I tend to enjoy Castle best when it's light and frivolous. (I believe that I may have referred to this prejudice of mine some 90 or 100 times by now, in the course of the eight times I've reviewed the show.) But though I like the show to be light, I also like to feel that there's something on the scale besides air. Maybe my problem is that I'm not enough of an absurdist, by nature, to be writing about television. (Maybe my problem is that I'm not enough of an absurdist, by nature, to even be watching television. But boy, has that ship sailed.) I want to believe that I inhabit a logically ordered universe where events have a reason behind them.
Tonight, Castle went to Atlantic City with the two boring male cops, and the three of them dressed up as Elvis and walked through a casino in slow motion while a voice on the music track growled, "Let the man through, let the man through." This certainly counted as an event. But it left me wondering if the main reason for this episode's existence is that somebody feels that it's a great tragedy that Nathan Fillion wasn't in 3000 Miles to Graceland. This is the kind of proposition that I'm disposed to greet with a polite smile and a "You may have a point there," before getting on with the rest of my life. There were a couple of other things that were happening elsewhere, things that I am reluctant to dignify with the term "subplot", partly because I am reluctant to dignify the main things that were going on with the term "plot."
In one corner of the show, Beckett and the new captain played by Penny Johnson Jerald were taking advantage of the fact that they were alone together in the precinct while the boys were on their road trip to bond and show how well they could work together. In another, poor Alexis decided to take advantage of the fact that she was alone in the apartment while her dad was out of town by throwing a party where she meets cute guys and gets her mind off Ashley, whom she dumped last week because the mystery got wrapped up quickly and there were a few minutes to kill at the end of the episode. My best explanation for the existence of this part of the show is that it was Molly Quinn's birthday last month, and she'd always wanted to be in the video for the Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right To Party."
Things didn't start out too badly. The first thing you saw was Castle, in his Elvis getup, being threatened by a tough-talking lug cradling a baseball bat. Then the words "16 hours earlier…" appeared on the screen. It seems as if every show on the air now is addicted to this gimmick of opening with a flash-forward that's supposed to make you wonder, "How the hell did they get there?" before rewinding the tape and showing you just how they did get there. That's my impression, anyway, though maybe I'd feel differently if I watched any shows besides this one and Pan Am. Anyway, it did its job tonight, since whenever you thought about changing the channel, you remembered that, if you just hung in there long enough, you had a pretty good chance to see Nathan Fillion getting the snot kicked out of him while dressed in an Elvis costume. Extend a clear promise of something like that at the start, and I could probably force myself to finally make it through all of Remembrance Of Things Past.
Then there was the rewind back to 16 hours ago, and Castle was in his apartment with Alexis, trying to cheer her up about the breakup. "It just so happens," he told her, "that I have the perfect post-breakup routine. Tonight, you and I go get chili cheese dogs from Gray's Papaya; we smuggle them into a double feature at the Anjelika." This speech did nothing for Alexis' mood, but it sent a little shiver through those of us who look forward to those Manhattan place-name-dropping moments that provide the show with its fleeting traces of not-filmed-in-Canada authenticity. Soon, Castle was called away to meet Beckett at their latest crime scene. A casino owner had been found dead at an abandoned delivery dock. Castle had little sympathy for the victim. "If someone asks me to meet him in an abandoned warehouse in the dead of night," he said, "I pass. I've written that scene enough to know how it ends." It didn't seem like so much at the time, but when the episode finally ended several years later, those who'd stuck with it would fondly remember that moment as the last time anyone had said anything that made any sense at all.
While Beckett and Johnson Jerald's captain were shoveling paperwork back in the office, Castle persuaded the two boring guys to let him tag along with them on their trip to Atlantic City to talk to those who'd known and worked with the dead man. Castle, naturally, saw this as a chance for a working vacation, with the emphasis plainly not on "working." He was dreaming of slot machines, showgirls, and a mirth-making jester called Carrot Top. "I haven't seen him perform since his crazy makeover. It'll be like a new show!" Much of this part of the show was more fun than it should have been, just because Fillion had something to act childishly excited about. He may never be funnier than when he's revved up and trying to infect some otherwise rational person with his misplaced enthusiasm. When he's in the zone, Fillion brings enough to the party that he can be fun to watch even when he's doing Carrot Top jokes. He's fun even when he has to drop such lines as, "It's almost as if the thought of marriage fills him with a sense of impending doom. Oh, wait, that's me!"
Maybe if Fillion had someone on his own level to play with, he could riff the hour away, and you'd barely notice that nothing was really happening until it was time for the production team's title card, and so to bed. Instead, he was stuck carrying around Kevin and Javier, and between the two of them, they can make you really miss Beckett. As for the story, it made room for all the characters you'd expect to turn up in the Atlantic City setting, including casino bosses, mobsters, and lovers caught in the middle; mixed them up good; allowed things to become overly complicated in a way that I think was meant to seem funny; and then revealed that they were all pretty much irrelevant to the solution to the mystery, a bravura twist that struck me as mildly insulting, since nothing that happened had been entertaining enough to justify putting up with it at all, if it was just going to turn out to be a red herring. At the end, Castle dragged his weary bones back to the apartment that Alexis had just finished cleaning after the party, collapsed on the sofa, and threw back his head so that he was looking straight up. For a second, I would've bet money that a pizza was going to fall from the ceiling onto his face, but it didn't. By that point, the message of the episode was: Be grateful for small favors.