Title Bad Santa
Two-Sentence Summary When Castle and Beckett investigate the murder of a mob doctor, things get dangerous as Castle makes a deal with the devil to find out the truth. Meanwhile, Christmas is in full swing around the 12th precinct, and a meeting with Lanie’s parents causes Esposito and her to rethink their relationship.
“This has been an epic year.
Life’s been full of joy and tears.
Solving crimes and catching killers,
Just like Castle’s famous thrillers.
We share a passion every day.
As partners go, we’re here to stay.” (Kate Beckett’s Christmas poem)
My Thoughts I’m struggling to write about how this episode made me feel, if I’m being completely honest. I understand the logic behind the big twist at the end, as well as the logic behind the big breakup we saw in “Bad Santa.” But I can’t help feeling both of those big moments were rushed, dropped like bombs on the audience out of nowhere. I know, I know—that’s the whole nature of a cliffhanger ending. And good cliffhangers keep us talking, guessing, and speculating until the hiatus is over. I’m sure this one will do just that (though thanks to the promo we saw at the end of the episode we know this will all be played for laughs), but that doesn’t take away the feeling of being emotionally sucker punched that I’m still dealing with today.
Ultimately, this episode ended with a great twist. It blindsided me, but it arose organically from the situation. Castle did something wrong, and he has to deal with the consequences. It just seemed crazy that out of all the times Castle did things far from by the book, this one—on the heels of a pretty forgettable case—was the one that led to him being kicked out of the precinct. But that’s where the unexpected nature of the cliffhanger came from, and I have to give it to the writers, when they go for a cliffhanger on this show, they don’t do it halfway. For better or worse, we think about them until the show comes back (and long after even that).
Before we get to that cliffhanger, there were a lot of other things that happened in this episode, too. First and foremost, it was a Christmas episode, and Castle continued its trend of doing holiday episodes really well with this one (complete with another fun, enhanced title card!). I loved how the beginning of this episode addressed in a very fun way the fact that Beckett didn’t just marry Castle; she joined his family. That means taking part in new traditions that may confuse and intimidate her a little bit (of course he would have them all write rhyming poetry), but it also means having two fabulous ladies to turn to and vent to when those traditions overwhelm her. I also have to give a mention of Susan Sullivan’s flawless deadpan delivery of how long Martha has been working on her poem.
Christmas was also felt throughout the precinct, and I was so happy to get a little glimpse of the holiday celebrations at the 12th. (Although I should have known that no celebrations at the 12th have ever happened without someone ending up depressed—and that someone is usually me.) The Christmas spirit also infiltrated Lanie and Esposito’s storyline, with Lanie’s parents paying a little holiday visit to their daughter, changing the course of her relationship in the process.
I appreciated the humor in watching Esposito and Lanie banter at first about her lying to her parents about being engaged, but I didn’t love this storyline overall. Maybe I just find it unbelievable for a strong, successful, confident woman to feel she has to lie about being engaged. It seemed like it was asking a lot for me to believe that Lanie would still feel the need to do something so elaborate to appease her parents, but I suppose the writers just needed something light and funny for these characters to do while also bringing them to the place they reached at the end of this episode.
That place they reached at the end was surprising, but it felt a little anticlimactic. I did like that the traditional way this clichéd fake engagement plot usually ends (with a real proposal) was turned on its head in this episode. But I didn’t love the nonchalant way this breakup was treated. Yes, I liked seeing that these two characters could end their relationship on good terms, but I felt more weight should have been given to that decision. It felt rushed to me, but maybe that’s just the way it seems in hindsight, combined with everything that happened in that last scene. In the end, I am happy that two adults on a television show handled the end of a relationship like adults and without unnecessary angst. We all knew this was brewing after “Kill Switch,” and I liked that the differences between Lanie and Esposito that were brought up in that episode weren’t swept under the rug. I could have used a little more of them in the last episode to bridge the gap between “Kill Switch” and “Bad Santa,” but ultimately this did feel like the right decision for this relationship, even if it did seem to come about within the episode in a very hasty way.
I would actually have liked a lot of more of the process that got Lanie and Esposito to the decision to break up than this episode’s case. If there’s one thing I miss from this show’s earliest days, it’s the fact that the cases had more weight behind them and more emotional resonance. There were the nerdy and silly cases back then, too, but there were also ones that had real pathos. This case, which wasn’t nerdy or genre-themed, was downright boring in places. I know that happens as procedurals age, but I wanted the case that ultimately got Castle kicked out of the 12th to be a little more memorable and maybe a little more serious.
Don’t get me wrong; I loved all the reactions to the blood oath (from Castle’s pain to Ryan’s awe to Beckett calling it a paper cut), and I did feel a certain sense of dread from Castle working with mob that built nicely to the episode’s conclusion. But the most memorable things about the case itself were the strip club (because I was super uncomfortable with Castle ogling the girls with his new wife right there—but that’s just a personal taste thing) and Cyber Rita (who is pure perfection). The “Romeo and Juliet of the mob” story wasn’t very original, and, as I said, if this was to be the case that got Castle into the deepest trouble he’s ever been in with the NYPD, I wanted the case itself to feel like it mattered more.
Ultimately, the case itself mattered much less than the repercussions of Castle working with the mob. The blood oath may have been played for laughs at first, but no one—least of all Castle—was laughing at the end. The first bombshell dropped when it was revealed that the killer was killed on his way to central booking. And then Gates dropped the even bigger bombshell that, because of the way he went behind the NYPD’s back to work with the mob on the case, Castle was no longer allowed to shadow Beckett. I’m sure this won’t last, but this moment was downright devastating for me to watch as it unfolded because it felt like seven years of professional partnership going up in smoke. I’ve always loved the fact that Castle and Beckett made a great professional partnership long before they made it personal, and it broke my heart more than a little to think of that going away for any length of time.
For as shockingly brief as the moment was, I really loved how Penny Johnson Jerald played Gates telling all of this to Castle. She seemed genuinely sad and disappointed by it, and that’s a sign of huge growth for her as a character and her relationship with Castle. And then, of course, there was the way Nathan Fillion played Castle processing this huge change in his life. It was the perfect use of Fillion’s ability to keep a whole range of emotions just below the surface, only showing themselves in his eyes or his voice for a brief moment. Fillion is a master at showing the power of a person trying to control their emotions and not completely break down. And that’s exactly what that entire last scene called for.
As Beckett read her adorable Christmas poem—full of love and light and celebration for their partnership—I was gutted by the pain Fillion was showing Castle struggling to conceal in the face of his wife’s happiness. I wished we could have seen Castle tell Beckett before she went off to join the festivities; I’m worried now about a time jump making us lose the reaction from her that I would have loved to witness. That’s something you tell your wife right away in reality, but in TV land, I suppose it’s more dramatic to go about it the way Castle did.
In the end, this episode accomplished its purpose—it opened up a new chapter and avenue of storytelling for Richard Castle as a character, and it left us all talking about the way it ended, which was upsetting to me on a level I did not expect to feel when I sat down to watch last night. If nothing else, “Bad Santa” made me feel very strongly, even if that feeling is a weird kind of stunned depression.