[This is a review of Castle Season 6, Episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
Happy New Year Castle fans! The winter solstice break is over, which means it's time for Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Beckett (Stana Katic) to head back to work with the rest of us. And the episode wastes no time setting the pace and keeping the tension high until right at the very end.
You know it's gonna be a bumpy ride when the words "12 hours later" appear halfway through the opening scene right after a frantic and very pregnant Jenny (Juliana Dever) calls Kate to ask about her husband. The flaming building behind Kate is something of a bad omen, too.
'Under Fire' explores a few different things as the case unfolds. One of their most interesting choices is to veer away from the cliche. For a decent part of the episode, one hopes beyond hope that this is not yet another TV homage to Backdraft, with the victim's partner serving as the token arsonist. She isn't. Nor is the pervy Milo (Ethan Cohn) with his Pyrolicious website, or the equally creepy Adam Fergueson (Jamie Harris).
Instead, it's the building inspector who briefly shows up in the beginning of the episode, a self-appointed Dr. Kevorkian to the down and out buildings in the greater metro area. Kudos to the writers for finding a unique motive.
The rest of the episode is something of a character piece on the two couples affected when Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Esposito (Jon Huertas) go missing inside a blazing inferno. In this episode alone, Laney (Tamala Jones) makes up for all the screen time she missed at the beginning of season 6. After delivering her requisite expository coroner dialogue in the beginning and then again near the middle, she gets some nice, meaty scenes near the end when she shows up at the fiery death trap.
Yes, it's convenient to the plot to have a doctor on hand when Jenny goes into labor, but the two of them make good allies, staying brave in the face of their mutual potential loss. And the Esposito/Laney shippers get some extended hug scenes from the pair when they are reunited.
The main story, however, belongs to the Ryans and their baby. Expectant mothers aren't known to be the calmest creatures, especially when their due date comes and goes with no baby. The first time daddy in this story is no better, constantly checking to make sure he hasn't missed her call. It's a caricature to be sure but one that any parent can smile on with fond remembrance. And all the natural nervousness only serves to ratchet up the tension when the bomb goes off.
Perhaps it helps that the couple is married in real life, but the obligatory farewell speech scene plays off as real versus schmaltzy, as does their reunion scene at the very end. The episode also has to set a record for the number of times Ryan's first name is used, which is only slightly disorienting.
Still, a collective "Aw" permeates the reveal that Ryan has a baby girl, coupled with a sigh of relief that an Irish kid won't be named Javier. All's well that ends well and for the Ryans, this is a tale well told.
Next week promises to be an equally good character piece for Castle when James Brolin returns as his father, Jackson Hunt.
Castle returns next Monday with "Deep Cover" @10pm on ABC.