Summary: For eight years the TV show Castle explored the nature of romance in 21st century America. Now that it ends soon, in its present form, we can review the lessons it taught us. TV and film tell our myths, and can help us better understand ourselves.
“Oh, wow. You’re engaged to a douche.”
— Rogan O’Leary (Beckett’s husband), speaking to her about Castle.
After 9 seasons ABC decided to reduce the cost of producing the TV show Castle by firing its co-star, Stana Katic (playing Kate Beckett). They plan to reboot the show, presumably reverting Richard Castle back from beta sidekick he has become to the alpha of the early seasons — paired with another action girl. This break in the show will end a story that powerfully reflects trends in American society. Let’s take a few minutes to review what we’ve learned from Castle.
Romance in America
The show began with Beckett and Castle as equal partners with romantic overtones — an example of classic second-wave feminism. As the second wave evolved into the more aggressive third, so the delicate balance of Castle tipped into something different.
Beckett (like Rey in The Force Awakens) is a trendy female version of the Doc Savage 1930’s action hero (“the pinnacle of human physical and mental achievement”). She was top in her NYPD Academy class, youngest ever female NYPD detective, marksman, master of unarmed combat, fluent in Russian, former model, and has the highest case closure rate in the NYPD (i.e., she’s an ace investigator and interrogator). See the ABC publicity tweet at the end showing the result.
The grrl-power plots — driven by Stana Katic’s acting skills — gave Castle a largely female fan base (i.e., most guys tuned out). Maintaining faith and allegiance to the series requires amnesia about its contradictions — much as Americans require amnesia to retain belief that we’re a city on the hill in world affairs.
Perhaps naturally, Beckett slowly took the leading role in the show. To maintain its balance, Castle became her beta sidekick and occasional butt monkey — receiving physical abuse, mockery, and humiliation. He becomes a pudgy contrast to svelte Beckett, often submissive to her (and to his mother and daughter).
The future of marriage in America
The rocky history of the Castle-Beckett marriage mirrors the difficulty of imagining marriage in 21st century America as women become better-educated (see the graduation numbers by degree). It’s a slow-mo evolution, taking decades for women to climb the ladders and break through the glass ceiling in large numbers.
This creates tension, from women’s desire for hypergamy (“marrying up”) and bad boys (i.e., the dark triad) — and the sinking state of men (increasingly less-educated than women, in the future earning less than women as wages of less-educated workers decline).
In season 6 Beckett wisely agrees to marry Castle (a rich, mild, family man), but probably dreams at night of her alpha ex-boyfriend. In the season finale Beckett’s husband mocks Castle, alpha to beta (she lied to Castle in seasons 1-6; she was married — not single).
Castle could have explored this interesting territory. How could Castle and Beckett build an egalitarian marriage, combining work and children? Or they could have explored game, the counter-revolution to feminism. Instead season 8 broke up the marriage (on an absurd pretext), attempting to repeat themes covered in earlier seasons.
Now the show-runners have given up this exploration of modern America, forced by falling ratings and the need to cut costs. They probably will attempt to restart the series, as they did in season one. Their female fans will scream in protest. If Castle is renewed, season nine might be interesting.
Posts in this series about “Castle”
Castle gives us a mirror in which we can see ourselves, skillfully constructed by the best producers, actors, and technicians in Hollywood.
- Spoilers for “Castle”: explaining the finale & season 7. It’s a metaphor for America.
- What the TV show “Castle” teaches us about America, and ourselves — About our myths.
- The TV show “Castle” challenges us to see our changing values. Most fans decline, horrified.
- “Castle” shows us a dark vision of Romance in America.
- “Castle” shows us marriage in America, a fault line between our past & future.
- The bitter fruits of our alienation from America — more lessons from “Castle”.
- “Castle” helps us adjust to a new America, with women on top.
For More Information about women
- Women dominating the ranks of college graduates – What’s the effect on America?
- A better answer to “why women outperform men in college?”
- Update: women on top of men.
An ABC publicity tweet shows that Beckett has become a “Mary Sue”
Nothing can get past Beckett’s super senses. pic.twitter.com/fczAtZ2FVO
— Castle (@Castle_ABC) April 21, 2016