The more things change on Castle, the more they stay the same. Last season’s big change was in the relationship between Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Beckett (Stana Katic): They finally had one. After many, many nights of bottled-up sexual tension and jealous looks directed at flirtatious guest stars of either genre, Castle directed a confession of love to Beckett when she had been shot and they were both stretched out in a graveyard, and they fell to doing the horizontal mambo—one of the strangest romantic “Go for it!” moments in the history of network prime time, which resulted in a clusterfuck of such epic proportions that Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation had to come in to help straighten it out.
Dispelling all that sexual tension did wonders for Stana Katic’s performance, and on the whole, the show got more relaxed and playful than it had been in years, but this is Castle: It wants its relaxed and playful sexy side, but it also wants its heart-rending dramatic conflicts. The fact that the show holds together at all can be credited to the dashing ball of human Silly Putty that is Nathan Fillion. On the other hand, the fact that even Fillion sometimes has to stretch beyond his normal limits to keep all the pieces in place can be attributed to the fact that Castle is many different shows, many of them half-assed. Trying to decide whether to close last season on a note of romantic triumph or despair, the producers split the difference, ending with a cliffhanger as Castle proposed to Beckett, who was trying to decide whether to leave New York and take a job in Washington, D.C.
The moment hung there all summer long, and now, in the opening minutes of tonight’s season premiere, Beckett looks at the ring, jumps up so dramatically that I thought she’d spotted a mugger beating up an old lady on the other side of the park. “Yes!” she shouts, and she and Castle are officially engaged. Then the words “2 MONTHS LATER” appear on the screen, and Beckett is in D.C., still engaged to Castle but also hard at work at her new job, running through the streets with a gun at her side, chasing Chechen bad guys through an alleyway. She mistakes a dangerous villain for an innocent victim and gets shot to shit, falling to the ground with blood staining her clothes. Then Lisa Edelstein walks up to her and scolds her for having let down her guard. You may not be too shocked to learn that the whole sequence has been a training exercise, and the show didn’t really kill off its heroine before the opening credits of its season premiere. What’s left unanswered, in the thrilling rush of plot, is whether federal agents really chase each other through the crowded streets of our nation’s capitol with their guns drawn as part of their training exercises, or whether the whole thing takes place on a vast stage set the size of a couple of city blocks, where these exercises are carried out, complete with scores of extras and industry-grade special effects. Either way, I think I have some suggestions for how to cut the federal deficit.
While his lady love is in D.C., Castle has been out on a book tour. He returns home to find his mother and daughter taking up space in his apartment, along with a comical douchebag of a daughter’s boyfriend who helps make possible a couple of scenes that, I hope, are the closest we will ever come to getting to see how Nathan Fillion would have placed Fred MacMurray’s role on My Three Sons. As I said, Castle has been many shows in the course of its five seasons, and while I have nothing against either Susan Sullivan as Mom or Molly Quinn as Castle’s daughter, it feels as if it’s been a good long while since this was a show where they fit in naturally. I keep imagining that they’ve been written out for good—wasn’t one or both of them going to college or something?—and am always a little surprised to see them still hanging around Castle’s apartment. They’re like the guy who was hired to work the fax machine who, through some mixture of pity and sheer oversight, is still there, despite the fact that the office hasn’t had a fax machine in 10 years.
For me, the exciting news about the new season was the presence of Lisa Edelstein. My excitement thinned out fast when I discovered that she’s here to nag and nitpick about Beckett’s job performance, and later to express incredulity and disgust when Castle shows up in D.C. and starts mucking about with the case they’re on. That’s Penny Johnson Jerald’s job as the police captain; she doesn’t stick her head in the door in this episode, and as Edelstein took up the slack by performing her function for her, I started to fantasize about Johnson breaking her contract and making a break for the Mexican border, while production assistants run her down with jeeps and tranquilizer guns. When I snapped out of it, Beckett and Edelstein were investigating a power blackout that had some kind of frightening repercussions, and Castle, reporting on his own findings, was telling them, “These guys didn’t see anything the night of the blackout. It was too dark.” It’s one thing when a show can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be a comedy, but it’s another thing when you hear a line like that and can’t be completely sure that it’s supposed to be funny.
In the course of his Washington adventure, Castle is exposed to some deadly gas, and this episode, too, ends with a cliffhanger: Beckett has to break the news to him that he’s been poisoned and his death is imminent. Sorry, is that a spoiler? I have trouble seeing how it could be, since the odds that Castle will actually croak next week are even thinner than the chances that Beckett was really shot to death in that alley. Funny thing, though: there are a few moments here, when Lisa Edelstein and Stana Katic are walking side by side, working their case, when it seemed to me that the two of them might make for a pretty fair detective team, if one of them wasn’t constantly distracted by the need to complain about the other’s boyfriend. In all the years I’ve put in watching this show, that’s the first time I’ve even flirted with the thought that maybe the best thing that Castle could do for itself would be to get rid of Castle. So I guess I can’t say that the show never surprises me any more.