Two-Sentence Summary After learning that Castle has only a day to live after being exposed to a deadly chemical related to her latest case, Beckett frantically searches for leads to keep her fiancé alive and prevent a possible terror attack in Washington. Her investigative work leads her to a journalist, whose grief over his own fiancée’s death at the hands of an air strike from the secret military base known as Dreamworld has driven him to seek out revenge against the sitting Secretary of Defense.
Castle: Next time I say I’m dying to see you, let’s keep it metaphoric.
My Thoughts One of my favorite things about Castle is its brilliant character continuity. We can be presented with new situations and obstacles for these characters without the show feeling completely foreign because the characters’ reactions to these situations are always true to what we’ve learned about them over the last six seasons. It’s why Castle and Beckett making the leap from partners at work to partners in life was so successful last season, and it’s why “Dreamworld” was so successful as well. The way every character in this episode reacted to its events was such a shining example of what makes Castle a great show: It’s a rare procedural that’s driven by characters rather than plot, and it never tries to shy away from that. In fact, it embraces our connections to those characters and the characters’ connections to one another. Those connections are what made this episode so compelling and emotionally engaging.
I think we all knew there was no way Castle was dying in this episode. The real reason the end of last week’s “Valkyrie” was such a great cliffhanger was because it blindsided the characters in addition to the audience. And the reason this episode was still so suspenseful—even with our collective belief that Castle couldn’t die—was because it was so suspenseful for the characters. When you have writing that allows the emotional stakes to be the focal point of an episode, even the most predictable plots can leave you on the edge of your seat with tears in your eyes, which was basically my default position for all of “Dreamworld.”
The case itself was interesting enough, even if it did borrow heavily from common Castle plots: the impending terror threat looming over a two-part episode, the loved one out for vengeance, and the shady political maneuverings. But what I liked about this episode was the fact that all this heightened action happened right at the start of the season rather than at its midpoint. Like I said after last week’s premiere, starting the season with a two-part episode felt like a very confident and intelligent move to secure the interest of new viewers and get casual fans hooked right at the start of the season.
I liked the twists and turns in the case, but my favorite thing about it was the way it helped set up a believable reason for Beckett to leave Washington (because I think we’re all 99.99% sure she’s going back to New York at some point). If she left just because she missed Castle or because she wasn’t good at the job, this whole arc would feel hollow and empty. But it looks like this job is going to force her to confront her beliefs about justice. Kate Beckett has always been driven by her desire to get justice for others because she knows how it feels to lose a loved one. Now, she’s left with the idea that her dedication to getting justice for all victims and their families may have to take a back seat to politics. I’m not sure Beckett will ever be able to justify putting other things above getting closure for a victim’s family. The look on her face when McCord told her the Secretary was going to get off without any real blame said it all: How can she be the one who honors the victims when she’s in a place where not all who are guilty can be brought to justice?
Beckett’s motivation for solving crimes has always been personal, but this episode took it to another level. Like Sydney Bristow and Chuck Bartowski before her, Kate Beckett proved that she’s a force to be reckoned with when the love of her life is in need of an antidote. I’ve seen this general plot so many times before, but what kept it fresh in “Dreamworld” was the way it affected each character. The “search for an antidote” plot may have been done on Alias, Chuck, and a thousand other shows, but there was nothing generic about the way it was handled on Castle.
It started with the way this episode worked in the show’s supporting cast, allowing us to reflect on Castle’s relationship with each of them. Did anyone else start tearing up the moment Castle asked to talk to Alexis? That’s because we know how much these characters mean to one another, and that’s also why it killed me to see Ryan and Esposito so desperate for the truth about what was going on with the friend.
But the real star of the supporting cast this week was Susan Sullivan. Every dramatic episode of Castle should have at least one scene featuring Martha because Sullivan is an exceptional dramatic actress. Her reactions to Castle’s phone call were devastating because you could see Martha putting the pieces together and realizing she was possibly saying goodbye to her son forever. And I was moved to tears when she showed up at the 12th precinct, looking for help from Esposito and Ryan. It was a beautiful way to show that all of these characters have become parts of each other’s families.
I was oddly proud of the writers for refusing to be melodramatic or excessively sentimental in this episode. It was a brave choice to go for subtle emotion instead of predictably big moments of drama, but it was the best choice for these characters. Castle proved through his conversations with Martha and Alexis that he didn’t want to talk as if he was dying; he wanted things to appear as normal as possible. Castle may be as dramatic as his mother when it comes to trivial inconveniences (his broken leg in last season’s “The Lives of Others”), but he was admirably strong in the face of death in this episode. Of course he used humor to deflect in some instances (his line to McCord about how he’d rather die than drink their coffee), but for the most part this episode was about the courage of Rick Castle and the serious side underneath his playful exterior.
One of the most heartbreaking scenes in this episode was when Castle asked McCord how Beckett was doing. When McCord said she was doing well and Castle responded, “So…she’ll be okay,” I was overwhelmed with emotion. Nathan Fillion’s delivery of that line was characteristically beautiful. It said everything without being too heavy-handed: All Castle wants is for Beckett to be okay if something bad were to happen to him. It was such a simple line, but it was worth more than 1,000 sappy goodbye speeches from Castle to Beckett.
There was no way in heck we were getting a sappy goodbye speech from these two characters anyway—because Beckett wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I think so much of Castle’s courage in this episode came from his knowledge of the way Beckett handles grief. He had to be strong because she needed to be strong. And she was strong; although you could see in Katic’s eyes and the tension in her body language that her strength was a product of necessity. Beckett couldn’t act as if Castle was going to die because the second she did that, she would be admitting that she couldn’t save him.
Beckett cannot lose Castle, and we as an audience understand how important saving him was for her character. She was afraid to love someone for so long after her mother died, and then she finally stopped being scared with Castle—only to come face-to-face with losing him, too. If she ever let herself believe that he was going to die on her watch, she would have fallen apart, and we understand that because we’ve seen her fall apart before.
Beckett and Castle have now both had to stare down the idea of life without each other, and that parallel was made visually explicit with the image of Beckett kneeling over Castle’s lifeless body on the grass—a haunting mirror image of the end of Season Three’s “Knockout.” Both of them had to watch the life drain out of someone they loved, believing they weren’t quick enough to save them, but thankfully both were proven wrong.
And this time, there were no secrets hidden, no hospital bedside angst, and no one else to come between them. Beckett could be by his side when he woke up in the way he couldn’t be when she woke up after her shooting. Those parallels showed how far these characters have come in just two seasons. What was once a scene filled with a thousand things left unsaid now becomes a scene filled with the glow of the kind of love to build a life on—stable, peaceful, and strong. Katic’s smile throughout that hospital scene was a thing of quiet beauty, and the easy warmth between her and Fillion was perhaps more palpable than ever before. That whole scene felt like a sigh of relief for these characters, and it was executed perfectly.
The end of the episode saw Beckett contemplating the idea of partnership and what partners do for one another. Yes, McCord is her new partner—and she’s a good one. But her real partner was behind the hospital doors. In this episode, Beckett was forced to confront the idea of a life without her partner, and it’s not a life she ever wants to live. Not only does she miss her fiancé; she misses her partner. And no matter how good her relationship with McCord may be, she’ll never be the first person Beckett thinks of when she hears the word “partner.” When Castle was relegated to “plucky sidekick,” he almost got killed; I don’t think it’s going to take long for Beckett to realize she needs to head home—to her family, her way of honoring victims, and her partner.