This review contains spoilers.
Yes, we love Caskett. Caskett is the reason we watch Castle. But it’s certainly not the only ‘ship we enjoy. When the writers have made us crazy by keeping Caskett apart and we’d thought, “Screw this, I’m out!” who kept us coming back?
That’s right: the bromance of Ryan and Esposito. They are just as funny, just as smart, and just as devoted (both to each other and Rick and Kate) as Caskett, but they never, ever break up or pretend not to hear the other when hovering near death. They always come through, even when that other couple leave us hanging, angry and/or frustrated.
And why not? Ryan and Esposito are both stand-up guys, dedicated to their jobs, doing the right thing, and taking down the bad guys. Not to mention, they do all the stuff that’s too boring for us to watch but which yields the clues we and Caskett need to solve the weekly mysteries. Despite their attractions, it’s rare, however, that we get an episode which focuses on them. This season, for example, has only had one—Kill Switch—which was really Esposito’s story.
This week’s At Close Range is the Ryan-focused companion piece.
We’ve known for a while that new father Ryan has been moonlighting for a while to help keep his new tyke in nappies and, eventually, college classes. (And as a new mom myself, seriously, how he does all that with a baby at home without looking like a cast member of The Walking Dead can only be explained with Hollywood magic.) He’s been doing some of this private security work with his brother-in-law, who, this week, has set him up with another good-paying gig.
But, of course, things go south, and a woman known for her charity work is gunned down right in front of him in an attempt to assassinate the congressman the detective has been hired to protect. Ryan sees a man running from the scene and gives chase until his fellow officers stop him. When the woman dies at the hospital, the homicide brings in the rest of the team, who quickly find the man Ryan saw fleeing. And, as per Castle usual, he looks good for the crime—for a little while.
The suspect is a crackpot activist, but it turns out that the activist is funded by an equally crackpot billionaire so Ryan tries to convince the man they have in jail to turn in the guy who framed him. As we expect, suspicion shifts about a bit before coming to settle on Ryan’s brother-in-law who has been selling access to those he’s supposed to be guarding. He gave access to the wrong person, and Carolyn Decker is dead.
The nice thing about At Close Range is that they don’t just use Ryan as a preface to an episode where Beckett and Castle actually solve the crime. Like with Esposito in Kill Switch, the whole episode revolves around him. And it’s great to see him take Rick and Kate step-by-step through how he knows that the activist is just a patsy and not the billionaire’s patsy. We get to see him exhibit both the confidence and competence that he always exudes—just in the foreground for a change.
It’s an equally nice touch to have Esposito bring in the murder board to explain that their crackpot was actually standing in the wrong location to have fired the shots in the first place. He has his partner’s back as much as the two of them have Caskett’s. That does not mean, however, that Javi doesn’t respect Ryan’s space. There’s a moment after they figure out that the brother-in-law Peter is involved, where it’s obvious that Ryan is going to confront him. Esposito offers to back him up, but when Ryan tells him he needs to deal with it on his own, his partner lets him (something not even Caskett have a healthy enough relationship to do at this point).
And Ryan’s confrontation with Peter, and earlier in the episode with his sister Gwen, reminds us of one of the things we like about Ryan. When you put Ryan next to Esposito—the he-man—the Irish detective has a tendency to come off as a bit of a namby-pamby, goodie, family man. But before he worked homicide, he was an undercover narcotics officer and a good one. We rarely get to see that tougher side (generally it only shows up for brief moments in interrogation), but it made a partial appearance this week in those talks with his family. It’s clear that “tough love” require “tough Ryan.”
And tough Ryan is one of my favorite parts of the show. Ryan and Esposito are great characters, but they are used more for explication (or other more purely narrative functions) or comedic effect than anything else. Which is a shame, because Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever are both fine actors, and this does not allow them to really stretch their legs. The only time Huertas really gets the chance is in his character’s relationship to Lanie, and with Dever, it’s when he’s called upon to slip back into his bad-boy persona.
Which is not exactly what he does here, and that only makes it better. We see the backbone and certainty of narc-squad Ryan, but in dealing with his sister especially, but even in the compassion he shows his brother-in-law, it’s very much influenced by the kind and gentle man that he’s become (ironically) in his time as a homicide detective. And that balance is utterly necessary if we are to believe that he can both sole the mystery, bringing his Peter to justice and save his sister’s family.
The episode also worked in, none too subtly (not that that’s a problem) one of Nathan Fillion’s pet causes: water. The charity the victim heads is called “Pure Water Now.” Every year, on his birthday, Fillion asks fans who want to help him celebrate his birthday (which was this week, not coincidentally, I’m thinking) to donate to a water charity. This year, he and Alan Tudyk have partially (and very tastefully) piggybacked this charitable drive onto their indiegogo campaign to create the web series Con Man by offering crowdfunding-type perks to people who give to help provide wells to those without clean drinking water. You can donate to the campaign (and maybe win the chance to hang out with Fillion and Tudyk) here.