Castle: Knockdown

Wow. What an episode. I’m going to be honest with you: “Knockdown” was probably the best episode Castle has ever had, and if you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and go watch it immediately. Trust me, you don’t want to be spoiled on this one. It’s also the most difficult episode I’ve tried to recap, so please bear with me. This is really long, and my usual format of separating the mystery of the week from the characters’ personal lives doesn’t work so well when the mystery and the personal lives are the same thing, but I’ve tried to make this as coherent as possible.

Previously: Wow, we don’t usually get such extensive previouslies on this show – it’s usually just Castle’s little intro about getting to be on Beckett’s case – so you know we’re in for something big. Anyway, about ten years ago, Beckett’s mother and three other people were killed. More recently, Beckett caught Coonan, the contract killer who did it, but he was killed before she could find out who hired him.

The Mystery of the Week: John Raglan, lead investigator in Joanna Beckett’s murder, loads a gun – and then calls Beckett. He wants to meet at a coffee shop to discuss Joanna’s case, and tells her not to bring any cops, so Beckett brings the next best thing: Castle. Once she convinces Raglan that Castle isn’t a cop, just someone she trusts, Raglan tells them that he’s dying, and starts a Christmas Carol theme that runs all episode: he’s afraid the chains he forged in life will haunt him, so he wants to tell Beckett what really happened to her mother. Beckett accuses him of writing off the murder as random gang violence, and he doesn’t exactly deny this but claims that he did as he was told, because he was afraid. He won’t tell them who killed Coonan and insists that he has to start the story with a mistake he made nineteen years ago – but before he can say more, someone starts shooting through the window of the coffee shop. Castle thinks Beckett was hit – and gets pretty upset – but she’s fine, and Raglan is dead. Captain Montgomery wants to send Beckett home because she’s too close to the case, but she resists and he gives in (for now). CSU soon determines from the bullet’s trajectory that the shooter was on the fourth floor of the building across the street. There are no clues there, but it’s a secure building, so the detectives start looking into key cards and security video.

Meanwhile, Ryan learns from Raglan’s neighbors that the victim’s one friend was another retired cop named Gary McCallister. McCallister doesn’t want to get involved in a “truth commission” and risk his friend’s reputation, but he eventually points them to Vulcan Simmons, who runs half the drug trade in New York. McCallister tells Castle and Beckett that Raglan had a gambling problem and worked as a dope courier for Simmons to pay off his debts. Ryan and Esposito find that Simmons hasn’t been arrested in years, but that he used to run the drug trade in Washington Heights, where Joanna and her colleagues started an initiative to get drugs off the streets. The team theorizes that Simmons had Coonan kill Joanna and made Raglan cover it up. When Castle and Beckett interrogate Simmons, he taunts them and implies that their theory is correct, but doesn’t really say anything that can be used against him. He gets Beckett so upset that she throws him into the one-way glass in the interrogation room, and they have to let him go. Montgomery points out that Simmons was just playing Beckett, and both Beckett and Castle are sent home.

Ryan and Esposito think the sniper would have had to carry the gun into the building in a briefcase, so they watch the security video to try to spot him, but practically everyone on the video is carrying briefcases. They get a break when they notice a man pickpocketing a woman’s key card, though, and they manage to get a fingerprint from the woman’s arm.

Castle shows up at Beckett’s apartment with an elaborate plan to sneak Joanna’s file out of the police station, but Beckett reveals that she has all the information at home because she’s been working on the case on her own. Castle is clearly moved by Beckett’s makeshift murder board (and the fact that she is showing it to him but has never shown it to her boyfriend Josh); he admits: “I sometimes forget that you live with this every day.” Beckett tells him that she started working on it over the summer, while Castle was in the Hamptons, and he looks a little guilty. Beckett runs through what they know: the other victims were two women who volunteered for Joanna at the Justice Initiative and a document clerk at the courthouse. Beckett always theorized that they were killed because of a case, and Joanna requested a court file right before she was murdered but the file was never found. Castle convinces Beckett to go through her mother’s personal papers again to try to figure out what case it was. He soon gets distracted by “adorable” old pictures of Beckett taken three weeks before Joanna’s death – and then realizes that four pictures from the roll are missing. He finds the negatives, and it turns out the missing pictures are of the alley where Joanna died, but they were developed a week before the murder. Castle thinks she was looking for something in that alley, and goes to the precinct to look through old reports.

