It was a case of Castle meets Miss Congeniality in this week’s pageant-themed episode. After the serious emotional developments and change of scene in last week’s “To Love and Die in L.A.” it was nice to sit back, relax, and enjoy the light, funny tone of “Pretty Dead”. The episode was a good example of the signature Castle style: witty dialogue, twists and turns, excellent guest stars, and a quirky murder scenario to start the ball rolling. Unlike some other episodes where the identity of the murderer is pretty obvious, I wasn’t sure who among the plethora of suspects would turn out to be the contestant-killer this week.
I was very much looking forward to this episode because Terri Miller, the writer of “Pretty Dead”, has penned some of my favourite episodes and lines of dialogue over the course of Castle’s three seasons. Just think back to “you smell like cherries”, “you wanna make little Castle-babies!”, and most recently “Alakazam, jackass!” (from 2×06 “Vampire Weekend”, 2×22 “Food to Die For”, and 3×12 “Poof! You’re Dead” respectively). While I don’t think “Pretty Dead” was up to the standards of those episodes, it still had some fun-filled moments along the way.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Michael McKean and Teri Polo as the feuding Baron couple, trying to hide their marital troubles under elaborate acts for the camera. Known for his roles in Christopher Guest’s movies, from “This is Spinal Tap” to “Best in Show”, I was expecting more outrageous funniness from the reliable McKean, but I guess he had limited screen time. Now that both Fred Willard and McKean have guest-starred on Castle, I’m hoping for Guest as a guest next season! Teri Polo brought some great comedy to her scenes, playing a one-time beauty queen whose initial reticence is conquered by rage at her husband’s infidelity and an evident fondness for throwing crockery. Sasha Roiz also provided some laughs as the drug-addled host of Baron’s beauty pageant. His alibi was rock solid…even if he couldn’t remember it!
One thing I really liked was the dichotomy established between Beckett and the beauty queens – now THAT would be a good book title! Beckett’s wardrobe, in contrast to the sparkles and sequins of the contestants, was decidedly unglamorous and yet she still looked beautiful (of course). It seemed to be a deliberate decision on the part of the costume designer to put Beckett in the least pageanty outfits he could find: plaid shirt, leather/jean jacket. As S said last week, Stana Katic can rock the simple attire just as well as the fancy frocks. Beckett is real, and her wardrobe reflects that. It also helps to show that she’s completely comfortable in the testosterone-filled precinct, able to tread the fine line of maintaining her womanliness, joking around with the guys, and simultaneously commanding their respect. However, it’s funny to see that the men sometimes forget that she’s not just “one of the boys”. A great example of this is when a clueless Montgomery is trying to think of the perfect anniversary present for his wife and suddenly remembers that Beckett might have some feminine insight: “Beckett, you’re a woman, right?” Yup, good observation, Captain. But Beckett just takes it in her stride: “Sir, I have no idea what to get your wife.”
I enjoyed the lighter side of Captain Montgomery that was on display in this episode, especially since he is usually placed in a position of stern authority. His most common occupations are telling Beckett to back down when she becomes too emotionally invested in cases, keeping investigations on track, and generally laying down the law (literally and figuratively) on his officers. Now in “Pretty Dead” we get some insight into his life outside the precinct, and it was nice to see his wife show up for the first time (I love that she’s familiar with Castle’s “charmer” reputation). I hope that Beckett was right about Montgomery’s fleeting dreams of retirement; after all, stern authority is sometimes necessary and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in his job.
The levity of the Captain’s personal storyline contrasted with the other family dilemma that occurred in the episode, namely Alexis and Ashley’s college crisis. I think I’ll leave most of this discussion to S because I know what a big fan of Alexis she is. But I will say that it was great to see Ashley show up at the precinct, asking Castle to intervene on his behalf. It’s obvious that Castle feels awkward about the whole thing, and yet Ashley manages to slip in the emotionally resonant question, “have you ever been crazy about someone who was determined to push you away?” I must say that Beckett has positively Josh-esque timing when she interrupts Castle and Ashley’s conversation at this crucial juncture.
The solution to the Alexis-Ashley problem – Alexis going to Stanford early – leaves Castle in consternation. The only appropriate response, repeated with hilarious earnestness and disbelief by Nathan Fillion in the funny-sad final scene, is…“whaaaat?”
Some other favourite moments:
• Beckett’s barely-contained smirk when one of the beauty pageant suspects declares, “I’m 25, I’m old!”
• Even though I love Lanie, it was nice to see Perlmutter the M.E. again. His trademark sarcasm is obviously still intact.
• Castle, talking to Beckett about Alexis and Ashley: “what happens when she meets her soul mate, but she doesn’t risk it because it’s not practical?” Beckett just looks at him intently as he says this. Come on, Kate, you know what he means.
• “That guy’s dropped more pills than a three-fingered pharmacist.”
How do you think this episode measured up to some other season 3 faves? The Castle-Beckett relationship wasn’t as front and centre this week – was that a welcome change, a disappointing absence, or did it strike exactly the right balance? What do you think of Alexis’s decisions, both to break up with Ashley and then to go to Stanford? Who’s excited/nervous for what promises to be a crazily epic season finale next week?
P.S. Speaking of Terri Miller’s episodes, this is possibly my favourite scene of the whole series, taken from “A Rose for Everafter”. The dialogue, the delivery, the awesomeness of the characters, it’s all spot-on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCnnlXohlHg