A Halloween-themed episode has no right being as good as Vampire Weekend. By all manner of reason, a Halloween themed-episode should involve a kooky, spooky murder, some specialized seasonal jokes, and an opportunity to see characters in costume. What Castle delivered, though, is a legitimately solid episode with a whole lot of things to love.
First, let me just get this off my chest: WHEDON REFERENCES UP THE WAZOO. They just kept coming. First the extended reference to Nathan Fillion's role in Firefly, Mal Reynolds (and also to the show in general via Alexis-Richard dialogue). Then we have a case involving vampires, which naturally leads to a Buffyverse reference. And to top it all off, a mention of Dark Horse Comics, the company that publishes Buffy Season Eight and the Firefly comics. Just thinking about all this again is making me grin. Widely.
But back to the world of Castle. Most shows, just having a case involving the vampire culture scene would be enough to make a case interesting. Not this show, oh no. No, we have to have not only sexy vampires biting each other in red scale light, but also a victim killed with a wooden stake through the heart, a dude with porphyria who has crazy vampire symptoms (perhaps not strictly realistic, but not entirely out to sea), and a death in a cemetary. And that was only the fun stuff. The plot took an unexpected and incredible turn and made "Vampire Weekend" into one of the most heartwrenching cases for me. I'm not going to completely give away the plot, since spoilering isn't my job or my intent, but I will say that it was twisted, emotionally stirring, and fascinating enough that it could have been a case on its own, without all the Halloween elements. Most ingenious moment: the grave of Elizabeth Dryden.
The Castle family angle for the episode was a solid delivery too. The egg-baby bit was a tad cliche, although the show gets cleverness bonus points for the Dickensian allusion. It was fantastic to see Richard Castle in full-blown superdad mode. He's done the touchy-feely Daddy stuff plenty, and a good amount of the "my kid is so much better/smarter than me" routine, but we haven't seen a whole lot of Richard Castle, Father up until this point and it was definitely an enjoyable new angle on the character.
Now, the humor. Castle is always quick and witty and full of funny moments. This episode was a nonstop torrent of puns and gags - I laughed my ass off, personally. My favorite bits include the first minute and a half of the episode with all its Whedon and literary references and jokes, and Esposito's "What happened, the relationship suck?" comment to Ryan in reference to his vampire-scene ex-girlfriend (it was a really, really lame joke, but I laughed so hard).
My absolute favorite part of this episode, though, was that Beckett got Castle. Twice. Once at the tattoo parlor/piercing studio/cosmetic dental place. And then in the final moments of the episode thanks to one of the greatest Halloween costumes of all time. I really want to figure out how they rigged that coat/puppet, because it was freaking awesome. The greatest importance of this is not the fact that it is funny as hell (which it is) or that it speaks to the growing personal closeness of Castle and Beckett (which it does). Instead, the most important thing it establishes (and this is just my opinion) that Richard Castle/Nathan Fillion is not solely responsible for making this a great show. Beckett/Stana Katic is a subtler but equal match for her totally-out-there costar. I don't feel like she gets all the recognition and admiration she deserves, most of the time. But it was so in-your-face this episode, I defy anyone not to have noticed.
Halloween episodes are supposed to be fun, but they aren't expected to be great by any stretch. For those who doubted Castle's ability to turn into a quality series (and I am including myself in that group), this episode can certainly stand as proof that good things can happen - and that you should never doubt a creative team that has Nathan Fillion and all his talents and connotations at their disposal.
(This review is also published on my blog at http://meltedbrain.wordpress.com)