I used to work a few cubicles away from a failed actor who liked to go on and on about how much he despised lawyers and who talked about how he had an idea for a play he was going to write one day that would rip the lid off the legal profession. In his play, Hitler turns up, alive and well, and they put him on trial for his crimes, and this flashy, F. Lee Bailey/Johnny Cochran-type lawyer agrees to represent him and does such a showy, dishonest job that he gets the Fuhrer off. Edgy, hard-hitting stuff, say what? Tonight, Castle had a story about a murder committed in the course of an art theft in a museum show. This set-up pretty much demanded that the show had to come up with some fake works of art to lend the setting an air of verisimilitude, so right off the bat, you knew you were in for something special. When Castle arrived at the museum, he immediately became fixated on a sculpture that consisted of a bunch of TV sets strung together. The valuable stolen artwork that was the focus of everyone's attention was an upturned hand clutching a wad of cash, titled "The Fist of Capitalism." The only thing that was missing was a blank canvas with a million-dollar price tag. ("What's this called?" "Cow In A Field Of Grass." "Where's the grass?" "The cow ate it." "Where's the cow?" "What do you expect him to do, hang around when all the grass is gone?" That one killed in third grade.) For a moment, I was afraid that my old co-worker had sold a spec script based on his desire to tear the lid off the art world.
My fears were mostly for naught. Although I am pretty sure that all the really stupid-looking art was supposed to be "satirical," the show quickly turned away from the subject of art and concentrated on the subject of glamorous international art thieves. One of them, a reformed art thief who preferred to think of herself as an "art retriever" (she got into the business by stealing back the pieces of her family's collection from the museums that had bought it from the Nazis who'd stolen it in the first place) was played by Kristin Lehman. Lehman got to say things like, "I don't need proof to know that I'm right. It's my job." She got to interact with character actors with interestingly arranged facial hair, who had entrance lines like, "Why you've been such a stranger, you don't love me no more?" (She, in turn, got to address them by such names as "Finn" and "Falco.") She got to dress to the nines, sass everybody, and reel off a list of all the different continental nicknames she'd acquired in the course of her long and varied career as the Catwoman of her generation. Mainly, though, she got to display the special, naughty glow of an actress who's just dropping into a series long enough to drive both the hero and his partner in sexual tension crazy, though in different ways.
This kind of thing can be especially enjoyable when the painful yearning going on between the two leads is unaddressed and not spoken of, so that the partner on the sidelines has to pretend either that she doesn't want to see the flirtatious guest star cut up into small cubes and buried in 17 separate unmarked graves, or that she has a reason for feeling this way besides the obvious one. Luckily, Beckett hasn't been shot in a week or two, which means that the attraction between her and Castle is not just unspoken but crammed deep in the back of freezer, like a brick of Neapolitan ice cream. (Castle takes it out from time to time and just stares at it, as if wondering who ate all the chocolate, before jamming it back in there, where it belongs.) One of the surprises of this week's episode was seeing how much good it did Stana Katic to get to play jealous and confused. She had a few brief, silent moments, when Beckett was uncharacteristically vulnerable, that counted as about the most likable I've ever found her. She's much better at being affecting while not knowing what to say than she is at trying to keep up with Nathan Fillion's machine-gun patter.
But what really made this an above-par episode of Castle was that Lehman also brought out the best in Fillion. He was at his most Filliontastic. He got to bug his eyes out in lustful admiration. He got to do a spit take. He got to make a gratuitous shout-out to Jason Bateman. He got to say, after drinks with Lehman and my man Finn, "Another jaunt into Manhattan's seamy underbelly? Count me in!" He got to look at a dead body, impaled on a sculpture of a big face, and say, "Looks to me like somebody gave him liberty and death," in such a way that it made you believe that it would have been a really funny line if only you knew what it was supposed to mean. When one of the cops said something about how Lehman didn't seem to be in any hurry to leave the city, he got to make a "No duh!" face and run his hands over the length of his body, as if putting himself on the auction block. It was like a one-man show, "Nathan Fillion Does All Your Favorite Shtick from Classic Warner Bros. Cartoons." As a bonus, though, he got to do that lovestruck, romantic oaf thing that he's a genius at and keep it light and playfully air-headed, since his puppy-dog crush on Lehman was like a vacation from his pained yearning for Beckett. Maybe the ideal woman for Fillion, or at least for Castle, is one he can fall all over himself for, while never getting her, but with the understanding that he's not really going to be broken up when she leaves at the end of the episode and he never sees her again. Though if anybody on this show has any brains, somebody will steal another valuable work of art from the museum again come next sweeps week.
In the end, the villainess of the piece turned out to be the rich bitch who owned the sculpture, Jessica Tuck, looking slightly more menacing than she did as a vampire on True Blood. She had gone to so much trouble to steal her own sculpture because she didn't want her husband to get it in the divorce, but as Castle couldn't resist explaining to her, her husband didn't want the hideous thing, but was just pretending he did so he could use it as a bargaining chip. Castle: ripping the lid off the art world and divorce negotiations.
- Just a quick word of thanks to Kevin McFarland for filling in for me, on short notice, last week. I did later catch up with the episode I'd missed the chance to write about, and I just have to say, Kevin, from the bottom of my heart: better you than me.