Nov 6 2012 3:00pm

What If Nathan Fillion Turned His Back On His Fans? Castle’s Firefly Episode “The Final Frontier”

A review and recap of Castle’s Firefly episode: The Final Frontier

Ever since the news broke a few weeks ago that Castle season 5 would include a convention episode with an emphasis on star Nathan Fillion’s cancelled sci-fi series Firefly—directed by Jonathan “Commander Riker” Frakes, no less—fans have eagerly been looking forward to “The Final Frontier.” The most intriguing element of the episode was that the producers were looking to cast someone to basically play Nathan Fillion, if he had succumbed to depression and alcohol abuse and faded into obscurity after his show got cancelled. How meta!

I’m sad to report that “The Final Frontier” fell short of my expectations of a total Firefly lovefest. The in-jokes weren’t as delightful as in years past, and many of the plot points resembled the kinds of murder-at-cons episodes we’ve seen from similar procedurals like Bones or one of the CSI offshoots. It was a valiant effort from the producers, but lacked the nuance and respect that Firefly fans deserve.

In this episode, NYPD Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) and mystery writer/consultant Rick Castle (Fillion) are at Supernovacon when a dead body is uncovered in one of the booths. The corpse is discovered at the Nebula 9 Fan Experience, an interactive game where geeks can relive their beloved cult show alongside “Captain Max Renard,” a.k.a. geek legend Gabriel Winters (Ed Quinn).

Castle and Beckett discover that the victim, Annabelle Collins, was a diehard Nebula 9 fan who grew up watching the show and later bought the rights for dirt cheap. She and her high school buddies Audrey and Davis shot a series of webisodes and were hoping to bring the series back as a movie. So obviously whoever killed her didn’t agree with her vision for the show’s revival.

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by past Firefly references on Castle, but I was dismayed to see that any nods toward the show were subtle. If anything, Nebula 9 is a closer parody of Star Trek, with the skintight uniforms, laser guns, and even the bridge of the ship. Considering how many Trek spoofs are already out there—and bearing in mind that Galaxy Quest was one of the best—it seemed a lazy choice.

However, the Castle writers treat us to two back-to-back Firefly jokes early in the first act. While Castle and Beckett navigate the convention floor, he lays out the history of the show: “They got cancelled over a decade ago. After twelve episodes, which was twelve episodes too many.” And of course, being a best-selling author, he derides Nebula 9 for being too cheesy. “I like good sci-fi,” he defends himself. “Star TrekBattlestar, that Joss Whedon show.”

We were treated to some other geeky moments over the course of the episode:

  • Jonathan Frakes directed it!
  • Castle has a life-size Boba Fett in his bathroom
  • Castle’s Shatner impression (plus Shatner’s song “Ideal Woman” at the end of the episode)
  • When Castle accidentally shoots the laser gun, he utters the phrase, “Zap, said the lady!” Fillion is known for trying to coin similar catchphrases over Twitter.
  • Trying to soothe Castle over his fear that he’ll mutate into a superhero, Beckett suggests that he be Dr. Manhattan, because “the blue skin will bring out your eyes.”

Castle and Beckett’s investigation takes them all over the con, from a scene where they question various nerds in-character, to Castle confronting his teenage daughter with her risque cosplay, to the warehouse where a superfan (Armin Shimerman, Quark from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Principal Snyder from Buffy!) has created the replica laser that became the murder weapon.

I applaud the Castle folks for trying to tap into the fan experience in plotting this episode, but the idea that a twenty-something would be able to scoop up the rights to a cancelled sci-fi show is preposterous. I know because the Firefly fandom lobbied to do that a few years ago, and decided that only a Kickstarter campaign or celebrity backer would make this idea feasible. Call me a nitpicking nerd, but this glossing over of logic took me out of the episode.

Inevitably, Castle and Beckett are led back to the replica Nebula 9 ship where they have to determine who killed Annabelle: The best friend who secretly loved her, the drug-addled Captain Max, or her “con hookup” who she dumped?

Ultimately we get our Fillion analog, but it’s not Gabriel Winters. Ironically, that honor goes to Gabriel’s Nebula 9 co-star Stephanie Frye, who played Beckett’s childhood hero Lieutenant Chloe. (Though the fact that she shares a surname with a certain mechanic should’ve been a tip-off.) Let’s not forget that the episode’s original aim was to show an alternate path for Fillion, and here it is.

“Do you know how long I have worked to get away from Lt. Chloe?” Stephanie demands when they discover that she’s the killer. “From the stench of this show? The fan experience was bad enough, but she was gonna sell the rights and it was gonna start all over again: The movies, the Lt. Chloe bobble-heads! Do you know how long I worked to make something of myself, to become a real actress?”

