Breaking the fourth wall is something actors are warned against, and yet somehow when it happens on Castle, the results are humourous, clever, and fun to watch. “One Life to Lose” is a perfect example of this. Even the title of this week’s episode signals right off the bat that some meta high jinks are going to ensue: “One Life to Lose” is a playful allusion to Nathan Fillion’s acting origins on the soap opera “One Life to Live”. From there, we are thrown into the world of soapy drama, over-acting, and of course some good old-fashioned sexual-tension-filled banter.
“Meta” can encompass anything that highlights its own unreality and artificiality, referring directly to itself (I love the Oxford English Dictionary). While Castle has always been a show that draws attention to its actors’ past roles (look no further than the multiple Firefly nods scattered throughout the show, or the Halloween episode “Vampire Weekend” in which Castle, Ryan, and Esposito all dress up as characters the actors have played in other projects), I feel like the self-referential fun came to a head earlier this season in “Nikki Heat”. In this episode, Castle and Beckett solve a crime with the help of the actress Natalie Rhodes, who is playing Nikki in the upcoming movie of Castle’s book “Heat Wave”. At one point, after Beckett asks Castle why he didn’t sleep with her doppelganger Natalie, Castle replies: “A fictional character that I wrote, based on you, played by Natalie Rhodes…that’s just way too meta”. Then try adding the level of storytelling that exists outside the show’s narrative: Laura Prepon plays Natalie Rhodes who is playing Nikki Heat who was created by Richard Castle and based on Kate Beckett. Enough layers?
The metafictional situation is augmented by the publication, in the real world, of the novels “Heat Wave” and “Naked Heat”, penned by none other than “Richard Castle”. The lines are blurred between fictional characters, actors, writers, and real-life incarnations of them. On one level, the books represent an obvious marketing gimmick. But at least it’s a fun gimmick, one that encourages audience participation and makes viewers feel like they’re in on the joke. The Firefly allusions are similar; it’s OK if the viewers don’t get all the references, but the show is made that much funnier for those who do.
“One Life to Lose” is all about audience involvement. When Beckett explains the FoxCan relationship to Castle and tells him what shippers are, all the Caskett shippers watching at home get a little thrill. Again, when Castle “invents” the portmanteau Esplanie for Lanie and Esposito, fans will recognize and appreciate the shout-out to their popular name for the couple (and Castle’s right, they are always “esplaining” things).
Plus, in an episode about soap opera shippers, there are plenty of exchanges between Castle and Beckett to keep the real-life shippers happy. I loved all of their eye-communication in “One Life to Lose”; Nathan and Stana are so good at it and it maintains the characters’ chemistry even when they’re not talking about overly romantic things. Beckett’s urging of Castle to read a tearful and stubborn coffee barista’s screenplay, followed by his indignant reluctance and her insistence, is all conveyed through silent looks and the effect is hilarious. And Castle’s coaxing attention as Beckett finally admits the reason for her “Temptation Lane” fandom is endearingly sweet. It made me even more angry at Josh for calling and interrupting their obviously love-infused glances (again with the eye-communication). Honestly, Dr. Motorcycle Boy has the worst timing…or I guess the best timing, if you’re him.
One other favourite moment was Martha telling Beckett about her stint on “Temptation Lane”:
MARTHA: After my character married his character, Joseph Fox, she was kidnapped, buried alive, trapped in a cave with bears, kidnapped again, and held hostage in the sewers of Paris.
BECKETT: How long were you on the show?
MARTHA: Three weeks.
What did you think of Martha’s role in this episode? Speaking of gimmicks, did you enjoy the guest stars from various real life soap operas? How about some of the other Castle and Beckett moments? (S and H, I know you have some more to talk about!) Do you like the way Castle constantly refers to itself, the real world, and the lives of the actors, or would you prefer it if the show was less meta?