Episode Title: "Cuffed"
Writers: Terri Miller & Andrew W. Marlowe
Director: John Terlesky
In a dark room, novelist, Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is finally in bed with the woman of his dreams, Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic). Castle barely acknowledges that this shouldn't be happening as they start to wake up. But they soon realize that they're locked in some kind of cellar and awkwardly handcuffed to each other. In fact, neither Beckett or Castle seem to have any clear memory of how they came to be there. They find a needle mark on Beckett's back that confirms they were drugged by someone, but it doesn't explain much. While speaking with each other, they remember going to a hotel together… to look at a dead body.
Inside, they find the body in question, bereft of identification or fingertips after the killer burned the man's fingers post mortem. Beckett and Castle also note the increasing tension between Detective Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) and medical examiner, Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones). Castle and Beckett note that the pair seem to be oblivious to their romantic feelings for each other, which is clearly not a comment on Castle and Beckett… sure… The duo eventually remember using a fragment of a postal bar code that led them to a house where they found a strange woman in a cage. But the old woman smiled as Castle and Beckett were somehow rendered unconscious.
In the present, Castle and Beckett see a trapdoor opening over their heads which might give them a way out. To reach it, they try moving the large (and heavy) freezer in the room. After Castle opens the combo lock, they're alarmed that the freezer is filled with knives and instruments of dismemberment. Even Castle notes that this kind of thing rarely ends well. They also hear voices coming from the next room which lead them to believe that they've been captured by human smugglers. Beckett also convinces Castle to help her break through the wall by imagining that the captive on the other side is his daughter.
Meanwhile, Captain Victoria Gates (Penny Johnson Jerald) notices Castle and Beckett's extended absence and even Detectives Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Esposito can't cover for them anymore. But the detectives soon find Beckett's car abandoned with no trace of either Castle or Beckett. Desperate for a lead, Ryan begs Lanie to rush through her attempts to reconstruct the fingerprint of the dead man. Soon enough, they learn that the victim was Hank Spooner, a trucker from Texas. Their discovery also gets the attention of DEA Agent Chuck Martinez (Darin Heames), who explains to Gates and her men that Spooner wanted protection and immunity to help him take down a smuggling ring.
Back in the basement, Castle and Beckett break through the wall… and the prisoner on the other side reveals itself to be a very hungry tiger. As the tiger begins clawing its way into their room, Castle and Beckett realize that their captors are smugglers, but of exotic animals instead of people or drugs. When the tiger finally squeezes through, they take shelter on top of the freezer. Meanwhile, Ryan finally notices the postal code that Beckett and Castle used. The house is now empty, but with some rudimentary knowledge of what type of place the smugglers are using, they narrow down the potential locations to just a few.
Ryan and Esposito find the right place before the tiger can get to Castle and Beckett. But the detectives end up in a standoff with the old woman that Castle and Beckett saw. Her name is Ruth Spurloch (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and she runs the operation with her sons Jack (Brett Wagner) and Bobby (Brad Carter). Ryan and Esposito are forced to let the trio flee in order to pull Castle and Beckett to safety, but Gates and other police reinforcements catch the Spurloch family outside.
Later, Gates welcomes back Beckett and Castle, but notes that now the cops under her command must now notify each other where they're going. Castle then awkwardly tells Beckett that he didn't mind being hitched to her, before realizing he used the wrong word. In turn, Beckett says that the next time they end up handcuffed together, they should try it without the tiger trying to kill them. And as she walks away, Castle seems surprised over her words "next time."
Leave it to the writers of "Castle" to mercilessly tease the audience over the inevitable Castle and Beckett hookup. Personally, I thought that Castle and Beckett's commentary on Lani and Esposito (and meta commentary on their own relationship) was amusing. But there's bound to be a segment of the audience that's turned off by the narrative circle of their romance. And even that was directly referenced in the episode!
The problem with predicating so much of this series on the "will they or won't they?" aspects is that those elements are starting to overpower the comedy and mystery aspects that made "Castle" great in the first place. The setup for "Cuffed" is actually pretty brilliant and the story was really effective until Castle and Beckett eventually figure out the truth. In particular, the slow transition of Castle's amusement into fear was nicely done. And nothing made the villains scarier than when Beckett and Castle found all of those knives and must have wondered if they stepped into the next "Saw" movie.
It's kind of redundant to harp on the way Castle and Beckett work together. Yes, Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic have great chemistry, that's why people watch the show. And for all of the "Castle" shippers, the romance between Beckett and Castle would probably play out onscreen almost exactly as the relationship is now. Castle and Beckett are already together in every way that matters. All they're missing is the sex.
Less convincing as a would-be couple are Lani and Esposito. They were cute when they were together, but they've both been dramatically overwrought ever since breaking up. And rather than make them seem like a viable couple, their new attitudes make them come off as unlikable when they're around each other. Ryan gets off a little easier, since his fiancee is only hanging over him metaphorically. And while Ryan fears the so-called relationship test, Castle and Beckett just passed one of their own.
Gates had a few moments this week when she almost seemed human. The new captain does seem to have some concern and affection towards Beckett, but not as much towards Castle. She even openly blames Castle for presumably leading Beckett into danger.
I'm not sure what it means when the tiger was a more effective villain than the Spurloch family. Part of that stems from the fact that once the Spurlochs and their motivation were uncovered, they just didn't have the same mystique they had when they were simply faces briefly glimpsed by Castle and Beckett. It was also never very clear exactly how Castle and Beckett were overcome by drugs in the first place.
"Cuffed" was entertaining enough, but it was nothing really special for the series as it says goodbye to 2011. But knowing "Castle," 2012 will likely bring more of the same.
Crave Online Rating: 7 out of 10.