Tonight, Castle served up one of its famous conspiracy episodes, devoted to redefining the parameters of the awesome, scary plot that threatens the life of Beckett and that has already claimed her mother, her former boss, and several hours of my life that I'll never get back. I think I've made it clear enough already how thrilled I am whenever one of these lands back on my desk. Let's try to keep this short and sweet.
I liked the opening, which seemed designed to look like a parody of a car commercial—a man at the steering wheel gliding through the city streets after dark, while a woman in the passenger seat slid around and tilted her head towards him, as if she were a little woozy, on some combination of cocktails and love. It wasn't half sexy. Then the man parked and got out of the car, and it turned out that the woman was our case of the week. She was a professor of literature, but she'd deep-sixed her university job and had spent the last six months working a string of dead-end menial jobs, including a stints as a janitor and in fast food restaurants, and her most recent gig, riding a telephone at a phone-sex office. Castle and Beckett actually paid a visit to the latter place of employment, where they stayed a pretty good while.
I didn't much want them to leave myself. It's not the hardest thing in the world to get laughs by staging a scene with a bunch of heavyset, middle-aged or elderly women looking bored while talking dirty on the phone, but the set was pretty cool, all shimmery glass surfaces and pastel colors, with a huge, kinetic neon sign on the wall behind the boss' desk. The total effect was tacky and antiseptic at the same time. Was this an actual phone sex joint that had been found and that had agreed to open its doors to the Castle crew, thanks to the legwork and powers of persuasion of some locations scout who needs a raise, pronto? Maybe not, but if it was a set, it might have been the most attention-to-detail, labor-of-love set I've ever seen on this show. Maybe the director has a fetish and was ruthless about using ABC's money to see it made flesh. Let it be noted that at no point did Castle and Beckett think about swinging by the fast food restaurant where the murder victim had also worked and asking if they could check out the grease traps. If I had stock in the network, I might think that an internal audit might be in order.
The dead woman didn't seem to own a cell phone, or a TV or a computer, which was enough right there to leave Castle and company flummoxed. ("Maybe she was Amish.") As the full details of her life were unearthed, the detectives just became more and more bewildered. An educated, talented woman, on the fast career track in her field, dropping out to do shit work? It was just so strange. Was she hiding out from the mob? Had extraterrestrials abducted her and left her brains scrambled? The combined brain power of New York's finest just couldn't imagine what could have been going on. I suspect that a poll of everyone who was in the same room as a TV playing this episode, including people who just happened to pass through on their way to the refrigerator, would find that they were virtually alone in their bafflement.
Castle and Beckett didn't start putting it together until halfway through the episode, when they visited the woman's literary agent. The agent told them that he had met the victim six months earlier, when she brought him a proposal that she live the life of a member of "the working poor" and write about the experience. I waited for him to then say that, after he'd finally been able to stop laughing, he pulled a copy of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed off the shelf, bounced it off her head, and told her not to bother him again with proposals to write books that have already been written, but he didn't. He didn't even seem to be aware of it. I can find it easier to believe that Castle didn't know about Ehrenreich's book than that an agent wouldn't, but I was still surprised that he hadn't put the pieces together in his head and realized where they might be pointing. Even the voice at the other end of my couch, which belongs to someone who hasn't gotten around to reading Ehrenreich either, had spent the last twenty minutes yelling at the screen, "She was researching a book!!"
It was all kind of beside the point anyway, because shortly before the woman was killed, she had contacted the agent and told him that she had stumbled across a much better idea for a book, something about a titanic scandal-in-the-making that would destroy a powerful New Yorker and expose the secret and sinister workings of our world. Beckett, who had already decided that the mayor looked good for the murder, or at least that he had some connection to the dead woman that he was trying to cover up, rather liked the sound of that. Castle liked it less, because he has already received a phone call from the Deep Throat figure who always calls him up whenever Beckett is in too close proximity to The Truth and warns him to steer her away, for her own good. Trying to explain to his mother what was going on, Castle said that it was turning into "a conspiracy thriller, like The Conversation or Blow Out." Earlier, he had proposed that "An Officer and a Gentleman" might be a good idea for a blog that he and Beckett could work on together, and before that he'd observed that the dead woman's life sounded like Good Will Hunting, only in reverse. It was as if he was desperately trying to signal to the viewers at home that there were other things they could be watching.
Whatever you want to say about the show from that point on, it didn't get any smarter. The big key to the mystery hinged on the discovery that someone in the mayor's office who was a big user of the phone sex service had gotten too chummy with the murder victim over the phone and blabbed something he shouldn't have, especially since, given what those services charge per minute, you're a stone chump if you do half as much talking as the person who's being paid to stay on the line. And though we got through the hour without anyone taking a shot at Beckett, or with her ever figuring out his real reasons for not wanting her to press too hard on this case, enough leaked out that, even though Hizzoner had nothing to do with the murder, he had to cancel his plans to run for governor. And Castle, whose mother didn't understand why he didn't just come clean with Beckett, got to explain it this way: "Tell her what? Hey, kid, I've been taking calls from a shadowy figure who wants to keep you off your mother's murder case, so they don't kill you, too." It's nice that he recognizes how dumb it would sound if he said that to Beckett. Now he just needs to recognize that, if it's too dumb for Beckett to hear, maybe we shouldn't have to be watching it, either.