One of the things I looked forward to with the launch of the fall TV season was finally being able to get more Castle. And as I reflect on Monday’s season premiere, I cannot help but marvel at the producers’ skillful manipulation of the informational plane of point of view in the episode (NOTE: “spoilers” ahead!)
This episode provides the conclusion to the cliffhanger finale from last season which saw Castle’s car in flames, apparently having been forced off the road while he was driving to his wedding. This season’s premiere opens with Beckett, Esposito, Ryan, Martha and Alexis at the scene in total shock at the prospect that Castle had died in a fiery crash. But as the episode proceeds, clue after clue emerge suggesting a different scenario entirely. For example, there is no body in the car; the driver’s airbag has deployed; there is a dint in car’s passenger-side rear fender; there are tracks from the car up to the road indicating the presence of three people, one of them being dragged. So, the evidence suggests that Castle is alive and has been abducted.
But further evidence starts to point in a different direction: the other vehicle in the incident is located just as it is getting crushed; the person who ordered it to be crushed is a mobster Castle knows; for crushing the vehicle, this mobster received $10,000 through a dead drop in a particular dumpster, and a camera happening to catch the drop reveals it is Castle who makes the delivery; the serial numbers on the bills match those of cash Castle withdrew shortly before he went missing.
After being missing for months, Castle is discovered unconscious in dinghy eighty miles off the coast of Delaware. The dinghy’s distinctive sky-blue paint job is used to trace it back to a private dock in Massachusetts. When Beckett, Esposito and Ryan visit the property, they find a trailer, and they question the occupant about Castle, but he claims he knows nothing about him. When he is asked about his dinghy, he admits it had been stolen, and adds he did see someone camping down by the dock. When shown a photo of Castle, he immediately identifies him as the person he saw. And a search of a tent found by the dock reveals not only Castle’s possessions, but also, his fingerprints on newspapers opened to articles on his disappearance. All of this poses a serious challenge to Castle’s claim–when he finally comes to–that he has no recollection of anything since being forced off the road.
I am sure there were many viewers who were skeptical that Castle couldn’t remember anything that happened. And such a sentiment is understandable, given that the producers manipulated the informational plane of point of view to have the viewers adopt that sentiment.
The Oct 25/12 and Nov 29/12 posts discuss the dynamics in play on this plane of point of view. Briefly, when a storyteller limits an audience to just the information known by a character, the audience is forced to experience the story world through the same informational perspective as that possessed by the character, and this results in a sense of identification with the character. But an audience provided with more or less information than that of the character will necessarily see the story world differently than the character does, thus causing a distancing between audience and character.
Now, thinking back to the details of this episode of Castle, each detail is made known to the audience only upon being discovered by the detectives. So when the evidence leads the dectectives to think Castle is dead in the car, we think he is dead in the car. When they come to think he has been dragged away against his will, we think he has been dragged away against his will. And when they suspect he might actually be working with the bad guys, we suspect he might be working with the bad guys. We follow in lockstep with the detectives, processing each piece of evidence along with them, and as a result, drawing the same conclusions as they do. Our informational database has been made to coincide with their informational database.
Of course, this point-of-view strategy does not allow the audience to be privy to any details not known by the detectives. What difference would it make if the audience were fed some such details? It would have been easy for the producers to craft the episode in this way simply by inserting scenes here and there that break from following what the detectives were doing to cover what was happening in Castle’s world. But think about the overall effect of such a move. The viewers would be watching the detectives as they uncover clue by clue, but they would not be piecing the clues together in an effort to form a cohesive picture of the situation–like the detectives are doing–for they would already have a cohesive picture of the situation from the scenes following Castle. Rather, the viewers would be left merely monitoring the detectives’ progress toward putting it all together.
Such a point-of-view strategy would result in a loss of the episode’s strongest feature: the sense of mystery that permeates the whole story. Lost would be the appeal of compiling the evidence piece by piece in an attempt to figure out what really happened, and being blindsided again and again along the way.
Kudos to the producers of this episode for their masterful manipulation of the informational plane of point of view to yield such a compelling hour of entertainment.