Tonight’s episode begins with an overhead shot of Manhattan and sped-up footage of people moving on crowded sidewalks and streets jammed with traffic, complete with the sound of honking car horns. Usually Castle taps into its New York locations for the glamour and romantic possibilities that expensive-looking buildings and funky little hangouts can provide, but here, the message is loud and clear: Get me outta here! It’s Friday, and as Castle explains to his mother and daughter, “If Beckett doesn’t catch a murder by 5 o’clock,” he is spiriting her away to his place on the Hamptons. It immediately becomes clear that anyone who commits a murder that lands on Beckett’s desk by 5:00 will have the wrath of the show’s costume designer to contend with. Week after week, year in and year out, Castle has had Stana Katic clomping around the mean streets of the big city, chasing down perps in her winter ensembles and work suits. Now that the show is officially a romantic comedy—albeit a corpse-strewn one—it can’t wait to get our girl out to the beach and show her off a little.
The secret lovers’ arrival in paradise is signaled by a montage of summery weather shots and boats on the water that looks as if the editor had just slipped in a few shots lifted from Jazz On A Summer’s Day, and then we’re at Casa de la Rick, the beachfront edition. Because class doesn’t exist on TV, the show has scarcely dared broach the subject of what it might mean for someone on a police detective’s salary to suddenly become an intimate part of the life of a rich celebrity, but the first shot of Beckett in the Hamptons—a lyrical image of her face, seen through a car window, as she gazes upon the big house—is like something an old movie might pull to suggest a barefoot orphan’s first view of the Warbucks estate. When Castle is showing Beckett around, the scene has a distinct whiff of real-estate porn. For a second there, the threat lingers in the air that Beckett is going to freak out and tell Castle that this was a mistake and the gulf between them too enormous to vault, but instead, she gradually takes on the expression of someone thinking, “Yeah, I could get used to this!” Smart girl, and good for her.
The romantic spell gets slightly dinged when Castle and Beckett, hanging out by the swimming pool, see a man who looks like an extra from Night Of The Living Dead stagger through the gate and collapse into the water, oozing blood. He is Randall Franklin, a notorious former insider trader who left Wall Street behind after ratting out all the insider traders with whom he was in cahoots. The local sheriff, who is clearly in over his head, quickly rounds up a suspect: A meth head found wasted on the beach, with the dead man’s wallet in his possession. Castle ain’t having it. “What kind of cold-blooded killer takes a nap on the beach after killing someone?” he asks. It soon becomes clear that Castle, who had been eager to get his Hamptons on with Beckett, is too distracted by this and other unanswered questions to tend to thoughts of love. This is supposed to show how big a deal a fresh murder mystery is to Rick Castle, but I’m not sure it strictly serves that function. I can take most unsolved murders or leave them, but if somebody invaded my backyard pool in order to let his last remaining essence of life mix with the chlorine, I’d probably cancel whatever amorous adventures I’d had planned, and slot in some close face time with whatever mood-altering substances were closest to hand.
Castle and Beckett make such nuisances of themselves investigating the murder that the sheriff throws them in the clink, but when he learns that Beckett is a genuine, bona fide New York City murder detective from the Big Apple, he changes his tune and implores the two of them for their help. Based on the news that the dead man had saltwater in his lungs, Castle deduces that he was shot aboard a boat at sea, and swam to the shore. The meth head didn’t do it, but maybe he saw something. He says that he did see something: a boat that was attacked by “a red shark with red eyes.” Beckett shakes her head, disappointed that the chief witness on the scene has toasted too many brain cells to be of any use, but that’s just more evidence that even the best detective will misread many a situation if she doesn’t watch enough TV. Castle knows that the drug fiend is describing something he saw; he just doesn’t know what it was. When it’s revealed that he was actually describing something so mundane as a boat decorated with a red outline of a shark, it counts as the great disappointment of “Murder, He Wrote.”
The solution to the mystery hinges on the discovery that the murder victim was in the meth trade himself, and was buying up abandoned buildings so he could use them to house what, from the looks of it, were some really dinky-looking meth labs. I’m not sure that makes economic sense even (or especially) in New York, but in general, this was the best Castle of the season so far. It has a relaxed, happy vibe—partly supplied by what looked to be two relaxed, happy stars—and some amusing digressions, including a cameo by Don Stark (of That ’70s Show) as an affable mobster with a weird scar on his forehead that looked as if the makeup man had dug out his old Creepy Crawlers Thingmaker. (From Mattel!) This was also the rare episode that found a way for Esposito and Ryan to join in the fun, and they both don the mock-intense expressions and loose, “Yeah, we bad” amble that they tend to exhibit when being light-hearted. The subplot involves their determination to figure out the identity of Beckett’s new mystery boyfriend. It sounds deadly, but there’s a great payoff when Ryan, conducting one of his trademark lackadaisical interrogations of a witness, discovers that the man may possess knowledge related to Castle and Beckett’s extracurricular activities—and suddenly he becomes a tiger.
- Extolling the virtues of Hamptons living, Castle rhapsodizes: “The sound of the ocean, complete privacy—oh, the serenity!” The second the word “serenity” left Nathan Fillion’s lips, the Earth tilted slightly on its axis due to the impact of 2 million Joss Whedon geeks leaping to their feet, saluting, and saying “Aye, aye, Captain!”
- Closing in on a potential subject, Beckett advises Castle to “Just keep it light,” adding, “Find a natural way of bringing up the murder.” Rules to live by, Castle writers!
- When unmasked, the bad guy has a “you meddling kids!” speech that begins, “You rich islanders! You think you’re so smart. You pollute our beaches, you throw your money around like you’re better than us.” “I don’t think I’m better than you,” says Castle. Rick! Dude! The guy is a murderer and a drug dealer who’s been framing people left and right for his crimes. Give yourself a little credit. Thinking you’re better than him isn’t exactly like saying that you’re holier then the Pope.