with their own hobbies, habits, and foibles. Ryan can be terribly naive; Esposito is a very sharp dresser. And both guys are loyal to the max, both to each other and to Beckett. They kinda like that Castle guy, too. The fact of the matter is, the show wouldn't be the same without them (or without their background flirting), and I love that.

I do seem to be winding to a close, though, so let's go on to my last, but definitely not least, piece of glee, which is

Mixed Media: How Twitter, Print, And Pop Culture References Are Putting The Icing On My Castle Cake

I have no patience for canon that requires you to go out and buy six different kinds of media to keep up on the backstory (I am looking at you, World of Warcraft). So with Castle, I am exceedingly pleased to say that the tie-ins are not required, they're just fun.

But boy, are they ever fun! If you didn't already know it, Nathan Fillion is an avid Twit. Wait, maybe I should say that differently... Nathan Fillion (aka @NathanFillion) is an avid user of the Twitter service, posting frequently (but not to the point of making your Twitter list scroll, unlike some other celebs), and occasionally posting a pic from his daily life. (Speaking of icing on a Castle cake, have a look at this one, which was posted with the caption, "Lick your cake, and eat it, too.") When friends and coworkers start up Twitters, Fillion links to them -- so we know that Tamala Jones (@TamalaJones) and Jon Huertas (@Jon_Huertas) have Twitters, too, and should the rest of the cast end up with them, Fillion will be your go-to guy for the information.

But wait! There's more! Fillion also runs a Twitter in-character as Rick Castle (@WriteRCastle), in which he gives little hints about what might happen in the next episode and occasionally posts in-character photos of himself and other cast members. It's a low-key Twitter, not one that sees a lot of activity (except on Monday nights), and well worth adding to your list.

As for offline bonuses, there's an actual book in print called "Heat Wave", supposedly by Richard Castle -- Rick Castle's ruggedly handsome face graces the back cover, and although the cast and crew of the series are mentioned in the acknowledgements, the book is in-character cover-to-cover. Amazon.com is playing along by giving Richard Castle an author page, complete with bio. Another book, with the groaningly awful title "Naked Heat" is due out in September! I haven't actually finished "Heat Wave", but I did pick up a copy. Castle's no Robert B. Parker, but so far it's a fun read -- and I'm really curious who the real author is, as it doesn't appear to be confirmed. (My money's on Stephen J. Cannell!)

I hope you've enjoyed this trip through my Castle glee! It's a wonderful show, and I'm looking forward to the rest of season 2 and all of season 3!

Date: 2010-04-12 11:20 pm (UTC)
anatsuno: a women reads, skeptically (drawing by Kate Beaton) (Default)
From: [personal profile] anatsuno
Very nice write-up! :D
I had no clue about the tie-in in character novel...

Date: 2010-04-12 11:41 pm (UTC)
medie: Kara Zor-El and J'onn J'onzz (in unshifted form) flying (castle - beckett - every breath)
From: [personal profile] medie
I LOVE THIS. (it is also worth noting that Castle himself apparently 'ships Ryan/Esposito if the subtext in Heat Wave was any indication. *g*)

Date: 2010-04-12 11:54 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] garglingargoyle
This is so well done and so spot on. It's been a long time since the mere fact that a show is on makes me squee. And Castle does, and you explain why perfectly.

Date: 2010-04-13 01:09 am (UTC)
malnpudl: (Default)
From: [personal profile] malnpudl

Date: 2010-04-13 01:19 am (UTC)
umbrella_half: (ST - James T. Smirk)
From: [personal profile] umbrella_half
I saw it for the first time last night (the first episode) and I was also impressed! It's nice and very watchable stuff, lots of snarking and fun. And I agree about the female characters; awesome! Although I'm wondering whether or not the mother's sexuality will get played for laughs. Although I think that 'graydar' is an awesome concept. Anyway, something I'll continue watching. \cap'n/

Date: 2010-04-13 02:54 am (UTC)
torachan: (Default)
From: [personal profile] torachan
Well, I might have to give it a try!

Date: 2010-04-13 05:49 am (UTC)
mergatrude: a hermit crab peering from it's shell with the text "lurker" (Default)
From: [personal profile] mergatrude
Very cool! You've definitely made me want to watch this show. *g*

Date: 2010-04-14 04:13 am (UTC)
trouble: Sketch of Hermoine from Harry Potter with "Bookworms will rule the world (after we finish the background reading)" on it (Default)
From: [personal profile] trouble
Here via a link from neekabe. :)

One thing I really liked about Tick Tick Tick/Boom is that Jordan Shaw could have been this horribly in-your-face character, there was so much potential for fail, and they didn't go there. Shaw's an awesome, strong female character and she's great.

Date: 2010-04-14 03:02 pm (UTC)
sdwolfpup: (castle: nose tweak)
From: [personal profile] sdwolfpup
oh my gosh, this was a FANTASTIC write-up! I'm going to link to it. :)

Date: 2010-04-16 07:41 pm (UTC)
raanve: Tony Millionaire's Drinky Crow (Default)
From: [personal profile] raanve
This is an excellent write-up! Thank you!

I've been watching Castle since the beginning, and I'm glad to say that you've nailed just about everything I love about the show. I especially like that it's able to incorporate real character development & address serious personal issues in a sincere way, but at the same time it's not afraid to poke fun of itself. And sometimes there are some really great almost meta-jokes in episodes that make me giddy with delight. It's kind of brain candy, but it is really good brain candy.



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