Posted at 15:40 on 25 Aug 2012 by Pandora / Blake
A couple of nights ago I watched the first few episodes of the TV show "Castle", which I'd been interested in ever since I discovered that it featured Nathan Fillion as a murder mystery writer playing poker with real life authors Michael Connelly, James Patterson, and Stephen J. Cannell.
It's a silly, stylish, entertaining little show. The basic premise is that Rick Castle, a bad boy bestselling author played by Nathan Fillion, ends up helping hard-hitting, no-nonsense New York detective Kate Beckett to solve homicide cases. So far, so implausible. But it does have one very interesting theme running through it. Rick Castle is sexually submissive. In fact, he's a brat. From the very first episode, the sexual tension underpinning Castle and Beckett's relationship is full of kinky references.
At their first meeting, Beckett questions Castle about some of the antics he's got away with. He defends himself saying, "If it makes you feel any better I'd be happy to let you spank me."
Instead, later that episode, she has him arrested, but his reaction to being cuffed is to quip - "Ooh, bondage!" - and then, looking her in the eyes, tell her "My safeword is 'apples'." Her reaction? To tell the guys who are cuffing him, "No need to be gentle."
Later still, Castle remarks, "You're very good at bossing men around. I've noticed." And so on.
The references are not subtle, and apparently, they continue to build; google tells me that one episode I've not reached yet, called The Mistress Always Spanks Twice, explicitly visits the New York BDSM scene. The context is a bondage-related murder - which normally rings alarm bells, but in the context of a murder mystery show that doesn't seem quite as kink negative as usual.
Rick Castle getting handcuffed also seems to be a recurring theme; he gets tied up more often than Wonderwoman, often by Detective Beckett. Castle's mischievously open sexuality is contrasted with Beckett's self-discipline and control. Okay, it's still sexual stereotyping, but here are some things I like about how this relationship is presented:
Dominant does not equal predator
Beckett, clearly presented as a dominant woman both sexually and professionally, is not a sexual predator, not a "vixen". Castle is the one pursuing her, trying to draw her out of her shell. It's a fairly common romance theme, in fact, that just happens to be played out in an F/M pairing.
Kinky does not equal broken
Neither character's sexual taste is presented as a flaw, a sign of them being "broken". Instead, it's a charming sort of quirk. Beckett has issues, but her issues aren't why she's kinky; they're why she's a cop. In this show, a career with NYPD is seen as being far more questionable than liking a bit of bondage in the bedroom.
Castle lives with his smart, sensible teenage daughter and eccentric single mother. I don't know if the show will end up connecting his lack of a father figure with his sexually submissive tendencies, but the woman-dominated household he lives in is presented as healthy, positive and loving. The strong presence of his mother and daughter in his life seem to be the factor that have kept Castle on the "cheeky but basically nice" side of the bad boy stereotype, rather than creeping over into arrogant selfishness. He's cocky, but he's not a prick.
Male submissive does not equal unsexy and pathetic
Castle is charismatic, likeable, and successful. He's good looking (well, played by Nathan Fillion, duh) and a good dad. This is the first TV show I've seen to so explicitly say a big "fuck you" to the stereotype of male submissives as lonely or messed-up men who like to be treated as snivelling worms. Castle is not pathetic, he's not a worm. He's a creative, smart, interesting man, who loves his family, and just happens to enjoy being on the receiving end of some playful domination in the bedroom. I can't remember the last time I saw a guy who likes being tied up and spanked presented on TV as someone for the audience to fancy, not laugh at.
So that's three F/M stereotypes out of the window, and I'm only a few episodes in.
It's a shallow, style-over-substance show, so I'm expecting a fair few overdone stereotypes. But so far, this is looking like the sort of kinky relationship I'd like to see on television. Beckett and Castle are both likeable characters who happen to be a bit kinky. They're both successful, functional, and attractive. Above all, throughout their flirtation they're both obviously having fun.
Somehow I doubt we'll get to see Castle actually getting spanked, but hey... I can live in hope.