You know, I think I did myself a favor not reading up on this week's episode of Castle ahead of time. Normally I at least take in a plot synopsis, but realizing that "Target" was the beginning of a bigger two-part arc, I came to the conclusion that I'd be better off just going in cold. I was correct. Not only did the episode surprise me in a number of key areas, it kept me at rapt attention pretty much from beginning to end. As big, crazy Castle arcs go, this one couldn't have kicked off much stronger.
"Target" opened with a kidnapping. Or, well, to be more accurate, it opened with a man firing off round after round at a speeding van that plowed straight into him, knocking him out of his shoes and into oblivion. The man, a former Saudi special ops soldier, happened to be a student at Columbia, where we all know Alexis goes to school. What an odd coincidence, Castle thought to himself, before brushing the whole thing off. After all, his opening scene this week had him discussing with his mother why he needs to give Alexis some space and stop worrying so much about every little detail in her life. I should have known this would be foreshadowing.
But before we got to the big story, we learned why the man was shooting at the van. He was apparently a hired bodyguard, tasked with the protection of Sara, the only daughter of a wealthy Egyptian businessman whose many enemies would love nothing more than to hurt him—perhaps by, say, kidnapping his child. Sara—also a Columbia student, hence the bodyguard's presence there—was indeed kidnapped by these men, but when and how was initially a mystery. The parents were of no help, providing no concrete details as to who might have done such a thing, and the FBI agent tasked with running point on the crime (Nip/Tuck and Unforgettable's Dylan Walsh) had little to offer beyond the usual procedural stuff. Finally, a lead brought the team to a hotel in lower Manhattan, the location of a scientific conference Sara had apparently planned to attend. The event manager at the hotel remembered Sara, and even remembered the friend she was with: a pretty young redhead with pale skin. Sound like anyone we know?
Castle figured it out pretty quick, and immediately and almost giddily dialed up his daughter, expecting to hear her voice and to get some answers about the previous night's happenings. When the phone began ringing audibly inside the hotel, and tracked back to a lost-and-found box, it was like all the air was suddenly sucked out of the room.
Yes, Alexis had been kidnapped alongside Sara. Suddenly, Castle was no longer just a willing participant in the investigation. He was now an affected party.
This storyline represents an interesting departure for the Castle character. He's had plenty of personal beefs to overcome over the years, but the kidnapping of his only daughter puts us in a surreal and unfamiliar place. Castle, ever the jokester, is now despondent, frightened, and more than a little angry. Even in the most dramatic episodes, we're usually only one or two Castle quips away from lightening the mood. In "Target," the mood went from lighthearted to grim within the opening 15 minutes, and it never shifted back.
Grim might not normally be Castle's forte, but I was genuinely surprised by how well "Target" put its characters through their paces. With Beckett, Esposito, and Ryan scrambling to acquire new leads that might bring some clues as to Sara and Alexis's whereabouts, all Castle could do was quietly brood while waiting for a phone call, a nugget of information, anything that might help him find his daughter. It's an uncomfortable position to see him in. He's always the guy on the sidelines helping to rally the troops. Now, all of a sudden, he's damaged goods. He can't be directly involved in the investigation because he's too close to it. Not that that stopped him from showing up at a few key moments, but generally speaking, this was as out-of-the-loop as we've seen Castle in a long while.
Credit to Nathan Fillion for selling it in a way that felt about as close to understated as this series gets. His sadness, distress, all of it, rang true in a way that reminds you Fillion can be quite the actor when he steps outside his charming, quip-heavy comfort zone. This was especially true later in the episode, when the injured driver of the getaway van was found holed up in his sister's apartment, recovering from a gunshot wound. The driver wouldn't talk to Beckett, so Castle asked for a minute alone with the perp. My immediate reaction was to groan, as I have a hard time imagining Fillion as a threatening presence. But color me shocked when he went straight into Liam Neeson mode, quietly and unnervingly threatening the man without so much as raising his voice beyond a casual, conversational level. The scream that came from behind the door (which Beckett rightfully winced at) was the only hint of violence we encountered involving Castle. That he was able to pull off that moment so well, make his unhinged state of mind so crystal clear with just a single conversation, is a testament to how good a performer he can be.
During all of this, the episode often cut away to Alexis and Sara, trapped in a nondescript room. They were uninjured, still fully clothed, and the room itself had a bathroom, towels, and even a clean change of clothes. Alexis noticed immediately how odd this was, and immediately started going through the various investigative tricks her dad had taught her over the years, while also plugging Sara for any information she might have. Sara, as the child of a high-profile person, had of course been trained by her father's corporate security in kidnapping protocol. She mentioned attempting to gain sympathy from her kidnappers, trying to make some kind of connection with them. But when one of them opened the eye slit in the door that was locking them in, he spoke in a mixture of English and Arabic, and seemed utterly uninterested in anything they might have to say. This concerned them both.
Meanwhile, the tip Castle extracted from the injured felon led the FBI to a farmhouse about sixty miles outside the city. There, presumably, is where they would find the girls and the kidnappers. Instead, the FBI arrives to... nothing. The house was empty, save but for the girls' discarded coats, and the body of the other kidnapper. A webcam outside was apparently feeding a signal to the kidnappers, wherever they may be, but they were untraceable.
Castle was crestfallen, but not for long. After Alexis realized Sara had bobby pins in her hair, she decided to try the oldest trick in the book in picking the door's lock. It worked! She demanded that Sara and she split up and find alternate exits, so that the kidnappers couldn't corner them both. In the process, Alexis stumbled upon a control room of sorts, and found a cell phone on the table. She couldn't dial out, but was able to use Skype to ring up her dad. For a few fleeting seconds, they were able to talk, but Alexis didn't know where she was. She heard the kidnappers coming, and made a break for a nearby exit. Meanwhile, the FBI was furiously trying to trace the call. Alexis burst out into the daylight just as the FBI landed on her location. She, and they, both incredulously, made the same discovery.
She's in Paris?
And that's where the episode left us. How did they get to Paris? Why are they in Paris? Just how in the hell is the FBI going to get them back? These dangling questions were joined by several more in the preview of next week's episode. Apparently, this entire story arc will tie into the mysterious background of Castle's father. What? How? I don't know! This whole thing could turn out to be a supreme mess, but considering how expertly the tension was built up this week, I'm kind of hoping that this Castle's dad business doesn't muck everything up.
– The Castle's dad aspect of this storyline really did seem to pop in out of nowhere in the promo for next week's episode, "Hunt." We've known for a while that Castle's dad is some kind of spy, but how he figures into all of this? No clue.
– I appreciate that Castle's writers have decided to not only indirectly pay tribute to the Taken film franchise, but expressly mention that they are doing a Taken riff by having Esposito note that Castle is going "all Liam Neeson" next week. Castle does have a very particular set of skills, but most of them pertain to witty repartee and crime investigation, not torture, information extraction, and assassination. So we'll see how he does next week, I guess!