Before I get to my recap, I have to wish a very happy birthday to Leah, a great writer, great friend, and the Kevin Ryan to my Kate Beckett.
Two-Sentence Summary The murder of a Columbia student leads the team at the 12th precinct to the kidnapping of the daughter of a high-ranking member of the old Egyptian regime. When Castle discovers that Alexis was also kidnapped, he proves that a father will do anything to protect his child.
Beckett: I didn’t think you had that side to you.
Castle: When it comes to the people I love, I do.
My Thoughts WOW. I’m not sure there are words to describe “Target” beyond that. Everything about it was exceptional: the characterization, the music, the plotting, the twist, and the ACTING. I’m the kind of person who gravitates towards performances more than I do towards any other aspect of visual media. So when an episode of a TV show features the finest acting by its very talented cast to date, it’s safe to say that the episode is going to be one of my favorites.
I felt the setup at the beginning of the episode went on just long enough to build the tension. While some parts were certainly a little heavy-handed (Castle talking about setting Alexis free), it all functioned as a kind of calm before the storm we all knew was coming, a brief period to get settled in before Castle found Alexis’s phone and the wild, emotionally turbulent ride began.
In an episode that depended on Molly Quinn more than she’s ever been depended on before, she truly shone. I loved that the writers kept Alexis in-character. She’s her father’s daughter—like Martha said—brave and smart and strong. She’s also been shown throughout the series to be incredibly resourceful, which served her well here. It would have been easy to turn her into a crying, frightened mess, but I loved that she was the strong one. She used her brains, and she used them to the best of her ability. Alexis has always been one of my favorite representations of young women on television, and this only added to my love for the character.
Speaking of the women in Castle’s life, let’s give another standing ovation to Susan Sullivan, shall we? This woman can take a few minutes of screen time and use them in a way that makes her performance unforgettable. I loved seeing her strength rise to the surface again. Martha has grown in such a natural, believable way along with her son over the course of these five seasons. In a time of total crisis, it’s Martha who becomes the glue holding her family together—and Sullivan nailed that mixture of hope and fierce determination with her trademark power and passion.
Castle’s family at the precinct was also a subtle but huge source of support in this episode. I loved the moment when he walked out of the meeting with the FBI agent and the rest of the team watched him go. You could see the sadness, pain, and resolve on all of their faces. Castle is a part of their family and has been for years. And these people protect their own. I never doubted once that they were ready to do anything in their power to save Alexis, who is part of their family, too.
Captain Gates was especially powerful in this episode. I got tears in my eyes for the first time in the episode (but certainly not the last) when she told Beckett to do whatever it takes to “find his little girl.” For all her gruff exterior when it comes to Castle, it’s clear that Gates sees him as part of their family, too. I also loved the way it became clear that Gates knows about Castle and Beckett’s relationship. Like “Probable Cause,” this episode didn’t make a comedic moment out of the reveal. Instead, it was a quiet but important moment of recognition when Gates saw them holding hands. I’m sure this will cause tension after all is said and done with Alexis, but I liked that it was handled in an understated way for now. There were more important things to deal with.
Like any strong Castle episode, “Target” got its strength from its leads. Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic both have never been better than they were here—and I say this is as someone who was blown away by their work in “Always.” I know it’s common fandom hyperbole to say that an actor deserves Emmy recognition after a particularly good episode, but I genuinely believe Fillion deserves at least a second look by the Emmy nomination committee for his work here. His vulnerability was something we’ve never seen from him before—not even from his best work on Firefly. And his darkness was something I’d missed from his days as Captain Mal. There’s something truly terrifying about watching those beautiful blue eyes go dark and cold—and it was absolutely necessary here.
Fillion had a number of standout moments in this episode, but his two best scenes pushed him to new heights as an actor and allowed him to create an almost too-real portrait of a father desperate to save his only daughter.
