It’s all ninja, all the time this week on Castle, as actual martial artists duel before our detectives. There’s also time dedicated to Castle and Beckett thinking about their vows. They don’t want to be a boring married couple, but “The Way of the Ninja,” commits to the excitement through, well, ninjas.
- Director: Larry Shaw
- Writer: Christine Roum
- Cast: Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Jon Huertas, Seamus Dever, Molly Quinn, Susan Sullivan
Episode Title: “The Way of the Ninja”
A Japanese ballet dancer named Jade is murdered in the warehouse district, in a rather dramatic fashion. The case coincides with a dinner Beckett wants to get out of, and Castle’s fondness for all things ninja. That gets indulged, when they find the murder weapon at a shrine tucked away near the scene. Unfortunately, it’s stolen by a spry martial artist with a hood over their face. Although the team initially suspects a colleague at the ballet, the case turns to other fixtures of Japanese cinema: the geisha house and Yakuza underworld. Castle, Esposito, and Ryan investigate a club Jade kept contacting near where she was killed. Despite a plum gig at a ballet company, she worked in a Japanese ‘hostess’ bar, hoping to get close to a shady businessman. Castle is so deep undercover he fails to call Beckett in time to rescue her from her dinner. When the boys get made as cops and thrown out, a throwing star goes straight into Castle’s phone. Two ninjas fight, one trying to frighten our crew and the other trying to defend them. Both get away. The shady businessman Jade was pursuing is a Yakuza moneyman and the ninja known as the Green Dragon, who killed her family back in Okinawa. The bad ninja is in fact an American businessman and the father of Jade’s boyfriend in bed with the Yakuza. The Japanese consulary attaché they had notified is also an imposter, and Jade’s sister, out for vengeance. The two ninjas fight in front of Beckett and Castle, the sister wins, and our couple never has to worry about being boring.
- Ninja 3: The Domineering: A giddy Richard Castle is one of the most fun Richard Castles to watch. Even after having a ceremonial dagger stolen out of his hand by someone in a track suit, he’s all smiles. The initial dance of crazed enthusiasm on his part and Beckett’s indulgent disbelief was particularly nice. Castle’s ninja ‘test’ of the ballet dancer was also delivered with the childish sincerity that makes the character so endearing.
- 13 Assassination Attempts: The action too, for all its payoffs that leaned too heavily on impossible cuts and vanishes from frame, was pretty well staged. There’s the genuine sense that both these fighters have transcended the skill level where policemen and their silly guns are still a factor. The confrontation outside the club was great, and the final fight inside Yazuka strongman Saito’s office played with shot speed in an interesting way. Good ninja-ing!
- Kurosawa Retrospective: Man, there were just loads of references to Japanese cinema in the hour. That isn’t unusual for the show, nor a bad thing. But it’s possible to watch the episode and be disappointed at how much the Japanese people living actual modern lives ultimately conformed to those excitable genre conventions. The funniest moment comes from the ballet dancer who, after failing Castle’s ninja-test, says that he’s Korean, way to racial profile, guys. But his alibi is an Akira Kurosawa respective, so…way to culturally profile, guys?
- House of Flying Diction: And this brings us to the episode’s oddest quirk, the cast’s seeming determination to pronounce Japanese words, like, really hard. There’s Inception-level vowels going on when Beckett’s talking to Mr. Saito, and at one point it makes her pronunciation of Esposito weird, too. You speak Russian, Beckett. It’s OK to go a little white-bread on this one.
- Madame Butterfly Dagger: Our regulars were nothing compared to the Japanese folks’ English, particularly the sister-ninja. Accents are fine, and it may just have been the actresses’ English. But the stilted pronunciation got more, well, pronounced, seemingly only for an Asian flavor to the dialog; that rubs us the wrong way. Her martial arts training and both sisters’ backstories were pretty inexplicable as well. That unfortunately, made the character feel like a muddled trope rather than an awesome, if fictional, person.
“The Way of the Ninja,” was many things, but certainly not boring. Despite some painful orientalizing (the perfect ninja is not a white man, much as Richard Castle and James Bond would like to believe), this episode had the right balance of plot, action and love to please even the sneakiest agents of 15th century Japanese warlords.
Castle airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on ABC.
Which piece of ninjutsu was most impressive? Let us know what you think in the comments.