Lessons for us from the TV show “Castle”

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.

Stana Katic
Stana Katic, co-star of 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

“Castle” helps us adjust to a new America, with women on top.

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).

Beckett humiliates Castle in S01E03: "Hedge Fund Homeboys"
Beckett humiliates Castle in S01E03: “Hedge Fund Homeboys”

The future of marriage in America

“Castle” shows a future of strong women & weak men

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.

Nathan Fillion as Richrd Castle

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.

  1. Spoilers for “Castle”: explaining the finale & season 7. It’s a metaphor for America.
  2. What the TV show “Castle” teaches us about America, and ourselves — About our myths.
  3. The TV show “Castle” challenges us to see our changing values. Most fans decline, horrified.
  4. “Castle” shows us a dark vision of Romance in America.
  5. “Castle” shows us marriage in America, a fault line between our past & future.
  6. The bitter fruits of our alienation from America — more lessons from “Castle”.
  7. “Castle” helps us adjust to a new America, with women on top.

For More Information about women

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Women and Gender, especially these about women’s changing role in our society…

  1. Women dominating the ranks of college graduates – What’s the effect on America?
  2. A better answer to “why women outperform men in college?”
  3. Update: women on top of men.

An ABC publicity tweet shows that Beckett has become a “Mary Sue”



7 thoughts on “Lessons for us from the TV show “Castle””

  1. Comment from a reader via email

    Comment from a reader by email

    ABC’s bigwigs are in for an unpleasant surprise. Fan will watch the rebooted season 9 “Castle” for a few episodes from curiosity, and then quit. They will not forgive the cruel and inhuman treatment of Stana Katic. ABC’s bigwigs should be ashamed of themselves.

    What goes around comes around, so eventually it will all backfire on them. GUARANTEED!

    1. I doubt Katic believes her treatment has been “cruel & inhumane.” It’s just business. Big money is at stake, and so people are hired and fired accordingly. That’s the rule in the military, in Hollywood, in sports, etc.

      The show had to be changed to meet ABC’s profit targets. Who can say what was the best way to do so? Rebooting is a high-risk game, and ABC might not even attempt it. This might be a publicity ploy to build up ratings of the final Castle episode — and juice DVD sales.

      My guess (emphasis on guess) is that rebooting with a new action girl (Alexis? Haley?) is the most likely to succeed course, albeit with low odds. Castle is in the title, so difficult to fire him. After years of making Castle a pitiful beta, the audience is predominantly women — making the odds of success low.

      If I were the showrunner, I’d make Alexis the co-star and target a new audience of young women. A continuation of season 8, with an omnicompetent action girl — like Rey in the new Star Wars.

      Thanks for writing in to share your thoughts!

  2. FM: “If I were the showrunner, I’d make Alexis the co-star and target a new audience of young women.”

    I’d say that your suggestion is a shrewd one but I am not sure the fans will buy it. The fans got more and more restive the further they got away from the main concept that drove the show.

  3. Interesting article. Not sure the show is worth any more discussion as the show has pretty much lost its direction. I watch, hoping for it to get back on track but that is not going to happen. I wish they would just call it a day at the end of this season. Last year they dropped Forever which had an intriguing storyline and that was due to a lack of ratings but also low margins as it was owned by another studio so it is clear that ABC is being driven by profits rather than any desire be be creative or original. Could be the Disney influence, don’t really care. There are other outlets doing interesting things.

    1. Frank,

      I agree on all points.

      “Forever” was an interesting show, but neglected the basic box office essentials. They dressed the hot leading actress like a garage mechanic, moved the romance along at a snail’s pace, and wrote the stories at well over the head of the mass audience. It’s a trilemma — showrunners can get alway with two of these, but not all three.

      “ABC is being driven by profits rather than any desire be be creative or original.”

      It’s a business, not an art coop. Creative and original are ways to make profits, not ends in themselves.

      For “Castle” the team just ran dry. Writing about a married couple was too difficult for them, and they “Mary Sue’d” Beckett into the dominant partner — with her pudgy rich beta sidekick (throwing away the male viewers).

      1. Yes, I know it’s a business. I deal with it every day but I can hope. I think the last paragraph says it all, that and the budget issues. Some series make it past this point and some don’t. Not really sure if I care in this case as it has gone so far off the path that I watch only as a habit. It used to be I would watch it live, now I watch it later in the week.

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