Castle: “Head Case”
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Castle: “Head Case”

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Castle

“Head Case”

Season 4, Episode 3

In a daring break with Castle tradition, tonight's episode (written by star Castle scriptwriter David Grae) actually kicked things off with a pretty decent murder mystery gimmick, one that provided the set-up for a pretty decent black-comedy situation. The gimmick was that a dead man disappeared from his own crime scene, causing Beckett to grapple with one of the classic existential questions of the police-procedural genre: How do you investigate a murder when you don't have a corpse? Come to think of it, without a corpse, how can you even establish, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there's been a murder committed, hmmmmm? If the dead body at the center of an unsolved mystery falls through the ground and into the Twilight Zone, does Robert Stack even bother to clear his throat? 

It's an intriguing problem. Jack McCoy had to wrestle with it once on Law & Order, after the special guest gigolo had murdered his sugar mama and dumped the body undetected in the bay. Things went so badly for the prosecution that McCoy ended up deliberately driving his own case into a ditch, just so that Grandma's body would have more time to bob to the surface while he was waiting for the retrial. On Castle, it turned out that the victim was a "life-extension researcher" and enthusiastic proponent of eternal life through cryogenics, or the Disneycare option. (This is just me having a little fun, by the way. I am aware that Walt Disney is not actually being kept on ice and tended to by a team of onetime proteges of Josef Mengele in a secret bunker beneath Epcot Center. There is no need to forward a copy of this review to the gang at MythBusters.) 

In addition to doing his own research, he had arranged with a local cryogenics lab to have his body retrieved from wherever it might have fallen and delivered to the set of Minority Report for icy preservation. The guys who'd made off with the body were employees of the lab who made the call to interfere with a police investigation because they were contractually obligated to take care of the corpse, which, in scientific parlance, had to be dealt with before it started getting mooshy. Clearly there were legal and ethical ramifications aplenty. Jack McCoy could have probably gotten a three-parter out of it. Castle preferred to finesse the issues at hand by having Nathan Fillion find himself in a large room surrounded by blank-eyed, upright bodies in frozen canisters, so he could ask, "Anyone else feel a sudden urge to run into the streets yelling, 'They're here'?"

The story didn't exactly follow a straight line, but the cast of characters was much livelier than the petting zoo assembled for last week's comic-book-scene episode. William Atherton, who looked as if he'd been given a fresh dusting-off by the same master of the restorative arts who'd done Dabney Coleman's hair on the most recent Boardwalk Empire, did amusingly freeze-dried line readings as the head of the cryogenic facility. Once the male lead in Steven Spielberg's first theatrical feature, The Sugarland Express, Atherton has somehow gotten stuck playing basically the same character over and over again since he was cast as the sniffy representative figure of misguided government intervention in the private sector in Ghostbusters, and as often as not, he's looked pretty bored by it. I don't know if Fillion was cornering and tickling him between takes, but here he had some of the old playful buoyancy of his younger days, as if he and his character were sharing a private joke. He didn't let the audience in on what the joke might be until his final scene, when, in the presence of a fresh corpse, he let his proper scientific detachment drop to show a trace of his inner, frothing ghoul. Asking for permission to remove the body and deliver it to his place of business, he looked as if Plan B might be to offer to just eat it here.

The mystery also involved the dead man's wife, played by Judith Hoag, in perhaps her finest performance since the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and one of those creaky-looking old hotel managers who exist to let the cops into one of the rooms, so that whatever they find there--a mess of bloody entrails, Dracula hanging upside down from the ceiling, Russian teenage girls locked in dog kennels, or, as was the case here, the remains of a makeshift operating room, she can deliver the line she always delivers: "I'm not cleaning this up." There was also a stand-in for Joe Francis, much more engaging and Tom Cruise-like than the real thing: "Beau Randolph," maker of the "College Girls Gone Crazy" series and a notorious "defiler of co-eds." It's hard to explain what his character was doing here, even as a red herring, but he'd have had to have been a lot less amusing to merit complaining about. 

In the end, the case turned out to be a kind of mercy killing and a crime of passion, which gave everyone a nice, warm feeling inside. I also got a nice, warm feeling from watching Fillion and Stana Katic working together so much more gracefully than they have in the last few episodes. Katic, in particular, seems so much more comfortable and engaged (and engaging) when the writing is better than usual that you almost have to wonder if she can maybe tell the difference. It's too bad that she had to deliver a speech about how her character wouldn't be interested in a medical breakthrough that would enable her to extend her lifestyle by 10 years without suffering the debilitating effects of age. If she had the extra 10 years, Beckett says, she'd probably "just waste them." Why is the happy-go-lucky Castle supposed to be so taken with this woman, who's such a party pooper that she can only see the downside to even healthy longevity. Katic may be learning more from working with Fillion than Beckett is ever going to learn from working with Castle.

Stray observations:

  • "If there's one thing Internet porn has taught me, it's that you don't get rich by giving it away."
  • "This is a don't-ask, don't-tell hotel."
  • "Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you catch someone with a guy's head, he killed the guy."