Welcome, fellow Castle fans, to my first episodic review of the season. I can’t wait to discuss every twist and turn along the way with all of you, because if this premiere was any indication of what’s in store for us, it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster!
Two-Sentence Summary As Beckett, Ryan, and Esposito embark on a two-month investigation into Castle’s wedding-day disappearance, they come across some disturbing evidence that points to him faking his own abduction. Castle’s reappearance raises more questions than answers when he wakes up with no memory of the two months he was missing.
Favorite Line “We’ll get there. We’ll find our way home.” (Castle)
My Thoughts I was in the camp of Castle fans who did not like last season’s finale at all. In fact, I disliked it so much that it made me approach this premiere with extreme caution. However, I would like to go on the record and say that I loved this premiere. It wasn’t perfect, but it genuinely captivated me. As I’ve said so many times, as long as I care about the characters, I can handle unanswered questions and even plot holes. And one thing “Driven” did remarkably well was make me feel for these characters—especially Beckett.
I can see where some might be frustrated at the plot of this episode. Like I said, it wasn’t perfect. My biggest complaint was the way everyone was so willing to believe the only explanation for Castle dropping the money in the dumpster was that he was doing this of his own free will. Did no one think he could be coerced in any way to do this stuff? You don’t need to have a gun pointed directly at your head to be threatened enough to do the things Castle did in this episode. I would have thought a group of detectives and the FBI would know enough to at least consider that possibility.
Also, Castle is a show that often likes to put its overarching plots on the backburner and balance them with “fun” episodes, which is usually okay, but won’t work in this case. This is one of those things that needs a presence in every episode until the mystery is solved. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to see lighter Castle episodes, too (although I do favor the heavier stuff), but even those lighter episodes need at least one reminder of this mystery. I have faith, though, that it’s going to happen.
If nothing else, “Driven” was something new. It genuinely left me guessing from beginning to end, and for a show to still be able to do that in its seventh season is no small feat. All of the uncertainty felt a little much at times, but in the light of day after the episode aired, I think it’s cool that the mystery writer is now part of his own mystery. And let’s just get this out of the way now—it has to be 3XK, right? Who else would mess with these characters on such a personal, emotional level? The twisted nature of everything that happened—not just to Castle but even more so to Beckett—points towards 3XK, at least in my opinion.
Although “Driven” felt like something new for Castle, as an Alias fan, the last act of the episode felt like a story I know all too well. Were any fellow Alias fans having “The Telling” flashbacks, or was it just me? From Beckett telling Castle he was missing for two months (in almost the exact tone Vaughn used when he said, “You’ve been missing for almost two years.”) to Castle’s lack of memory, I just wanted it to be revealed that his name while he was missing was “Julian Thorne.” I suppose I just need to thank my stars that Beckett didn’t get married while he was gone (forever bitter about that little Alias twist). Maybe that’s why I wasn’t so worried about all of the plot stuff in this episode: I’ve been down this road before; I’ve watched shows with more questions than answers so many times. And they’ve been some of my favorite shows ever because—like “Driven”—they made me feel things beyond just confusion about the plot.
Any discussion about “Driven” in terms of its emotional impact needs to include a mention of its score. Robert Duncan outdid himself in this episode, heightening every emotion so we felt exactly what Beckett was feeling. And the gorgeous direction is what we’ve all come to expect from a Rob Bowman episode. “Driven” was as beautifully shot as it was perfectly acted, and you know a lot of that had to do with the man behind the camera.
The whole cast brought their A-game to this episode, as they do every time this show gets serious. Although she only had one moment, Penny Johnson Jerald made the most of it. I loved that Beckett was so terrified that she was going to be taken off the case, but Gates now knows her well enough to never try to do that again. Their relationship has become one of my favorites on the show. And speaking of the relationships between women in the precinct, it was so nice to see another genuine moment of female friendship in the hug between Beckett and Lanie. Rounding out that trio of incredible supporting ladies was Susan Sullivan, who absolutely broke my heart when she was trying to make Beckett believe that Castle had no doubts about marrying her. If I had one complain about the cast in this episode, it was that I wanted even more Susan Sullivan—but that’s basically something I want all the time.
The heart of this episode, as usual, was the trio of Esposito, Ryan, and Beckett. For as uncertain as the plot of this episode felt, it was grounded by the consistency of its characterizations for these three detectives. Ryan’s initial belief that there had to be another answer made his crisis of faith later on all the more emotional because we know it takes a lot for him to believe the worst. And Esposito’s steadfast support of Beckett was beautiful to see. There’s something so solid and strong about the chemistry between Jon Huertas and Stana Katic; they’ve always made me believe that Esposito and Beckett have a friendship that runs incredibly deep. And friendships between men and women without sexual tension are rare in the media, so I cherish this one immensely.
