Judging from the clues that I’ve managed to pick up on without actually looking inside any of the real books that have been published under his fictional name, Rick Castle is one multi-faceted high-end pulp writer, capable of turning out credible, or at least salable, pastiches of real writers like Jim Thompson, Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming, and Michael Connelly. In terms of range, he’s like Elmore Leonard crossed with Donald Westlake, except that he looks like the guys who get hired to star in the movie adaptations of their books. And Castle: The Show does its best to match Castle: The Made-Up Writer, mock genre for mock genre. Last week, Castle paid loving parody tribute to the hard-boiled detective fiction that reached its apotheosis in the 1930s and ’40s, and this week, the show got its Tom Clancy on. This was the first part of what the ABC promo announcer has been breathlessly calling “the Castle two-part event!” (Any previous Castle two-parters were, at best, simply “a” Castle two-part event.) “Event” might have been overselling it a little, but by the time the hour was up, I can’t say that I minded having another hour of this to look forward to.
It’s a funny thing about Castle. (I am aware that it seems as if I show up here every week and point out yet another funny thing about Castle. By now, it must sound as if Castle has more funny things to offer than a Marx Brothers festival.) I have frequently argued that, whatever its other virtues, this show can’t tell a decent mystery to save its life, and on nights when they actually try to tell a mystery while keeping things in a down-to-earth, plausible framework, I think the results tend to back me up. But sometimes the show rises to the occasion and generates real thrills and suspense when it decides to shoot the works and get crazy. Tonight’s episode started with a bang. Actually, it started with a couple of bangs, after which a man went flying through a high window. This was followed by a shot of another man standing in the window, looking down at the body lying on the pavement far below, with an expression that seemed to say, “Man, now I’m gonna have to get that glass replaced.” The actor, David Chisum, actually looked a bit like Nathan Fillion, with a suggestion of one of Chris Mulkey’s sad-eyed bruisers. Something about this combination struck me as perfect and kind of hilarious in context. I’m not really familiar with Chisum’s work, but as of now, I’m preparing to campaign to become president of his fan club. He’s one of those actors who likes to project nonchalance by chewing without breaking rhythm when the cops bust in and interrupt his dinner by slapping the cuffs on him.
As much fun as this was, by the usual standards of dramatic plausibility that rule the Castle universe, it was practically kitchen-sink drama. Castle and Beckett hustle the suspect down to the station house, where, in short order, he evades custody, absconds with the body of the man who went out the window, steals a police uniform, and, as a good one-stop shopper, takes advantage of the police department’s information base to find the whereabouts of the next person on his hit list. Castle and Beckett head out for Queens—or the Hellmouth, as it’s called in Manhattan—which is the setting for my favorite freaky/eerie image of the show: The two enter a house, find a dead body on the floor, split up for a few seconds, and then Beckett returns to find Castle patiently waiting for her with a sack over his head. Soon, the two of them are whisked off by their CIA captors for a meeting at the top-secret government-intelligence facility located within the bowels of the Earth. We didn’t get to see them enter via a fast-dropping elevator disguised as a telephone booth, but I like to think that was because of time considerations.
All this Mission: Impossible stuff might have been a bit much if it hadn’t turned out that the meeting was with Super Secret Spy Team Leader Jennifer Beals. Of course, she and Castle have a history. “He wanted an up-close and personal look at the life of a female CIA agent,” she coos, “so I gave him one.” I doubt that it looks like much in cold print, but the way Beals, all silky insinuation, delivers the line, it’s a wonder TV screens across the nation didn’t buckle. Every few months, Castle blows what must be half its guest-star budget for the next several weeks on some scene-stealer who can come in and give Stana Katic the chance to show that nothing looks better on her than simmering jealousy. Beals proves herself a worthy successor to Kristin Lehman in last October’s “Eye Of The Beholder”—and then some. It didn’t help that Castle had based a character on her, just as he’d based one on Beckett. This was enough to finally get Beckett’s stoic mask to crack a little: “How many other women,” she asks, “have you semi-stalked in the name of research?” (“Is that a trick question?” asks Castle.) It’s unclear whether she’s angry about Beals’ flirting or the fact that she’s not Castle’s only muse. Also unclear: How much Katic, trying to find it in herself to express some emotion on camera, drew on her feelings about having Beals come aboard to steal her show, knowing that it was going to keep happening next week.
- Exactly what villainy the bad guys intend to bring down on America’s greatest city has not yet been spelled out, but it involves a plan created by a mathematician (Timothy Carhart, looking as if he’d just had his nap on a park bench interrupted) who used to do consulting work for American intelligence, pointing out factors that, properly adjusted, could lead to “geopolitical change” in places where the CIA thought might be ripe for meddling. We’re told that his calculations are based on “what he called linchpin theory.” Beals: “He once said that you only had to knock down one domino, and if it was the right domino, the rest would fall.” Presumably he didn’t call it “domino theory” because that was already taken.
- Oh, and Alexis is now doing some kind of internship with the medical examiner. She gurgled that she thought the medical examiner’s work rocks, because it’s “equal parts gross and cool.” Nathan Fillion took it in stride when he heard her say that, but you knew that a part of him was wondering why she couldn’t have thought of that line six years ago, when it would have made the perfect tagline for Slither.
- At the end of the episode, Castle and Beckett are in a car that’s nudged off a pier into the river, which might well have been an homage to that other landmark of documentary realism in the New York-set crime show genre: The Equalizer. (It reminded me of a scene from the episode that gave Edward Woodward a heart attack.) My local station jumped the gun and broke into the clips from next week’s episode with the opening moments of the news, so I don’t know if Castle or Beckett appeared in those clips. I can’t believe I have to wait a whole week to find out if they made it!