Title Under Fire
Two-Sentence Summary When the team at the 12th precinct investigates a murder tied to a string of arsons, Ryan and Esposito find themselves trapped in a burning building. Struggling to stay alive and to make contact with the people looking for them outside the crime scene, Ryan has additional motivation: His wife Jenny is about to have their first child.
Esposito: You’re gonna name a white, Irish kid Javier?
Ryan: What? You’re gonna bust on me now for being sentimental?
Esposito: I figure it’s my last chance.
My Thoughts It’s often said that what makes Castle different from others in its genre isn’t just its sense of humor or unique protagonist; it’s the fact that it is admittedly a love story first and a procedural second. “Under Fire” served as a brilliant reminder that Castle isn’t just telling one love story; it’s telling a bunch of love stories. Friends, partners, lovers; captains and detectives, husbands and wives, parents and children—these relationships are the heart and soul of Castle; they’re the reason we keep watching, the reason we keep caring.
Castle and Beckett’s love story may be what gives the show its spark, but it’s all the other little love stories highlighted in “Under Fire”—Gates and her team, Beckett and her boys, Ryan and Esposito, Lanie and Esposito, Ryan and Jenny, Castle and his “brothers”—that keep the fire burning throughout each episode. A show cannot live on one relationship alone, and, thankfully, Castle is a show built around a plethora of diverse, well-developed, and well-acted relationships.
As is the case with most Castle episodes, the actual procedural elements of this episode took a backseat to the emotional elements. I didn’t care very much about who set the fires or why, but that’s not why I watch Castle. I watch for the characters, and this episode was as good an ensemble piece as I can remember, giving each member of the 12th precinct team an emotional arc to rival any they’d been given before. Of course we knew Ryan and Esposito would make it out alive, but what was important was that the actors never played that like it was a certainty. It made each scene come alive with a kind of desperation that felt necessarily raw and painfully real.
For as much as I love Castle and Beckett’s relationship and always want it to get more development and screen time, I liked that it wasn’t the focus of “Under Fire.” There is a time and place for “Caskett” relationship development, but it’s not when Ryan and Esposito are in a near-death situation as Jenny is about to have her baby. Yes, the first half of the episode was peppered with some fun, cute moments, such as their banter about their wedding date and Castle’s intriguing knowledge of fetishes. But once the action kicked into high gear, the time for banter was over. Instead, it was time to show the other side of Castle and Beckett’s relationship—the supportive partnership. In an episode featuring plenty of uncertainty and emotional turmoil, it was nice to see Castle and Beckett’s stability on display.
Both Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic used their gifts for subtlety to great effect in “Under Fire.” Their reactions to Ryan and Jenny’s phone conversation broke my heart because you could see them both imagining what it would be like to be on either side of that phone call. It wasn’t a melodramatic moment or a moment that overshadowed Ryan and Jenny’s relationship; it was a little detail that connected these two characters to the moment in a very believable way. That depth of feeling was matched by their reactions to Ryan and Esposito reuniting with their loved ones. That one shot of Beckett in Castle’s embrace conveyed all the right emotions without pulling the audience’s focus away from Ryan meeting his daughter. It showed us their stability, warmth, relief, and joy without having to tell us anything—and all in a second of screen time. It was all I needed to see from them in this episode. After season after season of angst and tension, I live for those moments of pure happiness, moments that Katic and Fillion sell so brilliantly.
While Castle and Beckett had their share of moments in this episode, ultimately, “Under Fire” wasn’t about them. It was about Ryan and Esposito and the relationships at the centers of their lives, relationships that were literally tested by fire in this episode. It was about Captain Gates doing everything she could (including showing her grit in the interrogation room) to save her people. It was about Castle and Beckett’s very real sense of helplessness as their friends—their brothers—fought for their lives. It was about Lanie’s quiet devastation as she faced the possibility of a life without Esposito and her strength as she put on a brave face for Jenny because she knew the mother-to-be couldn’t afford to see her fall apart. (Kudos to Tamala Jones for killing me with her resigned stoicism in this episode.) And it was about Beckett going into total BAMF mode to get her boys back—a mode I’d missed more than I realized.
