Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Castle Review: 8x12 “The Blame Game” (Use Logic, Not Force) [Contributor: Hope]

“The Blame Game”
Original Airdate: February 22, 2015

Dear Castle: THIS is how you write an engrossing episode. Crazy stakes, clever puzzles, and mind games. It was far from funny, but not emotionally heavy in regard to the characters’ relationships. It highlighted dynamics, but didn’t strain them. I was enthralled, engaged, and (I’ll admit it) excited enough to talk to my television. And I can’t say an episode has made me feel that way all season (or perhaps even last season).

This is the Castle I started watching years ago. This is the Castle I want to watch. Did it move the arcs forward? Nope. Did I care? No. Hayley and Alexis got to work together. Castle and Beckett kept the peace in their respective rooms and stuck together once they entered the Hall of Doom. It reinforced what we already knew about the characters without pounding us over the heads with it. Castle and Beckett were in top crime-solving gear, and it was wonderful to watch. Hands down, this was the best episode of the season so far, and hopefully this wasn’t a fluke — because if the rest of the season is like this, I’ll feel a lot easier about the show’s future.

The episode started when Castle got a call from Stephen King’s assistant, saying the author wanted to work on a collaboration with him. Of course, Castle was over the moon happy about this and rushed off to meet King at an address... that ended up being an abandoned warehouse. Nothing good comes from those places. Red flags should pop up and wave around if you’re considering entering one. But the idea of King meeting up with Castle in a right-out-of-a-horror-novel location seemed legit enough to him, so of course he entered. And of course, he wound up unconscious.

Meanwhile, Beckett and everyone had a murder case (involving a strange symbol not unlike a bullseye) on their hands that seemed unrelated, but wouldn’t be for long.


Castle wakes up in a classroom with three other men, and while Castle’s instinct is to figure out what they have in common, why they are there, and what clues might be in the room, the others wanted to break out by force. That is, until they triggered something that let out a bee, which stung Todd the Unsuspiciously Innocent Minister. Every clue was deceptive, and the process of figuring out what they meant made for smart, suspenseful scenes. The epi pen was poison. The one antidote was poison. The lock to the door opened up a secret compartment, which held a gun with three bullets and a note saying “the last one standing will be freed.”

Two of the guys, Simon and Judah, started fighting over who would get to shoot the others. It didn’t help that they could see — in out-of-context clips — their loved ones in the other room on the television. Simon saw that his girlfriend, Meadow, had control of the gun in the other room, and decided that if she was getting out, he would, too. THEN THE GUN SHOT BACKWARDS. I hope I wasn’t the only one completely shocked by that. Of course it wasn’t just another twist in a sick psychological experiment. Of course the instructions weren’t that simple.

This made Judah rethink his attitude, and together the guys pried the door open.


Meanwhile, the abductor had taken the guys’ phones and used them to lure their significant others there, except for the minister’s (she was the victim from Beckett’s case — TWIST). One of the women, Patricia, was calm enough about the whole thing, and listened to what Beckett was saying. Meadow, however, was a loose cannon. Once Beckett stopped her from taking the peanut butter cigarettes (she was allergic to peanuts), she calmed down a bit. But once she found the gun, she turned. However, Beckett did something important that Castle never thought to do — she took out the bullets — so the gun never fired. Together, Beckett and Patricia tied up Meadow and made a makeshift bomb out of the poison antidote and art supplies to break through the door.

But not before the television screen in their room showed Castle holding the gun he had taken from Simon, who was dead. The others thought he had killed the man, and even Beckett looked a little nervous. That was one of the only issues I had with the episode. Castle, we’ve been there, we’ve done that. We have passed that point and circled around again. Don’t make it seem like Beckett would doubt Castle. These were extraordinary circumstances, but this is Castle we’re talking about, and his life consists of extraordinary circumstances. It would take a whole lot more to push him into turning on others.

Note that the women decided to use logic to break out of the room more quickly than the men. Sure, they had one less person, and a cop in the room (I’d hope that in such a situation, you’d listen to what the cop has to say), but still. Beckett stopped Meadow from grabbing the ax, which is what started the other classroom’s spiral into chaos. The women worked together much better than the men. Instead of trying to break the door open, they used materials in the room to blow it up.


I kept forgetting that the characters’ spheres of knowledge didn’t overlap. Those inside the rooms didn’t know about the experiment, and those outside didn’t know there was a lethal reenactment going on. That added extra suspense, because we knew both sides of the story and knew what they had wrong.

Hayley showed up (Castle stood her up to go meet Stephen King) at the P.I. office, and her and Alexis quickly realized something was off. I’m glad Hayley is back in the picture, and that the Alexis/Hayley friendship is still a thing we get to see on our screens. Alexis didn’t used to get that much screen time, and having her interact with someone other than Castle and Martha is allowing her to become part of the team.

