(This post theoretically contains spoilers for Castle — but only if you consider it a spoiler when I talk about something done by practically every TV show ever.)
So my husband and I have been watching Castle lately. We really like the Castle/Beckett relationship; it doesn’t make the mistake committed by so many other buddy stories that pair up a free spirit with a by-the-book type, of making the by-the-book type a humorless automaton. Beckett gives as good as she gets, in her own way. And the show does a semi-decent job of explaining why it takes them years to get together: Castle’s had a string of failed marriages; Beckett has some major hangups. But eventually they do actually sort themselves out and start a relationship —
— whereupon, of course, the show has to start playing the OH MY GOD THEY’RE GOING TO BREAK UP card.
Foz Meadows had a post recently about bad TV romance wherein she rants quite eloquently about the investment of TV writers in the “will they or won’t they” dynamic. UST gets strung out for years, with the characters sitting on the fence long after the point at which they would have either hooked up or moved on — and then when they finally hook up, the implied verb of “will they or won’t they” is “split” instead of “get together.” Because the vast majority of TV writers (or possibly just the vast majority of the execs they answer to) have no freaking clue what to do with a romantic pairing that isn’t either impending or in peril.
And as Foz points out, the obnoxious thing is: they know exactly how to write that kind of thing, because they do it all the time — with male friendships. On Castle, Ryan and Esposito don’t always agree; sometimes they’re competing with one another or at odds over some issue. But in eight seasons, the show has never once relied on baiting us with the question of whether they’ll settle down as working partners, or whether they’ll split up and start working with other people. The writers don’t need those tricks to make the characters interesting to watch. Their banter is enough, and the pleasure of watching them do things together.
Ah, you say, but they aren’t the protagonists.
To which I say: so what? Why do the central figures of every male/female buddy show ever* have to not only get romantically involved with one another, but spend almost their entire existence in romantic limbo? Why can’t we have more Mr. and Mrs. Smith-style teamups? More couples with the exact same dynamic given to male/male buddy pairs, except with bonus smooching? As Foz points out, insisting on the uncertainty model for the romances means that all kinds of other tasty narrative material — “shared interests, complex histories, mutual respect, in-jokes, magnetic antagonism, slowly kindled alliances and a dozen other things” — is now off-limits.
It wasn’t entirely off-limits in Castle because the show let those things build between Castle and Beckett, during the period of time where they were sorting out their nonsense. But of course now we need Tension — we need Doubt in the Relationship — so all of a sudden they’re barely talking to one another. Bye-bye, in-jokes. Farewell, alliance. All those shared interests and complex histories? Irrelevant now. Because BY GOD we need the audience to be asking themselves “will they or won’t they?”
Even though the audience knows the goddamned answer.
Stop. Just stop. We know what’s going to happen with Castle and Beckett, and in the meantime, everything I like about their relationship has been squandered for the sake of that fake uncertainty. Quit it. Let the two of them behave like functional adults, and trust that the rest of the story is interesting even if that question has been answered.
*Exception that proves the rule: Will and Grace, because Will was gay. Though for all I know, the show spent its time pretending they weren’t going to wind up being best friends/oh my god maybe they’ll stop being friends.
Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.