Castle Recap: [Insert Fire-Related Pun of Choice]

Castle Ryan Jenny BabyThe windchill may be hitting 20 degrees below zero this Monday night in the real New York City, but ABC’s Castle was on fire — literally and figuratively — with its winter premiere.

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THE RECAP | After opening the episode with a frantic and highly pregnant Jenny calling a grim Beckett looking for her husband, the narrative rewinds 12 hours to Kate, Rick and Ryan scoping out a gunshot victim burned to a crisp in a fire. FDNY Lt. Delia Burton (Army Wives‘ Wendy Davis, selling me on the idea of spin-off), upon realizing the vic was her partner, concludes that the fire was the work of a serial arsonist dubbed “The Phantom.” (Alas, once Burton proves to be helpful, Roger Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters tells us we met the culprit one scene prior. Anyway….)

Ryan and Esposito turn up some notes the vic was keeping on “The Phantom,” then go to scout out the building he suspected was next to be targeted. There, RySpo discover the arsonist’s workshop — but in doing so trigger an alarm/explosion that engulfs the building in flame, trapping them in a sub-basement not on any building plans. So fierce are the flames, the fire department switches from rescue to recovery mode, much to Beckett, Castle and Captain Gates’ dismay. Meanwhile, after Javy manages to leverage a heavy beam off Kevin’s leg, Kevin finds a way to signal that they are alive — using a rotary phone and the yet-to-be-incinerated phone lines.

Gates’ grilling of a fire fetishists’ website owner turns up a clue to The Phantom’s identity, in that he hates to see “sick” buildings suffer and instead prefers mercy fires. That leads Lt. Burton and Caskett to comb the files and confirm that building inspector Kimball is our firebug. (‘Twas either him or conspicuously underused Body of Proof alum Nicholas Bishop, right?) Beckett trains a gun on Kimball, barking, “Those guys in there are my friends — if they die, you die,” and gets the scoop on accessing the basement. New York’s Bravest broach the cellar and rescue Esposito and Ryan, just in time for the latter to mean his newborn daughter Sarah Grace, as Caskett and a reunited Esplanie happily look on.

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THE REVIEW | Guys, this was a very, very good episode — dialing up the drama in a way that, even going against conventional wisdom, you had to worry that one of the boys might not make it out alive. The pacing was tight — no dull moments or too much time wasted on red herrings — the effects were solid, and all of the “right” touches were there.Worried Lanie showing up on scene calling out for Kate and fearing the worst. Ryan volunteering the name Javier if Jenny winds up having a boy. Espo saying he’s not leaving “without you, partner.”  Gates rallying the troops to catch this “sick son of a bitch.” And no overlooked Caskett moments. (Did she call him “Babe”?) It’s be understandable to not be overly invested in the Ryans, who get showcased about 0.75 episodes per season, but this climax had to make you feel if not well up your eyes.

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THE QUOTABLES | “I’m… marrying him”…. “Sillier than ‘the arsonist,’ which starts with ‘arse’?”…. “Javier? You’re going to name a white Irish kid Javier?”…. Castle to the bloody, sweaty, ashy Espo: “You smell great.”

What did you think of “Under Fire” — “hot” enough for ya?