Castle is back from its winter hiatus and hosting the holiday after-party from hell. The first two guests who are revealed aren't so bad. Alexis (Molly C. Quinn) is home sick from college with mono; apparently, that boy of the non-friend variety is working out for her.
Meanwhile, Beckett (Stana Katic), like so many TV girlfriends before her, seeks sanctuary with her leading man while her apartment is being fumigated. As always, Martha (Susan Sullivan) is milling around in the background, though she's relegated to a few snappy one-liners this time around. Last, but certainly not least, is Richard Castle's (Nathan Fillion) ex-wife, Meredith (Darby Stanchfield). Oh, and someone was murdered, but that mostly happens in the background.
The thing about Richard Castle is that while he's one of the finest male specimens on display on network television, he's more Peter Pan than Jean Valjean. Exhibit A is his inability to say no. Granted, he was put in a sticky situation between girlfriend and ex-wife, but most guys who don't want to end up sleeping on the couch would've sided with the girlfriend from the beginning.
Young boys are cute because they'll do just about anything to please mama - or a pretty girl - however, when they grow into men who waffle in order to please everyone, it's just plain annoying. Each time Castle has the opportunity to put things right, he folds.
Exhibit B is his overkill in the charm department. While Castle could probably charm Eskimos into buying an ice machine, he lays it on a little too thick for Kate in this episode. At first she doesn't buy it. Then she gives him a chance to come through for her, but when he doesn't, she gives up on relying on him to find a solution. Kate eventually accepts a dinner invitation from Meredith, which ends up giving Kate a new appreciation for Castle before ultimately backfiring when she asks one question too many.
That question leads to Exhibit C, voiced by the ex-wife herself: Castle is the easiest guy to pour your heart out to, but he has the hardest time letting that openness go both ways. Obviously, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt since Meredith left out that itty-bitty detail about her affair coming between them, but she does strike a note of truth. Even fans who have been granted the wider perspective could write novels based on what they know of Beckett's past, but they'd be hard-pressed to get beyond a paragraph or two about Castle without delving into speculation. And while a little mystery in any relationship is good, it can only take you so far.
Meanwhile, the murder mystery woven around the drama in the Castle/Beckett relationship has to do with a murdered divorce lawyer and her clients. Michelle Toughey made her living representing women in high-stakes divorce cases and was murdered for being far too thorough. At first, the man pictured above and played by the delightful Melrose Place alum Jack Wagner is the focus of the investigation as he's believed to have killed his wife while boating. After a few interviews with some highly volatile folks and a nice chase scene for Ryan (Seamus Deaver) and Espisito (Jon Huertas), the team discovers that the wife staged her own death and enlisted the husband of one of Michelle's current clients to help her make a clean getaway. Ah, the best laid plans!
As for the episode as a whole - it does a decent job of showing the audience how far Castle and Beckett have come, while raising plenty of new issues for them to sift through in the remainder of the season. With the show's 100th episode coming soon, one can only speculate if the mention of Castle's father is a foreshadowing of what's to come.
Castle airs Mondays @10pm on ABC.
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