The latest episode of Castle has gone steampunk, and it has done so with all of the elegance, charm, respectfulness, and accuracy that I have come to expect from the show. The episode, titled “Punked,” has clearly been the result of careful research and dedicated writing.
You may recall my review of NCIS: LA’s “steampunk episode” last year, and the scathing review I gave it (and for good reason, I might add). At the end of that review, I issued a challenge for someone to produce a real “steampunk episode” and cited Castle as one of the only programs I felt had the ability to do it right. I have been told by Castle creator and executive producer Andrew Marlowe that “Punked” was their answer to that challenge, and let me say that they have more than exceeded my wildest expectations. Castle’s “Punked” was everything that the NCIS: LA episode was not, and it should go down in television history as the first real “steampunk episode” of a mainstream TV show.
“Punked” opens with a rather majestic montage featuring mounted police officers riding through Central Park. While this intro may have been a coincidence, I suspect it was intentional. And while it is only a brief moment in the entire episode, the sight of uniforms and the sound of the horses’ hooves brings to mind 19th century cavalry: a wonderful mood-setting introduction to a steampunk show.
After a brief but very enjoyable scene of character development and metaplot between Richard Castle, his daughter, and his mother, we are presented with the evening’s murder. A young Wall Street broker has been shot and killed by a 200 year old lead ball, and then stripped down to his (extremely expensive and comfortable) boxer shorts. Naturally, Castle suspects a “time-traveling killer” and proceeds to theorize about “time ripples” and the possibility that time travel causes rust (which is presented with all Nathan Fillion’s usual charm). Detective Beckett (Stana Katic) promptly retorts “on your brain” with such beautiful timing that I feel it demands a mention.
In the course of the investigation, Castle and Beckett are led to a steampunk club that the murder victim belonged to. Every inch of the scene is wonderful, and comes complete with a club president who rides a penny-farthing with exhaust pipes. Both the principle supporting characters and the extras are dressed in completely believable steampunk outfits. The club has just the vintage Victorian feel one would expect to attract steampunk clientele (indeed, speaking personally I wish the club really did exist in New York City; I’d join in a heartbeat). The characters display a lovely blend of eccentricity, jovial humor and artistic romanticism. It is subtly but accurately pointed out that the members of the steampunk community are intelligent, respectable, educated people who, though a bit geeky and certainly eccentric, are well-spoken and good-hearted. During the scene, Castle explains steampunk to Beckett, describing it as “a subculture that embraces the simplicity and romance of the past and at the same time couples it with the hope and promise and sheer supercoolness of futuristic design,” a definition I think we can all be happy with.
The plot of “Punked” progresses with all of the usual pacing, twists, and turns one can expect in a Castle episode, punctuated by the show’s characteristic witty banter, reflective conversations, and “oh!” moments. I could go on and on about the quality of acting and writing, the cinematography, and the whole list of wonderful non-steampunk things in the episode, but as any viewer of Castle knows, by now all of these qualities are pretty much standard for what is without question one of the best television programs on air. What's more, the episode title is a a fantastic double entendre that, as the astute viewer will see by the end of the episode, is more than just a play on the word “steampunk.”
In short, “Punked” was perhaps the best first TV introduction to the mainstream world that the steampunk community could have hoped for. The general public can likewise watch with confidence that what they are being shown is an accurate and well-researched portrayal of the next big subculture that they, their friends or their kids will soon want to begin exploring.
And on a personal note, speaking as a writer myself, I have a deep respect for any story (be it book, film or television program) that can make its use of language, characters, plot, and setting all fit together with the precision and efficiency of a well-oiled and distinctly artistic machine. Castle has long had the ability to do this, and “Punked” is one of the finest examples I have yet seen. A lot of time and effort went into this episode, and my hat is off to everyone who contributed to make this the mainstream portrayal that steampunk fans have been waiting for.
G. D. Falksen is immensely grateful to Castle executive producer Andrew Marlowe and associate producer Noreen O’Toole for giving him the opportunity to preview “Punked” and write this review. More information at G. D. can be found on his Twitter and Facebook.