Castle Season 8 Episode 1 Review: “XY”

Castle

Well, the Castle Season 8 premiere has finally aired, but the mystery about the upcoming season is still intact.  Some of that is the nature of a two-part episode.  There’s a lot to be positive about in this refashioning of ABC’s Castle – and there are a few things that are the equivalent of nails scraped across a blackboard.  Are you ready to talk about the good, the bad, and the “remains to be seen”?  Then dive into this Castle “XY” recap and review!

SPOILER WARNING: This Castle Season 8 premiere recap and review has SPOILERS for Castle “XY.”

In my Castle Season 8 premiere teaser article I mentioned that the first 10 minutes were hard to swallow.  So in this recap and review, just note that we’ve got to get through that first 10 minutes before we get to the good stuff.  I promise, there is definitely some good stuff!

The Castle Season 8 Premiere Setup

The opening setup for Castle “XY”  is one of a dark drama.  A sophisticated bar/club scene, men in suits and women in cocktail dresses.  Our first murder victim (Tim Fields) – yes, I said first – has noticed that an attractive woman (Daisy Betts) has been following him all day.  She comes over, sits on his lap, kisses him…and stabs him to death.  It’s the coldest murder the show has ever staged.  There have been brutal murders before, but  they don’t show the actual killing – especially in the way this episode shows the victim dying.  They choose to draw it out and focus on  his shock and hurt.  He knows he’s dying and we see that he doesn’t understand why she’s done this – taken his life.  The eerie club music in the back adds to the chilling mood of the scene, which overall feels more like a scene from ABC’s Scandal than from Castle.  These are the killer’s last words:

“Just look into these pretty brown eyes and drift…away.”

I like Scandal…but I’m not sure how I feel about this kind of scene in Castle.  It has the flavor of what I’ve heard referred to as snuff porn, because there’s no real point of having it staged so…atmospherically.  Even on Scandal the graphicness of murder scenes have a way of revealing things about the major characters.  This is more like Criminal Minds…a shock value scene.   Later on I will come to question this scene even more, because the man killed isn’t just some John off the street but some kind of agent.  Isn’t the whole beautiful woman following you then tries to seduce you thing class 101 lesson in signs of an enemy-combatant?

After this night turns to day and the scene goes from the brown-eyed beauty leaving the scene to the beautiful Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) looking in a mirror at her own eyes which in this shot turn up as brown.  I doubt it’s a coincident that we go from the assassin to Kate.  These women look similar.  They are beautiful, sexy, and both can be lethal.  Beckett has used her looks to get over on a criminal before more than once, and we know she’s killed people before.  Yet, as mirror images, these women are polar opposites. Beckett has killed, but she’s not a killer.  She fights for justice.  More on this later.  

It’s time for a Caskett moment!

What’s inside the cupcake is a beautiful silver-toned bracelet with diamonds that has the word “Always” inscribed inside. I loved the idea of writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) going through the trouble of making the special cupcake and having that bracelet made.  That felt right and completely in character. The bracelet  also reminded me of a fancy silver handcuff, which, well, handcuffs are a thing with them.

However, the bracelet is all I liked about the scene, which is disappointing.  This is a moment that I was hoping to be thrilled with.  I’m not because it’s filled with editorializing that I don’t agree with.  No, Castle did not spend the the last six seasons “fetching” Beckett coffee, and I reset the implication.  They’re partnership has been much more than that.   Castle wasn’t always sitting by Beckett’s desk waiting for her to catch a case. More often than not he was home, presumably to do his writing work (or goof off with his daughter). He would then get a call and be brought in to help solve the mystery.  Beckett being Captain shouldn’t have to change much of this at all – certainly not for him to become a P.I. In fact, this episode proves the point that bringing Castle in on cases shouldn’t have to change at all – but we aren’t there yet.

