“Wrapped Up in Death”–The investigation into the shocking death of a museum curator, crushed by a falling gargoyle, takes a bizarre turn when Castle and Beckett learn that he isn’t the first member of a recent archeological expedition to die. It turns out there was a legend inscribed over the burial chamber the team unearthed warning that “all who gaze upon the face of the mummy are doomed.” Was the curator just the latest victim of “The Mummy’s Curse”? And if so, what does that mean for Castle, who snuck a peek at the mummy when no one was looking?
The episode offered several moments of Native lore, most of them less than stellar. Among them:
But the idea of including indigenous cultures in natural history, as if Natives are close to animals, is a relic from a previous era. Since Castle didn't name the museum, why not make it an anthropology or (human) history museum instead? Heck, why not make it the National Museum of the American Indian in the Gustav Heye Center in lower Manhattan?
It's ridiculous to treat a valuable mummy, the centerpiece of a major exhibit, so cavalierly. Would a museum leave King Tut's mummy unprotected in a workroom? I don't think so.
The curse stereotype
Naturally, Castle and company don't believe the curse. But a series of accidents and deaths makes them wonder. Even if the episode uses the curse for comedy, it still reinforces the stereotype: Indians place curses on burial grounds. Black magic happens whenever their remains are disturbed.
The curse bolsters the evil Maya theme in a few ways:
1) Someone says the Maya king sacrificed so many people that his followers hid his body so his spirit wouldn't find them. Actually, I believe most Maya practiced their religion as fervently as their rulers did. If they didn't, they were free to walk away.
2) Castle shows a photograph of human skulls that supposedly comes from the Maya tomb. I believe the image is a version of this one.
But this comes from the Great Ball Court at Chichén Itzá. The producers have cherry-picked an image from another part of Maya culture to make the Maya look worse.
So...nothing about the Maya's achievements. Just mummies, curses, human sacrifice, murders, and skulls. What would the typical viewer conclude from this? That the Maya had a sophisticated civilization? Or that they were bloodthirsty savages?
Guest star Gil Birmingham
In the first scene, he makes a nice little speech. He says the Maya still live and are seven million strong. They're the rightful owners of the Maya artifacts, not the Mexican government.
This is a good approximation of what a Zapatista-style activist might say. It's one of the few times we've heard a movie or TV show state this position--maybe the only time.
We might even read it as an attempt to "correct" Voyager by giving Chakotay a real Mesoamerican name. In other words, "Chakotay" might be the anglicized or bastardized version of the name "Cacaw Te."
After the initial setup, the rest of the episode gives us comedic hijinks over the curse while it unravels the murder. Fortunately, the mystery doesn't involve the supernatural. It evolves from drug smuggling to artifact smuggling to something more personal.
All in all, I'd say Wrapped Up in Death was a typical example of Indians in a TV show. Give it one point for Birmingham's role and take away two points for the stereotypical curse and the museum and mummy mistakes. It was better than The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, but that's not saying much.
For more on the subject, see Indiana Jones and the Stereotypes of Doom and TV Shows Featuring Indians.
"Indiana" Castle examines fake Maya artwork:
A short promo:
The full episode: