Two-Sentence Summary When Castle starts having dreams about the two months he was missing, he sets off on a quest to find the truth. That quest ultimately leads him to an old prep-school acquaintance who holds the answers about his dreams, his disappearance, and the reason he had to miss his wedding day.
Favorite Line “I’ll be with him. Wherever this leads him, I promise you: I’m not going to let him go too far.” (Beckett, to Martha)
My Thoughts We learned a lot about what happened to Castle during his two-month disappearance in “Sleeper.” And yet I can’t help but feel that this was a case of too little, too late. By abandoning this mystery for the better part of the season, much of its emotional weight was lost by the time we got to “Sleeper.” And that lack of emotional resonance wasn’t helped by the episode’s rushed pacing and anticlimactic resolution. Castle has always done remarkably well with long-running story arcs, but I don’t think Castle’s disappearance will be spoken of with the same reverence among fans as the Johanna Beckett arc or the 3XK arc.
The latter arc might have played some role in this episode’s reception—at least for me. This season did such a brilliant job of handling the 3XK arc that it didn’t feel necessary to have another big, dramatic arc that wasn’t connected to 3XK at all. Beckett had Bracken; Castle had 3XK. It was a perfect balance. Throwing a new overarching story into the mix seemed to be something that should have waited until 3XK was finished. It only led to comparisons between “Sleeper” and this season’s fantastic two–parter, and, frankly, “Sleeper” didn’t stand a chance against those two episodes.
To be fair, I think “Sleeper” didn’t stand a chance for many reasons that had little to do with the actual quality of the episode. I normally try to stay away from discussions about contracts and show renewals because the speculation just stresses everyone out. However, when issues with the business side of television carry into what I’m watching onscreen, I need to talk about it. And “Sleeper” was very clearly a victim of circumstance. At the time it was written and filmed, no one was certain if there would be another season of Castle, and I suppose we still don’t know for sure. With actor contracts up in the air, it made sense for them to try to wrap up a storyline that could have gone on much longer, while still leaving some things open in case the show ever got the chance to go back to them. However, that uncertainty made for a rushed and incomplete resolution to what should have been an important story. It felt like the writers just threw a bunch of ideas at the wall and went with what stuck.
And what stuck was an incredibly strange story of espionage, terrorism, and…boyhood friendship?
Before we get to that convoluted story, I must admit that I enjoyed the majority of the episode. While it lacked the emotional punch it could have created with more clues or at least mentions spread throughout the season, it still seemed like a cool mystery at first. And Nathan Fillion did a marvelous job of showing Castle falling down the kind of rabbit hole we used to see Beckett disappear into every time a new lead was found in her mother’s case. Once again, Fillion chose a subtle approach as opposed to dramatically falling apart, and that was absolutely the right choice. It made Castle’s desperation feel more realistic and, thus, more haunting.
But what was perhaps even more impressive than Fillion’s performance was the way Beckett was written in this episode. She was a rock, and I loved seeing this supportive, reassuring side to her. Their marriage is an extension of the partnership they’ve always had. So it was lovely to see Beckett be there for Castle like he was there for her as she dealt with the mysteries and emotional trauma surrounding her mother’s case and her near-death experience. Beckett knows what it’s like to feel the pull of the rabbit hole, and I loved the way Castle’s map of Thailand reminded me of Beckett’s homemade murder board. Beckett knows what it’s like to let unanswered questions consume you, and I loved how passionate she was about standing by her husband as he worked through this.
My favorite thing about “Sleeper” was the way the women in Castle’s life supported him through such a difficult time. Not only was Beckett by his side; he had Martha and Alexis, as well. This was a great episode for Molly Quinn and Susan Sullivan, and it’s always lovely to see Stana Katic interact with them, too. Castle is surrounded by protective, smart, and strong women, and I loved the way this episode focused on all of those women working together and separately to be there for the man they love when he was at such a low point.
For Beckett, being there for Castle as he dealt with something she was all too familiar with meant introducing him to someone who helped her deal with her own personal trauma: Dr. Burke. I was so excited to see him again, and his presence reminded me of the brilliant way Castle handles traumatic events in the lives of its characters. Rather than having them soldier on and pretend that’s strength, the show has depicted its characters as people who don’t have to deal with trauma on their own. Seeing a therapist isn’t a sign of weakness for these characters; there’s nothing wrong with needing someone to talk to. That’s hardly ever depicted on television, and I always want to applaud this show whenever I get the chance for treating matters of mental health with the respect and care they deserve.
For as great as it was to see Castle addressing his trauma with a professional, this was where the episode got weird. For as frustrating as it may have seemed for Esposito not to buy Castle’s story, I think if we all put ourselves in his shoes, we’d be just as skeptical (especially because I’ve always viewed him as Beckett’s protective big brother, so I feel like he’s still holding onto some resentment about Castle hurting her by disappearing on their wedding day). While it was fun to watch the team start to unravel the mystery, the various puzzle pieces never really came together to form one cohesive picture.
Instead, the episode relied on a previously unknown third party, Castle’s prep-school friend Bilal, to tell us what happened to Castle. And then it relied on another third party, Henry Jenkins, to flesh out the details.
According to Bilal and Jenkins, Castle was kidnapped on the day of his wedding because of an immediate terror threat against the United States. The only person who knew the specifics of that plot was Bilal, who was a Pakistani intelligence officer who fell in league with Al Qaeda but was then trying to defect to the United States to work with the CIA. As Bilal waited in Thailand, his handler was killed, and he then demanded to work with someone he trusted who was too famous to be murdered without suspicion: Richard Castle. Castle was sent to Thailand to help Bilal, a shootout ensued—during which they were chased by a contract killer of Russian origin—and Bilal was shot. Castle then chose to have his memory wiped, and Bilal was replaced in his memories of prep school by another classmate.
(Wow, that was a lot. Correct me in the comments if I got anything wrong.)
To make a long story short, Castle missed his wedding because he was needed to save thousands of American lives. Out of all the convoluted reasons for him to go missing, this seems like the biggest reach. It felt like the writers decided sometime into this season to add terrorism to their story to spice it up. Instead, all it did was make things feel like they wrapped up too nicely. Watching Beckett tell Castle that he had the best reason imaginable for missing their wedding bothered me a lot. I know they still got their wedding, but this seemed like a bit of a cop-out for what could have been a very dark and interesting story.
And there are still so many things that don’t make sense. If Castle was truly a hero, then why did he specifically ask for his memories to be erased? Can the CIA really alter specific memories of other people (I thought that only happened in Mockingjay)? How did Castle get shot? Why was he gone for so long? And what does this have to do with whatever he witnessed in the woods as a child?
Part of me is hoping that there’s much more to the story than what we were left with. Instead of exploring more of Castle’s past and his psyche, this storyline didn’t do much besides delay the wedding. I was actually left wishing the show would have taken this story into much darker territory. (Maybe I’ve been watching too much The Americans.) I couldn’t help but long for the days when Alias had its main character opt to have her memories erased because she spent two years of her life pretending to be a brainwashed assassin and killed a man in cold blood to protect her cover. That was deserving of memory loss. What happened to Castle? Not so much. The only thing that makes sense is if he was forced to give up his memories and was simply told he chose to have them erased.
I can’t help but wonder what could have been had this episode been written with a more stable future for the show underneath it. All I know for certain is that this is one Castle episode I won’t be saving on the DVR or rushing to re-watch when it’s on TNT.