Three years ago, NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) worked a crime scene staged just like one in a novel by best-selling mystery author Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion). The rougish and mischievous Castle recognized in her a great new lead character and used his connections to get permission to shadow her, helping with cases and getting ideas for his books. The chemistry between the two has simmered and boiled throughout the years while they solve murders with Beckett’s team which includes Detectives Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Esposito (Jon Huertas). Now, the unusual cases continue and the unsolved murder of Beckett’s mother raises its specter again as another level to that conspiracy is uncovered and threatens to end Castle and Beckett’s partnership for good.
Perhaps the most significant difference between film and television in terms of storytelling is the length of the finished product. Though a film is about two hours and a television drama only one hour (which includes the commercials), if a show is successful, the writers are blessed with multiple seasons with which to develop characters and play out long-term plotlines. This fact works particularly to the advantage of the “will they or won’t they?” type of interaction between a couple. And no television couple of recent memory fits that description better than Castle and Beckett on ABC’s Castle, the latest season of which is now out on DVD. The fourth season of Castle wonderfully balances its procedural nature with combustible romantic tension between its lead characters on top of excellent writing and acting.
From the beginning, Castle has been both a crime-solving procedural drama and a bickering romantic comedy, as mystery writer Castle joins with Detective Beckett and her team to solve cases. That combination has allowed the writers to avoid a monotonous, murder-of-the-week feel and has set a very unique tone for the show, one that is completely entertaining. There is suspense and action but also zingy one-liners. Thankfully, that tone is firmly in place for season four, but the writers go further than that as they intensify the extended subplot of Beckett’s mother’s unsolved murder case more than ever before. The season premiere covers the aftermath of Beckett’s bullet to the chest as a result of investigating her mother’s case, and that’s just the beginning. At least two more episodes of the season touch on that plot, with the writers adeptly moving the story forward without yet revealing the final resolution of it.
This plotline is also deftly intertwined with the central Castle and Beckett romance. Strong emotions, good and bad, define this couple. Well, along with playful banter. I won’t give away the season finale except to say that fans of the show who have watched from the beginning mainly for this romance will be pleased. Fillion’s natural charm does a lot with this, and the chemistry between he and Katic is a true highlight of the entire series. The supporting cast also cannot be beat and the funny exchanges among the detective team and Castle couldn’t be more fun to watch. And this being Castle, there are always some surprises (look for the handcuffs and the tiger!). Four seasons into its run, Castle remains an hour of television where the writing and acting offers sublime entertainment.
This season’s episodes are presented in standard DVD video on five discs. It’s a fine (though not the best) presentation, and the transfer on these discs is excellent. Though standard definition, the levels of brightness and contrast and clarity are modulated throughout for a smooth picture in every episode. Only in the darkest night shots does any need for more contrast show itself and that is only very slight. Blu-Ray high definition would, of course, be a better format, but sadly there is no Blu-Ray release of this season. (Really, ABC?!?)
As is usual and expected for DVD, the audio format here is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for the English language track. It works well, especially in the transfer on these discs. As this show is a crime procedural, all expository dialogue and the sound effects of the action scenes must come through, and this format allows for exactly that. Also, the volume throughout is nicely level throughout, which is something that usually goes unnoticed but should be appreciated. There are no other foreign language tracks. Subtitles for French and Spanish are available, though, in addition to English.
Fillion and Friends: Castle Goes Radio: This is actually a three-part extra. Molly Quinn, who plays Castle’s daughter Alexis, leads the audience through a rehearsal and performance as she joins the “Thrilling Adventure Hour,” which is a comedic old-time radio show utilizing many recognizable actors in L.A. Fillion himself has guested quite often on the show. The actorly camaraderie really shines through. Then the two episodes of the show, “Sparks Nevada: Marshal on Mars” and “Cactoid Jim: King of the Martian Frontier” make up the rest of the feature. They are great entertainment to see live because the actors have a lot of fun with costume and gestures as they record the radio shows. There is also an Easter Egg here--click on the coffee cup on the menu for this feature and you get a hilarious coffee advertisement in the same radio style as the show. This extra is lots of fun.
Submerged: An In-Depth Look at Stunts: The thrilling stunt during the two-episode “Pandora” and “Linchpin” gets the in-depth treatment here. Everything from the production discussion prior to filming to the score for the scene is covered here. Aside from lead actors Fillion and Katic, creator Marlowe, executive producer Rob Bowman, stunt coordinator Dennis Madalone, and composer Robert Duncan all contribute their insights. The actual filming might be the most fascinating to see but it is all interesting. Fans should absolutely watch this.
Bowman, Bowman, and Castle: The creative film noir episode of Castle set in 1947, “The Blue Butterfly,” joins executive producer Rob Bowman with his experienced T.V. director father, Chuck. It is nice to see the warmth the entire Castle family has for the Bowman family, and especially to see the pride between father and son Bowman. A good addition here.
Commentaries: Across the season, three episodes get the commentary treatment. The season premiere gets Bowman, who directed the episode, together with actors Huertas, Dever, and Jones. As is often the case with teams who’ve worked together for as long as they have, this group of actors and filmmakers clearly respects each other’s talent. We get behind-the-scenes filming information, of course, like the fact that Jones had to be strapped to the gurney she’s sitting on in the opening scenes. For the episode “Cuffed,” Marlowe joins with writer Terri Miller and actors Fillion and Katic for a nice track. We learn the term “bottle episode” which is t.v. talk for an episode that takes place in limited locations. Fillion is reliable with the jokes and Katic keeps questioning the writers for insights. “The Blue Butterfly” is accompanied with a track featuring writer Terence Winter, costume designer Luke Reichle, and actors Jones, Susan Sullivan, and Molly Quinn. The input of the costumer is a fresh and fascinating change. We learn his process and that he insisted on full-length shots of the women’s dresses. Sullivan proves to be a charming commentator, asking questions and providing sage acting insights. These are all very entertaining.
Deleted Scenes: A handful of very brief snippets of scenes make up this extra, and they are spread over the discs. They are good but seem like necessary cuts. One features Ryan and Esposito but is too brief. Another just adds to the Castle and Beckett and her mom’s case drama. One adds a hilarious moment from Fillion’s Castle. Most are on the final disc of the set, but there are a few on the other discs. (Although the final disc is the only one that doesn’t designate which episode the scene comes from. Weird.) Fans should still watch these even though they are so short.
Blooper Reel: Typical of these types of extras, line flubs, cursing, and on-set buffoonery make up this reel. It’s about 4 minutes long and fun to watch. Enjoy!
Castle delivers a fourth season that audiences will want in their homes, delighted by the sharp and funny writing and the bright performances from all the actors. Fans will obviously purchase this set but casual viewers will still be entertained by at least a rental to enjoy these 23 episodes. Good bonus features make buying an even better idea. Season four ends with such a game-changing plot development that anticipation will be rampant for season five of Castle.