Castle: In the Belly of the Beast

Castle took on a slightly different kind of episode in “In the Belly of the Beast,” making for a very tense – and poignant – hour of TV. The episode started, as several have recently, with a snippet of Castle/Beckett domestic bliss, but of course Beckett’s (adorable) level of happiness at being home in her pajamas with Castle at 2 p.m., debating “save the date” fonts, meant that something terrible was going to happen. And yep: Gates called her in on her day off – and told her not to tell Castle what was going on.

When Beckett arrives at the precinct, she’s met by Gates and Captain Fowler from narcotics, who pulls her into his big secret investigation. Basically, a bunch of drug dealers have been murdered, and a low-level courier named Elena Markov is supposed to be the department’s in to figure out who the high-level drug dealers are. But the day before she’s scheduled to meet her contacts face-to-face for the first time, she attempts suicide and is unconscious in the hospital. Beckett is the NYPD detective closest to Markov in age and appearance who also speaks fluent Russian, so they want to send her to the meet in Markov’s place. Beckett agrees, but I love both that Gates very deliberately gives her an out, and that Beckett calls Castle to say she loves him before she goes, even though she can’t tell him what’s going on.

It’s supposed to be a simple meet at a hotel, but of course it goes wrong: Beckett is taken from the elevator and transported in a van to some secluded and very fancy house. Someone calling himself Mr. Jones offers her a “permanent position” – with a $50,000 a week salary, so Markov is obviously not just a low-level courier. Beckett insists that she needs to meet Lazarus, the man in charge, and when her (clearly fairly bright) guard gets Mr. Jones out of the room to discuss how he doesn’t think “Markov” is who she says she is, Beckett manages to get a pen and paper and to call the precinct, though the main information she can give them is that Markov isn’t just a courier, because she doesn’t know where she’s being kept. Unfortunately, the phone line is routed through the Ukraine and basically untraceable.

Meanwhile, of course, the NYPD has started looking for Beckett as soon as she vanishes from the elevator, and while we’d expect Ryan and Esposito to be particularly adamant about finding her, I really liked that Gates, too, prioritized rescuing Beckett over keeping the operation a secret. And when Castle shows up, worried that Beckett missed their dinner plans and hasn’t been in touch, Gates impressed me by immediately telling him everything. Ryan, Esposito, and Fowler head to the hospital to interrogate newly-conscious Elena Markov, but when they get there, they find that her police guard’s throat has been slit (in the same way as the murdered drug dealers) and Markov is gone.

Beckett is kept locked in a room – and hey, at least it’s a really nice room for once – and writes an extremely sweet letter to Castle that includes the line “I need you to know that our partnership, our relationship is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.” And she signs it “Always.” Awww. She knows that if she dies and the NYPD eventually figure out where she was kept, CSU will go over the place with a fine-toothed comb, so she hides the letter in a book and smears the book with her own blood, to attract their attention. Smart!

Lazarus agreed to meet with “Markov” if she completes an “assignment,” so Beckett reluctantly agrees. They take her to a house and give her a picture of someone to kill – and a gun so that it isn’t connected to her other kills, which Beckett realizes means that Markov isn’t a courier but rather the contract killer who killed the drug dealers. She tries to get information on the target but is only told that he’s the “next name on the list.” Beckett manages to convince the target that she’s a cop and stage a fake murder scene very quickly, and somehow gets away with it. (That seemed like a bit of a stretch, but whatever)

The cops have just also realized that Markov is the contract killer, and luckily the target of the fake hit, who turns out to be a corporate attorney named Evan Potter, makes his way to the Twelfth and tells Gates what happened, so the team at least knows that Beckett is still alive. Castle is despondent: “I hate this. She’s out there somewhere, has no idea how much danger she’s in, and I can’t help her.” But Esposito comes back with one of my favorite lines: “No, you can’t. But this is Beckett we’re talking about. She might be your fiancee but she’s also a damn good cop, so don’t sell her short.” I love how seriously the show takes Beckett and her abilities.

Back at the drug ring’s lair, Beckett – who still has the gun on her, which seems like a huge oversight on her handlers’ part – manages to grab a woman’s phone while they’re in the bathroom and texts her badge number and a partial address back to the precinct before she’s summoned. (They trace the text to Scarsdale, but . . . that’s about it. Really, it’s notable how little progress the team makes in actually rescuing Beckett in this episode. And I kind of like that. The emotional stakes are higher when our heroes don’t have a way to magically save the day every time.)

Beckett is taken to the basement to see Lazarus, and discovers a huge money laundering operation. And Lazarus immediately recognizes that she’s not Markov – because he’s drug dealer Vulcan Simmons. He tortures her and brings up her mother repeatedly, but she won’t tell him anything (confession: I’m not entirely clear on what info he wanted. Just about the investigation?) and he finally tells her guard to take her out to the woods and kill her. Luckily, the real Elena Markov appears and kills Beckett’s would-be killer, saying that the real Lazarus – Simmons is just a figurehead – sent her because he wanted Beckett to live.

Beckett and Castle have an adorable reunion – “See what happens when I leave you alone?” And Beckett assures him that he did help her: “When they were interrogating me, the only thing that kept me going was thinking about you. About our future, the wedding. You were with me the whole time.” Unfortunately, the compound has been wiped clean by the time the cops get there, and they have basically no real evidence against Simmons or anyone else – until Beckett remembers seeing the name Future Forward on a check as the recipient of laundered money. It turns out to be a political super PAC, and an unknowing Evan Potter set it up for a client, which is how he got involved. Someone is using the laundered drug money to amass a political war chest – and when Beckett turns on the TV and sees Senator Bracken announcing that he’s running for President, she knows who. And she realizes that he sent Markov to save her life because she stopped his assassination, but now they’re even. Ooh, I love that Bracken is being brought back into things, and I love the slow burn of many of Castle‘s ongoing crime plots – popping up when you least expect them rather than wearing out their welcome.

(Image courtesy of ABC.)

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