In another universe, Fillion could have distanced himself from the Firefly brand once he became a mainstream star. But instead he proudly wears his Mal Reynolds costume and drops other in-jokes on his ABC procedural dramedy. He still honors the fans who made him what he is today. There’s the meta commentary we were looking for.

Still, at its heart Castle is a show for geeks, and it came through with a couple of memorable quotes:

Castle: “This is a genius place to commit murder. You don your costume, do the deed, then melt into the crowds.”

Gabriel Winters, after he knocks out Stephanie Frye: “I’ve been waiting ten years to do that, bitch. Nobody takes over my ship.”

Beckett: “Right. It was a stupid show. It was cheesy and melodramatic... I completely understand why you hated it. But Castle, I also understand why people loved it, why Annabelle loved it. It was about leaving home for the first time, about searching for your identity and making a difference... So don’t make fun, OK?”

For mainstream TV to utter these words? That shows how far we’ve come since Firefly went off the air in 2002.

Photos: Ron Tom/ABC

Natalie Zutter is a playwright, foodie, and the co-creator of Leftovers, a webcomic about food trucks in the zombie apocalypse. She’s currently the Associate Editor at Crushable, where she discusses movies, celebrity culture, and internet memes. You can find her on Twitter.

1. JohnK
Yes, because if a Con-murder isn't a Firefly love fest, it's a slap in the face. It's all about Firefly. Listen, I liked the show, but it had half a season on air, and while the fans are rabid, they are not enough to write a show litered with references half the viewers won't get. Throw in a little Firefly, some Trek, maybe even some Star Wars and comic books, and that's an HONEST look at a convention. What you seem to want here is a Joss Whedon circle jerk. That may not what you mean to say, but that's how it's come off.
Beth Meacham
2. bam
First, I giggled all the way through this episode. I loved it.

But I don't think it was, or was supposed to be, all about Firefly. It was as much Frakes' commentary on Star Trek as Fillion on Firefly. Maybe more so. I mean, there actually are Commander Riker bobbleheads.

I'm planning to watch the episodes again to check who all is in the crowds...Frakes was in line at the initial book signing, and I rather suspect that there are other old friends on the floor of that convention.
S Cooper
3. SPC
I thoroughly enjoyed this episode - one of my favorite parts was that all four main characters are all different kinds of SFF fans. Castle likes Star Trek and "that Joss Whedon show" as quoted above. Beckett was a cosplaying, message-boarding Nebula 9 fan. Esposito likes Blade Runner and gritty SF. Ryan is a Lord of the Rings guy. Nowhere in the show was there any vibe of "hey look at these losers."

That said, everything about the murder weapon was pretty preposterous. The engineering fact of its existence, the fact that the cops didn't freak out and confiscate the other existing weapon, the fact that nobody was concerned when one of the characters confessed to having one on him when they were confronting the suspects . . . They all acted way too blase about a seriously dangerous unlicensed weapon.
Nathanael Schaffer
4. N_Schaffer
I really liked this one. Sure, it has some plot problems, and yes, I would have liked to have seen a few more overt nods to Firefly, but overall, it was just fun.

I did like some of the names they used, and their nods to Firefly. I totally missed the "Frye" surname, but the Captain and Lt (Max Renard and Chloe) were obvious shoutouts to the Firefly characters (Mal Reynolds and Zoe). And "Creavers?" Geez.. that one worked, but is such a groaner. Still, I thought the whole thing was simple fun, and its the first Castle episode I've seen this season.
Melissa Shumake
5. cherie_2137
i enjoyed it quite a bit as well. kinda cheesy, but fun. like most episodes of castle. and "max renard" cracked me up. what a good analogue for mal reynolds.
6. Cain S. Latrani
@ #3. SPC

Must just be me, but I thought it was a Ghostbusters joke. Unlicensed nuclear accelerator.

Maybe I was too deep in the meta aspect of the show. Still, one of my favorite episodes yet of Castle, a show I do so love in the wasteland of network tv.
7. EC Spurlock
The best part of the show for me was Fillion's imitations of William Shatner and Patrick Stewart. You could tell how much fun all of them were having making this episode.
Skip Ives
8. Skip
No one mentioned Castle's response in the beginning to Beckett's "We've got a murder." It was of course, "Shiny".
Kevin Connolly
9. Cross777
Every week since the damn show was cancelled some one, who writes about TV, mentions Firefly, if even half of the people who mention that show actually watched it, it would still be on the air.
Cait Glasson
10. CaitieCat
There's a subtle extra level here, too: "Renard" is French for "Fox". :D
Alan Brown
11. AlanBrown
I thought it was a fun show, but the science angle (a guy in a garage builds a working death ray pistol, which leaves a residue that shows up in black light) was somewhat unbelievable, and in my mind, that not only makes for bad science fiction, it makes for a bad murder mystery. Without some rigor, both genres tend to fall apart.
But as always on Castle, however far fetched the plots or murders are, it was the characters, and the performances, that carried the day.
12. Mouette
Every week since the damn show was cancelled some one, who writes about TV, mentions Firefly, if even half of the people who mention that show actually watched it, it would still be on the air.

