“Dig in,” Castle instructs when he gives his wife her first-day-on-the-job morning cupcake. And dig in, she does. Beckett never has been afraid to get her hands dirty.
The season 8 premiere of Castle heralds the reign of two new showrunners: promoted writer Terence Paul Winter and fellow alum Alexi Hawley, recently of The Following. Last season’s finale handed Winter and Hawley a warm and happy ending (Rick received a big deal writing award and dedicated it to his wife, friends, and family, all of whom were proudly looking on) and a set of options for the next phase of the show. Bypassing the traditional Castle cliffhanger was a smart move — not just because another season wasn’t a done deal yet, but also because disjointed two-parters are the pits. Minus some clunky but necessary exposition, this transition was pretty smooth.
As of right now, it sadly looks like Campaign Wife Rick Castle will be shaking hands and kissing babies only in my Caskett fan fiction. (I wish I wrote Caskett fan fiction.) Beckett is our new Captain, despite having passed that cruel little test proctored by Special Agent Broyles from Fringe, who hoped to groom her for a run for State Senate. Castle has meddled with the standard Rick-and-Kate-are-partners structure before, but this change feels at least semi-permanent. Castle couldn’t be more proud, and he marks the occasion with the aforementioned baked good and what looks like a very pricey platinum and diamond bracelet, inscribed on the inside with the word, “Always.” Kate promises to treasure it, but right now, she’s got to get to 1 Police Plaza for a meeting.
In the face of his wife’s promotion, Castle has decided to resurrect his P.I. firm so he can stay in the business of solving cases. (Just writing would be a bore after all this, wouldn’t it?) What was once a scheme to stay in the loop when Captain Gates banned him from the 12th is now a full-fledged operation with a spring-loaded gun drawer, a badass secret back-office, and a new “associate,” who basically just hired herself.
Let’s not take it for granted that it’s easy to grow a teenage character in a drama that’s primarily about adults. Alexis has been bounced around in the story since heading off to college, but she’s retained her pragmatism and, for lack of a better word, spunk. Before Beckett came into their lives, she and her dad were very “us against the world,” and she’s matured quickly because of it. Now they’re partners again (because she says so), but Castle has got to learn to trust Alexis’s instincts as much as she does.
In fact, he can use all the instincts he can get his hands on right now, since his world has just been turned upside down. Ryan and Esposito call Castle when they can’t get through to his wife; there’s been a triple homicide in an under-construction theater, and they need the boss’s okay to call in more officers. Granted, Castle can’t help doing some detecting when he drops by. Three men were felled by a balcony shooter; Laney helps the guys find the spot where the gunman would have been standing and along with it, Beckett’s new hardware lying in a pool of her blood. Rough meeting.
Obviously, Castle is shaken by the discovery, though certain that his wife is still alive. (“She’s as tough as they come.”) But there’s another concern to fret about, once she’s found safe. The bracelet was introduced as a device to mark Beckett’s involvement in the case. But it also serves as a symbol of their marriage and of that domesticity she and Castle were enjoying just that morning. She leaves it behind to do whatever it is that she needs to do, and perhaps that’s indicative that the desk job of a captain won’t hold her interest for long. More troubling still, Beckett lied to Castle’s face. She wasn’t due at a meeting that morning, and that certainly wasn’t a telemarketer she politely hung up on. First clue: No one is that polite to telemarketers.
Meanwhile, a promotion-less Ryan and Esposito are still the best posse a missing cop could ask for. They track the fake IDs of the slain men and find a rental apartment linked to one of them. The place is trashed and empty but for a scrappy lady who comes at Castle after he pulls her back from escaping through the window. This is Hayley Shipton (Toks Olagundoye), formerly of East London, and a new recurring cast member for season 8. Ideally she and Castle will develop a better rapport as they get to know each other; at this point, she’s defiant, aware of her rights, and not at all fond of cops. She has to give some context to her alibi, however. Shipton is a “freelance security specialist” who’s currently operating as sort of a cyber bounty hunter. The dead men were involved in a personal information hack; she came to New York to track them and two others. None of this is ringing any bells for Castle, Ryan, or Espo in terms of a connection to Beckett. Still, Shipton only told them what she had to in order to walk out the door; Castle makes an emotional plea for more information. The woman is sympathetic, though not moved enough to open her mouth. Or is she?
NEXT: Manipulating Men, 101[pagebreak]
Castle and the guys follow another lead to an industrial dry cleaners where they learn some new and disturbing information about the woman they thought they knew. Beckett and an unknown man were both “in pretty bad shape” when they came into the building — Beckett, still bleeding, and Mystery Man dizzy and disoriented. Richard Castle’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day gets worse when he’s told that Beckett gave the order for the woman who was working there to be locked into a closet while she closed up her own wound with a needle and thread. Let it never be said that Kate Beckett is one hair less than totally hardcore.
Alexis calls her dad back to the office and could have been a little less dramatic about it. Though, to be fair to her, she doesn’t know yet that her new mom is missing. She’s too busy learning seduction techniques from Hayley, who knows how to spot potential. The glee with which Alexis reports the importance of this new knowledge to her dad is a useful example of what makes her unique in the pantheon of TV daughters. She’s not embarrassed at the prospect of using her sexuality (in a very G-rated manner) to get information — not if it means the difference between closing and not closing a case. The scene where she dresses up the auditor cover story that “Claire Striker” tells the gullible EMT with a bright smile pairs interestingly with the cold open, when the woman known sometimes as Susan Emory follows, flirts with, straddles, and then shanks her prey. That legendary Bobbie Barrett line from Mad Men comes to mind: “Be a woman. It’s a powerful business when done correctly.”
