The canon has expanded to include all kinds of origin stories, but once upon a time, superhero status was bestowed almost exclusively upon the “mild-mannered.” And that’s the most suitable adjective available to apply to Alan Masters (Jonathan Silverman), the almost-victim of this week’s Castle. In “Dead Again,” the stiff finally gets the opportunity to participate in his own murder investigation. It helps that Alan didn’t die. And then didn’t die. And then didn’t die some more.
The man’s fluctuating status gets Lanie questioning whether she’s losing her touch as a medical examiner. (That’s a nasty little joke to lay on one of the show’s outgoing stars, Tamala Jones.) But even her colleagues can’t come up with a reason for regular guy Alan surviving being poisoned or why he came to only after Lanie did her cursory crime scene exam. Here’s my diagnosis: dramatic effect.
Alan wasn’t on the lookout for any attempts on his life. He’s a piece of untoasted white bread with unsalted butter…if that bread were a person who worked in a tedious city job, kept a tidy apartment, and had his most exciting moment of the day giving his cable company what for over a wavy channel. He’s no ordinary survivor to Castle, though. He pesters Alan at his hospital bed with questions about the light and the beyond. To his disappointment, Alan doesn’t remember anything about his brief hour of being dead. No afterlife revelations to be weaved into the next Nikki Heat novel.
This armchair spiritualist dialogue won’t solve Alan’s attempted murder, unfortunately. That work is left to the real cops. Alan doesn’t believe he’s cultivated any enemies; he’s a stand-up guy who does his work and goes home. But it’s his Boy Scout sensibilities that create trouble for Alan. He’s a safety inspector with the responsibility for penalizing businesses that aren’t up to code. Corrupt inspectors can make a nice nest egg from accepting bribes to turn the other way. Alan fires one such opportunist, who leaves a flowery list of threats on his voicemail. (“First, I’ll paralyze you with a claw hammer…”) He then defends his possible attacker (“He’s just got a big personality”), but ex-employee Dave Barton pleads the same personality defect and then alibis out. He points out the obvious before he exits the narrative: Every business owner Alan ever wrote up would have a motive to kill him. His assessments can make or break them. With great power, yada yada yada…
Rysposito look into that list while Castle and a uniform accompany Alan back to his apartment. No sooner has he shaken off Castle’s appeal to not let his second life go to waste than is Alan “killed” again, this time by his very own bed. He trips the booby trap, and the small explosion flings him across the room. Lanie declares him dead for the second time in a day before Alan comes to and inquires after the barbecue he’s smelling. “Forget lucky,” Castle jubilantly declares, “he’s immortal.”
Alan’s averageness feeds right into Castle’s active animation and his affection for comic book mythos. Alan came back from the dead twice, as far as Castle is concerned. That means he received a superhero upgrade. And if he has one superhuman quality, he’s got to fit into the rest of the tropes, too. The writer sets about convincing Alan of his extraordinariness, prompting him with talk of radioactive spiders and possible names for his alter-ego. And I love the guy, but is anyone else under the impression that Castle gets too much leeway these days? Since Alan’s apartment is obviously unsafe, he returns to Castle and Beckett’s home to be enrolled in Castle’s involuntary superhero boot camp. The writer actually tosses a piece of fruit at Alan’s head and hits him; if Alan were a more adventurous and litigious kind of guy, he probably could sue the NYPD.
NEXT: Can’t tell who the supervillains are without a program
Not satisfied with meddling in one area of his life, Castle takes it upon himself to get Alan together with the Lois to his Clark, the Pepper to his Tony. The beauty from the bio-pharma lab Alan recently fined for a chemical spill even gets a superhero/girlfriend hybrid name: Gwen Parker. Alan hopes Gwen won’t hold the same grudge her boss did toward him. Castle is pretty sure she doesn’t since he was on the scene when Ryan and Esposito visited the lab to rule Frank out; at the mention of Alan’s name, Gwen smiled a private smile and called him “funny.” Castle forgets that his first priority is to keep this guy alive (though, to be fair to him, it doesn’t seem like that’s much of a problem) and encourages him to call Gwen and ask her out. She wants to meet in half an hour, and that should be an instant red flag for the guys. No one is that low maintenance for a first date, gender aside.
Alan is predictably inept when he greets Gwen at the restaurant, but she takes in in stride as long as she can. While the lovebirds fumble, Castle gets a call from the precinct. Alan had gotten himself on a list with the mob when he fired Dave. They didn’t appreciate the removal of their go-to guy in the office. A mug shot of the waste management company owner who stood to lose the most money because of sticklers like Alan comes through on Castle’s phone just as the man himself walks through the door. Horatio Spate (“Careful, Alan, it’s your arch-nemesis.”) isn’t there to kill Alan or even to threaten him. He offers his organization’s “guaranteed” protection if Alan starts to play ball. Castle murmurs to Alan that he’s obviously in the midst of the foretold test of his superhero resolve. Horatio offers Alan a gingko tablet and encourages him to “make good decisions.” Gwen is so not about this life.
