It's been a while since Castle and Beckett really spent much time examining the nature of their new-ish relationship. While the early goings of this season were often steeped in moments meant to have Castle and/or Beckett stop to think about how viable this coupling really is, the latter half of the season has, thankfully, mostly just been willing to accept that they're together, without having to write an entire episode around the topic. Given that merciful break, I suppose I can't be too mad about the existence and plotting of "The Squab and the Quail," an episode so obsessed with trying to create meaningful cracks in Castle and Beckett's love that it all but forgot to be much of an episode of Castle, otherwise.
There was, of course, a murder to investigate. A wealthy venture capitalist found himself on the wrong end of a poisoned entree at a Dorsia-like NYC restaurant, but as we quickly learned, he was not really the target. Instead, the killer was after wealthy inventor, philanthropist, and all-around super nice handsome boy Eric Vaughn, played by Welsh actor and former Mr. Fantastic Ioan Gruffudd.
Vaughn was presented as a cross between Steve Jobs and George Clooney, a man so aggressively handsome and successful that other guys more or less wilt in his presence. So when the episode kicked off with Castle essentially ignoring Beckett's slinky come-hitherings to the bedroom in favor of playing another round of some online multiplayer shooter, the seeds were planted for a full episode of Castle freaking out because Beckett is forced to spend so much time with a guy even Castle couldn't help but have a man-crush on.
Emphasis there is on the word "forced," as "The Squab and the Quail" went to great lengths to ensure that Beckett is always in compromising situations with Vaughn. First, she was simply investigating the attempt on his life, but then she was working as his personal bodyguard, all at the behest of the off-camera police commissioner. This, of course, drove Castle insane. After all, not only was Vaughn going after his girl, but he was doing it through roughly the same means that Castle used to get himself onto the police force in the first place. He was being bested by someone richer, more influential, and more immediately charming than himself. That can't feel good.
It was a great set-up for Nathan Fillion, who is often at his comedic best when he's panicked or otherwise obsessed with something. Here, Fillion went positively bonkers to try to solve the murder before anything happened between Beckett and Vaughn, constantly freaking out to a mostly disinterested Esposito and Ryan, who just went about their usual business throughout the episode.
But outside of some good Fillion one-liners and facial expressions, "The Squab and the Quail" mostly fell flat. Everyone in the episode spent so much time talking about what a big deal Eric Vaughn was that nobody seemed to notice that he wasn't that interesting. If anything, he just came off like the richest version of the average tech executive: smart, affable, and certainly good looking, but without much to say outside of what was going on in his work life, or what his latest altruistic endeavor was. Gruffudd doesn't imbue Vaughn with much of a personality to hold onto, either. Really, Vaughn's most significant moment was when he dismissed Beckett's explanation that she was in a relationship with Castle and sort of creepily moved in to kiss her anyway.
At least he gently backed away when Beckett put her hand up. And it's a good thing he did too, because he managed to avoid yet another brush with death, by way of a sniper rifle from the hotel across the way.
It ended up being something like the third time Vaughn avoided death in the episode, which looped everyone back around to the crazy notion that maybe Vaughn was the killer all along, and that the plot was all designed by him to distract from the person who was actually murdered. At that point, a bus boy had been blackmailed into poisoning the food from the first attempt, and that bus boy had been summarily shot by the hitman who'd blackmailed him in the first place, all while Vaughn was ducking multiple murder attempts. So sure, throwing Vaughn out as a potential villain wasn't that ridiculous compared with everything else going on.
Instead, the writers pulled back on turning Vaughn into a full-on villain, and scrunched in some backstory involving a Mexican clean energy company that didn't exist, financial fraud involving said company, and the man in a bow-tie who handled all of Vaughn's day-to-day operations. He apparently made some costly mistakes, and his problem-ridden assassination attempts were all part of his efforts to cover his tracks.
With Vaughn seemingly safely out of the picture, Castle made a point to try and make things right with Beckett, offering her a sensual massage as a make-up for the video game incident, though Beckett's odd reaction seemed to indicate that she was anything but appeased after her time with Vaughn. Vaughn's subtle insistence that Castle simply doesn't understand Beckett—at least not the way Vaughn presumed he did—was nagging at her as she asked, "Where are we going?" and Castle, oblivious, responded, "To the bedroom," leaving Beckett with an expression of barely masked anxiety.
Something like this was inevitable. Ever since Castle's ex came to town with her friendly warning that he wasn't the most forthcoming of people, Beckett's had this doubt dangling in the back of her mind. Vaughn's words simply solidified the fears that were implanted however many weeks ago by Meredith. There was no way that this relationship wasn't going to hit troubled waters eventually; I suppose I just wish the reason was something more interesting than "Castle isn't very open, and also he's kind of an inconsiderate doof on occasion."
– With next week's episode being a flashback-heavy nostalgia trip, that narrows the amount of time left in the season to meaningfully flesh this whole thing out. Incidentally, that episode was supposed to air this week, but because it features a bombing plotline, it was swapped with the episode that ran last night.
– I couldn't tell whether Vaughn's comment that his mother reads Castle's books was meant as a halfhearted compliment or halfhearted insult. Castle seemed to go with the former, if nothing else.
– "Erik Vaughn is way sexier than Clooney." No, Martha. No he is not.
– On the subject of the night's killer, I will only repeat a favorite quote from the David Mamet comedy State and Main. "It's the truth that you should never trust anybody who wears a bow tie. Cravat's supposed to point down to accentuate the genitals. Why'd you wanna trust somebody whose tie points out to accentuate his ears?"