Despite their ostensible dependence on independent case-of-the-week episodes, procedurals really live or die based on the continuity provided by the main characters and the bits of each episode that exists outside of the week’s mystery. That’s what keeps you coming back, and when it works it’s great.
So far on Castle, it continues to work. Nathan Fillion’s charm, met perfectly by Stana Katic’s mildly sarcastic wit, plus some sparkling dialogue fill those spaces between the mystery plot points in a way that continues to be winning going into the ever-critical third season, the point where formula starts to wear thin and shows often teeter on the edge of losing themselves and becoming boring or ridiculous.
It’s a critical point for Castle this year because last season saw the sexual tension between Castle and Beckett get ever stronger until the finale, when Beckett came *this close* to telling Castle she had feelings for him – until he left for three months summer retreat rekindling his relationship with his ex-wife. Returning this year and reinstating the existing partner relationship between Castle and Beckett begs the question of where that will go.
And judging from the subplots of the first two episodes, which have seen Alexis dealing with her first boyfriend and Caste’s mother receiving a marriage proposal from her significant other, it’s going to come to a head sometime this season. That’s even laying aside the numerous offhand lines of dialogue suggesting that Beckett ought to go for it. I’m a little worried by this, because when procedurals link work partners romantically, it almost always dilutes the show and forces the writers to figure out how to break them up again logically because alternating sexual tension and fulfillment seem to be the only device TV writers know how to build arcs around.
But with Castle, I’m kind of on the Beckett-Castle ship. They’ve built the partnership quite well, and the romance aspect doesn’t feel forced. Plus, the mysteries themselves are usually good enough that I pay attention to them (which I often find myself not doing in procedurals). And the unique construct of allowing Castle to have sudden insights because he thinks like a storyteller is pretty interesting most of the time.
I guess all this to say that watching the first couple of episodes of Castle felt really good, like coming home and discovering that home is just as entertaining and breezy as it was last year. This is the only procedural on my schedule this year, and I’m perfectly happy with it. As far as these first two episodes individually go, both had decent cases of the week, though both quite dependent (as usual) on abundant red herrings. I don’t mind that, as I’m more along for the ride with Castle, and as long as it remains light and enjoyable (and the cases don’t get stupid, or Beckett and Castle don’t get stupid), I’m there. A few less “ha, gotcha” moments might be welcome – the opening of the premiere had Castle and Beckett pulling guns on each other and Beckett ordering Castle to get down on the ground, a scenario you won’t (and shouldn’t) believe is the whole story for a second.