Loyal is the Watchword

ABC’s Castle might not have the most original murder mysteries, but what it does have is one fantastic cast, and nowhere this season is this more obvious than last night’s episode “Knockdown.”

Spoiler Alert!

The episode opens on retired police detective John Raglan as he seems to contemplate suicide with his service revolver. Thanks to a ‘Previously on Castle’ montage, we are reminded that Raglan is the detective who informed Beckett of her mother’s murder.

Instead of pulling the trigger, Raglan calls Beckett while she’s doing chin-ups in her apartment, and wants to talk about the case. He tells her to meet him at a diner in an hour and to come alone – no cops. So, naturally, Beckett shows up at Castle’s door and invites him along because, in her words, “He’s a person I trust.”

In typical television fashion, rather than getting right to the point, Raglan drones on about the feel of warm ceramic in his hands, and how he’s got six months to live, but would like to make up for some past misdeeds so he doesn’t end up dragging chains like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol. Just as he starts to explain that Johanna Beckett’s murder was in some way connected to something naughty he was involved in nineteen years earlier, a sniper’s bullet takes him out – all over Beckett and Castle.

A tip from an old academy buddy of Raglan’s leads the team to a drug kingpin named Vulcan Simmons.  Beckett suddenly remembers that her mother had led a task force in Washington Heights and organized a ‘Take Back the Neighborhood’ campaign which aimed to evict drug dealers from the area.

In the box at the station, Castle puts on his ‘Captain Mal Reynolds About to Kill’ face, but his target isn’t bothered, perhaps due to his non-threatening plaid shirt. Simmons is more than passingly familiar with interrogation techniques, and baits Beckett into assaulting him, forcing Montgomery to send her home.

Detectives Ryan and Esposito have the weight of the Raglan case foisted on them, and after watching security footage of the building where the hitman set up his shot, Ryan gets the idea to try printing the woman the key card was lifted from. Fortunately, it was Saturday before noon and she hadn’t taken a shower yet. Also, ew.

Montgomery has banished Castle from the station as well, so Castle shows up at Beckett’s door with flowers to cheer her up, and suggests that just because they can’t investigate Raglan’s murder, that doesn’t mean they can’t investigate her mother’s. Loophole!

Castle proposes he sneak back into the station wearing a hat and soft shoes when Montgomery takes his coffee break fifteen minutes after the hour – if that doesn’t say love, I don’t know what does.

After Beckett reveals that she’s kept a secret display related to her mother’s case in her apartment window, Castle convinces her to go over her mothers possessions again, given all that’s happened in the nine years since she last looked at them. As Castle enjoys photos of a younger Beckett in ice skates, he realizes that there are photos missing from the prints; a look at the negatives shows that Johanna Beckett took pictures of the alley where she would be killed a week later.

Ryan and Esposito track the hitman from the print lifted off the woman, and arrive at the location of his last credit card purchase in full commando mode, but they’re too late. They just missed him. They do discover, however, that he has his eye – and his camera – on Beckett.

They also discover a baggie full of street-made anti-anxiety pills which were apparently purchased by a blonde woman in her mid-thirties named Jolene who might live in Brooklyn.

Beckett wants Castle to go home and stay under his protective detail, but Castle says no dice.

“I don’t just hang you around to annoy you. I don’t drive out to murder scenes in the middle of the night to satisfy some morbid curiosity. If that’s all this was, I would’ve quit a long time ago.”

“Then why do you keep coming back, Rick?”

Because he’s her plucky sidekick – or her partner.

In full detecting swing now, Castle and Beckett discover that nineteen years ago – around the time Raglan was alluding to – an undercover fed was murdered in that alley, outside a mob hangout. They decide to go have a word with the man who pled guilty to the crime.

Mob enforcer Joe Pulgatti informs them that he didn’t murder the fed – he was a witness to the crime, and the only person who believed him was civil defense attorney Johanna Beckett. The truth was that nineteen years ago there was a group of cops who went around kidnapping mobsters and holding them for ransom – they screwed up when they killed the federal agent, and used Pulgatti as a scapegoat. Looking into his appeal was what got Johanna Beckett killed, and Raglan not only covered up the crime as gang violence, he was one of the original kidnappers. His old academy buddy is another, but whoever the third man is, he’s so big, no one is willing to out him.

Back on the case, Beckett and Castle join Ryan and Esposito in looking for Jolene. They narrow the list down to two women in Brooklyn, and each partnership takes one. Castle and Beckett discover their Jolene dead, but Ryan and Esposito are ambushed and abducted by the hitman, who wants to know exactly what the cops know.

Despite ice-cold water torture, Ryan and Esposito hold out long enough for help to arrive – Castle uses Jolene’s cell phone records to trace a call to the hitman’s cell phone.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where it gets really good.

Beckett is afraid to call back-up, knowing that the bad guys would kill Ryan and Esposito and bolt at the first sign of SWAT, so she tells Castle she’s open to dumb ideas. They pull the ol’ pretend-drunk swagger ploy, but when the armed guard advances towards them, Castle pulls Beckett in for a long-overdue kiss. Ostensibly a decoy, something shifts when a second kiss follows and the pair get swept up in the moment.

The Beckett takes out the guard with a kick to the head.

With no time to stop and examine the repercussions of their smooch, Beckett and Castle run in just before the hitman takes off one of Ryan’s kneecaps. Beckett gets the drop on a few goons, but the hitman himself lines her up in his sights – until Castle takes him down with a flying tackle, knocking him out with several brutal punches to the face. No one messes with his detective and gets away with it.

Later, in an ambulance, Beckett adjusts the bandage on his hand, and thanks him for having her back. Always, he says.

Wrapping up the episode, Beckett visits the hitman in prison and tells him that there are a surprising number of people she’s put away who admire her, and look on her like a favorite school teacher. They’ll be visiting the hitman, and she promises to return week after week until he’s ready to tell her who ordered the hit on her mother.

For me, the scene where Ryan and Esposito were being tortured was as important as the kiss between Castle and Beckett. It was a defining moment for the two, and another great example of how strong the supporting cast is. The dynamic between the two, and their dynamic with Beckett is refreshing.

What are your thoughts on this game-changing episode of Castle? Think Beckett should dump her boyfriend? Want Castle to make an official move? Who is the mysterious third man? Weigh in with comments, I’d love to talk TV.