Castle: Nikki Heat

Castle‘s back! Oh, show, how I’ve missed you. And it’s back with an episode that was kind of weird, but ultimately good, as the mystery of the week was completely overshadowed by the presence of Natalie Rhodes (played by That ’70s Show‘s Laura Prepon), the actress who is preparing to play Nikki Heat by shadowing Beckett.

Mystery of the Week: This week’s victim is high-end matchmaker Stacy Collins, found dead after a party thrown in her honor by happy couples she matched up. Her keys were taken but nothing else, and sure enough, the team soon discovers that her office was tossed. Her assistant, Julie Taylor, claims to have no idea what could have happened, but does come up with two useful pieces of information: 1. business was down because, for the past two months, Collins had been mysteriously turning down clients; and 2. Collins broke up with her boyfriend Brad Williams the morning she died, and Taylor heard him say he wanted Collins to give him something back. Meanwhile, Beckett interviews the party guests, and one couple tells her that someone in a silver Boxster picked Collins up from the party. Sure enough, Williams has a silver Boxster, and they bring him in for questioning. He says that he was in love with Collins and didn’t hurt her or trash her office, and that they broke up because she cheated on him, so what he wanted back was his dignity. Two months ago, she started pulling away from him and getting weird phone calls from a guy, and the week before he’d followed her and saw her meet someone. Williams picked her up after the party to talk, but she got a call from the guy and got out of the car, so he went to a diner until well after the time of the murder. The diner owner confirms his alibi, so Williams is out.

Collins’s phone records show that the phone call was from a minor criminal named Duke Jones, and her financial records reveal that she’d been paying him $5000 a week for the last two months. (Two months again!) Castle and Beckett find him at his office with his “assistant” Chloe, and Jones tells them that he works as a P.I. and that Collins hired him to run background checks on potential clients. She adopted this practice because she’d made a bad call on one client, but Jones claims not to know who or what happened. He seems completely shady, but he has an alibi: He was sleeping with his neighbor. (Of course he was.)

The cops find a key hidden under a ceiling tile in Collins’s office, and it turns out to open the back of a jukebox – containing a bag full of cash. Julie Taylor tells the team that the business didn’t have cash like that, and that the bag wasn’t Stacy’s. Beckett thinks this is a dead end until Natalie Rhodes points out that the $6000 bag was numbered and that the company that sells it keeps a registry of who buys each bag. The owner of the bag is a former client named Tanya Wellington; she and her husband Bill were invited to the party but declined. Tanya comes in with a bunch of lawyers who won’t let her say anything, but the team soon finds out that the “bad” client who prompted Collins’s new client screening was Bill Wellington: he had previously divorced two wives right before their prenups expired, and was about to do the same to Tanya. Collins felt guilty about getting Tanya into this situation, so she hired Jones to use Chloe to honey trap Bill and get plenty of evidence of his affair – which means that, according to the terms of their prenup, Bill will owe Tanya $100 million for cheating on her. Bill, however, denies any involvement in Collins’s murder and seems not to know that Collins and Tanya had set him up, and he was in Hong Kong at the time of Collins’s death.

When Ryan and Esposito go looking for Jones again, they find that his office and home are cleared out, so they try to track Chloe through the hotel where she was staying. Someone at the hotel tells them that Chloe’s real name was Greta Morgan, and that another “cop” had been there asking the same questions, but after calling around to other precincts, the team concludes that no other real cops had been there. They find that Greta had holds on other hotel rooms that Collins later paid for, so they realize Collins was honey trapping other clients as well, and one of them may have killed her. Esposito finds Greta herself at one of the hotels, and she gives them the names of two men: Rich Weiss and Scott Donner. Both were at the party and left with their wives, but Donner later went out again and lied to his wife about where he was going. When Beckett, Castle, and Natalie confront Donner at his office, he pulls a gun – on himself. He claims that he was just trying to get the compromising pictures of himself from Collins and that her death was an accident, but that now his life is over. Much to everyone’s surprise, Natalie uses a movie line that Castle had dismissed as “hacky” to get Donner to put the gun down, and Beckett safely takes him into custody.

When Castle first sees Natalie Rhodes‘s audition tape for the part of Nikki Heat, he’s less than impressed, and so he’s somewhat upset when he finds out that Beckett has enthusiastically agreed to let Natalie shadow her. Their first few interactions don’t do much to improve Castle’s opinion of Natalie: she barely knows who Castle is (much to everyone else’s amusement), hasn’t read the Nikki Heat books, and keeps writing down what Beckett says and ignoring what Castle says. Everyone else at the precinct is thrilled to have Natalie around, though; Esposito comments, “It’s not every day we get someone famous in here.” (Uh, Esposito? Yes, it is.) Castle’s opinion of Natalie begins to change when he sees that she is impressed by Beckett and really concerned about getting the character right, and they have a few cute bonding moments discussing how amazing Beckett is. Soon she’s figuring out things about Beckett’s psyche and mannerisms that Beckett herself doesn’t consciously know. When Natalie helps the team ID the owner of the bag of money, she’s thrilled and agrees with Castle that the rush from solving a crime is addictive. She didn’t get that from the movie script so she’ll read the book, and he’s pleased as punch.

