Tonight's episode marked two times in a row that Castle has basically tried being a real police procedural, with a minimum of spoofy digressions and some actual stabs at generating suspense. I don't know if there have been some harsh things said when the writers for Castle meet up with the writers for the CSI shows and Law & Order: SVU on the playground and somebody always gets picked last for Red Rover, Red Rover, or what, but the results have been mixed, which counts as a step up from some of Castle's previous, more ambitious attempts to play the cop-drama game straight, in which the results were often godawful. The worst thing about last week's episode was that, as Carrie pointed out in her review (thanks, Carrie! New York was great!), it suffered from a severe shortage of Castle. (This also happened with the last episode I didn't review myself, "Kick the Ballistics." It's as if I can't leave the room to check the meter without the wheels coming off the wagon.) I can sympathize with the creative team's feeling that, if they want to do their gritty New York procedural thriller more or less straight, then having Nathan Fillion hanging around wearing a smirk and a protective vest that has "WRITER" stenciled on it is only going to get in their way. That said, they need to keep in mind that this isn't How I Met Your Mother or one of those other shows where the nominal lead could fall off the planet and it might take a couple of months before anyone noticed. There's a reason that the audience for this show isn't watching Hawaii Five-O instead, and if you're nice to that reason, he might let you call him "Captain."
One of the best things about this episode was that it contrived a way to pull off some real thriller effects, and even get a little creepy in places, while keeping Castle himself as a major part of the equation. Not to mince words, the trick amounted to stripping Castle of his sorta-detective status and assigning him the role of the imperiled damsel. Imperiled alongside him was Beckett; the story began in media res, with the two of them waking up handcuffed together and sealed in a locked room. Right away, you knew things were serious, because there was ominous music and a minimum of nervous double-entendres about the whole waking-up-together-in-bondage thing. (Beckett, reacting to Castle's dithering, did get to ask him, "Are you always like this in the mornings?" He, in turn, took a good look at her boots and wondered how the hell she runs in those things.)
Groggy and confused, Castle and Beckett needed time and several minutes' worth of flashbacks to piece together the hours leading up to their abduction. It all began with Beckett summoning Castle to a murder scene at a "seedy hotel," a location described, approvingly, by Castle as "a veritable advent calendar of salaciousness." Somehow, the trail led to a house where they encountered an old woman sitting inside a cage, and that's where... everything... went black. The old lady was, of course, the ringleader of the gang of cutthroats behind the hotel murder, something made plain to everyone but Castle and Beckett as soon as she reacted to them letting down their guard with a smile that I expect to see again in my nightmares. It wasn't until the climax, when she and her killer brood were threatening to shoot everybody in sight while Castle and Beckett tried to keep their footing while staying just out of reach of a hungry tiger, that I realized that she and her boys were the Peacock family from The X-Files episode "Home." (I don't know how she grew her limbs back. I wish I could say that I was surprised that she had the ability.) I'm happy to report that the men and women of the NYPD proved more than a match for them, and that the Peacocks are now safely in custody. Thanks to Mulder and Scully's unconscionable bungling, I've been checking to make sure they weren't hiding in my closet since October of 1996.
Given their situation, there wasn't a lot that Castle or Beckett could do to bring these miscreants to justice. That task fell to Esposito, the one who broke up with the medical examiner, and his partner, the one who's planning to get married and who calls his partner "Esposito," thus making my job that much easier. Seriously, would it kill them to wear name tags? In the past, I've often made my job even easier than that by referring to them, jointly, as the two boring guys, but they actually brought a little something to the party tonight, as if getting to work a case while the stars of the show were off playing The 39 Steps and mixing it up with a tiger made them feel giddy and alive. I enjoyed their patter about the anxiety that the one who isn't Esposito was feeling about the prospect of driving to Florida with his fiancee to see her family--or, as Esposito called it, "the pre-wedding road trip test." He also had a nice little riff about canoeing as a test of a relationship: "If it's going around in circles, so is your relationship." Cut to Castle and Beckett, still handcuffed together in the basement, not going in a straight line together.
The Castle-and-Beckett-in-chains stuff had a nice mixture of playfulness and dread, even if our defiant ones turned out to be severely lacking in the resourcefulness department, just marking time while waiting for the cavalry to save them. I even thought it was a nice touch when, believing there was another kidnap victim on the other side of the wall, they broke through it, only to find the aforementioned tiger. It was a good, startling effect; the only problem with it was that, after the commercial break was over, the tiger was still there, and the episode had begun to slide helplessly, inexorably, into... well, as Graham Chapman used to say, it's all gotten very silly now. When things went south on Monty Python's Flying Circus, they could always send someone in a knight costume to walk on and hit someone with a rubber chicken, signaling that it was time to just start all over. They can't do that on Castle, though I'll bet that Penny Johnson Jerald would fit snugly into a suit of armor and could swing a rubber chicken with enough force to take your hat off. But up to the point where the leads were trying not to be eaten while Esposito and his boyfriend were facing off against Ma Barker's killer brood, this one had some choice moments, like the one where Castle suggested that, if he and Beckett couldn't break the handcuffs, they could still get out them if, well... "Mad Max. 127 Hours," he said, clarifying his meaning while at the same time making the people responsible for the Saw movies wonder why Nathan Fillion hates them. Beckett was stunned; she couldn't believe that Castle was volunteering to cut off his hand. Castle was stunned that Beckett thought that, if one of them was going to lose a hand, it should be him. Hers, he pointed out, are smaller.