**This post contains spoilers for Castle’s most recent episode, 6.02 “Dreamworld”**
On the surface, these two episodes of Castle seemed promising. There’s an engagement! Military special ops! Blackouts! Toxins! Papaya steaks! But underneath that surface, there are the murky waters of low stakes and gray areas.
I’ll start off by floating the idea that these episodes were named backwards. While it aired, “Valkyrie” made sense because it was a buzzword that people were throwing around for the entire hour, but it was always met with a confused look and a “I’ve never heard of that before.” It wasn’t explained until the second episode, when it turned out to be a code name for a government operative. Conversely, “Dreamworld” was introduced in the premiere and almost immediately got an explanation from Esposito, of all people: It’s a super-secret ghost base dealing in special ops. We got more information about Dreamworld in episode 2, but not much more, and definitely not enough to warrant naming the episode after it. Since episode 2 was based around Valkyrie, wouldn’t it have made sense to switch the episode names?
That small, nitpicky detail belies the problem with these two episodes: they’re convoluted. The tone is detached, the bantering is off, and the relationships between the characters are just plain odd. The premiere, “Valkyrie,” started off promising: Beckett was gleeful over Castle’s proposal, and they worked out a way for her to try the Federal job while Castle went on a book tour. We jumped to two months later, where Beckett was getting shot in an alley in her Federal Officer Ponytail, but it’s okay because it was just training. And everyone knows the FBI uses blood capsules and blanks to simulate actually getting shot by Chechens, because otherwise Beckett won’t know what it’s like to take a bullet to the chest… oh wait…
That’s where we meet Beckett’s suspicious partner, Rachel McCord, aka Cuddy. You can dress her up in a pantsuit and show her having Beckett’s back all you want, but I will always treat her with suspicion and no small amount of disdain. I will also always call her Cuddy. After Beckett fails her training course, she and Cuddy debrief on their way back to the office, and Cuddy offers a strange piece of advice: “Intel is sometimes wrong.”
Things get a little weird when Beckett (who just failed a basic training course, mind you) is forced to cancel her weekend plans because there is a high-stakes national security breach that they need to address. Yep, Beckett and Cuddy are primary on this case of national security. (Where is Jake Kane? I feel like this show promised me some Jake Kane at the end of last season, and instead I got Cuddy.)
Back at Chez Castle, things start to get really strange. Castle returns from his book tour to find both of his beloved redheads are home, but Alexis also brought her new boyfriend, Pi. It’s never clear why Alexis is interested in this guy; the only offerings she has for her father are “Give him a chance!” and “He’s brilliant.” Pi himself isn’t offensive, but it says a lot about the Castle-Alexis relationship when she just brings a boy to stay at her father’s house without asking his permission. I don’t know about you guys, maybe it’s because I have an Irish Catholic dad, but that sort of thing wouldn’t have flown at my house. Even outside of perceived normal family rules, isn’t it just common decency to ask if you can have someone stay over? It seems like that’s something that would’ve occurred to Alexis.
Shockingly, Castle is no fan of Pi, especially after Pi opens his mouth. But he doesn’t have to deal with it for long–after a phone call from Beckett, canceling her trip home, he sneaks out of New York City and right into Beckett’s apartment.
We get a glimpse of Castle as a house husband, as Moff called it in our email exchanges. She also pointed out that we might be seeing what Castle was like back when he was raising Alexis as a single dad, and it’s nice to see him so comfortable in a domestic situation. That’s why this FBI gig could work out in theory, because Castle is happy to be the house husband and he doesn’t need to be in New York to write.
But he’s also Castle, the guy who snuck his way into Kate’s murder case in the pilot episode by stealing crime scene photos and files. He badgers Kate for information, but she keeps a tight lid on it… except for a picture of a transformer that she accidentally leaves behind. That gets Castle’s wheels spinning, and after an exploitative call to Ryan and Esposito, he lands right in the middle of Beckett and Cuddy’s investigation, effectively getting Beckett in trouble.
There’s something to be said about Castle’s inability to acknowledge that this job is too important for him to interfere. I don’t think it’s because he thinks Beckett can’t handle it alone, it seems more like his unquenchable curiosity and his inquisitive nature that sent him down a rabbit hole. But at the same time, after watching him grow as an adult and as a human for the last five seasons, it was disappointing to see him revert back to his interfering ways. His spots will never change, and maybe that will have something to do with Beckett’s decision later on.
It was nice to see him so contrite over his mistake, and his offer to cook Beckett dinner and buy her the wine she loves was sincere and sweet. It’s another glimpse at his house husbandry, because he was perfectly happy to take the backseat and just be there when Beckett got home, sidewalk abductions notwithstanding.
Cuddy, meanwhile, made her first foray into a gray area: she didn’t report Castle’s interference to their boss, Chief Villante. Maybe she’s just being a good guy by having her partner’s back, or maybe she’s a truly evil person and this is a pattern. I choose to believe the latter. As much as I don’t want a rehash of “Pandora” and “Linchpin,” wherein the seemingly nice curly-haired lady turns out to be the evil baddie, I just can’t help myself: I don’t trust Cuddy.
The case itself was kind of bland, only because it was so cloaked in mystery in the first episode. Someone caused a blackout so they could sneak into a government facility and steal something, which led them to an ex-Marine named Branson, who ended up abducting Castle despite Castle’s protests that his salmon needed to be refrigerated. Branson ended up dropping dead in the drivers seat, causing a crash, but the upshot is that Castle (and the salmon) were exposed to a highly fatal toxin in that car. The episode ends with Beckett carefully breaking the news to Castle in the FBI interrogation room.
The second episode, “Dreamworld,” starts with Beckett acting weirdly detached as Castle deals with his twelve-hours-to-live timetable. I don’t think I wanted to see her shed some tears, but she didn’t seem overly concerned or even flustered by the fact that her fiance was dying. She didn’t even exhibit signs of putting up a brave front, for his sake and to save face with her colleagues. She was just emotionless.
I wanted to believe she was just snapping into work mode, desperate to find the answer or the oh-so-convenient antidote, but none of her actions seemed to indicate any desperation on her part. She meandered down the stairs after leaving Castle with the equally detached doctor, and after Cuddy asked how he’s holding up, Beckett casually said, “Better than I am.”
After Castle passes on Espo’s intel about “Dreamworld,” to Beckett, a reporter by the name of Brad Parker is brought up in connection with it and the recently deceased Marine. Don’t get too attached to this reporter, he turns out to be the bad guy. My Bad Guy Radar was on the fritz in this episode, apparently. Beckett and Cuddy go out to chase down the lead while Castle is forced to stay behind and assist from behind the lines.
After more questionings and running around the stupid swamp town of Washington D.C., Beckett and Cuddy end up at the revelation that this toxin might be an al Qaeda retaliation for one of their own being killed a year ago in a Dreamworld-related operation. They theorize that if it’s terrorism, the toxin could be anywhere and everywhere. And yet somehow, the stakes still don’t seem very high. Maybe it’s because everything in the FBI is clinical like this, and it’s fine to see Cuddy and Chief Villante just spouting this stuff like they’re reading the room service menu or choosing a college football game on Saturday afternoon, but Beckett has always been very Beckett about all of her cases. To see her acting so detached is very jarring as a viewer, and to see her acting that way toward her dying fiance is downright disheartening.
Maybe now is a good time to ask why it was necessary to poison Castle in the first place. He’s not going to die, we already know that. Any number of other brushes with death (mauled by a tiger? frozen in Beckett’s arms? 3XK? exposure to radiation? standing right next to a bomb and blindly pulling out all the wires?) have not fundamentally changed Castle’s personality. Plot-wise, his poisoning didn’t usher in a sense of urgency or any advances to his relationship with Beckett. So what was the point? Were the writers worried that a covert-ops story with a bunch of strangers and Cuddy wouldn’t keep the viewers’ attention?
The only real, human, Castle-like element to come out of the whole poison storyline is the phone call Rick has with his mother and daughter. The redheads can tell something is off with him, but this time it’s Martha who is more intuitive than Alexis, as her concern carries her right to the 12th precinct to ask for Esposito and Ryan’s help in figuring out what was going on with her son.
That genuine human moment led to yet another strange Beckett moment: Ryan and Espo call on behalf of a very concerned Martha, and Beckett abruptly hangs up on them.
Meanwhile, the FBI team unearths a recording of the operation Branson was involved with in Afghanistan, and they discover that “Valkyrie” was an American intelligence agent who was killed during the air strike, which was ordered by the Defense Secretary. (We also got to see Castle put his expertise with fonts to good use, proving himself useful to the FBI.) Beckett finally shows signs of desperation when she goes, without evidence, to confront Secretary Reed, but it is still lacking the same sort of desperation Beckett always showed whenever she was pursuing her mother’s murderer.
Valkyrie turns out to be a woman named Farrah Usman, who was the fiancee of Bad Guy Reporter Brad. Since a valkyrie of Norse mythology was a woman, this bit of information wasn’t surprising to me, but it seemed to surprise Beckett and Cuddy. Shouldn’t they have researched anything relating to the term “valkyrie,” even if it’s just mythology?
Branson had been on the ground during the airstrike and had been directed by Reed to recover Valkyrie’s body so that they could stage her death as an IED accident. Angry about her death and the subsequent cover-up, Bad Guy Reporter Brad is going around poisoning those involved, except in the case of Secretary Reed. In that case, Brad plans to kill Reed’s wife.
Beckett and Castle figure out Brad’s plan on a hunch, but Castle deteriorates quickly on the drive (D.C. traffic, amirite?) and faints onto the grass as soon as Beckett pulls up to the Reed house. Beckett foolishly doesn’t call for backup before entering the Reed house alone, and Brad gets the drop on her. She’s lucky Cuddy figured out her play and followed her there, otherwise Beckett wouldn’t have outlived her fiance by five minutes. And trust me, I hate the idea that Beckett owes her life (and Castle’s life) to Cuddy. That will only end badly.
It’s fortuitous that every TV toxin has a magical, easily-accessible antidote. We’re led to believe that Castle doesn’t sustain any long-term nerve damage, or psychological damage, or respiratory damage… Like I said, the stakes were never very high. It’s nice to see Castle in the hospital bed for a change, and it was also reassuring that Castle never once lost his Fillion-ness throughout the process.
The episode ends on a sobering note, with Cuddy dispensing more strange statements about how Washington D.C. is not a black-and-white town, it’s one big humid gray area. Beckett looks like she’s questioning her choices as she stares in the direction of Castle’s hospital room and the episode fades to black.
I really don’t get this particular story thread. No one knows about gray areas and the law more than Beckett: her own mother was killed in connection with a high-ranking New York political figure that Beckett herself has been forced to protect. Her own mentor, Captain Montgomery, was indirectly involved in her mother’s murder, and Beckett is still actively covering up his involvement. Using the “gray area” excuse just because the stakes are (theoretically) higher in D.C. isn’t going to hold water when we later see Beckett protecting Senator Bracken again.
I thought the tone of these two episodes was going to lead to Beckett figuring out that the isolated, almost impersonal nature of investigation in the FBI is not in her wheelhouse. Beckett is fueled by vengeance and justice, and those two things seem to be lacking in her procedure in these episodes. Maybe the whole reason she seemed so distant with Castle was because she didn’t know where to place that energy, so she just stamped it down and went about her business. To me, it seemed like she was cold and unfeeling, but maybe she was just directionless.
One thing is clear, though: Beckett is not excelling in this job. She started the two-parter by failing a training exercise, and she ended it by breaching an unfamiliar house with no backup. Tough, short-haired, no-nonsense Beckett from the pilot would not have made these mistakes, and tougher, long-haired, still no-nonsense Beckett of last season wouldn’t have done so either. That is the thread I hope this show follows once Beckett decides to leave her federal job. Leave the gray areas to the Cuddys of the world.