May 10, 2013 by T. Gregory Argall
Sometimes, just to amuse themselves, writers will throw occasionally recondite references into their works knowing that practically no one will catch them. They have no impact on the plot or the flow of the story; they’re just part of the background detail that helps paint the larger canvas of the fictional world. It’s more prevalent than you think. In a play I co-wrote with Todd McGinnis, we made an Alice Cooper reference so abstruse that it’s mistaken for a Donny Osmond reference, if it’s noticed at all. That’s the sort of self-indulgent, multi-tiered, veiled obscurity that makes us giggle like children. That one’s there just for us.
On this week’s episode of “Castle” the writers made such a beautifully obscure reference that I grinned proudly to myself for about half an hour after spotting it.
SPOILER ALERT! Beware, spoilers await below. If you haven’t yet seen the May 6 episode of “Castle” but plan to, you may want to come back and read this later, rather than now.
If spoilers are not something you fret about, then read on, my friends.
The episode, entitled “The Human Factor,” involved attack drones and conspiracies and paranoia about machines developing awareness and autonomy. Beckett and Castle encounter an operative for a secret branch of the Attorney General’s office who knows more than he reveals and has an impressive degree of high-level influence. There were the expected references to SkyNet and Terminators, and even a “Mission: Impossible” joke about rubber face masks. But buried in all of that was one quick random reference so deceptively simple and intricate that I must imagine a joyful round of high-fives in the writers’ room after sneaking that one in.
But first, some background detail… “Castle” is produced by ABC, which is owned by the Disney Corp. Disney also owns Marvel Entertainment. (Marvel Comics published the graphic novel adaptations of the Derrick Storm novels “written” by the fictional Rick Castle. There’s a history of inter-branch corporate self-reference.)
A third-teir character in Marvel Comics is a “person” knowns as Machine Man. A robot designated X-51, Machine Man was part of an experiment to develop machines with awareness and autonomous decision-making abilities. The previous 50 models had all gone mad as the achieved sentience, due to their lack of individual identity. X-51 was given a sort of personality template and thus managed to keep his marbles where they belong. (Don’t blame me; this was all Jack Kirby.) X-51 subsequently encountered many adventures in his quest to “find himself.” In order to more directly connect with his artificial humanity, X-51 adopted the more human name of Aaron Stack.
So… back to this week’s episode of “Castle.” The mystery-shrouded secret operative who appears from nowhere and helps Castle and Beckett deal with the apparent insane autonomous drone problem introduced himself as (you guessed it) Aaron Stack.
That is one of the most impressively obscure references I’ve ever found.
Unless I mis-heard it and his name was actually Darren or Jared or something meaningless, in which case, well, never mind.