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Meanwhile, Ryan and Esposito have traced TTX, the rare neurotoxin that Alan’s water was laced with at the beginning of the episode to a list of buyers. After getting his scolding for chaperoning Alan’s unsanctioned date, Castle spots a clue on that list. He recognizes Lucky Dragon Herbologist from the logo on Horatio’s gingko tin. That’s a known front for the Triad, who were formerly rivals of Horatio’s people. The team speculates that the two factions might be joining together for some larger purpose. With no warrant forthcoming, Castle uses a resource who has a free pass anywhere, including a drug ring posing as a purveyor of Eastern medicines. Alan and Castle distract the possibly blind salesman — clearly fresh from Hell’s Kitchen and some reflex training with Matt Murdock — with a “surprise inspection” while Ryan and Esposito intercept the contraband his henchmen are removing from the premises.
Lanie IDs the yellow substance in the Lucky Dragon vials as synthetic heroin, made right in New York City. The city’s rival crime organizations decided to bury the hatchet so they could both make serious bank from getting this stuff on the streets. Alan recognizes the shade of the liquid as the color of LAH, or Lithium aluminium hydride. That’s the inorganic substance that was spilled back at the bio-pharma lab the day Alan handed down their penalty. The lab is supplying the compound to the drug ring, and whoever orchestrated that deal is the person trying to kill Alan.
NEXT: Lok, Stock, and One Encrypted Cell Phone
Even without powers, Alan is braver than he ever really thought himself to be. He walks into the lab without any backup to do some vigilante-ing and to make sure Gwen is safe. He spirits her into a back room and explains what he knows, giving his crush her third opportunity to kill him dead. By the time the police get there, Alan is slumped against a metal table with Gwen’s bullet lodged in his forehead. (And I mean lodged.) Castle chides himself for pushing his comic book hero fantasies on the poor guy and blames himself for his final, actual death. And then Alan wakes up, just in time to see criminal mastermind Gwen (and Horatio’s girl, by the way) hauled away in handcuffs. His continued luck isn’t explained by a chemical spill or whatever it is that happened to Ant-Man; in fact, it’s never explained at all. The show tends to live in the realm of possibility where Castle’s fancies hang out. What’s the real difference between Alan and a superhero anyway? In practice, they’re one and the same.
But what’s Beckett been up to this whole episode? Well, the season (and possible series) finale is fast approaching. And with Stana Katic’s looming exit, any Castle that we might see next year will be a reboot of sorts. So the Loksat mystery is woken up from dormancy. Vikram (I still don’t know if he actually works there) finally spots a familiar face in his scan of Los Angeles airport security cameras from around the time of Castle’s disappearance. It’s Caleb Brown, public defender gone bad, traveling under the alias of Peter McCaffrey. Beckett can’t move on him with just that, so she pushes Vikram to follow that name. Caleb materializes in her office as soon as one of his digital “trip wires” is pinged, and he and Beckett lock themselves in a stand-off. He tells her a familiar “story” about a nosy cop who couldn’t mind her own business and ended up dead. Beckett stares him dead in the face as he finishes. “I don’t get it.”
Kate Beckett doesn’t respond to intimidation. She answers Caleb’s ultimatum with one of her own. (“Heed my warning.” “No. You heed mine.”) If he doesn’t return to the precinct ready to play ball within the day, she’ll expose him for his dealings with Loksat. That’ll expand the target to include both of their backs. By working with Beckett and the police, Caleb will be at definite risk. But without the cops’ protection, he has even less of a chance.
The deadline comes and goes. Beckett assumes that Caleb is in the wind. But she and Castle return to their apartment to find him sitting in their living room and drinking their best scotch. He can’t actively cooperate, but on many levels, he’s tired of being Loksat’s play thing. Caleb isn’t privy to his boss’s identity, only to a phone that delivers his regular marching orders. He worked for Bracken before the senator’s death; there’s no loyalty to Loksat. Beckett will be the person who answers the next call on that phone, and it’s up to her to figure out how to trace it back to the bogeyman who has loomed over this entire season. Caleb knows that he has nowhere to run and he may have just signed his own death warrant. But somehow Beckett broke through his walls with her determination and talk of Caleb’s previous life as a do-gooder. “Remember who I chose to be today,” Caleb says before he leaves. “Because nobody else will.”
Odds & Ends
- Beckett Exit Proposal No. 1: Beckett jets off to Paris by herself, changes her name, and eats macarons for breakfast every day after sleeping until noon. No one ever threatens her life again. I am at peace.
- Castle maybe had a point about that cell regeneration project being the seed of human immortality. Are any of my tax dollars going toward that?
- “Is that what we sound like?” Low-key shipping Alan and Lanie, who share a wavelength, just like Caskett.