Ryan and Esposito’s partnership is as much a part of Castle as Castle and Beckett’s romance. It often gives the show levity, but in “Under the Fire,” it gave it depth. Seamus Dever and Jon Huertas have created a kind of brotherhood that goes deeper than the clichéd term “bromance.” There was a reason that the moment Ryan told Jenny he wanted to name their son Javier carried such emotional weight; their relationship has been treated with the same respect, care, and honesty as Castle and Beckett’s, so we can feel what it means for Ryan to want to honor his partner in such a lasting way. And even though Esposito made a hilariously snarky comment about it, we could feel how much it meant to him, too. That scene between the two partners made me laugh even as it was breaking my heart, and it was all because of the genuine warmth Dever and Huertas gave to that moment.
Those genuine emotions were present once again in the moment where Ryan discovered that Esposito lost consciousness. The desperation Dever gave to that moment was fearless. It takes guts for an actor and a show to portray male friendship with the kind of emotional honesty that made that scene so painful. It also made for a very smart parallel between Ryan clinging to a lifeless Esposito in the middle of a raging fire and Castle cradling Beckett’s lifeless body in the freezer back in Season Three—two very similar scenes, two partnerships that form the heart and soul of Castle.
Although Ryan and Esposito’s relationship was very important to the emotional core of “Under the Fire,” it wasn’t their scenes that had me crying until I couldn’t breathe. It was Ryan and Jenny’s love story that took center stage, and what an impact it made. I’ve always loved the sweet normalcy of this relationship, but nothing prepared me for how emotionally wrecked it would leave me in this episode. Whenever a real couple plays a couple on television, it could either go very right or very wrong, and, luckily, Seamus and Juliana Dever fall into the “very right” category. I couldn’t imagine anybody else playing Jenny to Dever’s Ryan.
Ryan and Jenny’s phone call turned me into a sobbing mess. Juliana Dever was perfect in this scene, never crossing the line into hysterics or overwrought emotions. Her pain was so hard to watch because it felt realistic. Her “Please don’t say that” to his admission that he was going to miss their baby being born was devastating because it felt like a private moment between a husband and a wife. And don’t even get me started on the moment he tells her he doesn’t want to leave her. I’ll just start crying all over again thinking about how intrusively real that moment felt. Seamus Dever is my favorite member of the Castle supporting cast, and he’s never been better than he was in that phone call scene, with love, regret, and faltering strength in his voice, his body language, and his eyes.
The intimate heartbreak of that phone call was contrasted beautifully with the intimate joy of Ryan and Jenny (and Sarah Grace) reuniting. Like the phone call, what made that scene so effective was the feeling of intruding on something real. Seamus Dever did a truly beautiful job of showing Ryan’s overwhelming sense of love and relief without going over-the-top in his reactions. The real, honest love between husband and wife made what was already a poignant scene even more affecting.
I’ve cried a lot while watching Castle (shocking, I know), but I’ve never cried as hard as I did while watching that last scene of “Under Fire.” The love, warmth, and feeling of family that ran throughout that scene was so genuinely moving. I love moments that come by their emotional reactions honestly, and that’s what this episode was all about. I never felt emotionally manipulated; I felt emotionally invested. I care about this family as if it were a part of my own; I’ve watched it grow and change in such wonderful ways from the pilot until now. Castle is a story about love, but what makes it special is that it acknowledges that there are so many different kinds of love—so many different ways to make a family.
Castle is the story of two kinds of families: our biological families and the families we choose. Both are beautiful, and both are treated with respect by this show’s creators and writers. “Under Fire” was about the 12th precinct family, one of the most beautiful “chosen families” on television right now. But it was also about the start of a new biological family as little Sarah Grace Ryan entered the show’s universe. The melding of these two kinds of families made for one of Castle’s most emotionally stunning episodes ever, an episode that highlighted everything special about this show.