Adding insult to injury, Castle appears to have a underlying vibe of resentment in his delivery of those lines about fetching coffee and things needing to change. It’s in his eyes mostly.  Whether that’s as directed or an actor’s choice, it definitely jumped out at me.  The bottom line is that suggesting that Castle and Beckett being separated as partners is a necessary change and having Castle say, “this is a good change for us” doesn’t make those things true.  From a strict story structure the change is not necessary.  Whether or not it’s a good change anyway remains to be seen.

Once Beckett gets the bracelet Beckett gets a phone call from a telemarketer a fact she finds annoying Castle points out that if she hadn’t turned down the run for state senate she could be writing laws to deal with such problems.  It’s a good way to handle the fact that she’d gotten that offer in the season finale.  It also leaves the door open as it being something Beckett might in a far, far, far, distant future (like end of the series future) consider again because it gives a reason why being a state senator would have any appeal at all.  In the meantime though, Beckett is happy to take a swipe of frosting on her finger and head off, “to a meeting at 1PP.”

The Boys Are Back!

Next up are detectives Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas).  There’s at the 12th precinct – fighting over who gets Beckett’s desk!  It’s great to see this familiar bromance dynamic. Esposito wins the “knife, gun,kevlar” game for it, but the ever serious Kevin makes us realize that for him it’s not just about a better desk. Beckett was able to replace the former Captain Victoria Gates (Penny Johnson Jerald) because she has moved on to become the new deputy chief. (Yes! We may get to see Penny Johnson Jerald again in a guest spot role!) He feels like everyone is moving up the ranks but him and Esposito.

More importantly, he’s continuing to worry about money because he and his wife Jenny (Jul Dever) are expecting a second child.  Javier reminds Kevin that he needs to celebrate the good news without “stressing out” over money.  Now there’s some brotherly love and advice.  It goes in one ear and out the other though because Kevin gets a call that there’s been a homicide. He’s thrilled because they’re a chance for overtime pay!  

Esposito:   “Bro, there’s something wrong with you.”

Nancy Drew Returns

More than the opening murder, or the editorial commentary, what happens after the fun and sweet interlude featuring Ryan and Esposito was enough for me to literally turn off my computer.  Nancy Drew, aka Alexis Castle (Molly Quinn) is back, and it’s more annoying than ever! 

First of all, there’s the way we find this out.  Castle comes to his P.I. office (which some of us were hoping to never see again).  The door’s open…out pops a guy named Franco Mancini (Brad Lee Wind).  He’s happy to “finally” meet Castle.

Franco: “My wife’s sleeping with my brother – not my personal chef.  What a relief.”

Castle has no idea what this about, but of course, he wants to know why this guy is happy about the news.  Mancini tells Castle that while he has four other brothers his chef is “one in a million.” The implication is that he’d rather kill his brother than his chef. Ha. Ha.

The joke is cute enough, but the next thing Mancini does is thank Castle and his “associate” for solving the case for him.  Castle’s expression lets us know he doesn’t have an associate – so he walks into the inner office.

Ugh! There is so much that is just wrong here! First of all, the attitude Alexis has here is terrible.  Gee, dad, I didn’t tell you I’ve been going behind your back, digging into your affairs and investigating the mafia?  It reminds me so much of the situation with Alexis in season 6.

In Castle season 6 Alexis brought home a boyfriend named Pi – who was clearly supposed to be a big joke.  The character was really a caricature of a nightmare boyfriend.  He is: goofy with big hair, a “fruitarian,” keeps calling Castle “Mr. C,” keeps crossing Castle’s personal boundaries, and he doesn’t have a job.  Every scene with this guy had a punch line to it.  

At the same time, the audience was asked to take the situation with this new boyfriend seriously. Alexis brings him home without warning and gets upset that her father isn’t overly warm and welcoming.  She’s acts like a brat, but we were expected to take her side and see her as the responsible one.  This despite the fact that in the real world most parents would have been concerned.  There’s also the fact that most college aged young women whose parents pay for everything – including their tuition – would think twice about bringing home a boyfriend for an extended stay without having a discussion with the parent first.  It didn’t take long for this joke to become not funny – even though it kept being played for laughs.

