By Mike Darwin
Episode: 3, “Head Case”
Air Date: 10/03/11
Series Creator: Andrew W. Marlowe
Writer: David Grae
Characters: Rick Castle, Kate Beckett
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Photos Credit: ABC/Adam Taylor
“Castle” Stars: Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle, Stana Katic as NYPD Detective Kate Beckett, Susan Sullivan as Martha Rodgers, Molly Quinn as Alexis Castle, Penny Johnson Jerald as NYPD Captain Victoria Gates, Tamala Jones as Medical Examiner Lanie Parish, Jon Huertas as NYPD Detective Javier Esposito, and Seamus Dever as NYPD Detective Kevin Ryan.
Guest Cast: William Atherton as Dr. Ari Weiss, Andy Umberger as Johnny Rosen, Judith Hoag as Cynthia Hamilton, Shaun Toub as Dr. Philip Boyd, Jordan Belfi as Beau Randolph, Jared Hillman as Eddie Peck.
NOTE: You can watch the full episode of “Castle” reviewed here on line at no charge: http://www.hulu.com/watch/282426/castle-head-case
Figure 1: Stana Katic as NYPD Homicide Detective Kate Beckett enters the Passage cryonics facility with her gun drawn in search of the missing body of a homicide victim.
I’m a regular viewer of “Castle,” so my take may be prejudiced. “Castle” is very light TV fare – it is a fanciful police procedural comedy/drama that centers on the adventures of a crime novelist, Rick Castle, who is on a perpetual “ride along” with an attractive female homicide detective named Kate Beckett. Beckett has served as the inspiration for one of Castle’s most successful characters, Detective Nikki Heat. Superficially, “Castle” is escapist fare that offers some respite from sadistic pornography of “Criminal Minds” or the now predictable, hard-boiled and increasingly preachy cynicism of the “Law and Order” franchises.“
Castle” is a throwback to the humorous, but morality and issue driven “detective” writing of Anthony Boucher, Herbert Brean, and perhaps the most talented master of this genre, John Dickson Carr. As critic S. T. Karnick has aptly said of “Castle”and its predecessors:
“What these and their contemporaries excelled at was creating a sense of wonder, building a fantastic situation that has an inexorable logic of its own. In their way, they conveyed a sense of American life as a realm of astonishing possibilities ultimately grounded in common sense, logic and morality. It’s a form of fiction I enjoy greatly and which I think has much to recommend it.”
As TV fare it has more in common with “Ellergy Queen” or “Murder She Wrote” than CSI or “Blue Bloods.” Often I hear more of “Castle” episodes than I see of them, but it is good, non-traumatic, “wind down” entertainment before bed; nice to watch while reading book and preparing to doze off. However, a “good” episode will cause the book to be put down and will fully command my attention. This was a good episode of “Castle”, in fact I would argue that it was an extraordinary episode. I say this because “Castle” doesn’t usually explore ideas in any nuanced way, other than those surrounding romantic and family life, which are the core values the show seeks to explore, albeit 21st century style.
Castle is a highly successful author, divorced, more than a bit juvenile and a something of rake who finds his way into the beds of the occasional vixen who strays into the plotline. Detective Beckett is the serious, sober and grounded half of the duo, whose job it is to burst the bubble of most of Castle’s outrageous, and usually erroneously wild conspiracy theories of the crimes they encounter together. The emotional subtext is that Castle is madly in love with Beckett, Beckett is arguably is in love with Castle and neither has the confidence in themselves, or their life choices to admit these feelings to each other, or to anyone else, for that matter.
Because “Castle” is, at least superficially not a serious TV drama, the idea of a cryonics-themed episode made me squirm more than a bit. The whole idea screamed “clichéd mockery.” As it turned out, this episode was some of the best cryonics-themed TV programming I’ve ever seen – at least in terms of thoughtfully exploring the multiple significant issues cryonics poses to the culture. Without as doubt this episode’s presentation of the emotional and value-driven reasons for why we cryonicists are doing what we are was the most accurate and moving of any I’ve seen to date.
Figure 2: Nathan Fillion as the crime fiction writer Richard Castle exploring the cryonics facility. Passage Cryonics either has really bad Superinsulation, or they just finished filling every dewar in the facility.
CRYONICS AND HOMICIDE INTERSECT ON TV (AGAIN)
The plot line (warning, spoiler alert) is that a murder has occurred in a New York City street, but there is no body; just so much blood on the scene that the victim would have almost completely exsanguinated. Through various twists and turns, the victim is determined to be an academic who was pursuing promising research on a life extension technology that would add ~ 10 healthy years to a person’s life by causing the body’s dividing cells to produce young, rather old replacements for themselves. The identification of the likely victim leads Beckett, Castle and crew to a “self storage warehouse” where they discover an “under the radar” cryonics facility called “Passage.”
