Kevin Ryan, as played by Seamus Dever, has never been the most outwardly fleshed-out character in the core Castle crew. What do we really know about Ryan, exactly? Well, apart from being the often-nervous counterpart to Jon Huertas's Javier Esposito, Ryan is a homicide detective who has a wife he loves very much, and currently he's engaged in a struggle to get her pregnant. We also know a little bit about his time working narcotics prior to his time in the homicide division, but outside of his steadfast dedication to the team and occasional bouts with anxiety, he's practically a blank slate.
Understanding this is why I'm able to at least appreciate the idea behind an episode like "The Wild Rover," if not the actual episode itself. While Esposito has gotten his share of screen time to shine as a solo creature, Ryan's mostly been relegated to back-up duty and comic relief. Seeing Dever get a chance to stretch his legs and do a bit more of the heavy lifting was a nice change of pace. I just wish the writers had given him a better episode.
Things started out typically enough. A local baker had been found murdered, shot in his own shop and left to bleed out into a vat of a chocolate. After Castle got through his expected confectionery wordplay, the investigation began in earnest, with a quick dig into the victim's life revealing connections to an Irish mob segment operating out of Staten Island. In order to shake some leads loose, the team brought in Siobhan the owner of a bar that the mob was know to hang out in. She was uncooperative, as these sorts of people tend to be, but when she was being led through the precinct, a strange thing happened. She saw Ryan, standing there with his usual dopey grin, and ran up to him, planting a big honking kiss on his mouth. Right in front of his wife, no less.
She also called him Fenton, then proceeded to slap him across the face when she realized he was actually a cop. What in the Irish Catholic interpretation of Hell was going on?
Quite a lot, it turned out. Little did we know that Ryan's time in narcotics involved some rather elaborate undercover work. For 14 months prior to his arrival in homicide, Ryan was in deep cover with this very same mob outfit, operating as a low-level hood within the organization. Ryan, as Fenton, had a past with Siobhan—the kind of past that existed prior to meeting his wife, but nonetheless made for an awkward conversation with the poor woman later on, as he tried to explain what'd happened in the precinct.
As we quickly realized, Ryan's history with this group was perhaps the only way the team was going to solve this murder. Thanks to a handy info dump from a local FBI agent, they learned that the dead chef was an informant, as was Siobhan They had been working to try and acquire a "bible" (a book filled with notes and transactions pertaining to criminal activity, because what a great thing for criminals to keep around) that was locked in mob boss Bobby S.'s home safe. Ryan was on the same level as Bobby back in the day, but now Bobby was in charge, and the presumption was that he had the chef whacked when he learned the guy was a snitch. So Ryan had to go undercover again to try and grab the bible, as well as any evidence that might tie Bobby to the murder.
I was on board with a surprising amount of set-up in "The Wild Rover." I say surprising because I initially had a tough time imagining Ryan as a character with the kind of brass necessary to play the part of "badass undercover cop." But damn if Dever didn't do a fine job slipping right into the persona of Fenton. Granted, Fenton might have been one of the most generically "street tough" street toughs I've ever seen in a TV cop drama, but Dever made the character work. He veered just far enough from Ryan's typical "aw shucks" persona, while not suddenly turning into some overwhelming badass. I believed enough of what he was doing, if that makes sense.
The problem, though, was that the writing in "The Wild Rover" didn't allow for nearly enough detail to make the mystery seem even remotely interesting or believable. There was probably a solid two-episode arc here, but it all got crammed into a single episode's worth of exposition, which meant that large sections were glossed over, or seemingly skipped altogether. A limp attempt was made to establish Bobby's primary underling, Liam, as a threat to both Ryan and Bobby, but he had so few lines and opportunities for genuine menace that I honestly kept forgetting what his role in the whole thing meant to be. Never mind that the whole "bible" thing was resolved within 15 minutes of it even being brought up, and the fact that the whole murder was essentially tied up with a brief "Oh, wait!" moment at the tail end of the episode.
I guess my complaint is this: If you're going to take a character like Ryan, who has mostly been a reliable amusement up to this point, and give him a major, hyperserious story arc out of nowhere, give that arc some room to breathe. Build it up, don't just shove it out in the open and get it over with as quickly as possible. I wanted more Ryan in peril. I wanted more from Ryan's wife than just "I just want him to come home," while looking sad. I wanted more from Castle and Beckett and Esposito than just some random readings of the same dialogue every undercover cop movie and TV show has vomited out ad nauseam. I felt like in a longer version of this story, there might've actually been stuff for those characters to do. But they were barely on camera, let alone useful.
Still, if nothing else, kudos to Seamus Dever for taking an episode so barely conceived and running with it. He made Kevin Ryan a more interesting character last night, even if the writers failed to do the same.
– I grew up with a girl named Siobhan who used to get deeply infuriated with my inability to pronounce her name. Seeing Castle struggle with it just made me feel a little bit better about myself.
– Dear "The Mob": Maybe you should stop keeping detailed records of every horrible thing you do, because it always seems to result in evidence against you being shockingly easy to obtain. I mean, it's like nobody even watched Casino.
– Castle popping out from behind that corner, nervously whining that he forgot his vest, was maybe one of my favorite Nathan Fillion moments all season.