Ryan and Esposito spent most of the episode investigating the murder case and looking for Castle and Beckett. They were still peaceful. There was far too much happening in this episode for them to have much personal stuff going on.


Once free of the classroom, Beckett and Patricia started down a nondescript hallway... until they saw someone’s silhouette through the wall. Beckett almost used the gun to shoot who she assumed was the maker of this sick game, which made for a very suspenseful few moments, because not only was there an unknown person in a strange hallway, but she had one of those rigged guns. I think we all know Beckett’s pretty safe, but this episode made it fun to suspend my belief. Castle came around the corner instead of the kidnapper, and he quickly got her to put down the weapon.

Then they entered a strange area with three levers and one door, with a new set of rules: only one of each pair was allowed to hold down a lever, while the rest could escape. The minister immediately chose a lever, and Castle volunteered to take another. There was only one other couple left standing, and they looked terrified. So Beckett took the other lever in a move of solidarity. But that wasn’t the only reason. They were both onto the minister, between his lack of a loved one and general calmness about the whole thing. He let himself get stung by a bee, then poisoned, then cured, and then stepped in front of a gun. He didn’t have a story about how he was tricked into arriving at that warehouse.

In a typical episode, we’re usually lead through a string of suspects who give some good reason why they’re not the killer, until we finally get to the culprit. This episode didn’t have that. You realized as they did that the twin was the killer, and you suspected as they did that the minister wasn’t who he said he was.

You know, one thing that was never clarified was why these characters were specifically chosen for the “experiment.” He picked Beckett because of her connection to the 12th Precinct. He chose Castle accordingly. He wanted the groups to escape their rooms, so he had a master crime solver in each one. But the others? He must have done research in order to find out their allergies and personalities. His real objective, however, was not only to cause his captives pain similar to his own, but also to make his parents watch the whole thing and see how much he had suffered. Brandon was in the wrong, obviously, but what terrible parents they were to put their children through that. They traumatized him repeatedly at a young age, and it’s no wonder he ended up having psychological problems. Studying separation anxiety is all well and good, but an unethical experiment involving your own children?

Todd/Brandon wanted them to follow the rules and, to cause the maximum amount of pain, probably would have killed the remaining halves of the couples. It would depend on how much he knew about them, whether or not he guessed Castle and Beckett might stick together and save the others. So he then created a new rule: only one of them — Castle or Beckett — could leave the room, and he would kill the other. And one of them had to choose who lived. At first they refused once more to play his game, but that freaked him out. He wanted one of them to choose. He wanted one of them to leave the game and the other to die from it, just like him and his sister. While Brandon was distracted, Castle discretely unscrewed one of the levers, then offered to choose before swinging the lever at him. It was a nice touch that just after they had taken him down, Ryan, Espo, Hayley, and Alexis (plus a bunch of cops) burst in. They could have been five minutes or so earlier, but then we wouldn’t have had a classic Caskett takedown, so it’s all good.

I don’t think we’re getting a two-parter this year, but this episode pretty much made up for it. It had the element of Castle and Beckett being trapped in a terrible situation (though it doesn’t top the freezer scenes or bomb defusing scene from season three’s “Setup” and “Countdown,” but then again, those are hard to beat). This episode showcased everything that is good about this show, and proved that it only needs clever episodes like this one to prove its worth. We don’t need forced drama, we need cases that are rollercoaster-like puzzles that allow the characters we love to do what they do best. Could there have been more in regard to the characters’ story arcs? Sure, but we needed a break from all their drama, and this was a great way to do that.

  • “Darling, if you think you’re going to get top billing over Stephen King, you’re going to need more than luck.”
  • “I’ve seen stuff like this on Dateline and this never ends well.” 
  • “It’s power not to play.” I love that both Castle and Beckett independently decided to give the rules a piece of their minds. If you don’t play, they don’t win. Which weirdly reminds me of The Hunger Games?
  • If Brandon was in the room the whole time, how did he turn the TVs on and off at the right times? Even if he had some sort of tiny remote, he couldn’t have seen what was going on in the other room.
  • One member of each pair had a tattoo (hopefully temporary) of that bullseye symbol. They decided that the one with the bullseye was the important one, and the one without was leverage... but nothing ever came of it. Yes, Beckett had the mark and was the one directly connected to the 12th Precinct, but what about the rest of them?
  • What was the point of that countdown clock, other than to speed things up a bit? What was supposed to happen when it hit zero?
  • “I can’t leave you alone for five minutes.” “Does this mean no hug?”
  • “I mean, the guy is abducted like, what, twice a year?” 
  • “He’s good at what he does.” It wasn’t luck that got Castle out of it. 
  • “Is he as good as you?” “Good heavens no, why would you ask that?”
  • “A lot of people let them down.” 
  • “When Stephen King does call, at least you’ll have one heck of an icebreaker.”


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