Castle season 7 episode 21 review: In Plane Sight

This episode of Castle gets the mystery spot-on, even if it's missing the show's usual Beckett-Castle chemistry...

This review contains spoilers.

7.21 In Plane Sight

It’s not often that Castle goes outside its comfort zone. And still less often that it does it well. But In Plane Sight was just such an outing, and a real treat for mystery fans.

On one level, this is a surprise. After all, this episode has few of the hallmarks of what faithful viewers tend to think of as key to a good Castle tale. In Plane Sight takes place entirely during the course of a transatlantic flight on the always-tragic Oceanic Air (Oceanic Air/Airlines/Airways is the commonly used name of an airline company where bad air stuff always happens—think Lost or Executive Decision) during which Rick and Alexis are on their way to London to have a little father-daughter bonding-time. Or so Castle thinks. Alexis has other plans.

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But both their plans are forgotten when the crew begin to act oddly and Castle, being Castle, cannot help sticking his nose in where it would usually be unwelcome. The flight’s air marshal has gone missing and the crew is only too happy to have the detective’s help in first finding the missing man and, when it turns out that he’s been murdered and his body hidden below decks in the luggage, help in tracking down both murderer and motive.

What this means is that the heart of almost all good Castle episodes is conspicuously missing: the chemistry between Castle and Beckett. There are a few Wi-Fi calls betwixt the two, for sure, as Kate does what she can to provide her husband information to determine who the real killer is, but as many of us who have been in long-distance relationships can attest, Skype is not the same as being there. And certainly none of the sizzle or the humour we expect between the two lovebirds shows up on these calls. Nor do we get a lot of the usual fun we expect from the boys, stuck as they are in the precinct with Beckett—although it would be intriguing to hear more of their Road Runner vs. Wile E. Coyote discussion.

However, the episode is not devoid of chemistry. Instead, we get a slight re-emergence of what used to exist between father and daughter before the disastrous Pi came on the scene last season. It’s nice to see the two working together and nicer still to see Molly C. Quinn back on the show for more than a quick cameo, but it’s still a far cry from the days of laser-tag and dad-daughter besties. It would be excellent if this was a sign of things to come.

But what the episode lacks in the show’s usual charms, it more than makes up for in the essential mystery. And this has got to be in great part due to the writer, Dara Resnik Creasey, one half of the writing team that gave us the two best written mysteries the first half of this season: Bad Santa and Clear And Present Danger. Her success is largely a matter of misdirection and pacing done just right.

A murder mystery on a plane, especially after 9/11, must be about terrorism, except that that’s too obvious. The much put-upon Arab, just-barely-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-law character is good not only to reassure us that a) we know better than to stoop to such overt racism and b) we know it’s never the first and most obvious suspect, but also eliminates terrorism as the motive while giving us an equally plausible red herring: romantic jealousy.

The pacing that the writer sets up and that the director, Bill Roe, delivers on works equally well in two important ways. One, of course, is that it doles out the discoveries steadily enough to keep the tension constantly ratcheting, an important key when you’re essentially working in a disaster-movie milieu like this. Things must always seems like they are just about to get terribly worse. But it also works to run out the clock, taking us so close to the end of the episode, that we become convinced that the woman in the wig really is our villain and must simply be made to divulge her last secret (where the bomb is? Who her accomplice is? etc.) for us to have entirely solved the mystery.

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So the fact that the whole thing has nothing whatsoever to do with her comes as a genuine shock. As does the true nature of the crime and even the identity of the murderer and here, I have to give some credit to the casting people. For procedural junkies like myself, it seemed virtually impossible that Paula Newsome’s Debbie Parker could be a killer. Her previous role as wife of NCIS’ Director Vance, and subsequent death of that character last year in the pivotal Shabbat Shalom episode (raising her to the level of martyr) was a sort of secondary camouflage which stood her in great stead here.

And made the final scene between her and Quinn read so well, I think. We’ve seen in the past the lengths that Castle will go to to protect his little girl so in normal circumstances, it would be impossible to believe that he would have stood back and allowed her even to think of negotiating with a murderer. But the calmness Parker brings to the role (and the NCIS baggage she brings with her for some of us) makes the gun in her hand just look wrong and like it cannot possibly be the instrument of death that it is. It makes Alexis’ gentle but non-patronising approach seem like exactly the right way to de-escalate the situation, and it’s not until it’s over that we realize that Castle has let it happen. And it’s nice to be reminded what we’ve been missing in Quinn’s absence.

It’s certainly not the episode we expected after last week’s big reveal, but In Plane Sight is certainly one of the most welcome surprises of the season.

Read Laura’s review of episode 19, Habeas Corpse, here.

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