A master class in TV entertainment, A Deadly Game is a textbook example of great television. The season two finale is a perfectly balanced composite of laughs, drama and emotion, which is enjoyable from start to finish. The only blemish in an otherwise flawless episode is the mildly frustrating ending that, although arguably necessary, will leave you feeling like you've won the lottery but can't find the ticket.
This week's murder mystery is undoubtedly the finest of the season, containing more unexpected twists than The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense combined, as well as an inventive and original scenario that constantly keeps the audience guessing. The premise surrounds what appears to be a 'cloak and dagger' spy story, involving self-destructing mission statements, coded messages and fake ID's. We are led through a web of intrigue that seems to consist of nothing but dead ends, as Castle and Beckett struggle to unlock the identity of a man murdered with a silenced weapon after his so-called 'cover' is blown. As always, however, things are not quite what they seem, with the victim actually partaking in a type of highly organized role-playing game that is being marketed as an extreme vacation from everyday life.
This in itself provides a great deal of drama and comedy, as the first suspects in the murder eventually realize that their interrogation and incarceration are not part of the game. Hardened spy personas melt away to reveal bored business men and housewives sorting their ways through a mid-life crisis. Of course, the suspect spotlight wanders from person to person until a break in the case produces a tangible lead, but I never found this episode's journey to be too predictable or, alternatively, too confusing. For once Castle and Beckett revealed the killer before I had guessed his or her identity and even though the killer turned out to be a previously unseen character, it was still a satisfying conclusion to an excellent crime mystery.
On its own, this mystery would have made for a fine piece of entertainment, but Castle is never just about the murder. The real highlight of the episode revolves around Castle's jealousy of Demming, as well as Beckett's revelation about her feelings for the writer. For the last couple of weeks, we have witnessed Castle's growing discontent with having to sit idly by as Beckett builds a personal relationship with another man. Though this has eliminated some of the usual humor, it also has promoted diversity in Castle's character, and tonight we saw some extremely poignant moments as both parties consider their motivations and what they require from the relationship. It is obvious that Castle is beginning to find their interactions painful due to his feelings for the detective, and he eventually reveals his decision to make this his last case with the team. On hearing the news, an awkward tension falls over the duo as both struggle to maintain their composure in a classic 'you don't know what you've got till its gone' moment. For a show usually built around whimsical comedy, it's a real achievement to be able to move the audience so effectively.
The real turning point in Beckett's confusion comes from Esposito, who quietly explains Castle's real motivations for staying with the team for so long. It's all excellently handled, and it's great to see real warmth existing between co-workers in a high stress environment. This continues in another touching moment, with the entire unit gathering for drinks as a farewell to the crime writer, which reminds us of how far the relationships have developed over the space of two seasons.
Beckett eventually calls things off with the slightly one-dimensional Demming and an 'I love you Castle' [cue slow motion kiss] seems inevitable. However (and it is a big however), just as Beckett goes to confess her feelings to Castle, his ex-wife enters the office, and the two walk off arm in arm, leaving the tearful detective alone while the rest of the team looks on from a nearby room. I nearly threw my cat at the screen at this point and I definitely made an 'ah, come-on' gesture. Reminiscent of the scene where Rachel goes to the airport to meet Ross in Friends, the moment is more frustrating than it is heartbreaking, and it quickly reminds you that you're watching a TV series that is trying to milk all the sexual tension it possibly can out of its leads. (Sorry, that may have conjured up some unpleasant images.) As Chuck has proved, it is possible to have an on screen romance between two central characters, so it's a little irritating to see the writers take the Bones route and leave the way clear for perpetual teasing.
A near perfect episode that eloquently balanced drama, wit and heart-wrenching emotion. The ending was extremely frustrating, but many will argue that it was a necessary evil to allow the show to continue with its winning formula.
Castle may not be the most dramatic or thought provoking show ever made, but it is definitely one of the most entertaining. The writers show no confusion over what kind of show they want to produce, and they have created some of the warmest and most colorful characters currently on TV. There will no doubt be a third season, so now it's just a matter of how long we will have to wait before we see our crime solving friends again. Not too long, me hopes!
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