Surprises Abound as Castle Returns!

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There are some things you just can’t face without a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in front of you – like the tortuous teaser for Rise, the fourth season premiere of Castle [ABC, Mondays, 10:01/9:01C].

When we left Castle, last spring, Detective Kate Beckett [Stana Katic] had been shot by a sniper as mystery novelist Rick Castle [Nathan Fillion] tried to knock out of the way. The third season finale ended with him whispering, ‘I love you.’

Rise opens with a strobe like collection of sights and sounds that are obviously meant to be Beckett’s point of view as she’s rushed to the nearest hospital in an ambulance. At the hospital, when there’s no one else who can save her, her boyfriend [Victor Webster] is forced to operate – until another surgeon arrives and orders him stand down. As the teaser ends, Beckett’s heart has stopped and two attempts to restart it have failed. Whoa!

After a brief opening sequence of Castle visiting Beckett in the hospital [you didn’t really think they’d kill her, did you? Oh, ye of little faith!] – where she effectively tells him, ‘I don’t remember what happened,’ and ‘don’t call me; I’ll call you’ – we jump ahead three months, with Beckett returning to work to discover that her case has dropped by the new boss, Captain Victoria ‘Iron’ Gates [Penny Johnson Jerald]. Annnd, by the way, Beckett doesn’t get her gun back until she requalifies – and Castle has been booted from the precinct [not that he’s letting that stop him from continuing to investigate her shooting]. To make things even more uncomfortable, Beckett never did call Castle and he’s a tad bit miffed.

Enter our case of the week – the murder of a party girl celubtante, most likely by her boyfriend.

Though Rise is fast-paced and verbally adroit as ever, there’s a darker undercurrent to it as we see Beckett at her most vulnerable [she freezes at a critical moment on her second day back] and there’s a bit of friction between her and Castle that goes beyond the usual. Which is to say, they’re; they’re working together, but there’s more going on than meets the eye.

Penny Johnson Jerald makes an auspicious debut as the hard-assed Capt. Gates, who lets Castle know – after he’s gone to the mayor to get partnered up with Beckett again – that if he screws even once, he’s gone. It’s reminiscent of the admonition he got from Capt. Montgomery in the series premiere but, coming from Gates, it feels much more threatening.

Jon Huertas and Shamus Dever continue to give Detectives Esposito and Ryan considerably more depth than the writing allows for them in episodes that are less ensemble pieces than usual, and Molly Quinn and Susan Sullivan make the most of a couple of juicy scenes as Castles mother, Martha and Alexis. The only member of the core cast who doesn’t get to do anything substantial is Tamala Joes – outside of a few brief moments at the beginning, Lanie is pretty much absent from the proceedings.

Naturally, though, this ep had to be a showcase for Beckett and Castle, and Katic and Fillion have never been better. How much better? Reserve judgment until you see the final scenes for each. I guarantee they are [separately] shocking, heartwarming and surprising [not necessarily in that order].

Rise was written by the show’s creator, Andrew M. Marlowe and directed by Rob Bowman and it is one of the show’s best episodes. Somehow, the two manage to create an hour of entertainment that sings in both its humor and drama and yet, adds that extra depth – that darker undercurrent I mentioned earlier.

Going into its fourth season, Castle has never looked stronger.

Final Grade: A