My roommate and I have watched virtually every episode of “Castle” together. We sit on the futon in our small apartment, humming (and snapping our fingers) to the theme music and trying to guess whodunit each week. As ardent “Firefly” fans, we first tuned in to “Castle” because it stars Nathan Fillion. As the shows’ namesake, Fillion’s Richard Castle is a witty, charming, and boyish mystery writer who teams up with the NYPD to solve crimes. Fillion is as winning as ever in this role, but this post is not a love letter to him (I suspect he receives enough of those in the mail already), but rather a love letter to the show’s ensemble of female characters. The women of “Castle” are some of the most well-drawn and complex female characters on television today; while many prime time shows are populated by glamorous housewives and sexy teens making bad choices, “Castle” is populated by strong, multifaceted, independent women.
Castle’s counterpart on the show is Detective Kate Beckett, played with great nuance by Stana Katic. Beckett is one of the youngest women to become a homicide detective in the NYPD. She is beautiful, yes, but this matters less than her incredible intelligence, strength, and morality. She believes in the sanctity of the law, and each week she acts as the methodical, logical counterpoint to Castle’s wonderfully spontaneous and silly self. We see her chase down criminals, expertly interrogate them, and put them behind bars. She is a woman in a predominantly male environment, but she doesn’t just hold her own–she commands respect.
Beckett’s best friend is Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones), a smart and sarcastic Medical Examiner who also works for the NYPD. Like Beckett, Lanie works in an occupation often perceived of as man’s work. Career-driven women are often portrayed as (to quote the 2004 Stepford Wives) “high-powered, neurotic, castrating, Manhattan career bitches.” Lanie and Beckett are certainly high-powered, but they are perfectly logical and sane. They do not succeed by metaphorically castrating, but by working in tandem with their equally intelligent male coworkers–their strength does not come at the expense of others.
Lanie excels in her field, but she also balances her work with a personal life, dating Detective Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas). Yet Lanie does not fall into either of the two major traps for career-driven women in relationships on screen: she is not controlled or overwhelmed by her love, nor is she punished for her work ethic. Many female characters on television (I’m looking at you Meredith Grey) date coworkers and are governed by their feelings, allowing their emotions to affect their work. Lanie keeps her feelings from impacting her job, however, and keeps her personal life off the clock.
It is also refreshing to watch a show where women are portrayed as professionals capable of real, intimate female friendship. Women on screen are often portrayed (to use a term I despise) as frenemies a la “Gossip Girl”–they are in bitter competition with each other, and will harm each other to succeed. Lanie and Beckett, however, are fiercely loyal friends; what’s more, they also maintain friendships with the male members of the NYPD, namely Lanie’s boyfriend Esposito, and his partner, Detective Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever). The gender lines are not drawn in “Castle”–people are people, cops are cops, and everyone respects their colleagues. Esposito and Ryan (played with warmth and expert comic timing by Huertas and Dever) are respectful of their coworkers, and work in tandem with Lanie, Beckett, and Castle.
One of the best surprises of “Castle” is its portrayal of the father-daughter relationship. One of my favorite characters in the ensemble is Castle’s teenage daughter, Alexis (Molly Quinn). Along with Richard’s mother, Martha Rodgers (Susan Sullivan), Alexis lives with Castle in his Manhattan apartment. The two women serve as Castle’s sounding boards and voices of wisdom. It’s refreshing to see a teenage girl on screen who isn’t a boy-crazy sex fiend or drunken socialite who hates her parents. Alexis and Castle have a loving relationship, and Quinn plays Alexis expertly as an honest and kind old soul.
Although I started watching “Castle” because of Nathan Fillion, I’ve stuck around for both him and his costars. The writers and actors of “Castle” illustrate that women on screen need not be cardboard cutouts of slutty teens, love-sick sad-sacks, or vindictive bitches. Castle may be, as he notes, “ruggedly handsome,” but Kate Beckett is a bad ass, and so, so much more.