ABC’s Castle is a fluffy show. On Monday nights, fluff is about all I’m good for.
Tonight’s episode was the second of a two-parter, and I wanted to recommend it to folks looking how to create tension and jeopardy in action genre games without reducing female characters to hapless, helpless, sardoodledum-y plot devices for the male protagonists.
*Spoiler alert for Season 2 Episodes 17 & 18* You have been warned.
The three scenes I’d like to draw your attention two are, well, the three big women in distress scenes. The one at the beginning of Episode 18 where Beckett’s apartment goes boom, the one at the end of Episode 18 when Beckett and Castle go in after the killer and Dana Delaney’s character who he has kidnapped, and the third that happens immediately after the second when Beckett falls at the mercy of the killer and they manage to take him in.
In all three of these scenes, I’d invite you to notice how the women in question are bad-ass agents of their own Salvation, and how in all three scenes, the male protagonist isn’t undermined by their agency at all.
In the first, Beckett, is going to get blown up by a bomb planted in her apartment. Castle, through his magical novelist skill, figures it out in the nick of time and calls her, letting her know that the bomb is there. Cut to her reaction, and the killer’s recorded voice telling her goodbye, cut to the building exploding and Castle’s reaction. Castle heroically busts into the burning building to save her life, but really she’s saved herself by throwing herself into the cast iron bathtub. Sure he helps her out of the burning building, but she’s not really in imminent danger while they go. He’s still a hero – he saved her life by giving her the chance to save herself, he had the hero man action shot: braving the burning building to come after her. He loses no hero points at all, and at the same time, Beckett has been the smart, resourceful, kick-ass cop we’ve always known her to be. Both of them come out of the event more bad-ass than they went in – neither earns their rise in stock at the expense of the other.
Later, once again (it’s his shtick after all), Castle figures out the serial killer’s motive by novelist mojo and he and Beckett go in to save Delaney’s character…
Oh yeah, before I go on with that scene, let me point out that the NYPD have been able to put the storyline of what happened to Delaney’s character because she elbowed the killer in the face and bloodied his nose badly – after he’d pulled a gun on her from the back seat of her car. It isn’t her blood, it isn’t random scuffs of a struggle, it’s an indication that the woman in distress didn’t go into distress without courage and competent physical resistance.
Back to the scene. So Beckett’s given Castle a gun (which has been an ongoing thing in the show) and told him she’s going to lure off the killer and that she wants him to get Delaney’s character free and out and get backup. She confronts the genius killer, and outsmarts him thereby saving the lives of all of the male SWAT team that are about to be unbenownstly blown up in the decoy building. The killer dives for his gun but doesn’t get it because the woman in distress (Delaney) contributes to her own salvation (even though she is tied to a chair) by kicking his gun out of reach. The killer runs off and Beckett follows. Even here when it’s a woman saving another woman, the victim gets to play a part in getting her freedom back. Neither Beckett nor Castle lose any stock or appear any less the heroes for the action. Also, Castle doesn’t rush the scene or steal the thunder. Beckett’s there to do a job and she does it; she’s the kick-ass cop after all. Delaney sends Castle after Beckett to back her up.
Next scene, Beckett’s chased down the killer, there’s a confrontation and a hard-hitting fistfight. The killer does get the better of Beckett, but not until they’ve exchanged a number of forceful physical blows. It’s not an easy for the killer to get the better for her just because she’s a woman. Then he has her gun and he goes to shoot her, Castle who has finally caught up yells “No!’ and gets off a shot which hits the killer. It’s not a killing shot, just enough that the killer drops the gun and scrambles to the ground after it. And here it’s Delaney that takes the last save, with a pulpy high-heeled shoe stepping on the fallen gun, and a gun of her own trained on him.
Taking the killer in to custody, Beckett commends Castle on the shot, and Castle confesses that he’d been aiming for the killer’s head. Here again, the stock goes up on all three characters. Not one of them is ever reduced to a plot device. They all, even the special guest star who could have been red shirted, maintain competence through the episode. Both genders get to be all things: smart and resourceful and physically competent too.
It might be fluff, but as prime time network television fluff goes, that’s some pretty balanced manoeuvring from a character agency perspective. Give it a view through that lens.