Tonight's episode of Castle was mostly a tolerable hour's worth of network television, though it was always just barely over on the right side of the dividing line, and it did finally seep back in the wrong direction. This was the episode where Castle happened to be inside a bank when a bunch of robbers broke in and took everybody hostage. I think that one reason the first three-quarters of an hour passed by so smoothly was that I was able to follow it pretty well without focusing more than half my brain on the action onscreen. The rest of my gray matter was having a good time flipping through old records of misspent hours past, comparing the details of the episode to other occasions when I've been given the chance to seen how the lead characters of various TV shows might cope with being held hostage by bank robbers.
The last time I specifically remember seeing the bank-hostage scenario on a TV series was probably when The X-Files used it in 1999, in an episode that managed to freshen the gimmick up a little by the cunning strategy of having it double as their Groundhog Day rip-off episode. But there's a pretty good chance that I've seen it somewhere else since then and just forgot. I think the very first time I ever saw it was on a rerun of Here's Lucy, the late '60s-early '70s sitcom that was, by my count, the 317th of Lucille Ball's 318 weekly iterations of her solemn effort to never, ever go away, as if she were TV's one-woman answer to the Winchester House. Trapped in the bank with Lucy was TV's Mike Connors, making a guest appearance, in character, as his own weekly private detective character, Joe Mannix. A graduate of the University of California who did his postgraduate work at Roger Corman's Drive-In Movie Finishing Academy and School of Hard Knocks, Mike Connors was all about the meta.
Castle was trapped in the bank with his mother, played as always by Susan Sullivan, whose transformation into Holland Taylor is now pretty much complete. (She had a sweetheart of a moment inside the bank, when a fellow hostage recognized her and told her how much he'd enjoyed seeing her perform at Shakespeare in the Park, and she flashed her most gracious smile as she replied, "If I have to die, I'm glad I'm going with someone who knows my work.") This meant that there were a few dramatic moments between them, along the lines of Castle vowing to do tremendous bodily harm to one of the robbers if his mom got hurt, the two of them looking into each other's eyes and saying how much they loved each other, etc. Thankfully, this stuff passed pretty quickly. So did the moments when Beckett, who was alerted by Castle, via cell phone, that a robbery was going down and who not only went straight to the bank but brought most of the remaining regular cast along with her, assured the head of the SWAT team that Castle was the best possible set of eyes and ears they could hope to have in the bank, that whatever impressions he was able to pass along would be golden, like that.
Considering how little faith Beckett usually has in Castle's powers of deduction and observation, there was some potential comedy in seeing how quick she was to take anything he said as gospel in a situation where his making the wrong guess about the bad guys' plans and inclinations might be it that much more likely for him to get his head blown off, but the show didn't seem to be in on the joke. It didn't even seem to notice that the SWAT team leader, whom Beckett seemed primed to slap down before he got somebody killed, appeared to be a cautious, well-grounded fellow who was a credit to whoever had put him in charge of a bunch of folks with assault weapons and hair-trigger ninja reflexes. The SWAT guy was played by Dean Norris, who, even playing a cop, wasn't automatically recognizable as the actor who plays Bryan Cranston's frustrated alpha male of a brother-in-law and DEA agent on Breaking Bad. Maybe the character was supposed to be an asshole, but it didn't come across, because Norris, when he's not flashing Hank Schrader's hostile, ear-to-ear grin and jangling with secretly insecure macho energy, just can't help looking as if his meds have finally kicked in.
As good at his job as Norris' SWAT leader appeared to be, the bank robbers made him look like Tom Green playing with a flame thrower. They were a crack mercenary-military outfit, neatly inclusive (white men, black man, woman), with a wide variety of accents, such as the guy who not only sounded British but was thoughtful enough to refer to "the loo," just in case not everyone was getting it. (There was also a sub-Tarantino stroke of cuteness in their disguises: They all wore surgical masks and scrubs, and addressed each other by the names of famous TV doctors, such as "Trapper John," "Doctor Quinn," and so on.) So you knew that you were in the Inside Man sub-genre of bank heists performed by experts who have something other than money on their minds. Castle was quick to tumble to this. For some reason, he was much slower to piece it together that one of the other hostages was actually the mastermind behind the heist, even though the guy, like Randy Quaid in Quick Change, practically had a neon sign above his head reading, "I AM ACTUALLY THE MASTERMIND BEHIND THIS HEIST!" When he faked an epileptic seizure and was whisked out of the bank, foaming at the mouth, it was hard to resist the urge to tackle your TV set before he could get away.
In the last 10 minutes, the full weight of the disappointment in the resolution came down like a ton of bricks. Fake Epilepsy Man had done all this to gain the contents of a safety deposit box that was the only thing that could lead him to the wife and son he had so badly abused that they had faked their own deaths in order to disappear and be rid of him. This seemed awfully complicated, considering the quality of the payoff, and how much of a drag it was to see him break in on a woman and tell her that the only reason he wasn't killing her was so she could suffer from wondering where he'd taken their son. Of course, he had scarcely made it out the door before Castle, Beckett, and the gang were riding to the rescue, and Castle was congratulating all of them for having made the world a less happy place for insanely rich wife-and-child-abusers who can afford to hire the Impossible Mission Force to arrange his reunions for him.
It was also a drag that the mercenaries themselves were dispatched, offscreen, in a way that seemed both implausible and unnecessarily gruesome. They'd seemed like a potentially entertaining bunch of folks, even if one of them, doing his version of a line from the classic pilot episode of Michael Mann's Crime Story, did tell Castle that if he didn't behave, he'd use his gun to "paint a Jackson Pollack with your insides." (Castle returned the favor by telling him, after he'd quoted Willie Sutton's famous line about robbing banks because that's where the money is, that the line was actually the invention of a crime reporter.) All this left a bad taste in my mouth by the end of the episode, which concluded with Alexis apparently breaking up with her unseen, long-distance boyfriend, for reasons that seemed to be vaguely connected to her having spent part of the day wondering if she'd be receiving a small package of ashes that had only recently been her dad. If the idea is that she's now using fear of losing her father as an excuse to not get out in the world, that'll have to be addressed later, but for now, it was just nice that the bank robbers were able to get her out of the apartment and into the sunshine, for a change. (There's a twist: running an episode on Halloween that establishes that one of your regular characters, all previous evidence to the contrary, is not a vampire.) New York's nice this time of year, whether people are threatening to blow up your dad or not.