We have a similar situation with Alexis now.  It’s not funny that somehow Alexis thinks it’s okay to be running around playing Nancy Drew with her dad instead of moving on with her own life. Furthermore Castle being okay with this makes him seem like an irresponsible parent.  Many fans had the same reaction to last season’s “In Plane Sight” episode.  There Castle is perfectly fine letting his daughter talk down a killer holding a gun – and we’re supposed to go with the idea that she has the skills to do this.  The scene goes beyond Alexis being super brave and super smart – and even if it was, this show is not the adventures of supergirl.

That’s another thing.  Later on in the episode Castle is talking to Alexis about his relationship with Beckett (again, not the most appropriate thing). Alexis chastises her father about running around in dangerous situations that could get himself killed – while defending Beckett.   Castle is mad because he feels Beckett is shutting him out and running off doing things “like he needs protecting.”  Alexis points out why Beckett is doing this.  Let me get the exact wording…

Alexis: “You’re a writer, Dad.  And you and Beckett are magic together, but you don’t have her training, or her skill set.”

Alexis is all big tearful eyes as she says this.  Sure, she’s absolutely right here and it’s touching that she’s so worried about her father’s safety – but seriously?  How is she upset with Castle given what she’s doing? She doesn’t have that skill set either!  Yet, when told to “think about what Beckett would do – she’s able to figure it out and make a huge break in the case.   She’s also solved four cases, which Castle says “is more than he has” – even though he’s been solving cases with Beckett for years and she’s never even done a bogus 100 hour online P.I. course.  It’s bad enough we have to deal with Castle as a P.I.  This “Alexis P.I.” is ridiculous, insane, and most of all, unbelievable.  Dear writers, please, make it stop!

Look, I get that the writers want to give Quinn something to do that uses her talents and puts her in a more adult light, but sneaking behind her father’s back and being a wiseass about profit-sharing does not give her a maturing air at all.  They should try things that makes sense and aren’t convenient plot points.  Perhaps they could send her to law school, or to study forensic science – something that would be a logical move for a young woman who the valevetornian of her class, was sensible, ambitious, and has a crime novelist for a father and a police detective turned police captain as a stepmom. Then she would have material in her studies that would be useful to Castle and Beckett – but she’d have her own life and sphere.  Isn’t that ultimately what good parents want for their kids? Let Castle be the good dad that he was in seasons 1-5.  The dad who wanted the best for his daughter, not the dad who’s happy to have her glued to his hip and treats her like a second spouse.

The Case – and The Good Stuff

I did promise that there are things I like about this premiere, and once getting past the opening things definitely improve.   Castle meets Ryan and Esposito at a crime scene – a theatre that’s being remodeled – that he rightfully says, “looks like a Tarantino film came to life.”  We’ve got three more dead bodies laid out, and our favorite medical examiner Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones) is on hand to let everyone know that the men with the identical 40 caliber guns did not kill each other but were shot by someone in the balcony.  While scouting out the balcony, Castle, who is once again the only one not wearing gloves (why they let him near an undusted crime scene….) steps on a tarp that makes a squishy sound.  Lanie lifts the tarp and they find a pool of blood.  The shooter obviously got shot.  It’s Castle that notices something shiny in the blood.  Using a pencil, (at least he didn’t pick it up!) he fishes out a bracelet.  Yep, it’s the one he gave Beckett that morning.  Suddenly what’s going on now also involves Beckett!