No. The show was only on for barely a season, and the network badly mishandled it (it generally helps when you show the *pilot* of a TV series *first*). Episodes were shown out of order, which destroyed the arc of the season and made it difficult to watch/understand.

Plus, this was in the early days of the interwebz. Not as many people were tuned in, we didn't all have every ounce of information about everything geek immediately at our fingertips. I didn't even *hear* about Firefly until it had already been cancelled, but once I did know about it I bought the DVD set, have watched it repeatedly, and am one of those people you complain about who mention and happily talk about Firefly every chance I get.

Does that make me somehow less of a fan or take away my right to talk about a show I love, because I didn't hear about it until it was over? Does that mean that only those who were able to watch it when it originally aired have the right to even mention the series? Not hardly. If everyone who later found and loved the series had been able to watch it when it originally aired, *maybe* it would still be on, sure - if the network was kind, if things went well, if if if. Maybe. But just because you find something after the chance to help it thrive has passed doesn't mean that you love it any less than someone who was there 'from the beginning'.
Melissa Shumake
13. cherie_2137
@12. perfectly stated. thank you for standing up for all of us who didn't get a chance to watch and appreciate firefly "from the beginning"
14. uglyscot
It's clear from the opening scene that this episode was meant to be Star Trek centric. If the writer of this article was led to believe that it would be a Firefly-centric episode, she should direct her disappointment at her source(s) of information rather than at the show that was made.
15. Calven
I believe a fan used their life savings to buy up the rights to Buckaroo Banzai back in the 80s to prevent ruinous sequelitis. Not sure though, could be an urban legend.
john mullen
16. johntheirishmongol
I thought the ep was pretty cute. Recorded it and didn't get to it til last night, but I thought there references were there but not overpowering. The girl who plays the daughter is a fangirl. I did see a pic from before she was famous doing cosplay at a con.
Natalie Zutter
17. nataliezutter
Wow, so many comments! I should write about Firefly more often.

@1 + @14 - That was illuminating to hear, because I never want to come across as that kind of person! I'll try to reign in the Firefly love next time, but I -was- expecting more Firefly references based on the news reports that had come before and Fillion's prior jokes.

@3 - Good point with the weapon! It did seem pretty unrealistic that no one would care about someone carrying around what's basically live ammo at an event with so many people undefended.

@4 - I think I was too busy cringing at "Creavers" to even make the Firefly connection, haha.
Debbie Solomon
18. dsolo
I thoroughly enjoyed the episode, but then I've been a fangirl since watching the original Star Trek while in high school. I also came late to Firefly. We heard about it, but weren't able to find it initially, and then it was cancelled. The powers that be at Fox (at that time) wanted to kill the show, so they did. Fan power got Serenity made, which is when I became a Browncoat and bought the DVD series. Firefly made me a Fillion fan, and I appreciate all the little nods to it that Castle does. That said, I don't think this episode would have worked if it was just referencing Firefly. Even people who aren't fans are aware of ST, LOTR and Star Wars, so they had to throw those in. Also, every time I see a murder at a SF con story, they seem to be sympathetic to people who are fans, although Kate's explanation was one of the best I've heard.
19. Andrea K.
I though Castle's quiet reply of "shiny" to news of the murder at the Con was perfect. Just subtle enough for the fans to get.
20. MysaNal
Nathan imitating Shatner and Stewart made the ep for me. I also really enjoyed seeing Ed Quinn (who I loved on Eureka)! Basically, I giggled like the goofy fangirl I am through the whole thing. :-)
21. Tucci78
The mundanes have been snarkily dumping on SF convention fandom since the first Worldcon (NYcon 1, 1939), and this episode of Castle is precisely no difference.

It's not quite as vicious as Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun (1988) - also in the mystery genre - but it certainly leverages the Luddsuckers' hostility against SF with ridicule that's purely malevolent, trying to handwave it with a schmear of "ain't that cute?" condescension.

I don't have to take this kind of abuse as "tribute," and any SF fan who does has been gulled, cullied, and diddled.
22. misterkeith
I haven't watched my Castle recording yet but I don't mind spoilers. I loved CSI's take on a murder at an SF convention. I think humor can soften the stereotypes of fans if they also poke fun of the protagonists like CSI's Hodgens or Rick Castle.

I read both Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun and her second book in the series, Zombies of the Gene Pool, and I have to agree she expressed a great deal of contempt for SF fans.

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