The fourth season opener of Castle picked up right where the previous season finale ended, which was a bit of a disappointment for those of us who were hoping that the new episode would open with Beckett waking up and finding Castle in her shower. ("Morning! You don't mind, do you? The water's shut off at my place, so I let myself in through the window.") No, apparently Captain Montgomery really did get killed while trying to protect Beckett from the powerful, shadowy figures behind the massive conspiracy whose victims included her mother, and then Beckett really did get shot at Montgomery's funeral, and Castle really did throw himself on her prone body and tell her that he loved her, he loved her, he loved her. Tonight, we got to see her wheeled into the operating room and slowly dragged back from the brink of death, after which she finally got around to telling Castle that she didn't remember a thing about the shooting, including his declaration of love. But at the end of the show, sitting with her weird ex-Klingon therapist, Beckett confessed that she was lying: She did remember everything that had happened, every bit of it. She looked as if she was suppressing a shudder, and she was not alone.
By the time Beckett started spilling her guts to her shrink, the show had served up a lot that a sensitive person might want to just forget. The first 15 minutes were a nightmare of hot lighting, jangly camerawork, and bad dialogue, with acting to match. Because it's not as if there are more than three or four doctors in New York City, Beckett's unconscious, bloody body was wheeled right into the hospital and presented to her doctor boyfriend, who, apparently for the benefit of anyone in the room who hadn't been following his Twitter feed, announced, "She's my girlfriend!" Then he started prepping for surgery. "You can't operate on her," someone told him. "She's your girlfriend."
"She's dying," said the doctor, who was always telling people that Beckett was his girlfriend, except when other people were reminding him of it. "I'm not waiting!" Meanwhile, Castle, looking swollen with grief and cheeseburgers, gathered with everyone else outside the room to have a good cry and talk about their feelings, including their feelings about anyone who might tell them not to get out there on the street and crack this case wide open. When the doctor-slash-boyfriend suddenly came charging out into the corridor and angrily threw Castle up against the wall, it looked as if he'd lost his temper because it was so hard for him to concentrate on his doctoring and boyfriending with all the racket the other actors were making with their emoting.
Months passed before Beckett was able to march back into the squad room and make small talk with the fellas again: "Hey, anybody know if Castle's seeing anybody? Just curious, you understand, because I don't remember anything that was going on before I got shot, so he could have been up to just about anything, and I wouldn't remember it. I mean, I wouldn't remember it if he'd proposed to me in a graveyard. Hey, was that a facial twitch?" A lot had changed while Beckett was trapped in her bed of pain. The investigation into the shooting had been officially dropped, because it wasn't getting anywhere. Somebody had remembered that, without Montgomery, the detectives needed a new boss and had filled the slot with Penny Johnson Jerald, if you please. Her character, Gates, had even done the unthinkable and invited Castle to stop hanging around the squad room, soaking up atmosphere and hogging the donut cart. It was the first of many hints that this Gates person would not be the beloved, apparently stone crooked leader that Montgomery had been.
This was confirmed when we learned that Gates used to be with internal affairs. There may be no cliche of cop shows that has a longer, more inexplicable run than the idea that the most despicable thing in the world is a cop who busts crooked cops. Why the writers of every show from Hill Street Blues and Barney Miller to Miami Vice and NYPD Blue have so much love for crooked cops I cannot imagine, but apparently, Castle feels the same way. Noting that Gates had "brought her distrust of cops along with her" from what Andy Sipowicz used to call "the rat squad," Beckett's fellow detectives whisper that "one thing's for sure, she's no Montgomery." Do these guys even hear what they're saying? Do the writers even see what they're giving them to say? They deliver this sneering assessment of the new boss as not being like the old boss at the same time they're agreeing to keep her in the dark about their dead boss' complicity in the murderous conspiracy he died trying to swat back, and the history of corruption that seems to have tied him to it. With police work like this, it's not surprising that this is shaping up as that one-in-a-million police shooting investigation ever where nobody makes an arrest.
Still, however much of a hard-ass the new captain is, this isn't turning into the Penny Johnson Jerald show, so Beckett reaches out to Castle, and Castle snaps his fingers and his honorary-police-partner status is magically reinstated, and he and Beckett and the rest of the gang kill 20 minutes of the episode by solving a murder mystery that would have bored the pants off Inch High, Private Eye. (It involves Castle's genius deduction that the murderer had avoided detection, and framed another man while he was at it, by committing the murder and then hiding under the bed.) I'm not complaining about that, though. Complaining that the mystery on a Castle episode was kind of lame would be like complaining about the dialogue in a Bruce Lee movie. It's not what I came for anyway.
I also don't watch the show for dark, sprawling conspiracy plot lines and Emmy-bait performances, and the premiere, like last season's finale, just about choked to death on them. But maybe that's just the show writing itself out of a corner that it got itself into by trying for a big, dramatic season finish. "I need to grow up," Castle says to his daughter, who tells him, "Don't grow up too fast." It's a good lesson for any Nathan Fillion character, and it's also a good lesson for the show to learn about itself. It's just troubling, and very strange, that the show ever forgets this lesson, since it feels as if Castle and his daughter have had that conversation a hundred times by now. Another line that the writers liked enough to have repeated by two different characters in the premiere goes: "It's not enough, but it's enough for now." Castle, at its best, is just enough when you're in the mood for an end-of-day time killer with some likable stars, funny lines, and a dash of sexiness. It never falls shorter of being enough than when it's trying too hard to be something more intense.
- I have higher hopes for next week's episode, when the cast and the writers may have gotten the big dramatic climaxes out of their system for a while and begun to relax again. It's about comic book geeks, and, by a startling coincidence, airs shortly before the release of the new Castle-inspired graphic novel from Marvel Comics.
- Next week's episode will also be the last one to air before the first-year anniversary of the death of Castle's old poker buddy, Stephen J. Cannell. I don't know if or how the show will honor his memory, but I wouldn't be surprised if I break out my Wiseguy and Rockford Files DVDs and get a little drunk.