Usually, Richard Castle's overactive imagination is a good thing — so good that as he helps his NYPD buddies solve scores of murders, you often wonder how they'd ever get along without him. In the set-up for Castle's clever lark of a 100th episode on ABC (Monday, 10:01/9:01c), they're forced to go solo as Castle (Nathan Fillion in rare form) stews in boredom in his apartment, nursing a busted leg. Until he picks up his new birthday binoculars and goes all Jimmy Stewart-in-Rear Window, convinced he's witnessed a murder across the street, eventually drawing his beloved Beckett and intrepid daughter Alexis into the Hitchcockian-homage intrigue. The more agitated Castle gets, the more skeptical everyone else becomes, and as the twists and comically suspenseful close calls pile up, leading to yet another chewing-out by that spoilsport Capt. Gates, we're treated to an entertaining object lesson in the "seeing isn't believing" playbook. Well done, including the timely subplot involving the murder of an IRS agent which, even when chair-bound, Castle can't help inadvertently helping his friends figure out.
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DISTRESSED DAMSEL: Natalie Zea is not having a good week. Well, maybe the actress is, but her characters are surely in distress. As we saw in the teaser cliffhanger in last week's terrific penultimate episode of FX's Justified (which airs its season finale on Tuesday), Raylan's pregnant but estranged paramour Winona (Zea) is on the radar of the vengeful Detroit mob, and that can't be good. In possibly even worse shape is her character of Claire Matthews, ex-lover of FBI hero Ryan Hardy and ex-wife of serial killer Joe Carroll, in Fox's increasingly preposterous The Following (9/8c). Last week, in her most desperate attempt yet to reunite with her kidnapped (by Joe's minions) son, Claire left poor Ryan behind at the scene of the latest clumsy shoot-out and drove away to be taken to the very opposite of a safe house: Joe's Mansion of Maniacs. Last week, she begged the very pertinent question: "How does a cult of killers stay hidden this long?" This week, as she gets a load of life inside the lion's den, we're reminded of the answer: Because these are the most inept group of FBI doofuses we've ever met.
In a parallel storyline to Claire's misadventures in the madhouse, a dejected Ryan (Kevin Bacon, doing his best) is back in "problem drinker" mode, and to rouse him from his funk, Agent Parker (Annie Parisse, doing her best) enlists his help to investigate an S&M fetish club "Whips and Regret" — Regrets? We have a few — and follow a trail that leads them to a place where spooky things lurk in the dark, as is this show's specialty. Would you be surprised to learn that the feds don't make a single wrong move during this latest enterprise? That, my friends, is my contribution to this year's April Fools Day.
As it turns out, the best and creepiest parts of The Following involve the twisted psychology of the actual "following," as we learn more about Molly (Jennifer Ferrin), the acolyte with the ability to get up close and personal to Ryan; Roderick (Common Law's Warren Kole), Joe's increasingly impatient second-in-command; and especially Jacob (Nico Tortorella), the most timid of Joey's kidnappers who is becoming more coldly sinister now that he's experienced his first kill. Even the sociopathic Emma (Valorie Curry) is starting to get worried.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH NORMAN: Even Norman "what's wrong with me?" Bates (Freddie Highmore) would like to know the answer to that question, which doubles as the title of the third episode of A&E's exceedingly weird and weirdly watchable Bates Motel (10/9c — you can catch up with the first two starting at 8/7c). Young anti-hero Norman succumbs to various bizarre daydreams and delusions while morphing from notorious mama's boy to Hardy Boy, playing Teen Detective with pal Emma (Olivia Cooke) as they explore some of their town's deepest secrets. "Our family's so screwed up," laments Norman's black-sheep brother Dylan (Max Thieriot), who fits right into White Pine Bay's underworld. Kind of hard not to be a little twisted when it's impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys, a point this episode reinforces with a classic cliffhanger ending.
Another tormented protagonist, another haunted landscape — albeit New Zealand is way more exotic than faux Oregon — as Sundance's gripping miniseries Top of the Lake continues (10/9c) with one of the strongest outings yet for Elisabeth Moss (a far cry and world removed from Mad Men's Peggy Olson) as troubled detective Robin Griffin. "What the (bleep) is happening to me?" she cries, suffering a personal meltdown and a major professional setback when traumas from her past are triggered by the troubling missing-person case she's working. The emotions are messy, the mysteries perplexing in this absorbing drama.
THE MONDAY GUIDE: Daytime milestone: ABC's General Hospital (check tvguide.com listings), the last remaining ABC soap to still be airing on ABC, turns 50 today. ... Documentarian David Sutherland makes films that are as much sociology as biography, and so it is with PBS' two-part Kind Hearted Woman (concludes Tuesday; check tvguide.com listings), a presentation of Frontline and Independent Lens, which explores at length (five hours) and sensitive depth the inspiring story of Robin Charboneau, an Oglala Sioux single mother working to raise a family and recover from her own past of sexual abuse, which she learns to her dismay has continued into the next generation. ... Tough break for ABC's Dancing With the Stars (8/7c), losing one of this season's most appealing contestants, Dorothy Hamill, too soon to injury. The remaining dancers adopt a prom theme, and a "King" and "Queen" will be named Tuesday. ... Music royalty is paying off for NBC's The Voice (8/7c). New judge/mentors Usher and Shakira fit in just fine, as if they've always been there. ... Nickelodeon's Nick News With Linda Ellerbee (8/7c) takes a look at gender equality with special guest Gloria Steinem, asking Are We There Yet? Women's History: Past, Present and Future (8/7c). ... A shining example of how far women have come, Bravo's The Real Housewives of Orange County (8/7c) returns for an eighth season of self-exploitation. Let's just say it's not likely to be confused with Kind Hearted Woman. ... Not much kindness in the world of NBC's Revolution (10:01/9:01c), as the heroes come to terms with their most painful loss to date, while Uncle Ninja Miles and his sidekick Nora head off to recruit a former Militia badass (Malik Yoba) to join their band of warriors.
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