Back at the 12th the news isn’t good.   The blood that was in that pool matches Beckett’s, but the I.D.’s of the men are all fake and the prints “aren’t in the system.  These dead bodies really tell no tales that can help. Worse we learn that Beckett lied to Castle about having a meeting at 1PP.  (I can hear people up in arms already, but I’ll address Beckett’s actions once we get the full picture.) There’s not much time for Castle to consider this because Ryan gets a hit on one of the phony credit cards as being used to rent a short-term apartment.  Ryan and Esposito – with Castle in tow – head out.

At the apartment things don’t seem much better.  Esposito breaks down the door, but the place has been trashed.  He and Ryan begin clearing the space and tell Castle to stay put.  Of course he doesn’t.  A peek behind a curtain reveals the woman we’ll soon come to know as Hayley Shipton (Toks Olagundoye).  Castle makes a valiant attempt at strangling her while asking about Beckett’s whereabouts, but a knee to the Castle jewels ends that.  Luckily, Esposito is there to keep her from going anywhere.

Hayley: a pro or a con?

Castle

Hayley is brought in for interrogation and if her attitude at the apartment wasn’t a clue, she’s a fresh and sassy lady.  She has a lot of Beckett’s early season knack for one-line innuendos and like Beckett obviously has walls and defense mechanisms galore.  She also can clearly handle herself in a fight…like Beckett.  If you can’t tell I find it’s annoying to have another Beckett-like character around.  However, the one difference between the characters is that Hayley doesn’t have any sexual chemistry with anyone.  To be that dynamic and flirtatious, and yet neutral, isn’t easy. I give major props to Olagundoye for being able to make that clear.

Hayley’s background is a London kid from wrong side of the tracks.  The neighborhood equivalent in the U.S. would be what we think of when someone mentions Compton in L.A. or the Bronx in New York – low-income with high crime and dangerous gangs.  Despite her upbringing Hayley speaks with an upper-class British accent – maybe to distance herself from the past, or from her mother who’s still in prison. (Like I said, walls and issues – and with her mother no less.)  She was kicked off the London police force for “cutting corners” on the legal side of things.  For instance, hanging a drug dealer out of a window to get a confession.

Hayley: “Did I hang him out the window?  Or did I save him from falling out of said window?  It’s hard to tell.  It’s even harder to prove.”

This seems to be more along the lines of rouge cop Ethan Slaughter (Adam Baldwin) from season 5.  Remember how he locked a handcuffed suspect in the trunk of a car and drove around in circles until he was ready to talk. This was a scene played for laughs, but just recently Freddie Gray of Baltimore died from injuries sustained from being put in the back of a police van while wearing handcuffs and no seatbelt ( www.huffingtonpost.com).   We’re at a point right now where jokes about police brutality are not really funny.  At least in Hayley’s case she was booted off the force for it.

Anyway, Hayley uses the same blase tones to explain being in that apartment: she was lost and looking for a Starbuck’s!  When the guys lay out the facts of Captain Beckett missing and three dead bodies she claims to know nothing about it.  She’s just “a freelance security specialist” working for an insurance company.  Her case involves a hacker stealing social security numbers from their system.

The first thing to come to mind?  Why hire someone from London to track down American social security numbers?  Obviously there’s more to this story.  The question viewers are going to have to ask themselves about Hayley, and not just in this episode:  is she really a pro, as in a security specialist, or is she a con – as in a con artist pulling the wool over people’s eyes while being involved in something bigger?  In a scene between her and Castle she tells him that in order to be a P.I. not only will have to be willing to lie and steal – from friends as well as enemies –  but he needs to be willing at times to screw his friends over.  She sounds like a mercenary, but only time will tell….

In the meantime, she’s able to give the guys a lead.  She gives them five names – four men and a woman – that were stolen names that she was tracking.  Three of the names match the fake names of the dead men at the theatre.  We can assume that the woman, “Susan” is our killer from the top at the hour – which means there’s still one guy at large – Ty.  Beyond this the guys have to let Hayley go because her credentials and alibi pan out.

What’s Going On?