Things take a turn for the creepy, though, when Natalie takes the coffee that Castle brings for Beckett: Beckett’s upset and feels like Natalie’s stealing her soul. And then Natalie starts dressing like Beckett, complete with wig; Castle can’t help but murmur, “Just like I dreamed it.” When she corners him in the elevator and asks if the sex scenes in the book were real, Castle stammers something about giving the audience what they want – and Natalie kisses him. Beckett, of course, sees this and is less than thrilled. The next morning, though, Natalie asks Beckett if Castle is gay; Beckett spits out her coffee before managing to insist that Castle is straight and that they’re not secretly together. It turns out Natalie was asking because Castle was the first guy – ever – to refuse to sleep with her. And then Natalie – who just met them – completely calls their bluff: “He’s into you, but you’re determined not to give in to these feelings that you clearly have for him, so he fantasizes about you through his writing. It’s literally verbal masturbation.” Natalie asks Beckett to give Castle permission to sleep with her – in the name of character research – but Beckett can’t even bring herself to answer, and the whole team starts feeling slightly alarmed when Natalie mimics Beckett to the point of getting very involved in the investigation. After she helps them bring in Donner, though, Natalie and our regular crew part on good terms, and Castle promises to visit her on the set.

Castle and Beckett: This episode was full of swoonworthy moments for Castle/Beckett ‘shippers, so I just have to reproduce for you some great bits of dialogue. Bear with me. Before Natalie even shows up, there’s a breathtaking moment during the discussion of Ryan’s proposal plans: Castle, supposedly trying to demonstrate something, looks at Beckett, flips open Ryan’s ring box, and says, in a shockingly sincere voice, “Will you marry me?” No, he’s not really proposing, but she looks shocked and maybe a little thrilled, and he looks completely disconcerted when he realizes what he’s said. Later, when Castle’s explaining why he doesn’t think Natalie’s right for the role, his true image of Beckett becomes obvious: “Nikki Heat is classy, is complicated, she’s a thinking man’s cop.” Beckett’s expression shows that she’s flattered and a little surprised by his words. Castle then protests that Natalie is a civilian: “Aren’t you afraid she’s going to get in the way and mess up the case?” Beckett and I respond as one: “You’re kidding, right?” Seriously, Castle, have you met yourself?

But the best exchange of the episode comes toward the end, as Beckett watches Natalie practicing her mannerisms:

Beckett: “Do I really do that?”
Castle: “Yes, and it’s adorable.”
Beckett: “If it’s so adorable, why didn’t you sleep with me? Her me, not me me.”
Castle: “Oh. Well, a fictional character that I wrote, based on you, played by Natalie Rhodes? It’s just way too meta.”

Say it with me: Awww. As hot as Natalie’s version of Nikki Heat is, Castle wants the real thing.

The Rest of the Force: Lanie is barely present in this episode, but Ryan and Esposito are both pretty excited about working with Natalie Rhodes – especially Ryan. He spends much of the episode slackjawed, and tells everyone – including Natalie herself – that Natalie is on his “list” of five celebrities he’d be allowed to sleep with if he ever got the chance. (Esposito is somewhat less taken with Natalie, and hilariously suggests that the team decide on a code word so they know “which Beckett to kill when the clone army attacks.”) Ryan’s big subplot, though, revolves around proposing to his girlfriend Jenny. He asks Castle for advice (because Castle’s been so successful at the marriage thing?) and Castle says to go big, while Beckett thinks he should keep things intimate. Things go wrong, though, when Ryan uses Esposito as a cover for his absence when he goes to ask Jenny’s parents for her hand, but neglects to actually ask Esposito to cover for him. Jenny figures out that he was lying about where he was, and since she knows of his “list,” thinks he was sleeping with Natalie. By the end of the episode, though, she apologizes to Ryan for doubting him and to the group for making a scene, and Ryan goes ahead and proposes to her right there in the station with everyone watching and Esposito, adorably, crying. Castle and Beckett both approve: “That was big.” “And intimate.” (Taking notes here, Castle?)

The Castle Family: With everything going on with the Natalie Rhodes subplot and the Ryan sub-subplot, there’s not much oxygen (or time) left for Alexis and Martha. They’re mostly there to react to Castle’s changing perspective on Natalie Rhodes. Alexis is clearly a big fan, but adorably pretends that she hasn’t seen Rhodes’s horror movies in order to protect her father’s image of her innocence. And she has a great line to her father when Beckett calls: “Pick it up, Dad. Murder will make you feel better.”

Next week: Magicians! And a new romantic relationship for two characters mentioned above. Ooooh.

Photo Courtesy of ABC

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