Back at the station, the fingerprint leads Ryan and Esposito to someone named Hal Lockwood, who has no arrest record but also no history more than two years old, so they decide that it’s a cover ID. (If he has no arrest record, why are his prints on file? Come on, Show.) Credit card records show that Lockwood is currently checked in to a corporate suite in midtown. When the cops get there, they don’t find Lockwood, but they do find various shady-looking things – and recent surveillance pictures of Beckett. Montgomery immediately orders Beckett to stay home with a police detail for protection, and Beckett’s first thought is for Castle’s safety. Aww. In Lockwood’s suite, they also find capsules of the anti-anxiety drug prazepam, which Esposito says snipers use to slow down their heart rates so they have more time to shoot in between heartbeats. Symbols on the pills lead to a rich, obnoxious college kid named Chad Rodrick. The boys threaten him with prison rape and he finally admits he sold the pills two weeks ago, to a thirtysomething blonde Brooklynite named Jolene. (Hey, Show, can we not make a habit of using prison rape as a “funny” threat? You’re better than that.)

When he goes through old records, Castle discovers that there was another murder in the same alley – nineteen years ago. At the time, there was a club there called Sons of Palermo, which was actually a mafia front. An undercover agent named Bob Armond was killed there, presumably because the mob was on to him, and the NYPD arrested Joe Pulgatti, who later plead guilty. The arresting officer? John Raglan. Pulgatti tells Beckett and Castle that he didn’t kill Armond; he was the only witness, and it was actually a kidnapping that went wrong. The mob families had a truce because a band of kidnappers was targeting them all. Pulgatti points out that the only people who could see the shooting and finger him as a witness were the kidnappers – so Raglan was one of them. Joanna was the only lawyer who would take a chance on Pulgatti’s appeal, and she was murdered when she started looking into the case. The dispatch logs show that McCallister was one of the conspirators, so Beckett brings him back in. He tells them that they couldn’t actually arrest mobsters, so a band of rogue cops kidnapped them and demanded “bail” as a way of keeping things under control. He swears he didn’t hire Coonan or have Raglan killed, and is clearly afraid of someone. He tells Beckett: “You woke the dragon, and this is so much bigger than you realize.”

Ryan and Esposito find two Jolenes who fit Rodrick’s description, so they go looking for one and Beckett and Castle the other. The audience, but not the characters, see a guy in a car follow one of the pairs. When Beckett and Castle get to one Jolene’s apartment, they find her dead. Beckett calls Esposito to tell him this and hears a “flash bang” go off. Montgomery determines that Lockwood kidnapped Ryan and Esposito and dumped their phones so they couldn’t be tracked, but Castle and Beckett get Lockwood’s number from Jolene’s phone records and use the phone’s GPS to find Lockwood’s location. Lockwood interrogates and tortures Ryan and Esposito, but they won’t tell him anything. Lockwood mentions his “employer” but says frustratingly little else.

Beckett and Castle go to the location where Ryan and Esposito are being held, but realize that they won’t be able to get inside without the guard spotting them. Beckett tells Castle that she’s open to dumb ideas, and he’s got one: they get out of the car and play “happy drunk couple” as they approach the guard. Beckett realizes that the guard isn’t buying it and reaches for her gun, but Castle stops her – and takes her face in his hands and kisses her. (More on the kiss later.) While the guard is distracted by their cuteness (Is he a closet shipper? Hee), Beckett takes him out. Castle and Beckett make it into the torture room just in time to see one of the torturers about to shoot out Ryan’s kneecaps, so Beckett shoots him, and the scene erupts into lots of gunfire and general mayhem. In the midst of it, Castle sees someone about to shoot Beckett, so he throws himself on top of the gunman and punches him out, hurting his own hand in the process. Once it’s all cleaned up, Beckett fiddles with his bandage and calls him Chuck Norris, and it’s pretty adorable. She then books “Lockwood” as John Doe, since Lockwood is obviously a fake ID, and he refuses to tell her who hired him. Beckett threatens him with visits from “her guys” in jail, and we’re going to pretend she’s just talking about having people beat him up, because otherwise I’m going to have to rant about this sudden prison rape theme. Anyway, Beckett ends the interrogation, and the episode, by promising to question “Lockwood” each week until he tells her who hired him.

(An aside: I don’t usually mention the music on the show, but the song playing during these last scenes was “Rise” by The Frames, and it’s so perfect that I must suggest you check it out.)

Castle and Beckett: Oh boy. Where to start? You know, as much press as the kiss has been getting, I thought there were other moments in the episode that were more powerful and said more about their developing relationship. And the overall effect was more than a sum of its parts, but let’s go through the parts first and discuss the sum later.

Early in the episode, Beckett takes Castle with her to the coffee shop to meet Raglan, which shows that she both trusts him to help her if necessary and is willing to include him in such a personal matter as more or less a matter of course. For his part, when Castle thinks Beckett is shot, he’s so shaken that he even admits it to her. She wants to drop him off at home after the coffee shop, but he tells her “not a chance” and insists on working with her, even though the case is obviously dangerous. Vulcan Simmons, though creepy, sees right through him and calls him on it, telling Beckett: “He’s sweet on you. Makes him brave.” Later, while Beckett’s home crying, Josh is in Africa “saving the world,” and Castle appears on her doorstep with flowers. It’s a little awkward, but she invites him in, and he agrees very quickly.

