Castle is a show that, on an episode-by-episode basis, goes back and forth between mostly showcasing its strengths and mostly being dragged down by its weaknesses. The show has been around for a while now without the strengths and weaknesses themselves seeming to vary much. The major difference from week to week comes down to the question, “Which is going to predominate?” For instance, at its core, the show wants to involve viewers in the “Castle and Beckett” question: Are they or aren’t they? (In love, that is.) Will they, or won’t they? (Nudge nudge, wink wink.) That seed keeps growing in importance, to the point that it’s now supposed to be the emotional center of the show. For it to work the way the show wants it to, it would certainly help if Castle and Beckett, that is, Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, had the kind of white-hot sexual chemistry of a Sam-and-Diane or a Maddie-and-David. Even the kind of offbeat, “it’s weird, but they seem to work for each other” vibe of, say, William Devane and Nicolette Sheridan on Knots Landing, or even Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette. But instead… well, look at it this way. Here is a small sample of some of the memorable TV couples who had more sexual chemistry than Castle and Beckett:
- Mr. Drysdale and Jane Hathaway
- Baretta and his cockatoo, Fred
- Jennifer Marlowe and Les Nessman
- Ted Koppel and Ian Sholes
- E.B. Farnum and the old guy who prayed to antlers
- Steve McGarrett and Danny Williams (current version)
Despite the plain fact that Fillion and Katic, both of them very attractive people, simple do not sizzle together, Castle seems determined to keep kicking this thing that’s supposed to be going on between them uphill. Last week, things came to a boil, sort of, when Castle heard Beckett say that she remembered everything that had happened to her when she was shot, despite the fact that she’d been playing dumb about whether she remembered that one of those things had been Castle saying that he loved her. Castle, the poor goof, concluded from this that she did not return his feelings and just felt sorry for him. Does Beckett return his feelings? Everybody around her has started talking to her as if she does, but in the end, the viewer, like Castle, can only hope to interpret what she really feels based on the emotions that Katic is capable of expressing. That’s a roundabout way of saying “your guess is as good as mine.”
Tonight, Lanie the medical examiner lays it on the line for Beckett. In response to Beckett complaining that things between her and Castle have “gotten weird,” Lanie tells her that “It’s been weird for four years.” When Lanie asks her what she has to lose by just going for it, and Beckett says that she might lose the friendship, Lanie corrects her there, too: “What you and I have is a friendship. What you and Castle have is a holding pattern.” But what she says that really clicks the loudest is, “You remember how he used to be? A girl on either arm?” You really don’t see that guy too much anymore.” This is true, and there’s been many a night when Castle felt the poorer for it. But even with Rick Castle’s playboy lifestyle mostly kept in storage, many of the brightest recent episodes have been those that gave him the chance to flirt and interact with special guest temptresses, such as Kristin Lehman and Jennifer Beals.
This episode feels as if it were intended as a showcase for Katic, letting her dress up and cut a rug with a hunky Scotland Yard detective (Brett Tucker) who’s conducting his own rogue investigation of the murder of a British-born model. But what’s most fun about it is seeing the old Rick Castle swing back into action. For Fillion, given the chance to act shallow and fun-loving and self-centered after months of being serious and romantically broody, this turns out to be like getting back on a bicycle. He makes his entrance driving up to the crime scene in a red sports car, wearing black leather and accompanied by a flight attendant named Jacinda who should have been invited to try out for that musical about Marilyn Monroe—whether she can sing or not. Beckett scoffs at the sight of this gaudy flash littering her murder investigation. She tells Castle that he looks as if he got hit by a truck, which he seizes on as his chance to yell back, “A truck full of awesome!” “I feel like I just walked into a bad episode of Miami Vice,” she says. “There are no bad episodes of Miami Vice,” Castle replies. He looks as if he’s having such a good time that nobody wants to remind him about the one with James Brown and the flying saucers.
In the episodes featuring guest actresses who seemed to hit it off with Castle, the show has always made a point of showing Beckett steaming on the sidelines. Is she just annoyed that her sort-of investigating partner is allowing himself to be distracted from the case, or is there something deeper going on? Again, with Katic in charge of conveying what’s on Beckett’s mind, it’s hard to tell. She could be called mysterious, sphinx-like. She could also be likened to a very good-looking brick. But the idea does come across that Beckett’s low threshold for irritation is barely sufficient to dealing with having these interlopers on her turf.
This episode sets Castle up to react much the same way. He warns Brett Tucker that Captain Gates is a hard-ass who doesn’t take kindly to “outsiders” cluttering up her house. Then, of course, Gates welcomes the new boy from across the pond with open arms. He concocts one of his insanely complicated plans for getting a fingerprint from a suspect and lays it out on the blackboard for Ryan and Esposito. It involves the two of them disguising themselves as a flower-delivery guy and a hobo and creating “ a distraction” while Castle busts a move with “a Romanian gymnast I found on YouTube” who is “extremely flexible and fits inside a duffel bag.” Then Tucker simply shoots him down by whisking Beckett off to the aforementioned party at the British consulate, where, in addition to collecting the fingerprint, they dance and trade back-stories. (The Brit is, of course, a perfect gentleman from an honest, hardscrabble background, who was “admitted to Eton on a scholarship, where I minored in blending in.”)
The refreshing thing about all this is that Castle refuses to take the bait. He’s pissed off that Captain Gates doesn’t regard the Scotland Yard detective with the same hostility that she regards him—it forces her to admit that her dislike of him is strictly personal, and he doesn’t give any indication of holding it against Tucker at all. He’s mildly disappointed that Beckett and Tucker are going to get the fingerprint “the easy way,” but he’s already gotten to enjoy the real fun part of his elaborate plan, which is concocting it and then explaining how it’s going to work. He mostly seems to be enjoying hanging out and playing cop without having to do much real work, and then getting to play with his new bimbo friend.
The best joke in the episode may be that, sight unseen, the bimbo helps him crack the case, clearing up some of the details that Mister Fancy-Schmancy Scotland Yard Dude hasn’t been able to unknot with knowledge she’s picked up as a flight attendant. (The second best joke might be that the solution of the case—involving the model’s posthumously blowing the lid off a conspiracy between a British diplomat and a hip-hop entrepreneur to market stolen Stinger missiles to Uganda—is almost exactly as ridiculous as Castle’s plan on the blackboard. I just don’t know if that joke was intended.) At the end, he rides off into the sunset to hook up with his blonde babe again, blithely un-tormented by the death of his romantic dreams with Beckett. The show will revive them again, of course. But tonight’s episode mostly serves as a reminder that the thought of a tormented Nathan Fillion looks more than ever like a violation of natural law.