Castle: “Headhunters”
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Castle: “Headhunters”

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Castle

“Headhunters”

Season 4, Episode 21

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Tonight’s episode is the long-awaited—well, I heard about it a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been looking forward to it—Firefly reunion episode, guest-starring Adam Baldwin as a tough-talking, rule-bending cop who Castle attaches himself to, because he’s thinking that maybe his artist-muse relationship with Beckett has run its course. (I know, blasphemy, right?) It’s great to see these guys together again, and in this setting and with this character dynamic, seeing the way Baldwin towers over Nathan Fillion is even funnier than it was in the days when it was Fillion who was barking orders at this man-mountain. But if this episode reminded me of any deceased TV series of the last several years, it was The Good Guys. That’s a “first, the good news” sort of comparison. 

At its best, that show was fun, mostly because it’s fun to see a cerebral, buttoned-down actor like Bradley Whitford, someone who looks as if he was put on Earth to count off the beats in beautifully shaped Aaron Sorkin monologues about the debt ceiling, enjoying himself playing a gone-to-seed variant of the kind of idiot who gets positioned as the hero in bad TV and action movies, just because he always manages to shoot the right people. It wasn’t made for the long haul, though, because it never could find a way to parody Hunter-style cop shows and at the same time work as a cop show in its own right. Whitford’s character was supposed to be a joke, but he was also supposed to sort of be effective, and his young, by-the-book partner kept being reminded that there were things he could learn from this ludicrous dude, though it wasn’t always clear if this, too, was supposed to be a joke. 

This is a problem that Castle itself has had to deal with on more than one occasion, and it was central to this episode, in which Baldwin’s toothy, wild-eyed (and wild-haired) Detective Slaughter was an over-the-top lampoon of a snarling, self-righteous cop with a vigilante streak but, at the same time, seemed to be meant as a genuine negative example: Someone who, early on, represented a potential threat to the Castle-Beckett relationship, and who, as the episode ground on, turned out to be someone Castle had to learn not to emulate. He’s not just a bad-ass; He’s an unhinged sadist who tortures one thug by throwing him into a garbage compactor, and sweats another by sticking him in the trunk of his car and heading off to a remote location to do donuts. 

Even worse, he willfully solicits false testimony, guiding one of the thugs to give him the answers he wants to gather “evidence” against the drug kingpin he’s looking to pin a murder on. It’s not enough for the show to show that Slaughter’s methods are both immoral and misguided. (And ineffective, as it turns out that he’s trying to frame the wrong guy.) It also has to establish, just so there’s no confusion about it, who the real tough cop is. It’s Beckett, of course, who tells Slaughter off in a scene in which the lighting is so bad, and Stana Katic’s beady-eyed glare is so monotonous, that she looks like an Easter Island statue. As if that weren’t enough, when Castle and Beckett arrest the right guy, and the drug dealer Slaughter had focused on—an out-of-towner from Texas who’s been trying to get a toehold in New York, and who figured he could do it by inciting warfare between the Irish and Jamaican gangs who are his principal competition—is being sprung, both Castle and Slaughter sit back and watch as Beckett walks up to the guy and cooly, firmly lets him know that this is her town, and she don’t cotton to no outsiders comin’ in with their drugs and their Machiavellian schemes, stirrin’ up trouble. We don’t actually see the guy getting on the stagecoach back to El Paso, but that seems to be the idea.

If Castle, even on the sidelines, was the saving grace of the previous episode (which was mostly devoted to teaming Beckett up with a different partner), Beckett the bringdown is the anchor tied to this one. It’s a shame, because in the first half, Fillion and Baldwin are all the show you’d need, especially when the hero-worshipping Castle is deep in the throes of his man-crush. Detective Slaughter, Castle rhapsodizes, is “one of those guys who floats from precinct to precinct. They’re like nomads, kicking ass and taking names. It’s not a good turn of phrase, but the character is so good!” Slaughter is also a loner, a status he gets to maintain because his partners keep getting killed off, which has earned him the nickname “the Widowmaker.” That’s right: the man’s name is Slaughter, and he’s still got a nickname! On their first date, Castle turns to Slaughter, who (naturally) is doing the driving, and exclaims, “That was awesome! Beckett never drives on the sidewalk.” Slaughter tells him that there are certain ground rules that will have to be observed in his presence. For instance, “Do not say the word ‘awesome.’ You’re a grown man.”

There’s even a case so ridiculous that it’s perfect for the Castle/Slaughter team: An Irish gangster called “Glitch” (because he had a reputation as a screw-up) has been found dead in an alley, with a sack containing three not-very-fresh decapitated heads in his possession. The only problem with the plot is that, for the same reasons that the details are funny when the show is aimed at being funny, the story just turns dumb when the tone shifts and Beckett comes in and to show everyone what real police work looks like and solves it. That used to happen on The Good Guys, too, and Colin Hanks had more variations in his glowering deadpan than Stana Katic. Which may be the meanest thing anyone has ever said about Stana Katic.

Stray observations:

  • Yes, there is more sexual chemistry between Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin than there is between Fillion and Stana Katic.
  • After Castle experiences love at first sight from catching a glimpse of Slaughter on TV, he asks one of the other cops where he can find him. “Wherever the body is,” comes the answer. It turns out this is a roundabout way of saying that he’s talking to the medical examiner, but still, whether as straight tough-cop dialogue or a parody of same, that’s a pretty cool line to deliver about a super-cop.
  • Castle, who has already told Slaughter that he has a police vest with the word “writer” on it, suggests calling for backup when things are about to get hot. Slaughter, who doesn’t do backup, asks, “You got a skirt that says ‘writer’ on it too?”
  • The guy who plays the thug in the trash compactor uses the most pitiful excuse for a Jamaican accent I’ve ever heard; I almost can’t believe that somebody didn’t cringe while watching the dailies and insist on having his lines re-dubbed. This is my opinion, and I will stand by it even if someone writes in with documentation showing that the actor is Jamaican-born and bred and only got off the plane from Kingston the day before filming his scenes. 
  • In the Castle family subplot, Alexis is thrilled to see that she’s been accepted by every college in the English-speaking world, but she’s a little bummed when she sees that this includes Stanford—her original choice, but they’d rejected her previously, and now, she says (or, rather, Castle says for her) that she’s emotionally confused because she isn’t sure she wants to go to an institution of higher learning that didn’t snap her up the very first time it had the chance. The logic here is so impenetrable that I was actually relieved when, during the fade-out scene, Castle said something about how you sometimes have to decide whether you’re willing to take a chance on something if you’ve been hurt before and are afraid it might happen again, and the audience is supposed to think. “Oh, he’s really talking about himself and Beckett, and not this unbelievably idiotic shit they’ve been shoveling about Stanford!”

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