While Ryan and Esposito’s struggle was an important part of this episode, let’s not kid ourselves here: This was about Beckett—her strength, her doubts, and her pain. And guided by the hand of Bowman, Stana Katic once again turned in one of her best performances exactly when she needed to. All of my qualms about last season’s finale in terms of its handling of Beckett’s characterization disappeared as soon as this episode began with her diving into the wreckage of the burning car in her wedding dress. That’s the Beckett I know and love: a woman who waits for no one when it comes to the people she loves, a fighter, and a woman who soothes her broken soul by attacking a case head-on.
Katic carried this episode on her capable shoulders. Every emotion came from such a visceral, real place. I believed her when she was threatening to break the fingers of the guy brought in for questioning. I believed her when she started to doubt herself, silently wondering if maybe Castle did disappear to get out of their wedding. I believed her when she smiled with relief when she saw Castle again. And I believed her when she cried because, even with Castle back, her happy ending still feels so far away.
There were several specific moments where Katic’s performance left me so emotionally destroyed that I’m still reeling over 12 hours later. The first was when Esposito brought her the coffee. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been more disappointed in my life to see Jon Huertas. I have to congratulate both Robs—Duncan and Bowman—for getting me to genuinely believe Castle was back with the way that moment was shot and scored. It perfectly put us in Beckett’s shoes, and my heart broke when her hopeful face fell when she saw that it wasn’t Castle who was giving her that coffee. It was a wonderful way to use the show’s mythology to create a genuinely heartbreaking moment.
Another moment that used what we know about these characters to break our hearts was that shot of Beckett making a new murder board in her house for Castle, just like she did for her mom. This was the moment I absolutely lost it. Beckett had finally put her mother’s case to rest; she was finally able to have closure and no longer hear the siren song of the rabbit hole calling her to lose herself in that case again. Of course, she can never be happy for long, so she was pushed towards a new rabbit hole. Beckett has lost so much, and Katic played Beckett’s inability to give up hope as the kind of desperation a woman who knows the grief Beckett has known would feel if faced with that kind of grief again.
Seeing Beckett at that murder board and knowing what it meant for her mental state made me completely understand why she was angry with Castle when he woke up. Logically, she knows there’s a good chance he had no part in what happened, but emotionally, his disappearance put her through hell. And she’ll never be the same because of it. It’s another scar to add to her long list, and having him back doesn’t take away the two months she suffered and struggled—and did all of that without him by her side.
Adding to that was the very important conversation Beckett had with the doctor about Castle’s memory loss. (What was up with his no-serious-injuries coma, by the way? That was weird.) I thought the suggestion that he could be faking his memory loss to avoid confronting what happened was a very smart nod to Beckett’s own situation throughout Season Four. That wasn’t a ridiculous idea to Beckett, and it definitely informed how she acted with him at first. However, it was nice to have the episode conclude with the 12th precinct crew discovering that Henry Jenkins was a fake. It helped prove that sinister forces are afoot, and I needed that for my sanity—for Beckett to have the reassurance that Castle was mixed up in something more than just a fake abduction.
Despite having that reassurance, I loved that all wasn’t well at the end of the episode. Nothing was magically fixed with an “I’m sorry” or a kiss. Instead, this show did what it does best—it allowed these characters to act like people really would in an impossible situation. And there was something so beautifully bittersweet about that. Those two months didn’t diminish how much these characters love each other, but sometimes love isn’t enough—and love can’t erase the past; both characters know that all too well.
That last scene hearkened back perfectly to the moment Castle and Beckett shared on the bench in last season’s finale, when Castle told her, “We want the happy ending, we can’t give up.” Although Beckett had her moments of doubt, she never gave up. She looked at his picture and stared at his chair, and she never stopped hoping they would find him. And that tenacious hope—that fighting spirit—is what’s going to see them through this uncertain time. They may not be at a place where they can even talk about marriage anymore, but they’re not giving up. They’ve come too far for that. Although their happy ending hasn’t seemed this far away in a long time, both Katic and Nathan Fillion made me believe these characters aren’t ever giving up on each other.
That moment—with Castle holding a crying Beckett and saying that someday they’ll find their way back home—was incredibly moving. Castle and Beckett might not have gotten married, but this was its own kind of vow. For better or worse, these characters love each other, and that moment was a promise to start the healing process together. They’re not who they were two months before, but Beckett could still lean on him when she fell apart, and Castle could still reassure her with his words.
Castle and Beckett aren’t the same people anymore—they’re broken and scared and unsure of everything. But one thing they’re still sure of is the fact that they love each other. It may not be enough to erase the pain they’re going through, but it’s enough to give them the strength to try to fight for their happy ending once again. It was a sad moment for two characters who’d come so far together, but it was also a moment of new hope. And it’s that hope I’m clinging to today because—like Castle and Beckett—I want the happy ending. And I’m ready to watch them work for it and start the healing process together.