Dr. Weiss: “He conducted cutting-edge research developing life-extension techniques.”
Castle: “Not that it did him any good.”
It was at this point that I started to grin. This set-up precisely describes Alcor and its location from mid-1970s to the mid-1980s in Fullerton, CA. What’s more, the first man ever cryopreserved, James H. Bedford, was stored for a number of years by his family in a San Fernando Valley mini-warehouse that was part of franchise called “Self Storage;” something I found more than a bit of an irony at the time. Could the “Castle” writers have done their homework that well? Surely not; but, it was good for a grin, anyway.
Figure 3: Seamus Dever as NYPD Detective Kevin Ryan (left) Kate Beckett (center) and Jon Huertas as NYPD Detective Javier Esposito draw a bead on the two cryonics technicians who are in the process of placing the missing homicide victim into long-term cryogenic storage.
Almost immediately after entering the cryonics facility, the homicide investigative crew encounters the Passage personnel sliding the missing murder victim into a dewar. Beckett informs them that the police are going to take custody and that the Medical Examiner (ME) will need to autopsy the body. Enter the smarmy, self-righteous and utterly self-assured President of Passage Cryonics, accompanied by his even more self assured, viperous and lawsuit threatening caricature of a lawyer. Remove the patient from cryopreservation (yeah, they actually use that word; we’re making progress) and Passage will sue the NYPD and the ME’s Office into financial oblivion! the attorney informs them.
Castle: “You got any celebrities in here? Ted Williams? Jack Frost”
Beckett and crew phone the District Attorney for a warrant to seize the body, only to be told that, “the case law is murky on the issue of whether or not a coroner can autopsy a cryonics patient.” Incredible! now the writers really have my attention, because the Dora Kent case was not a “recorded” case that definitively established precedent; the California Appellate Court let the lower (Superior) court’s ruling stand, but declined to grant the case “precedent setting status.” Maybe these guys really did do their homework after all!
ART IMITATES LIFE
The researcher/patient’s wife is questioned by Detective Beckett (and Castle) and she comes across as a sympathetic person who wants, above all else, to defend her husband’s cryopreservation and ensure that he has another chance at an indefinitely extended life. In fact, she reminisces during her interview that, when she and her husband first met, he told her that he was so in love wit her that “one lifetime would never be enough” – he wanted to spend eternity with her – and life extension and cryonics were the tools to achieve that end.
Figure 4: At left, fictional pornographer Beau Randolph as portrayed by actor Jordan Belfi and at right, real pornographer Larry Flynt who did indeed at one time have a serious interest in cryonics. [2)
However, as it turns out, the ME may not need to do an autopsy after all. One of the victim’s associates, a famous pornographer who created the “College Girls Gone Wild” franchise has been bankrolling the life extension researchers academic’s work. And tellingly, they’ve just argued repeatedly over the “dead” man’s desire to make his life extending discovery “open source” for the entire world to further advance and benefit from. By now, I’m chuckling. Is this a reference to Hustler’s Larry Flynt? I’m beginning to think that I’m starting to see my life played out on a very B-list (but nevertheless amusing) TV show. 
Figure 5: At left actor William Atherton as Dr. Ari Weiss, CEO of Passage Cryonics (shades of Avi Ben Abraham, center?) and at right, Dr. Max More, CEO of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. 
Alas, the pornographer owns a gun, fired the very morning of the murder, that could possibly be the murder weapon. The cops need the slug, and the slug is in the cryopreserved body of the victim. Cut to a testy conference between the ME, the cops, the CEO of Passage Cryonics and their oily lawyer. The ME insists on an autopsy of the body and it’s clear that she now has probable cause and will likely get the necessary court order. Suddenly, the Passage CEO stands up and announces that he has the answer; all cryonics requires is the brain, so why not give the ME the body for autopsy and allow the cryonics organization to keep the head? Now, I know the writers have done their homework. [3,4] One, two, or three coincidences? Maybe. But this many? Not a chance!
Figure 6: At right, Tamala Jones as Medical Examiner Lanie Parish discloses the results of her autopsy on the headless body of the murder victim. A plot lifted right from the Dora Kent case. [4,5]
A TANGLED STORYLINE
The head is removed, the body is autopsied, the slug is recovered, and, just like in real life (Larry Flynt), the wily pornographer is off the hook; they can’t pin the crime on him because he didn’t do it. He was, as he told the police, otherwise occupied murdering a noisy pigeon on his roof that morning. A compliant of animal cruelty is sworn out against him and he vanishes from the proceedings.
