“Always” S4 / E23
- B- Community Grade
Whatever hopes one might bring to Castle most of the year, the season finale is a shared annual experience in forgiveness and in downsizing expectations. Going in, we know that humor will be banished from the hour, that the storytelling will be murky and convoluted, and that the focus will narrow down to two subjects that have nothing to do with the reasons most people grow attached to this show: the will-they/won’t-they romantic chemistry between Castle and Beckett, and the large-scale conspiracy plot that has to do with the death of Beckett’s mother, and which, in last season’s mope-a-thon of a finale, took out Captain Montgomery. Actors who usually play their roles with a wink and a whiff of self-parody will manfully set their jaws and seriously contemplate bending the law to put a few hairline cracks into an invisible force of evil so powerful and all-encompassing that it dwarfs the Manhattan skyline. I can’t say that I enjoyed this episode very much, but I was impressed by how many times I thought to myself, “This could be so much worse.”
It begins with just about the most ludicrous “Perils Of Pauline” image imaginable—Beckett hanging from the roof of a tall building by a couple of fingernails—before flashing back to show us Castle, a few days earlier, planning to attend his daughter’s graduation ceremony. If Molly Quinn has spent the last few years daydreaming about the big deal the show would make of it when her character finished high school, she may have been disappointed, but the show does refer to it enough to make the point that Castle has an actual life and family responsibilities, and can’t seriously be expected to devote his every waking minute to holding up his end of his one-sided workplace crush. I’m glad the show reminded of this, because if it hadn’t, I was prepared to make a pretty big deal out of it myself.
On the work front, Castle and Beckett catch the case of a man found shot to death in an alley, in what we’re repeatedly told is a bad part of town. (Remember the good old days of crime shows set in New York, when the characters on Kojak and The Equalizer never referred to the bad parts of town, because it was understood that there wasn’t a square inch of the city where you could step outside to buy a pack of smokes without taking your life in your hands?) The victim had once been a member of a street gang, but he’d turned his life around and joined the army. He must have pretty dumb if he thought that would be enough to win him the posthumous respect of Kate Beckett. “If this guy went straight,” she asks, “how did he end up dead in an alley?” Victim, you may consider yourself blamed.
It turns out that the murdered man had broken into the home of none other than the late Captain Montgomery, apparently in search of evidence related to The Conspiracy, and got himself shot by the widow Montgomery in the process. Naturally, this reminder of The Conspiracy’s existence gets Beckett all fired up to investigate it again, and she’s able to get Esposito just as excited, even if he’s aware of the dangers of pursuing the case against direct orders from the bosses. “How are we supposed to investigate it if we can’t investigate it?” he asks, in a moment that recalls the soul-searching scenes in that movie starring the guy wearing a gorilla suit with a diver’s helmet. Ryan also tries to help out, but is more troubled by the sight of his friends going rogue. His sweater ensemble makes him look wimpy and susceptible to doubt, whereas Esposito grimaces, flexes the goods under his muscle shirt, and generally tries to come across as so butch that he ought to pee thumb tacks.
This situation puts Castle in a bind. He’d like to be pitching in with both his sleeves rolled up, but the mysterious man who’s been contacting him since the start of the season has made it clear that the only way he can protect Beckett from certain death is to keep steering her away from investigating The Conspiracy. He finally just snaps and tells her what he’s been doing and, furthermore, explains that he’s been doing it because he loves her, he loves her, dammit! Backett, of course, can’t get past the part about how he’s been lying to her and concealing evidence and impeding the investigation and generally treating her like a little girl who can’t be trusted to take care of herself. To give Beckett her due, even the way Castle describes it, it does sound pretty condescending. (However much he may think he’s in love with her, he’s at his most romantically awestruck when answering her question about who Mr. X might be: “He’s a voice on the phone. He’s a shadow in a parking garage.” I don’t know who he is, but he sounds awesome!)
Eventually, Beckett winds up on that rooftop, duking it out with a kickboxing Tahmoh Penikett, who’s only too happy to leave her dangling from the edge, so that she has some time to really think about her relationship. And she has a breakthrough: She’s yelling Castle’s name when the cops show up and haul her ass back to safety and the stern, disapproving gaze of Penny Johnson Jerald. Castle isn’t among the crowd of people on the roof. He’s gone to see his daughter get her diploma and deliver a speech, and good for him. In the end, he gets to have his cake and eat it, too: Having seen his baby bird safely out of the nest, he’s visited at home by Beckett, who’s just gone to see her mother’s plot in what looks like the graveyard set in Plan 9 From Outer Space.
In the closing moments, Beckett throws herself at him, purring, “He got away, and I didn’t care. I almost died, and all I could think about was you.” She also helped land Esposito in a world of shit, but from the look of things, she couldn’t give a rat’s ass. When Esposito is last seen, he’s glowering at Ryan, who says that he tattled on Beckett and Esposito to the bosses because he felt he had to do it to save their lives, and who seems about to burst into tears. Whatever you think of the romantic relationships on Castle, it’s nice that, with summer heading in, the show gave us two confused, troubled couples to worry about between now and next fall.
- For maximum heaviness, the title card appeared in non-animated form, and without the theme music, a gesture reminiscent of the time that Uncle Junior shot Tony Soprano at the end of an episode and HBO didn’t bother showing scenes from the next episode afterward, as if to say, “What’s the fucking point!?” Being given the chance to miss the usual title sequence had the effect of making me realize how much I always look forward to it every week.