In retrospect, it’s surprising that it took until season five for Castle to do an episode in which Castle himself was a serious suspect, but I love that they waited until Castle and Beckett were together so that the stakes were so much higher. I knew there was no way Castle was actually the murderer in “Probable Cause,” but I was shocked by how tense I was throughout this episode, and how worried, even though, again, obviously Castle wasn’t going to be killed. The fact that the episode could be so suspenseful despite fans knowing from the start that some sort of subterfuge was involved really speaks well to the writing, directing, and acting of this episode.
So, the subterfuge: Castle is framed for murder by our old friend Jerry Tyson, also known as The Triple Killer or 3XK. (Brief refresher: Castle was instrumental in sending him to prison a few seasons ago.) Tyson goes to great lengths, both in the concept and execution of the crime, to make it look like this is a crime that Castle might commit – if the people investigating can believe that Castle would commit a murder at all. Tyson realizes that it would be easier for Beckett and the other cops to be convinced that Castle was guilty if they could also be made to doubt his relationship with Beckett, so Tyson goes to elaborate lengths to make it look like Castle was having an affair with the victim, 29-year-old Tessa Horton. He plants evidence in Castle’s apartments and incriminating emails on his hard drive, puts Castle’s fingerprints at the scene, and even hires a lookalike actor to buy jewelry for Tessa – and, of course, be caught on the store’s security camera.
Tessa is murdered on a night when Martha is away and Castle has cancelled his plans with Beckett to stay home and write. The bizarre, gruesome crime scene – she’s lashed to the ceiling with a weird symbol carved into her forehead – immediately strikes Esposito as “like something out of one of [Castle’s] books” (though it looked like something out of Supernatural to me). Her roommate tells the cops about Tessa’s rich, handsome, generous new boyfriend – identified as Castle by the faked emails – and the lack of signs of a struggle suggest that this boyfriend must have been the murderer. And there’s even a deleted file on Castle’s computer that’s framed as a story concept of how to commit the perfect murder, which describes a murder just like Tessa’s.
As I said, Tyson’s plan hinges on at least some of the cops believing that Castle could be guilty – but Beckett doesn’t. “I know him, Lanie. He is an immature, egotistical, self-centered jackass sometimes, but he’s not this.” She believes in him from the start, and while this bodes well for the strength and stability of their relationship, it’s also a great sign of personal growth for her. For someone with such trauma in her past and such trust issues, the fact that Beckett believes in the man she loves despite all of the evidence and all of her professional training is a huge step.
The evidence against Castle is so strong, though, that despite Beckett’s faith in him, the team has no choice but to arrest him. (Poor Esposito has to actually do it.) Beckett is convinced that she’ll be able to clear Castle’s name, and even Gates doubts his guilt, but while he’s being held, Jerry Tyson pays him a visit to explain the whole plan – and tell Castle that he’ll have him killed as soon as he gets to central booking. This has the added “benefit” of punishing Beckett, as the knowledge that she believed in Castle’s innocence but couldn’t stop his murder would haunt her forever. Luckily, Beckett continues to believe Castle when he tells her about Dyson – “It’s the first time that this story has made sense” – and when he drops a hint about the New York Public Library before vanishing in the middle of his transfer to central booking, she realizes that he has escaped (with the help of his really good lawyer) and meets him there.
Castle and Beckett soon find evidence against Dyson in an abandoned building, and Gates agrees that it’s enough to clear Castle. They have a touching moment as they drive back to the precinct – “Thank you.” “For what?” “Believing in me.” – but Castle worries that it was all a bit too easy, and it turns out that he was right. As they’re stopped on a bridge, Dyson runs a car into Beckett’s car, and manages to grab Beckett. He claims that he wants to make Castle watch him kill Beckett. Castle shoots him and he falls into the water, and when dragging the river produces no body, everyone but Castle believes that, as Beckett says, “You shot him. He’s dead. It’s over.” But Castle is convinced that this whole thing was an elaborate set-up, designed from the start to make Castle help Dyson stage his own death so that he would be free to start killing again. This ending was obviously designed to allow the show to bring Dyson back in the future if they want to, but I enjoyed the cleverness of it and of the whole episode. The cases on procedural shows usually follow a certain format, which is fine – this routine can be part of why we like these shows so much and find them so comforting to watch. But when a show breaks out of its usual format in a way that really works, as Castle did with “Probable Cause,” it’s a delightful treat for fans and a great reminder of why we love the show in the first place.
(Image courtesy of ABC.)