The once cooperative ME now demands the patient’s head, because, as it turns out, he appears to have been serving as his own guinea pig by having the implants that cause tissue rejuvenation placed in his brain. The 0nly problem is that when the investigators go to retrieve the head (patient), surprise, he’s missing from the cryonics organization’s facilities!
Beckett: Are you saying you lost his head?
So, who took him and why? It is soon discovered that the patient’s researcher friend has removed him from Passage in order to prevent his destruction by cranial autopsy. What was really going on was that the patient was dying of an inoperable malignant brain tumor (glioblastma multiforme) and this colleague was undertaking to try and save him with a highly experimental, and unfortunately, ineffective nanoparticle cancer treatment. Our cryonics patient was thus doomed to die of a brain tumor – a brain tumor that would, before it killed him, utterly destroy his brain, thus making any hope of recovery from cryopreservation impossible. So now, in addition to the Dora Kent case, the writers have folded in the Donaldson v. the Attorney General of the State of California case. 
The nano-cancer researcher colleague explains to the homicide investigators that even though the tumor was growing rapidly, the patient had decided to continue pursuing his life extension research and forgo being cryopreserved. He turns over the MRIs and other documentary evidence explaining why trace evidence of brain matter from the patient had been found in a secret lab, ending the need for further postmortem dissection.
Revelation of these facts also explained the seemingly anomalous download of a “cryopreservation cancellation document” for Passage Cryonics, recovered from the patient’s laptop. Finally, it dawns on Castle and Beckett that the shooting that ended this life cycle for the patient was the very thing that might be responsible for saving his life. They correctly reason that if he wasn’t cryopreserved while his brain was reasonably intact, then he would be lost forever.
THE 21ST CENTURY ROMEO & JULIET
Figure 7: 21st Century Romeos and Juliets use cryonics as a way to overcome the tragic circumstances of disease and death which threaten to separate them forever.
Bingo (!); the missing motive in the case in now apparent. If his wife was aware he was not only dying of brain cancer, but also that he planned to terminate his cryopreservation arrangements, then the only way she could hope to ensure their future together was to “kill” her husband now, while both his brain and his cryopreservation arrangements were still reasonably intact.
This was, in fact, exactly what she had done. As the show winds up there is a touching and very emotional monologue from the wife explaining that the tumor had warped her husband’s judgment and that he was no longer making decisions as he had when was well; she had no choice but to stop his heart with a gunshot, triggering his GPS-enabled bio-monitoring watch and summing the cryonics team. The wife is placed in a holding cell and Castle, Beckett and the Passage President confer about the situation. Suddenly, the Passage CEO’s smartphone registers an alarm: a Passage client has experienced cardiac arrest, butit makesno sense since the GPS feature shows the location as right there in the jail. It is quickly discovered that the wife has taken a cyanide tablet concealed in a ring she was wearing. The wife lies lifeless on the floor of the cell and there is a moment of stunned silence, broken by the Passage CEO, who pleadingly asks if he can summon the cryonics team so that the wife can join her husband on the long journey into the future. Beckett says, “Yes,” having already expressed her sympathy with the wife for her act of “involuntary euthanasia” that put in him Passage cryonics with two bullets in his chest at the start of the story.
Whew! Every significant medico-legal issue in the public history of cryonics to date, all rolled into one ~ 45-minute long TV episode! That’s quite a feat! But a much more impressive one was that writer and the creator of “Castle” got all the important things right. No, they didn’t get much the technical side of cryonics right, and for that, we may arguably be thankful. The Passage cryonics patients, unlike the real ones, look like very startled solid-state versions of their living selves. This is the first time I’ve ever seen cryonics patients depicted with their eyes open – wide open, in fact.
But the shortcomings in the technical depictions of cryonics were more than compensated for by the fact that the show’s creative talents got the core messages of cryonics right. Medico-legal death is a process not a condition, and “irreversibility” is a function of brain structure and the sophistication (or lack thereof) of available medical science and technology. Life is a good thing, and the desire for indefinitely long and healthy lives, free from the burdens of aging, disease and death are reasonable goals being pursued by reasonable people. Indeed, they are romantic goals and they are technologies that offer everyday people the opportunity to continue expressing the best and brightest of their humanity; their love of each other, their pursuit of knowledge and growth, and their desire to transcend time.
Wow! That’s a lot, coming as it is from the principal engine of the popular culture: television. We cryonicists owe a sincere debt of gratitude and some heartfelt thanks to the writer, director and the producers of this “Castle” episode.
Please, write them and communicate your appreciation:
 A great deal of suspension of disbelief is required in watching in CASTLE; as anyone who has ever been arrested, or who is familiar with police procedure knows, all jewelry and other possessions, right down to hairpieces (but generally excluding corrective eyeglasses and dentures) are removed from any subject taken into custody.