Castle "The Lives of Others" Review: All the World's a Stage

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Castle S05E19: "The Lives of Others"

100th episodes are not always reliable beacons of quality. The milestone always sounds like a big, celebratory thing, but just as often it's simply a mark a showrunner wants to hit in order to all but assure syndication for a series. More and more, though, that 100-episode quota is less-than-necessary for syndication—in fact, Castle already airs in reruns on TNT, so Andrew Marlowe and crew haven't had to worry about the big syndication question mark for some time. Perhaps because of that, Castle's 100th episode really was a simple, sweet celebration of the character and the series, rather than just some benchmark for future financial security.   

It was also an excuse for the show to go full Hitchcock in a cheeky, goofy tribute to the late, great master of suspense. The whole episode was a Rear Window scenario, featuring a laid-up Castle in a wheelchair, recovering from an accident that occurred during a pre-birthday ski trip with Beckett. Castle's mom was off on a retreat somewhere, and Beckett had caught a new case involving a murdered IRS agent, so Castle was essentially left to his own devices all day long. Somewhere along the way, Alexis decided to buy him a pair of binoculars, which led to the first of several very explicit references to Rear Window throughout the episode, which probably didn't need to be there. Then again, I met a 20-something the other day who had never seen a single movie prior to 1980, so maybe the references did serve a purpose.

Castle didn't use his newly found free time to write, or to really do anything of use. Instead, he actually picked up the binoculars and started spying on his neighbors in the building across the way. It all started out innocently enough with a bit of minor voyeurism. But then Castle fixated on a young couple who were on the verge of sexual congress; because of course he did. But suddenly, another man came into the apartment, forcing the young woman to hide her other man, and to scramble to find a way to push him out of the apartment before the boyfriend found out. Unfortunately, she failed to see her secret guy's fedora lying on the ground, and the boyfriend eventually took notice. Castle was enraptured by the will he/won't he scenario now in front of him, though that turned to panic when the boyfriend decided to confront the girl by pulling a knife on her and dragging her into the bedroom, where Castle couldn't see what might be happening.

Nevertheless, Castle was convinced that a murder had taken place, pulling Beckett and the team into the situation by having them visit the neighbor's apartment. But when Ryan and Esposito didn't find anything, Castle was dumbstruck. He knew what he'd seen, but nobody believed him.

Considering just how blatant of a Rear Window riff this was, it's telling that I was so willing to go along with it almost exclusively on the merits of Nathan Fillion's burgeoning paranoia and obsession. Castle is an obsessive character, one who often treats murder investigations like trifling puzzles devoid of any real human connection or tragedy. Which isn't to say that he doesn't feel anything, but it's obvious that Castle takes his inspiration more from a detached, mechanical mindset, where it's all about just connecting all the dots. Here, Fillion gave one of his more wonderfully frazzled performances, portraying a man just this side of desperate while maintaining the air of silliness and fun that Castle so desperately needs to stay afloat. He grumbled and pouted at every rebuff by his colleagues, and he seemed genuinely thrilled when Alexis took an interest in the case. Watching the two of them eat popcorn as they watched the neighbor do totally dicey things, like drag a rolled up carpet out of the apartment and wander into the bedroom with nothing but a paint mask and rubber gloves, was simultaneously a bit disturbing and also mildly hilarious.

Even better was the conclusion, which featured Castle and crew frantically charging into the neighbor's apartment after it appeared that Beckett had been attacked by the killer, and discovering... a surprise party! Yup, the whole thing was a set-up, perpetrated by an apparently way cleverer Beckett than we ever knew existed. The victim and murderer? Students in Castle's mom's acting class. Even Captain Gates, who'd enjoyed one of her more memorable moments of screaming bloody murder at Castle earlier in the episode, was in on the whole thing. In this regard, the episode almost flew around Rear Window entirely before landing on something closer to David Fincher's The Game, a movie in which Michael Douglas's rich asshole character is put through elaborately staged paces that at times seem so intricate and complex as to defy all manner of reason and logistics. This was certainly not as ludicrous as that, though it did require an expertly tuned understanding of Castle's mindset and personality in order for it to ever have worked. I guess the understanding here is that Beckett is such a person with such an understanding, which is wonderful, but also maybe a little terrifying. I'm trying to think of how I'd react if my girlfriend displayed such an innate and all-encompassing understanding of my psyche, and every scenario I picture ends with me having a complete mental breakdown.

The only problem with "The Lives of Others" is that the aforementioned IRS murder ended up getting shoved completely into the background, to the point where I actively forgot about that investigation every single time we cut back to Castle. It wasn't a terrible mystery, but the culprit was telegraphed way too early (note: it's always the guy with the terrible facial hair), and Beckett's sudden and complete understanding of how the murder was "staged" went beyond mere serendipity and entered the realm of the ludicrous. Then again, she'd just managed to stage an entire fake murder for her boyfriend to surreptitiously witness, so maybe we should just start being afraid of her now.

Otherwise, this was about as delightful an episode of Castle as you could hope for, given the anniversary. It's nice to be so thoroughly reminded of why you still like a TV show, especially after you've seen 100 episodes of it.

What'd you think of the episode?



NOTES

– I didn't want to sully the main write-up with any Comic Book Guy-level nitpicking over the logistics of Castle's murder party reveal, but holy hell, how did Beckett manage to rent a giant empty apartment for a week? Also, was it already furnished? Were those acting students just so in love with Castle's mom's teaching that they were willing to basically drop everything and do this for a week? How did Beckett know Castle would suddenly think of the refrigerator?!? Phew. Okay, I'm done. No, I don't actually want anyone to try and answer these questions. I just wanted to say them out loud to get them out of my system. I'm good now.

– Ryan: "Watching a phone won't make it ring. I learned that in junior high." I swear, every other episode Ryan says something that makes me want to hug him and just tell him everything's going to be okay. Which makes last week's sudden badassening of the character all the more inexplicable and hilarious.

– Apparently, Castle and Beckett were planning on going to Bora Bora for his birthday, prior to the skiing accident. So yes, I'd say that Beckett has taken to Castle's fabulously wealthy lifestyle just fine, since she's apparently not even batting an eye at the notion of multiple expensive getaways within weeks of each other.

– Pretty sure I lack the rage and gumption to ever actually kill someone. That said, if I found out my girlfriend was cheating on me with a guy who wears a fedora, I'd at least have to stop and think about it for a second.

– There was definitely a bit of Grace Kelly influence in Stana Katic's party dress at the end there.  

– Someone please make me an animated .GIF of Esposito and Ryan doing the Charlie's Angels pose, so that I might repurpose it later for my own nefarious ends. 

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