The first was his discovery of the blood in the van. In just a few short minutes, Fillion goes through a spectrum of emotions that would be impossible for a lesser actor to balance. He moves from anger to panic to relief in a way that makes you feel Castle’s helplessness. And Katic is his anchor through it all, keeping Beckett’s emotions just under the surface (the little break in her voice, the whisper of thanks), allowing Fillion to find that raw fear that renders this scene incredibly hard to watch.
Fillion’s other shining moment came when he “interrogated” the driver. This scene was one of the most chilling things ever shown on Castle. At first, Castle tries to use his words, to reason with him. But when he sees that his words won’t be enough, he makes the decision to act. Fillion closes his eyes, and when he opens them, Castle is gone. The light, the hope, the spark is gone. And in its place is desperation created by love. The decision to focus on Beckett’s reaction to the man’s scream was genius. Because in that moment we were all Beckett, shocked by the darkness in the soul of Richard Castle.
I initially felt uncomfortable with Beckett asking Castle about what happened. I was afraid her comment about not knowing he had a dark side would lead to tension between them, but that was far from the case. Instead, Castle tells her the truth—he would only go to that dark place to protect the people he loves. And we know that. We’ve seen him pummel Hal Lockwood into unconsciousness to protect Beckett. We’ve seen him tell Senator Bracken that he would have watched him die like it was the easiest thing in the world if it meant Beckett’s safety.
Castle has a dark side, but don’t we all? Isn’t there a breaking point for all of us (even if I hope most of us never have to find out)? Beckett certainly has her own dark side. And that’s why this moment was so necessary. Castle loves all of Beckett, and he’s seen all of Beckett—her light and her darkness. In order for Beckett to truly love Castle the way he loves her, she had to see his darkness and learn where it comes from. And she learned that even his darkness is born out of love. That scene marked a turning point in their relationship, the moment in which Beckett first saw all of Castle. And she didn’t run away.
Instead, Beckett stood by his side as patiently and as beautifully as he’s stood by hers for five years. She risked being discovered by Gates to hold him, to cover his hand with hers—because what mattered to her wasn’t rules but instead making sure Castle could feel her support, could have something—someone—tangible to hold onto as his world was falling apart.
Beckett couldn’t offer Castle anything but herself. She couldn’t offer him false platitudes because she knew—because he told her—that he’d be so broken by false hope that their relationship would never recover; he would never recover. She couldn’t solve the case for him because nothing was going right. And she couldn’t go home with him to hold him and comfort him because she knew that this was how she was needed most—to work on the case with everything in her until it was solved. Both Castle and Beckett were helpless in different but equally poignant ways in this episode. And Fillion and Katic played off each other brilliantly.
Castle opening up to Beckett about the feeling of being a father was one of those moments of beautiful synergy between characters and between actors. For so many seasons, we’ve watched Beckett let Castle into her heart with little moments like this, as he looked on with a soft but sad smile. Now it’s Beckett’s turn. Castle opened up to her about the most intimate, most sacred thing in his life in a way that destroyed any of the fears Meredith put in her head about Castle not being open with her, about him having too many walls.
There was a very definite and moving shift in Castle and Beckett’s dynamic in “Target.” For so long, Castle was the strong one, the reassuring one. In this episode, Beckett had to be the voice of hope, the hand to hold, the one who offers the cup of coffee (decaf, like he did for her in last season’s “Kill Shot”) and the love that goes along with it. It was her turn to be strong for him. That equality showed off their relationship better than anything else we’ve ever witnessed between them. They’re a romantic partnership of equals, and I walked away from this episode believing that more strongly than ever before, especially after the final scene between them.
I honestly don’t know how I’m going to wait until Monday night for the continuation of this cliffhanger. I loved the last scene with Alexis, and kudos to whoever made the executive decision to actually shoot that in Paris. It added a level of realism that made the shocking twist even better.
I’ll wait until Monday to make a final judgment, but if Part 2 lives up to Part 1, then this will definitely be the best Castle two-parter since Season 2…and maybe the best they’ve had yet.