When we encounter a comedic character in stories, we often quickly categorize them as belonging to the Trickster archetype. After all, most sidekicks are Tricksters, providing the comic relief, often serving to deflate the ego of the main character (think Star Trek and Dr. McCoy: “I’m a doctor, Jim, not an engineer!” or “… a bricklayer!”). The clash between the Trickster and the main character frequently provides the comedy we see in stories.
When we look at the character Rick Castle, of ABC’s series Castle, are we looking at a Trickster character? His sense of humor does work a bit in needling Detective Kate Beckett. But I don’t think that is what is happening in the series. Especially when Beckett needles and punctures Castle in return.
So, if Castle isn’t a Trickster, what is he? I contend that he is a Shapeshifter. We don’t see this archetype quite as often in stories, especially as an on-going character. Let’s review some of the characteristics of the Shapeshifter. The most important aspect is that the Shapeshifter is a keeper of special information. The “trick” is to get the information out of the Shapeshifter, because the Shapeshifter often doesn’t want to reveal all that special knowledge. The options for the character seeking the information are to either hold onto the Shifter as he or she goes through changes to hide the information, or to keep pace, changing with the Shifter.
Castle puts on many different shapes in the series. And he’s not pretending in any of the shapes — he really does become them.
Most obvious to start with is Castle’s shape as a best-selling author. He’s not pretending in this shape: he works for it and has a string of titles that justify the attention he gets in this shape. He uses it frequently to evade intrusion into his personal life (including warning his daughter against visiting the “fan websites”). This shape gives him entre to many special areas of life.
One of those “special areas” is that of “High Society.” In that arena, Castle turns into the “wealthy, eligible bachelor” who mixes with the upper crust of New York social life. Again, his presence there is not a pretense. He knows the functions (such as the quarterly fund-raising benefits for a city dance company) and is considered a legitimate member of those circles. In this shape, Castle can give Beckett access to information she might not get in her own guise of “detective.” And note: she has to change shape with him to access that knowledge.
He does, of course, put on some guises for the mere fun of it. But the fun and playfulness are actually necessary features for a well-balanced psyche. He dresses up for Halloween, he plays fencing games with his daughter, he makes silly bets with the detectives. Is he hiding a truth in this guise? Perhaps. Not one for himself, but rather one that Beckett needs. She needs the playfulness he brings to counter the real emotional weight of the work she does investigating murders.
One of the realities of life that Castle deals with in the series is the fact that he is the single parent of a teen-aged girl. He makes comedy out of it by putting on the exaggerated aspect of the “Prom Dad” (where the father of the girl frightens the date into behaving himself). But even though Rick exaggerates it, it is also the reality. He is not a neglectful parent.
Indeed, his shape as “Parent” is one of Castle’s truest forms, revealing the truth about his personality underneath all his playfulness, evasions and flippancy. He is genuinely concerned about how Alexis proceeds in life. And likewise, he does not conceal much from her — except perhaps the depth of his feelings for Beckett. She, however, is a wise child, practiced in learning the secrets of a Shapeshifter and she already has an awareness of the connection between the adults.
But along with being a father, one of Castle’s most essential shapes is that of a researcher. He has been shown doing careful research for his books. He knows how to ask telling questions and he knows where to find sources. When Beckett’s cases take them into strange territories, Castle’s research abilities (either past or present) give the pair special knowledge they need to solve the current mystery.
Castle and Beckett work as a team, and that, as much as the multiple guises Castle has, is another thing that shows Castle is a Shapeshifter and not a Trickster. Remember, a Trickster’s job is to deflate the over-blown aspects of other characters. But Castle never does that to Beckett. He supports her in her pursuits. He might be slightly more accommodating to her than Shapeshifters usually are — and yet, he does not (or at least has not yet) reveal to her all his hidden truth. And that’s part of the fun of the series.
So … my call on Rick Castle is that he is not Trickster, he’s a Shapeshifter. Hold on tightly and you will learn the truth.
All pictures are copyright ABC Studios.