Rather than go through all the twists and turns of this case I’m going to give you the layout. Beckett’s phone call that morning wasn’t a telemarketer.  It was a “low-level analyst” from the attorney general’s investigative team in D.C.  Beckett didn’t know him, but he must have given her the news that we find out: Beckett’s entire team from that time, including her partner,  special agent Rachel McCord (Lisa Edelstein) have been killed.  Three in a car accident, and the other was the man we saw murdered at the top of the episode.  It can’t be a coincidence that all the people Beckett worked with have been killed and now they’re going after her.

Castle and the guys don’t find this out until near the end of the episode.  Most of the episode is them tracking Beckett.  Castle teams up with Hayley for a while, which leads them to finding out she’s with this analyst, Vikram Singh (Sunkrish Bala).  In terms of some of  Beckett’s badass moves, we learn that she stitched herself up at a dry cleaner’s place and briefly hijacks an ambulance in order to steal insulin for the diabetic analyst.  Alexis figures out that the man with Beckett is diabetic – and in a way that’s actually believable.  Less so is the way she finds Beckett.

Being that I’ve already ranted about Alexis I’m not going to say much about this.  Hayley that tells Alexis to think like Beckett and Alexis uses Hayley’s “advice” on being a P.I. to investigate the ambulance.  In terms of the Alexis-Hayley dynamic, Hayley teaching Alexis to lie and flirt to get what she wants isn’t exactly the kind of relationship that one would consider to be a healthy one. I know some of the interviews given by showrunners Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter described Hayley as some kind of role model for Alexis, but I don’t see it.  Hayley with Alexis is like finding out your daughter is hanging out with the older girl who smokes, drinks and skips class.  

It’s All about Beckett

It’s interesting that we’ve now got three women – Beckett, the female assassin, and Hayley – all who are breaking laws left and right.  However, only Beckett has “legitimate” reasons for her actions.  She is clearly the heroine, the one fighting for truth and justice.  This is who Beckett is, who she’s always been.  When we learn that she went to see Senator William Bracken (Jack Coleman) it’s a bit of a red herring because we think that he’ll be the one behind all of this.  Castle’s visit to Bracken turns out to be far more enlightening.

The scene between Castle and Bracken is one of best in the episode.  Bracken doesn’t want to talk but Castle threatens to put a hit out on Bracken in prison. Bracken knows Castle has the money to do it, and is crazy enough to find a way, so he talks with Castle.

Bracken: “You come in hear all on fire about your wife.  You don’t even know who she is.  16 years Kate Beckett’s been obsessed with solving her mother’s murder.  You really think she can just turn off that kind of obsession?”

Castle:  “Are you saying this is her fault?”

Bracken: “I’m saying she’s never going to be happy just being Mrs. Castle.  She needs to tilt at windmills.  It’s in her DNA.  Like a moth to the flame.  We all know what happens to the moth in the end.”

Bracken makes it sound like Beckett likes chasing trouble.  What it is really?  Beckett will always seek justice for those she cares about, and the life that she’s led – spending 16 years chasing Bracken and bad guys has made her damn good at it.  It’s not that she can’t be happy being Mrs. Castle.  It’s that in reality the trajectory of Beckett’s life is much bigger than simply being Castle’s wife.  Beckett’s entire team from D.C. has been killed.  Had Beckett ignored the phone call she’d gotten that morning we can be assured she’d never have made it to the precinct alive.  As bad as things look, they could have been much worse. (Of course, then there’d be no show!)

We learn even more about what Beckett is up against when Castle is kidnapped. The last of the stolen id guys let’s call them Ty and and our female killer – lets call them Ty and Susan take him right after Castle meets with Bracken.  They think Castle knows where Beckett is. Susan wants to start cutting off fingers, but Ty decides to use…spiders.

