October 31, 2014

‘Castle’ Episode Misunderstood as Bigoted

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Image from 'Countdown' episode of ABC-TV series 'Castle'

Image from 'Countdown' episode of ABC-TV series 'Castle'

A friend and colleague has informed me that there appears to be a groundswell of outrage among conservatives regarding last night’s episode of the ABC TV mystery series Castle. The complaint is that the episode is anti-Christian, pro-Muslim, politically correct political propaganda.

In fact, ABC’s Castle web page today opens with the following pop-up window inviting visitors to take an extensive survey regarding the episode and the show in general (which I dutifully filled out):

We would like to invite you to participate in a short survey about the episode of CASTLE that aired on 2/28/11.  This episode featured Castle and Beckett rejoining Fallon’s task force, the detectives suspecting a former U.S. soldier of planning a terrorist attack, and Castle and Beckett partnering with a Syrian official to track down the bomb.

Having seen the episode, I can assure you that the story cannot be fairly characterized as bigoted or anti-Christian.

The episode, “Countdown,” is the conclusion of a two-parter in which the show’s protagonists (NYC police detective Kate Beckett and her unpaid-consultant partner, mystery writer Richard Castle) attempt to prevent a mass murder through detonation of a nuclear “dirty bomb”  in Manhattan. (Note: spoilers hereafter.)

In part 1, viewers were led to believe that the conspirators were Muslims from foreign countries. In “Countdown,” however, it soon becomes clear that the main villain is non-Muslim (though not characterized as a Christian), and the Muslims in the story are being used as scapegoats by him and his associates in a rather silly and fanciful scheme to revive Americans’ interest in our recent Middle East wars by exploding a dirty bomb in Manhattan and planting evidence so that it will be blamed on Muslim terrorists.

However, unlike in other stories of this kind which I have seen in the past couple of years, a credible character—Castle himself—expresses sympathy with the man’s aims while of course decrying his intent to commit mass murder and mayhem to achieve them. It is in fact rather surprising to see Castle do so, and I think that this element in itself redeems the episode entirely.

In addition, the narrative also points out that a character initially seen as unattractive and hardhearted is driven to act that way out of unresolved grief over the death of his wife in tower two of the World Trade Center, her having “ridden the tower down” to her death at the hands of Muslim terrorists. This reminder can hardly be seen as pro-Muslim or anti-Christian.

In no way, in my view, can this episode be fairly characterized as anti-Christian, pro-Muslim, or bigoted. As noted above, I find the story’s terrorism scheme to be fanciful, but I believe it to have been motivated by a desire to create a relatively surprising resolution to the mystery (and, alas, failing to make it either convincing or surprising, in my estimation), not any sense of prejudice or desire to make a political point. To the extent that the story is less than laudable, the reasons are aesthetic, not political or religious.

Moreover, the first sequence of the episode, in which Castle and Beckett are locked in a subzero refrigerated container with no way of escaping or informing anyone of their predicament, is an extraordinarily powerful scene and quite poignant, something regular or even casual viewers of the serious should not miss. The two characters face a slow, painful death together while individually confronting what appears to be a rather desperate love for each other which neither can find the courage to express. The scene suggests so much about the human condition, how one’s love for another can create an intense fear that makes that emotion all but unendurable and impossible to admit.

A similarly powerful and understated dramatic moment occurs when Castle tells his mother and his daughter to leave town but cannot admit why and insists that they tell no one else, lest it lead to a citywide panic. Later, Castle realizes that another character faces such emotional wrenching and vexing moral dilemmas every day.

Moments such as these are rather unusual in contemporary drama and are to be praised. Yes, “Countdown” has aesthetic flaws, but in my view they’re mistakes, not manifestations of prejudice.

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