When it becomes clear that Beckett is a target, she again tries to get Castle out of harm’s way, and he comes frustratingly close to confessing his feelings for her:

Beckett: “Castle, there’s something I need you to do.”
Castle: “Name it.”
Beckett: “Go home.”
Castle: “Forget it. Fear does not exist in this dojo.”
Beckett: “Look, I signed up for this when I put that badge on. You didn’t. It’s not your fight.”
Castle: “The hell it isn’t. I don’t hang around you just to annoy you. I don’t ride off to murder scenes in the middle of the night to satisfying some morbid curiosity. If that’s all this was, I would have quit a long time ago.”
Beckett: “Well, then, why do you keep coming back, Rick?”

He has been walking toward her throughout this conversation, and they pause and just stare at each other … and then he takes the out and calls himself her plucky sidekick. When she protests that sidekicks tend to get killed, he calls himself her partner, and there’s a definite catch in his voice. At this point my notes become all caps: “WHAT DOES IT MEAN? STOP SITTING IN FRONT OF THE WINDOWS,” because I was convinced that he was going to get shot, but he didn’t. Instead, Beckett, who apparently does not share my need for Castle to clarify just what sort of “partner” he meant, just nods, smiles, and says “Okay.”

And now let’s talk about that kiss. (I just watched it again to refresh my memory. See the sacrifices I make for you?) Yes, it was a diversion, and I understand why some fans feel cheated by first kisses like that, but it was also very real. When they break apart and stare at each other, it’s Beckett who initiates a second kiss that’s longer and more intimate than the first. Sure, she’s keeping one eye on the guard, but that’s to be expected. She’s a professional, and she’s trying to save her friends and catch her mother’s killer. Her physical and emotional reaction to Castle is genuine, and once the kiss ends, they’re both clearly shaken by it. It will be interesting to see whether they discuss the kiss in the next episode.

What Castle does next, though, is even more meaningful. Kissing a pretty girl to create a distraction is one thing, but punching out an armed sniper is another matter entirely. When Beckett thanks him for having her back, he says “Always,” and this is not season one’s Castle of the serial marriages and constant jokes. One of my favorite things about this show is the constant but gradual character development, and the sum of their interactions in this episode illustrates the way that Castle and Beckett have subtly but firmly slipped into new roles in relation to each other. Their devotion to each other is unconditional, and they’re barely bothering to hide it from each other or the people around them. During a case so personal to Beckett, Castle has more or less adopted the role of protective lover, and it works well. After this episode, I no longer have any qualms about whether it would ruin the dynamic of the show if Castle and Beckett actually started dating. It’s clear that these writers and these actors could pull it off.

The Rest of the Force: This episode showed just how loyal Ryan and Esposito are to Beckett. They cover for Beckett when she’s at the coffee shop without backup, and then try to quit the case in solidarity when Captain Montgomery sends her home. Montgomery, who does an admirable job of straddling the line between concern for Beckett and commitment to proper police work throughout this episode, makes them stay on the case and convinces them that the best way to help Beckett is to solve it. All of this, of course, leads to the torture scene, in which Ryan and Esposito prove their dedication to each other and to Beckett once and for all, and Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever prove their acting chops with material much more serious than they’re usually given on this show.

The Castle Family: Alexis wasn’t in this episode at all, unfortunately, and Martha only got one scene, but it was one of the best and most powerful scenes this show has ever had. When Castle gets home after the diner shooting, his mother is worried, and, well, I’m going to quote a whole bunch at you because it’s just that good:

Martha: “This isn’t one of your books. You don’t know the ending. You were just lucky yesterday.”
Rick: “You’re overreacting, Mother. Where is this coming from?”
Martha: “How the hell can you ask me something like that? Think about how much you love Alexis and that’s how much I love you, and don’t you dare ask me where this is coming from. You have gotten through most of your life on your wit and charm and no small amount of talent, but that is the real world out there, and you can’t charm your way out of a bullet.”
Rick: “You think I should quit?”
Martha: “I think you should be honest with yourself about why you’re doing this. You had written 22 novels before you met her, and you didn’t need to spend every day in a police station in order to finish them.”
Rick: “It’s not about the books anymore.”

Wow. In just a few short lines, Martha showed the strength of the true feelings under her often-silly exterior and got Castle to all-but-articulate his feelings for Beckett.

Coming Up: I can’t say “next week,” because we actually have to wait two weeks. Boo. But Castle will get to ask every mystery novelist’s favorite question: Did the butler really do it?

Photo Courtesy of ABC

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