Castle is such a schizoid show, sometimes (as in last week's season premiere) dark and somber and given to fits of brooding and throbbing with unspoken romantic feelings. Then there are times (most of the time, actually) when it's brightly lit and happy-go-lucky and quite openly silly, with the unrequited attraction between its two leads depicted not as a lovers' ache but as an itch that the two of them kid each other about even as they're talking around it. I used to think that Castle could become an awesomely great show if they could being the two halves together: deepen the emotion and make the heroes' connection (and their inability to connect) count for something, but without pretending that something Byronic is going on. Now I'm just grateful whenever the show puts the storm clouds back in the storage unit until the next sweeps month and allows Nathan Fillion to be his natural, air-headed self.
Last week's episode was an occasion to suck the fans back in and tantalize them with hints about the vast conspiracy that haunts Castle and Beckett's dreams, jangling their nerves and unsettling their sense of the world around them for days at a time, before they go back to forgetting all about it for weeks and weeks, and to re-examine their relationship and ponder whether it could ever work between them, the poor blind fools. Tonight's episode was basically an hour-long plug for the Castle graphic novel, which hits stores Wednesday, where it's sure to be snapped up by everyone who's just bought the last wave of DC number ones and the second issue of Spider-Island: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu and still has $20 left over. Shilling for a comic book is a little more Nathan Fillion's speed than channeling Fox Mulder, just as watching him shill is a lot more my speed. Sometimes, his dialogue sounded as if it had been transcribed from one of Fillion's own Comic-Con appearances. At other times, it sounded as if Malcolm Reynolds had started a second career as a script doctor.
The action began in a dark alleyway, where a vigilante, costumed as a comic-book superhero called Lone Vengeance, used a sword to cleave an evildoer in twain. There was a terrific cut from the cleaving itself (or, rather, its shadow on a wall) to Castle chopping a tomato in two. The episode was directed by Jeff Bleckner, who's one of the defter hired hands on Castle's speed dial. Funny coincidence: Almost 30 years ago, Bleckner also directed one of the Hill Street Blues episodes that featured Dennis Dugan as Captain Freedom, a nut who ran around the city in a homemade superhero costume. He eventually got shot and died in Mick Belker's arms, so that Mick could marvel at what a piece of work is man, and wonder yet again why he was such a magnet for comic-relief characters who had a tendency to turn all poignant on him and die unexpectedly. Dugan's character was just another of Hill Street Blues' trademark whimsical street crazies, but Castle tapped into an actual contemporary phenomenon of people, some more obviously deranged than others, inventing heroic alter egos for themselves and hitting the streets in costume to play urban avenger, a phenomenon documented in a three-ring freak show of a recent HBO documentary. It appears that television is getting smarter, and the real world is getting stupider at about the same rate.
Captain Freedom was the product of a time when TV writers' conception of superheroes was still shaped by the memory of Adam West and Burt Ward taking a break from their busy crime-fighting schedules to show Aunt Harriet how to dance the Batusi. Castle's foray into Jim Hanley's Universe was conceived in an utterly changed media landscape, one where stars who have a fan base in the comics-geek community, and who want to establish their own geek credentials so as to seem as one with their fans, have to flaunt their own knowledge of geek lore and respect for the geek verities, even as they're sort of making fun of it all. So Castle got to deliver speeches based on his analysis of the Lone Vengeance costume, pointing out all the things it had in common with those of Spider-man, Daredevil, Deadpool, and the Black Panther, and further pointing out that all these heroes are "driven by the death of a father figure or loved one." It was meant to seem pretty silly, in the way that Castle is always silly when he tries to sound like an expert on anything, but it was also meant to establish that, when it comes to comic books, Castle really does know his shit. If he didn't, geeks wouldn't stand for his teasing them, no matter how cute his dimples are. Even Beckett, the relatively humorless mom figure in this relationship, couldn't let the name "Stan Lee" escape her lips without making sure it was preceded by the words "Comics genius", the way some actors seem to change their first names to "Academyawardwinner."
There was a murder mystery at the center of all this, and I think it got solved by the end; at least, I'm pretty sure somebody got arrested. I gave up trying to follow exactly how it unraveled, though, and I stopped feeling guilty about it as soon as Penny Johnson Jerald muttered something about how, with so many different people running around dressed as Lone Vengeance, it was hard to keep straight who had done what. She was supposed to be saying this to excuse letting one character off the hook for something, but it did make me think of the story about the people who worked on the 1946 movie version of The Big Sleep not being able to figure out who killed the chauffeur and calling Raymond Chandler to ask him, only to find out that he was stumped by the question. And Beckett and Castle, having made it clear that they related to two of the cleared suspects as, respectively, a cop who had to make a choice not to trapped by her obsessing over her own past and a writer who'd found his muse in a strong woman, got to see their alter egos making out in an elevator, but without making a big tortured deal out of it.
- Have I ever mentioned how much I like Susan Sullivan? Man, I really like Susan Sullivan! Now that I've established how much I like Susan Sullivan, I can't for the life of me figure out what she's still doing on this show. The stuff given her to do to justify her presence on tonight's episode, in which she modeled her own homemade costumes for Shakespearean roles, made Cloris Leachman in Raising Hope look like the very model of dignity for a veteran actress of a certain age. By contrast, it looks as if Molly Quinn is getting ready to get out while the getting's good.
- Castle's line about "two halved men" was far from the worst Two And A Half Men joke heard on television over the course of the past couple of weeks. That's mainly a reflection on the competition, though.
- "A superhero who's mild-mannered, and somebody killed his parents. Isn't that all of them?"
- Trivia lovers take note: Beckett's first comic book, which she bought when she was fourteen, was Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. Maybe if she'd started out when she was younger, with Carl Barks or some classic MAD reprints, she'd be more fun now. But at least she got a head start in wrapping her head around outlandish crime plots.