With any luck and the proper development, Hayley Shipton will be another example of complex femininity on this show. Castle doesn’t categorize its women by asking if they’re tough. It asks what kind of tough they are. In last season’s “Dead From New York,” Castle poked fun at allegations that its leading lady is too glamorous by having “model-cop” parodied in a late-night sketch. (This in the same episode where Castle and Beckett paused a murder investigation to slow dance to a live performance by Carly Rae Jepsen, so who says realism is a concern anyway? And who says beauty and strength are mutually exclusive?) But between the two partners, Beckett has the lion’s share of the stereotypically “masculine” qualities: She’s headstrong and ambitious. She chases excitement and risk. And in this case, she’s taking the responsibility of protecting her loved ones from the repercussions of her actions.
But where Beckett puts her faith in the law, Hayley is all about vigilante justice, or at least about getting paid. She offers to help Castle find his wife under one condition: He won’t involve the cops. He’ll agree to anything if it’ll bring Beckett back, so it’s decided, and they’re on the case. Thanks to Hayley’s research on the identity thieves, they end up in a storage locker that’s doubling as a small armory, but they’re not alone. Hayley gets her “ass kicked” by Emory. At the same time, Alexis’ accurate diagnosis of Beckett’s mystery companion’s Diabetes leads to an ambulance surveillance tape and a cab number, and then on to the most important piece of Castle mythology: former Senator William Bracken and Beckett’s mother’s murder.
Castle has never been a show to lean too heavily on a myth arc, but there are points of reference to track if one is so inclined. Bracken hasn’t glowered on the series since late in season 6, when Beckett put her hero’s quest to bed and arrested him for ordering her mother’s hit. Castle retraces her recent path and visits Bracken in prison. But he’s got nothing. There’s no leverage here; the man might own up to putting a price on Kate’s head (he doesn’t), but he’s certainly not compelled to hand over any information Castle can use to keep her safe. Instead, he taunts him. Just because the case is closed doesn’t mean that Beckett will let go of the violent murder that shaped her. “You come here all on fire about your wife. You don’t even know who she is,” Bracken says. “I’m saying she’s never going to be happy just being Mrs. Castle.” Pfft. As if there’s anything “just” about that.
There’s a subversion happening here, and it’s a rarity. Being a skilled liar is usually the domain of the bad guys. But Castle can take the reveal that Beckett deceived him with a smile on her face and the icing from her congratu-cupcake still on her fingers, and know without a doubt that she had good reason. The emotional spiral isn’t about Beckett’s intentions, but rather his own trustworthiness. Luckily, he’s got an old soul for a daughter, and she reminds him that he is, in some ways, more vulnerable than his wife. Beckett is shielding him from something. Espo, Ryan, Alexis, and Martha, too.
NEXT: Organic torture, everybody’s doing it[pagebreak]
Then again, who isn’t vulnerable with a bag of spiders tied to their face? The remaining two identity thieves, Emory and Ty Dade, are looking for Beckett too, and try to get to her through Castle. Emory drugs him outside of the prison and shoves him into a van. The information extraction session takes place in a scenic warehouse, and Castle isn’t talking because he’s got nothing to say. (“Come on, Castle. No woman is worth dying for.”) Not satisfied, Dade (business-like, sadistic-adjacent) whips out a cigar box full of furry arachnids, clearly a tried and true method. Castle breaks out of their zip tie cuffs and makes a break for it just as Dade decides to kill him.
The drugs start to kick back in, but not before Castle gets a fuzzy glimpse of Beckett taking out Emory and chasing off Dade. And if her motivations were in any doubt before, this scene confirms that she’s still the Beckett we know. She stops to make sure that Castle is okay, holds his face in her hands, and reminds him that she loves him. (“Like a house on fire,” were the words he used in the car with Hayley, and Beckett wouldn’t argue.) She’s gone before Esposito, Ryan, and their uniforms show up — the “no cops” agreement was moot as soon as Castle got a glimpse of those semi-automatics — but they are able to take an injured Emory into custody.
Fat lot of good she is to them. With a boss worse than Bracken, “prison’s a picnic compared to what happens to me if I talk,” Emory says in interrogation. But the sketch from the dry cleaners points to another period in Beckett’s personal history and it’s a new path to follow. The diabetic she’s on the run with is one Vikram Singh, an analyst for the Attorney General’s investigative office she worked for early in season 6. And poor Lisa Edelstein who played Rachel McCord, Beckett’s D.C. partner, gets an anticlimactic off-screen death. She and three other members of the team lost their lives in a car accident one day previous. The fourth? Bled out in a club after cozying up to an attractive woman. Whoever’s list it is that those people were on, Beckett must be on it too.
Castle tries to put a chink in Emory’s confidence by pointing out her group’s dwindling numbers. (“Beckett against one guy? I like those odds.”) But the only reaction that tactic incites is astonishment at his naivete. “What makes you think there’s only one team in play?” she asks. Those reinforcements are called in to close in on Beckett as Emory goes out in a blaze of glory. Her life has no value outside of the operation. Who are these people?
Whatever Beckett’s original plan was, it went wrong. It went wrong inside that theater, and it forced her to react. Castle wasn’t even supposed to know about this criminal organization, let alone get immersed in it. Beckett was supposed to come home in time for dinner and tell him made-up details about her fake meeting over red wine before they went about living the rest of their lives. Ryan and Esposito were supposed to still be playing “Knife, Gun, Kevlar” for her old desk, not risking their lives in a precinct shoot-out. (Espo’s slide is a thing of heroic beauty, though. He earns that desk.) Alexis is supposed to be polishing the fake Complete Works Of Edgar Allan Poe and doing intake of new clients, not tearfully begging Hayley for information that could lead them back to Kate. She can’t know how far it’s gone, but you can bet that’s what Beckett is thinking as she looks out into the night from that dirty warehouse window.
To be continued.