I've made no secret of my general disdain for Castle's more serious episodes. Especially the ones that hyperfocus on the ludicrous mother-murdering conspiracy that Beckett has spent the last five seasons digging through in fits and starts. I come to Castle for lighthearted crime-solving, to see these silly NYPD detective caricatures joke around, act vaguely ridiculous, and trade one-liners with Nathan Fillion. I watch the show for those things because it's good at those things, and up until recently, it's never been very good at doing much of anything else. Even in Castle's dumbest, most forgettable murder mysteries, there are usually some good lines or amusing character moments that remind me why I watch the show. In the more serious episodes, I almost never see much of anything that resembles those traits.
So color me utterly flabbergasted that I found "Recoil" to be such an enjoyable diversion. It was the very definition of a serious Castle episode: A girl was murdered, her body is tossed into an oil drum in a known homeless encampment, her teeth were callously removed, and her corpse was set aflame to avoid any measure of detection. But, after a surgical device with a serial number was found inside of her, her identity was established, and her ties to the real world were discovered. Unfortunately, those ties lead right back to Senator Bracken, a.k.a. The Man Who Killed Beckett's Mother.
I was wondering when the show would get around to bringing him back. You don't spend an entire season premiere establishing a new series villain without having larger plans for him. At least, I hoped not. There have definitely been a number of moments throughout this series where I've been plum convinced the writers were just making up the conspiracy junk on the fly. But based on Beckett's brief encounter with Bracken way back at the beginning of the season, and her interactions with him in this week's episode, I'm a believer. I genuinely think this may have been the smartest way to progress this story.
Part of it is Jack Coleman's completely disturbing lack of a moral compass, and not in that typical TV villain way, either. Most evil politicians in TV—outside of, say, The Wire, or The West Wing—tend to lean toward the cackling, sneering variety. Coleman isn't doing that. He's painting Bracken as a guy more or less just devoid of any form of empathy. He's pragmatic about his role as a villain, calm and collected in just about any situation, save for those that might jeopardize his stature or power. The only time he raised his voice in this episode was when he was about lose an opportunity to significantly raise his profile on the political stage. This guy doesn't care about much, but he has a very specific, very distinct Achilles heel. And it just so happens that Beckett is in prime position to take advantage of that.
You see, Bracken didn't kill the poor girl. In fact, she wasn't even the real designated target. Rather, the target was Bracken.
The team quickly discovered that the victim had potentially identified and followed a potential stalker of the senator, and after following said stalker into a parking garage, found herself on the wrong end of a bullet. For a long time, we didn't know who this stalker/potential assassin was, outside of a description involving long hair, a scraggly beard, and aviator shades. A partial license plate number helped identify a car in the garage that clearly belonged to the assassin—why else would there have been a sniper rifle in the trunk?—but for roughly half the episode, there was no name or key evidence to identify the subject. That is, of course, until Beckett went poring through some threatening letters the senator had received over the last few years, and found one with handwriting that matched a note found in the car.
In any other episode, with any other case, Beckett would have leapt up and dashed it down to forensics. But not this time. Instead, she hid the letter from Castle, and took it with her to... her therapist? Okay, sure. I suppose if I were in a major moral dilemma I couldn't tell anyone else about, I'd talk to my therapist too, especially if my therapist had the smooth, dulcet tones of Michael Dorn.
She considered burning the letter and just letting the killer do his dirty business. She agonized over this, reluctant even to tell her colleagues about the letter the next morning, after she'd decided not to burn it. But then Beckett saw the sister of the gunshot victim in the precinct. She saw her in tears, being consoled by Captain Gates. Suddenly, it stopped being about her. It stopped being just a matter of whether Bracken dies or not, but the collateral damage involved. That scene was one of the best character moments Beckett has had all season. Stana Katic has give us several strong performances this season, but this was probably her best dramatic scene, outside of that first encounter with Bracken during the premiere.
She had more good scenes later on. After discovering the identity of the suspect, she found herself walking straight into the guy in the elevator lobby of his SRO hotel. She could have killed him as he started to run away, but didn't. Why? "I saw the pain in his eyes," she said. In her mind, she'd found a kindred spirit. The man, a mechanic with a history of schizophrenia, had lost his son to an apparent suicide. A son, by the way, who just happened to be interning for Bracken. When it eventually came time to interrogate the man, she used her own tragedy to try to bring out a confession. Gates walking in on that scene was interesting, since it was the first time she'd really been exposed to this stuff. Castle tried to brush it off as Beckett just working to get the confession, but there was something about Beckett and Gates' later interaction that says Gates didn't quite buy that explanation. But it didn't matter, because investigators had reportedly found all they needed to convict the poor transient. A bomb vest he'd apparently made had been recovered, and thus, the case was closed.
But not for Beckett. It all seemed too sophisticated for a guy with schizophrenia off his meds, and it didn't explain away certain other case details. So instead of letting it drop, Beckett ordered an evacuation of the conference Bracken was supposed to speak at. Bracken was furious, especially after the bomb squad was initially unable to find any additional devices. What happened next was perhaps a bit ridiculous, but it was really the only way this episode could have ended. Beckett, identifying the man who was the real assassin all along, ran straight at Bracken and shielded him from an exploding limousine. The assassin was caught, Bracken was unharmed, and Beckett was the heroine of the day.
The only part of "Recoil" that left me a bit cold was the last scene. For most of the episode, Bracken and Beckett went back and forth in primarily knowing, nonspecific dialogue that nonetheless managed to say a lot without having to say a lot, if you know what I mean. Their last exchange was a wonderful mix of uncomfortable gratitude from Bracken, and smirking (temporary) satisfaction from Beckett. I would have been perfectly satisfied if the episode had ended right as Bracken turned to the cameras and began delivering his speech to the press. But then the episode went on for about one scene too long, trying to wrap up the mystery behind Bracken's assassins by showing Castle and Beckett watching a major political magnate and Super PAC chairman being arrested for organizing the hit.
Why did we need that? The idea that there's more going on with Bracken than just an evil man doing evil things was intriguing, but I guess the writers aren't planning on heading in that direction. It seems that Bracken, all by his lonesome, will remain the primary focus of Beckett's ire until he either ends up dead, in jail, or both. That's okay, though, because Bracken is proving to be a most interesting nemesis for Beckett. Again, I come to this show for the comedy and silliness, but if every now and again, a dramatic episode of this caliber wants to come along, I certainly am not going to complain.
– Fillion didn't have much to do this week. Normally I'm not fond of episodes where he gets pushed to the back, but he made a good sounding board for Katic, who owned this episode.
– Guys? Really? We're going to send Esposito and Ryan to the senator's mansion in an attempt to keep Beckett's involvement in the investigation a secret? There aren't any other detectives we can send that he most definitely won't recognize? Sigh.
– Dear Castle writers: E. 72nd street is not in downtown Manhattan. Hell, it's not even midtown. You are straight uptown at that point.
– Prediction: Second-to-last episode of this season features Captain Gates finding out all the crap Beckett has been hiding since the end of last season, and it results in her once again exiting the force and going rogue for a season finale that probably involves Bracken winding up either dead or arrested. I kind of hope it wraps up less predictably than that, but I'm not confident it will.