I have to say that I found the spider/torture scene plain silly.  Like, really, this hard-core assassin is going to be walking around with a box of spiders?  It’s a useless venture, one designed to kill time and be weird and creepy for Fillion to play around with. Once again, it’s one of those, “we want you take this seriously, even though it’s obviously not” moments.  Also, I’m supposed to believe that Susan, the hard-core trained killer and torture expert, handcuffed Castle so that he can use the handcuffs to cut through the zipties. Okay, whatever, but ever that doesn’t explain how Castle opened the actual handcuffs.

All of this leads to Castle being chased by Susan and Ty and nearly getting killed – but Beckett comes to his rescue, managing to wound Susan.  To me, this was a real Caskett moment.  The two are intensely connected here, even as Castle is asking her why she hasn’t called.  We see that Beckett can’t come up with an answer, then she kisses him, says she loves him, and takes off. Ryan and Esposito show up with a squad, but Beckett’s already gone. (I’m betting she’s hiding in the building.  We’ll find out next week.)

As I said earlier.  It’s Alexis who talks sense to Castle (and the audience) about why Beckett has lied to Castle.  It’s for his own safety.  Furthermore, Alexis tells Castle that if he loves Beckett he has to trust her.  The same can be said about the viewer.  This isn’t Beckett lying because she can’t face Castle’s emotions, nor is she shutting him out because she wants to do this on her own.   Whatever is going on is clearly a much deadlier game than even her tracking down of Bracken.  That storage locker of high-tech guns which seemed random at first appear to be for a scary purpose.  The interrogation of Susan reveals that there’s hasn’t been just the one assignation team after Beckett!

The Real Story is Caskett

Castle has always been about the relationship between Castle and Beckett.  In this episode it’s Castle’s love for Beckett, his wife, that is the underlying engine.  He needs to find out what’s happened to her and what’s going on.  One of the more loved and well-known lines of Richard Castle is that Beckett was a mystery he was never going to solve.  At first that mystery was Beckett’s past and what she was hiding from.  He wanted to get behind her emotional walls.  Well, he’s done that.

However, Kate Beckett was never just a wounded woman waiting to be healed.  Her past has made her a powerful force for justice, and has given her a life that’s never going to be completely ordinary.  You can’t be a powerful person who’s stopped major bad guys without those bad guys finding a way to go after you.  That’s the way being a hero/heroine (at least in all the great stories) goes.

This new scenario offers amazing possibilities of more passionate Caskett – both in work – and hopefully in play.  I don’t think I’ve seen Castle show such raw emotions about Beckett for a long time.  I loved the short scene between them where she rescues him.  In the scenes  where he’s telling Hayley why it’s so important she help him, or while interrogating Susan,  his intense love is so blatant that even Hayley even shows some wishfulness in reaction to his words.  Obviously, she’s never been loved like than.   When Beckett’s life is intense, Castle’s character comes to life. After all, she’s his muse, his inspiration.

Once this two-parter ends the stories are supposed to go back to being more “normal.”  We’ve already seen that Castle can be called in on cases.  Hopefully that will continue and the P.I. stuff will just be a convenient set for Castle to be on.  I’ve no interest in watching Castle trying to solve cases on his like he did last season nor did I enjoy the splitting of a case between Castle as P.I. and the 12th precinct that was attempted.

Ideally, I’m also hoping that Castle and Beckett will be out with the guys on cases – because that’s what works.  Even though this episode worked, it worked because the entire episode was basically all about Beckett.  Despite seeing very little of her, Beckett’s emotional presence and the connection she and Castle share were front and center.  It also helped to know that this is a two-parter.  If I thought the entire season was going to be like this I’d have a different point of view.  As it stands I’m willing to see where this goes – although, dear god, they’ve got to do something about Alexis!

That’s my review guys!  Now I want to know what you thought of the Castle Season 8 premiere – part 1.  Did it all work for you, or did you too have a couple of issues here and there?  Let’s here your point of view in the comments!

To keep up with the latest on Castle Season 8 and other cool TV news you can follow me on Twitter.

[Photos via ABC]


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