Castle is often at its most entertaining when the show itself seems tickled to death about something. (Castle is also often at its laziest and lousiest when it seems tickled about something, to almost be doubled over giggling over some private joke. To be a Nathan Fillion fan is to spent much of one’s time confronting any number of absorbing paradoxes.) As we already know from the 2010 episode in which Tom Bergeron played a murdered late-night talk show host, one of the things that makes Castle feel as if it has a feather in its shorts is the fact that it is frequently preceded on the network schedule by Dancing With The Stars. Tonight, the wrap-up to DWTS flowed smoothly into the biggest ratings smash in the Castle-verse, the oddly classy-sounding A Night Of Dance. The twinkling young host, one Brad Melville—no relation, one presumes—enters and sympathizes with the panel of judges for having sat through somebody’s poorly executed samba on the previous episode. “It was,” says one judge, “like a terrible dream my dog would have after eating the leftovers of my Brazilian dinner.” Sadly, someone still has to try to follow that, so Brad calls for “Santino and Odette” to take the stage and do their number. As the cruel, cruel joke on humanity that is Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” plays, Santino, resplendent in his spangly dance togs and spanglier grin, steps out on cue, but when the camera spins to where Odette is supposed to be, she’s not there. I’ll give you three guesses as to where she is.
Who was Odette Morton, and what had made her the beloved darling and, until she was found shot to death in her dressing room, the certain winner of A Night Of Dance? Even Castle doesn’t watch that shit, but luckily, Dr. Parish is a fan of the show and can fill him, and us, in while she’s examining entry wounds. Odette Morton was “an heiress raised by her rich grandpa. A party girl headed down the wrong path. Then a brush with death made her wake up and change her bad-girl ways.” On the show, she had been competing against Eddie, a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, but he had already been bounced from the show. “When I started dancing,”says Eddie, “I gave up thug life.” In his exit interview after being voted off the show, he cocked his finger like a pistol while swearing revenge on Odette, looking like a total psycho. According to the standards by which Castle designates its obvious red herrings, this means that Eddie was slightly less likely to have done it than Nelson Mandela, but the cops call him in for questioning anyway. It eats up a couple of minutes of air time, and Castle does his best to act as if he really thinks he might be good for it, because they’re not paying Nathan Fillion all that money to not behave like a team player.
The plot thickens when it is discovered that Odette had been spending like a drunken sailor—but on clothes that wouldn’t have fit her. Castle quickly ties this to a fond memory of his college days, when he would use the credit card his mom gave him to use for gas to fill up other people’s tanks, so that they in turn could pay him back in cash, which he presumably spent on schoolbooks and quill pens. I was hoping for a brief flashback to Castle’s college days, showing Nathan Fillion manning a gas pump while wearing a heavy fur coat and a hat and waving a little pennant with his free hand, like Bullwinkle when he was enrolled at Wossamotta U, but Castle has an interesting case this week, and it isn’t about to pull its nose away from the scent of the killer’s trail just to satisfy my needs. It transpires that Odette had been bribing someone to keep quiet after she was caught shooting up in her dressing room, thus imperiling her reformed-girl image. Brad Melville was mixed up in it, too. He explains to Beckett that he knew Odette was using again but kept his mouth shut because, otherwise, “I’d have been off the show. I’d have been Brian Dunkleman.” “Who’s Brian Dunkleman?” asks Beckett. “Exactly,” says Melville. Brian Dunkleman was originally one of the hosts of American Idol, but he quit after the first season. Thanks, Wikipedia! (Like Nathan Fillion, he also had a recurring role on Two Guys And A Girl, which is either a coincidence or makes the line an inside joke disguised as snark.)
The plot grows thicker. It turns out that Odette wasn’t really Odette. Odette was killed in a train crash—the very train crash that was to enter popular Odette mythology as the brush with death that put her on the straight and narrow. The woman who was killed in the dressing room was a lookalike who was also on the train, and who had assumed Odette’s identity, and who wasn’t really a druggie at all, but was a diabetic who had been caught backstage injecting herself with insulin. Turns out this episode isn’t a Dancing With The Stars send-up at all, but a specially timed shout-out to Mad Men! (New season premières this Sunday on AMC! Be there and hear Roger Sterling say, “Is it just me, or is the lobby full of Negroes?”) Baffling as all this is, Castle isn’t surprised that both women ended up dead. “Separated twin stories never end happily,” he reflects. Then he brightens up and adds, “Except for The Parent Trap.”
It develops that the woman who’d been posing as Odette—Castle refers to her as “Faux-dette”, but only once, because, let’s face it, it’s an okay name but it’s no “Walternate”—had been Odette’s employee. Odette had paid for the plastic surgery that had transformed her into her own double to use for her own slippery purposes, but though the phony had taken over Odette’s life—and repaired her reputation in the process—the train crash really had been an accident. (No attempt, though, was made to explain what kind of rich party girl in the 21st century travels by train.) However, further digging confirms that the rich grandfather, whose death had been ascribed to natural causes, had been murdered, and that the Odette clone had been murdered herself because she’d figured it out. To get to the bottom of all this, Castle and Beckett summon the only other person who was known to be there when the old man died: Carson the butler. How we got from Mad Men to Downtown Abbey I’ll never know.
This silliness was served up with a confident, happy bounce that Castle can’t always sustain for a whole episode—though tonight it does. The whole thing moves as if shot out of a cannon, and the scenes—and, more importantly, the wisecracks and Fillion’s reaction shots—seem to snap right into place. It helps that Penny Johnson Jerald never comes charging out of her office to ask the detectives when the hell they are going to wrap this case up—and doesn’t Castle have a graphic novel or something to go write? (As an old Larry Sanders Show fanatic, I will love Penny Johnson Jerald until the day I die, but her role on this show really makes me feel stupid for having ever thought that they couldn’t come up with a worse role for whoever got stuck playing the boss after Ruben Santiago-Hudson was killed off.) There are also subplots. In one, Castle’s mother reignites a three-decades-old feud with a grande-dame theater critic named—check this out—Oona Marconi. In another, Ryan feels bad because women no longer check him out now that he’s married, which somehow leads to him making Esposito wear his wedding ring when they go to a strip club—strictly on police business, of course. Then, of course, Esposito can’t get the ring off. I’m pretty sure that’s a shout-out to I Love Lucy, but when’s the last time you saw a cop show without one of those?