Monday, January 31, 2011

Castle - "Knockdown"

Season one gave us some tidbits. The season two episode "Sucker Punch" gave us the first part of the story. In this week's episode of Castle, "Knockdown", we get the next big chunk of the mystery.

I'll get to the rest of the episode in a moment. But first, a recap of what we know so far about Johanna Beckett's death.

19 years ago, John Raglan and Gary McCallister (and at least one other guy) were cops who began working as vigilantes. They would kidnap members of the five big crime families and hold them for ransom. They believed they were doing the city some good. "It wasn't pretty and it wasn't legal, but it was right."

And then one day something goes wrong. An FBI agent, Bob Armand, is accidentally killed while Raglan and McCallister were trying to grab Joe Pulgatti, a mob enforcer. Raglan and McCallister blamed Armand's death on Pulgatti and he went to prison for it.

From prison, Pulgatti began writing to every lawyer he could find, trying to get someone to help him appeal his false conviction. Johanna Beckett was the only one who wrote back, seven years after Pulgatti was convicted. She and her colleagues began putting together an appeal for Pulgatti, and the cops who had put him in jail began to panic. If Pulgatti's conviction was overturned, then they would be exposed.

Raglan and McCallister hired Dick Coonan (who we met in "Sucker Punch") to kill Johanna Beckett and her colleagues. Raglan then caught the case, investigaing the death of Johanna Beckett, and blamed it on "random gang violence".

Twelve years after Johanna Beckett's death (bringing us to the present day), Raglan is diagnosed with lymphoma and given only six months to live. He wants to confess his crimes and calls Beckett so he can tell her about her mother's murder. He is shot, while sitting across the table from her, before he can tell her what he knows.

The unknown third member of the kidnapping gang from 19 years ago hired a man using the alias of Hal Lockwood to silence Raglan. Beckett and the team bring in Gary McCallister for questioning. He claims he had nothing to do with killing Raglan. When Beckett asks him who did, he answers:
"Somebody you'll never touch. ... You don't understand, detective. You woke the dragon. And this is so much bigger than you realise."
He refuses to say anything else and asks for a lawyer.

In the end, the team is able to arrest Hal Lockwood, but he refuses to talk. We leave off with Lockwood, and presumably McCallister, alive and in prison. They both know who ordered Beckett's mother's death, but neither is giving it up.

And that is what we know so far about Johanna Beckett's murder.

As for the episode itself, I have just a few thoughts.

There were some interesting parallels between "Sucker Punch" and "Knockdown". Starting, for example, with the episode titles. But it goes further than that.

In "Sucker Punch", when they find out the case they're working on is linked to Beckett's mother's death, Beckett takes herself off the case. She walks out of the Captain's office, grabs her jacket from her desk chair, slings it over her shoulder and walks out without looking back. Castle calls after her, "Beckett! Kate!" She doesn't turn back.

In "Knockdown", when a tip about Beckett's mother's death turns into the case they're working on, the Captain takes her off the case. She walks out of the Captain's office, grabs her jacket from her desk chair, slings it over her shoulder and walks out without looking back. Castle calls after her, "Beckett! Kate!" She doesn't turn back.

It's not quite shot for shot, but it has to be deliberate.

Also, at the end of "Sucker Punch", Beckett says that the Captain's report makes Castle sound like Steven Seagal. In "Knockdown" she calls him Chuck Norris. Both fighters, both in keeping with the episode titles.

In "Sucker Punch", Beckett saves Castle's life from someone about to shoot him. In "Knockdown", Castle saves Beckett's life from someone about to shoot her.

And - although this is more trivia than anything else - "Sucker Punch" was season 2 episode 13, and "Knockdown" was season 3 episode 13.

I thought Martha's one scene was beautiful. It was so nice to see her be caring and honest and serious. So much of the joy in this show is in its banter, in its flip treatment of serious matters. But this episode allowed things to be a little more real.

And when Castle tried to be flip - "Where is all this coming from?" - I really loved Martha's response. How dare he ask her that, indeed.

And there's something very touching in having a rare loving moment between Castle and his mother in an episode that is all about Beckett having lost her own mother.

I was also delighted to see John Kapelos playing Joe Pulgatti. Back in the early '90s I used to watch a vampire-cop show set in Toronto called Forever Knight. John Kapelos played Schanke (prounounced "skanky"), the slightly schlub-y partner to the vampire-cop himself. I used to love that show. It was nowhere near as slick as Castle is, but it also put a lot of effort into making the shots visually beautiful.

And while I'm geeking out, I also felt there was a missed opportunity for a Firefly reference in this episode. Nathan Fillion's character, Mal Reynolds, had a line in Firefly something along the lines of: "They say you should never hit a man with a closed fist, but it is, on occasion, hilarious." I have to admit that's immediately where my brain went while they were bandaging Castle's hand at the end of the episode. I can see how it might have broken the mood, though.

Right. Moving on.

There were some things that didn't quite work for me in this episode. I really get the impression that they're making up the stuff about Beckett's mother as they go along. In season one's "A Death in the Family", Castle goes behind Beckett's back to find out that there were three other murders committed by the same person at around the same time.

In "Knockdown" it is seemingly common knowledge that those other three were colleagues of Johanna Beckett, and it sometimes sounds like at least two of them with with her when she died. I find it hard to believe that, given Beckett was obsessed with solving her mother's murder, she never put that together herself.

Also, Beckett tells Castle that she always suspected it was linked to a case her mother was working. And then they find that, not only was the case linked to a case her mother was working, but she was shot in the very same alley where the crime in that case took place.

The discovery of that fact in "Knockdown" came from Castle noticing the missing pictures. Surely, though, Beckett should have come across that information during her earlier investigation. Unless that was the missing file they were talking about?

I also don't remember ever before hearing that Johanna Beckett was a civil rights attorney. Although, to be fair, I have not re-watched season one recently and I'm more than happy to be corrected.

It just feels very convenient. In the same way it's convenient that, in both "Sucker Punch" and "Knockdown", the person who has the information is killed before he can tell Beckett who ordered her mother's death.

(And, speaking of convenience, how about the fact that Beckett's boyfriend just happened to be in Africa?)

It was interesting to watch them set things up and knock them down in this episode. Beckett's chin-ups at the beginning, for instance; planted to help us believe that a woman who weighs maybe 110 pounds soaking wet can slam a very large man into the two-way mirror hard enough to shatter it.

Their other big setup was for the Castle/Beckett kiss. Granted they're also working with two and a half years of backstory, but they also planted little seeds of it in almost every other scene.

Beckett referring to Castle as "someone that I trust".

Castle freaking out over the blood on Beckett's shirt.

Castle standing up for Beckett when a suspect, Simmons, was giving her a hard time, and Simmons coming back with "He's sweet on you. Makes him brave."

Castle using Beckett's first name.

Castle admitting to his mother that "It's not about the books anymore."

Castle bringing Beckett flowers.

The list goes on.

There was a certain deliberateness to it, but it also built a wonderful intimacy between them. So that the kiss, while it was, of course, a ruse designed to distract a guard, also felt very natural. And I'm very curious to see where they take it next. And if they choose to ignore it or go back on it, I will be immensely disappointed, precisely because of that intimacy that they worked so hard to create.

Something about it was real, and I think they need to honour that now.

Also, the way Castle touched his face once Beckett turned her back was just the cutest thing ever.

Not to mention:
Beckett: Thank you for having my back in there.
Castle: Always.
I may start taking bets about what comes next. Who's in?

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