I thought making the terrorists ex-US special forces soldiers instead of Islamists actually allowed them to explore a greater range of issues and ultimately make it a far more compelling and nuanced episode than if they had gone the stereotypical and easy route.
Think about the wide variety of ideas they touched on in this episode:
- Jumping to conclusions about Muslim persons of interest in an investigation being terrorists is wrong, but so is choosing to ignore patterns or evidence pointing in that direction in the service of excessive notions of fairness or "political correctness," as much as I loathe the abuse of the term. If they had wound up with the Syrian family being terrorists, it would have undermined the former part of the message, while the latter part was still addressed even with them being innocent.
- Seeking to understand or even empathize with a terrorist group or other enemy does not equal approval of their actions. If they had been Islamists, I think a lot of people probably would have dismissed their cause out of hand as unrelatable. Instead, they chose to have the motivation be the loss of the unity we as a nation felt after 9/11 and the fact that people have largely put the war in Afghanistan (and to a lesser extent the fact that there are still troops in Iraq) out of sight and out of mind despite soldiers still being wounded and dying there on a regular basis. That's very relatable to the viewing audience, and therefore hopefully gets at least some of them to think about extending that consideration to other issues.
- Sometimes people do things that we as laymen on the outside of the situation perceive as unnecessary or excessive, but we may not have all the facts they do. Castle and Beckett for instance wonder how many times similar incidents like this have gone down where they were the ones on the outside who were kept in the dark to prevent a panic. Is it better to have total openness and have people potentially living in a perpetual state of fear which can endanger lives and destroy economies, or to control the amount of information the public receives? I lean toward the side of the argument that favors openness except where ongoing diplomatic, intelligence, or law enforcement functions (that aren't illegal) would be compromised and place people at risk.
- Just because someone does do something we perceive as excessive or cruel (such as threatening to take away the woman's baby), doesn't mean they are cruel by nature. Adrian Pasdar's Homeland Security agent made this clear when he said he's not his job, and that ultimately what he does is in service of saving lives. I also thought it was smart having an American of Iranian descent like Pasdar play the role (plus he gave a great performance).
I thought it was a surprisingly thought-provoking, well-rounded, and dramatic episode and that going for the generic Islamist terrorist angle would have undermined the points they were trying to raise, and in addition go against the typical narrative of the show, where it's rarely the first and most obvious suspect that turns out to be the guilty one.
I was a little disappointed about the semi-copout on them being found, defrosted, and back in action so quickly, and the reset of Castle and Beckett to the relationship status quo, but those are minor points when weighed against some great acting and drama in the episode. The actress who played the Syrian woman, Pasdar, Fillion, and Katic all gave outstanding performances. Plus, you have to love Castle and Beckett's reactions to stopping the bomb at less than the last second.