For eight seasons, Stana Katic won over ABC audiences as the intelligent and hard-nosed detective Kate Beckett on the light-hearted crime procedural Castle. Katic's relationship with that show ended in a most-troublesome manner, as she was fired ahead of Castle's relatively surprising cancellation. It wasn't long before she landed her follow-up lead role in the mystery thriller Absentia, which is now available for streaming on Amazon, and it won't take viewers long to discover that the intense and dramatically charged new show makes far better use of Katic's talents than Castle ever did.
Let me assure everyone right away that this isn't an anti-Castle diatribe attempting to discredit that drama, which was fun and fine enough in utilizing its excellent cast members, particularly "Caskett" portrayers Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. But Absentia is a completely different beast when it comes to plot, storytelling and performances, and Katic's Emily Byrne is a few worlds away from Beckett. Minor similarities are shared, to be sure, but Emily is consistently a far more tragic and complex role, and it's one that could very well lead Katic to more awards recognition in the near future.
In Absentia, Stana Katic's Emily Byrne was an FBI agent who disappeared while hunting down a particularly dangerous serial killer in Boston. She was later declared dead, but six years after going missing, a battered and bruised Emily is found to be still alive, though with only the vaguest memories about anything that happened during her extended abduction. She may be once again free from harmful captivity, but Emily soon finds herself faced with an increasing number of problems that threaten to snap her already tenuous grip on reality. You see, once Emily came back, her suspected killer went free, and so when more bodies start turning up, it's Emily who becomes the suspect.
As well, Emily isn't coming back to the same life that she was taken from. When she was taken, Emily was married to fellow FBI agent Nick Durand (Patrick Heusinger), with whom she'd had a son, Flynn (Patrick McAuley), who was a toddler at the time. In the interim years, Nick had given up looking for Emily and got remarried to Cara Theobold's Alice, and it takes little imagination to consider how that family's situation gets shaken up. Speaking of family, Emily's resurgence also plays into the lives of her recovering alcoholic brother Jack (Neil Jackson) and her retired cop father Warren (Paul Freeman).
Created by Matthew Cirulnick and Gaia Violo, Absentia admittedly does not give Stana Katic a chance to show off her improvisational comedy skills, but she does show off just about every other acting tool in her arsenal. The Emily we see is a permanent wreck, and her baseline mental state includes post-traumatic stress and an ever-present paranoia that her former captors are still coming for her. She's also coping with the new family life that Nick has made for himself and Flynn, while also trying to develop a new relationship with a son who never actually knew her, and who otherwise isn't overly comfortable with her. On top of all that, she's then forced to maneuver her way through the muck and mire that accompanies being one of the FBI's top murder suspects.
So you see, while Castle definitely gave Stana Katic a lot to do as an actress over the years, the broadcast drama's lighter fare couldn't quite allow her to tap into the full performance spectrum that Absentia constantly requires. Or, at least, this show is getting her to cycle through that spectrum on a more regular basis than Castle's case-of-the-week narratives did. There are some feverish scenes where Katic is so fully in the moment that she more resembles a truly miserable vagrant who just happened to wander into the shot, as opposed to the show's star. An actor's skill set may not often be measured by such means, but it fits here.
As noted, Castle and Absentia are completely different types of dramas with different goals in mind for their characters, so they don't technically make for the sharpest comparison. But since Stana Katic got so rudely dismissed from her former series, it only makes sense to stack the two against each other to see which stands taller. And for my money -- which goes to satellite and Amazon Prime subscriptions (among other things) -- Absentia should go down as the first show people think of when Katic's name comes up.