A couple of weeks ago, Castle basically spent an hour making the case that Nathan Fillion might make a pretty good Philip Marlowe if somebody wants to find out who's holding the movie rights these days and get the ball rolling on this thing. (I'd be quicker to cast him as Philo Vance, or maybe Nick Charles if we could hook him up with the right Nora, but what the hell.) Tonight's conclusion to Castle's thrilling two-part foray into geopolitical thrills and spills seems designed to clinch the argument that he'd also be the right man for a Derek Flint reboot. It failed to convince me that the world is crying out for such a thing, but I am receptive to the idea that, if it has to happen, having Fillion on board would make it a lot more bearable.
Tonight's episode started out where last week's left off, with Castle and Beckett in a car that plunges into the Hudson, sinking straight down so fast and in such a straight arc that I half expected it to sprout fins and tool around down there, like James Bond's amphibious Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me. The sequence went on a little long, and despite a lot of shots of Fillion and Stana Katic taking deep breaths in close-up and hands flexing and then seeming to go slack, I didn't have any trouble maintaining a steady heart rate all the way through it, because I was reasonably sure that the show wasn't actually going to kill its two leads off in the first 10 minutes of the second half of a two-parter and leave it to Ryan and Esposito to carry the series for the rest of the season. But as directed by Bryan Spicer (whose extensive TV credits include several episodes of 24), it was more striking-looking and smartly conceived than the usual Castle action-suspense scene, with convincingly greenish, toxic-looking New York river water. There was even an effect at the end, with Castle and Beckett shooting their way out of the car, that earned that ultimate critical epithet, "Cool!"
Unfortunately, Jennifer Beals and the New York City cops are up on dry land and can't see the effect, so when Castle and Beckett make it to the surface, we have to make it through one of those scenes where the beloved heroes have barely escaped death by the skin of their teeth and everybody is steamed at them. (I never quite get the point of these scenes, but they keep getting written and shot and making it into the final cuts, so they must make sense to everybody else. I still can't get over how furious Judi Dench was with Pierce Brosnan in his last James Bond movie, just because he'd permitted her to arrange for his release after a year in a North Korea torture cell.) Beals is so pissed off at Castle that not only does she tell him that he can't play CIA with her anymore, she stops flirting and dropping double entendres and instead just flat-out acknowledges that they used to be lovers. This news causes Beckett to all but physically ice over, and the jealous vibes she gives off are so powerful and alarming that the guys standing near Castle don't even try to high-five him.
This episode's handling of the famous Castle-Beckett sexual tension thing probably treats it as well as it can be handled. First, have Beckett show that she has feelings for Castle by giving her reason to feel jealous, so that she can treat him snippily and irrationally. (She goes pretty much all the way with both qualities this time, demanding to know exactly how many women there have been in Castle's life, or at least how many women that he's both slept with and based a character on. Actually, at that moment, it's hard to be sure whether she's acting jealous or just thinks she's his Mom.) Then, after the storm has passed, drop it, and, as Marge Simpson says, we will never speak of it again. Happily, the CIA has a similar policy, and after a decent interval, Jennifer Beals breaks into Castle's apartment so she can tease him about the comic book adaptations of his novels and invite him back on the case. (She actually says "graphic novels," but I protest the idea of putting a lame marketing phrase like that in the mouth of a woman of quality.) After he got Timothy Carhart killed and ruined the upholstery in the submerged car, she had to call him on the carpet for the sake of appearances, but actually, there's nobody she'd rather work with to prevent the end of the world.
You may recall that Timothy Carhart's specialty was pointing out “linch pins”, the one element that, if interfered with, could lead to the toppling of a government or similar catastrophic event. The investigation leads to an image that, for my money, makes the two-parter. It's a room that features an elaborate web of index cards, and it's like one of those scenes where the cops discover the room that the serial killer has set up as a shrine to the subject of his mania, except that here, the cards have things written on them such as “ECONOMIC EMBARGO” and “TAX RIOTS.” It seems to pin the blame for the murders and other conspiratorial goings-on pretty squarely on Gage, the multi-talented urban survivalist agent we met in last week's episode, but he convincingly protests his innocence and insists that he's being framed, which is kind of a surprise, because last week, they couldn't get a word out of him. Jennifer Beals doesn't buy his story, but then someone murders him while he's in custody, which convinces everyone that he really was innocent after all but still can only be considered a mixed triumph for him, at best.
The CIA geniuses quickly figure out that the point of the conspiracy is to bring about World War III, which can be accomplished by killing a 10-year-old Chinese girl. I was looking forward to an incredibly complicated explanation, with charts and computer animation and maybe a puppet show, of why killing the girl would have this effect. “If the girl dies, she won't win first prize at tomorrow's school science fair, which won't put a smile on the school janitor's face, so when he goes home he won't feel like messing around with his wife, so when the wife goes to her barista job the next day she'll be distracted and out of sorts, so the Prime Minister's chauffeur will get decaf instead of his usual order, so he'll doze off and veer into traffic just in time to take out…” Imagine my disappointment when it was revealed that she was just the daughter of a “a Chinese businessman” and “kingmaker” who has so great an influence on his government's economic policy that if somebody whacks his daughter, he'll be pissy. But the important thing is, it gave Castle and Beckett a 10-year-old girl to rush off to rescue.
So the upshot is, Castle turned into a different show for a couple of weeks. I'm not sure it's a show I'd want to watch every week, but it was fun, like seeing Craig Ferguson in Paris for a few days. I almost hate that I have to dock the letter grade a half a notch or so because of the way it went pear-shaped towards the end. The revelation that Gage was a good guy could be seen as a fair sign that it was about to turn into one of those thrillers where it turns out all the good guys are really bad guys and vice versa (we're through the looking glass, people!!), so I can't say we weren't warned, and even when Jennifer Beals was taunting Castle and Beckett and forcing them to kneel in preparation for blowing their brains out, I was willing to cut it some slack, until she started speaking Russian. There was also one of the show's patented out-of-left-field possible revelations that we'll be seeing them drop hints about till the end of the season: “Sophia said something about my father being in the CIA. Would you know anything about that?” Castle asked of the surviving good-guy CIA agent who had already made it abundantly clear that he wouldn't level with him if he'd asked the guy for his middle initial. But all I could think was that, for the sake of an especially stupid twist ending, the show had pissed away its chance to have Jennifer Beals come back and visit. Spokoinoi nochi, baby.