Castle Season 8 Episode 8 Review: “Mr. & Mrs. Castle”

Castle Season 8 Winter Finale

The Castle Season 8 winter finale – “Mr. & Mrs. Castle” – has a lot riding on it.  There’s been a growing outcry of fan complaints and reviewer’s criticism  and given that Castle Season 8 has had the lowest ratings of the series,  it has felt like this winter finale is the episode that will make or break the season.  Last week’s episode, “The Last Seduction” gave viewers some hope, but it’s “Mr. & Mrs. Castle” that will decided for many if this is a show that they want to keep watching.

SPOILER ALERT! There are HUGE SPOILERS for the Castle Season 8 winter finale ahead!

I had some mixed feeling watching “Mr. & Mrs. Castle.”  Before getting into a full review, let’s start out with some pros and cons of some of the elements within it.

The Pros

1. The Opening Scene:

The crusty middle-aged man on his boat, the barking bulldog, and the dead body floating to the surface was funny, weird, and creepy.  It was not violent, cold and scary.  It’s the first time this season we haven’t had to witness the actual murder – and I was relieved.  When Castle started – and for many seasons – it was rare that we had to be subjected to watching the murder happen.  The show was about the strange and creepy ways they found the bodies, the “freaky” murder victims. It was not about watching someone be killed every week.  Even when we saw the setup happening for the murder we didn’t actually watch it.  There are plenty of shows that go that route, and that’s fine, but that’s not why people tuned into Castle.

I don’t know whose idea it was to try to turn this show into Criminal Minds, but I’ve come to dread the opening scenes of Castle this season – to the point of wanting to skip them.  After all, the point of the show is seeing Captain Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) and writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) working together to catch the killer, not to see the killer do his or her stuff.  Hopefully this episode will start a trend back to the kind of classic Castle openings that the one from “Mr. & Mrs. Castle” is representative of.

2. Martha, Martha, Martha!

It’s always a treat when we get a scene with Martha Rogers because actress Susan Sullivan makes her such a fun character to watch.  Just the outfits Sullivan pulls off as being something one would wear on a regular day is amazing.  (Quick side question: is it me or is Alexis (Molly Quinn) picking up some of her grandmother’s sense of style…?)  Castle’s mother could come of as a caricature of an older theatre woman but in Sullivan’s hands she’s a fully realized character, a grand, brash, down-to-earth dame who truly knows and loves her son.  Her easy acceptance of the fired british police officer turned “security specialist Hayley Shipton (Toks Olagundoye) falls right in line with this because Martha’s just looking at the bottom-line.  She wants Richard to be happy, but this P.I. thing is a “money pit.”  He needs someone who really knows how to do things.   I’ll talk more about Hayley later.

3. Castle and Beckett’s Interactions on the Ship

The things that these two have to go through on the ship are like a mini classic episode of Castle and genuinely enjoyed this part of the episode.  From Castle’s “King of the world” moment (that, had to happen!), them dealing with the concept of the cruise line having the ship take off for international waters to avoid bad publicity, and them discovering the crime scene together, it was great having Castle and Beckett working together again!  My favorite line of the night is from Beckett:

“There are three Martha’s on Lido deck: if anyone knows anything about this ship – it’s gonna be them.”

Their separate stints on the ship are cute as well.  I especially loved the scene with the “three Martha’s” and Beckett discovering one is a marijuana-using grandma! Castle’s dance scene was amusing as well – but I talked about that in the Castle Winter Finale Spoilers.

4. Bada** Beckett

Even though the concept of Beckett going in to talk to a possible murder suspect by herself – in the engineering hold of a ship no less – is ridiculous, it got to be so commonplace in the last season or two that now I’m basically resigned to it.  The scene where Beckett is chasing this guy is shot and edited in a way that’s cool-looking, and the tension Katic has Beckett exude keeps it from being an eye-rolling experience.

5. Castle and Beckett Will No Longer Be Separated

This last point is a segue into the problems I have with the winter finale, but it’s also part of what I like.  I like that the stupid separation is over. If Beckett and Castle didn’t get back together in this episode there is no way Castle would have an audience when the show returns in January. I miss the fun and flirty pairing of Castle and Beckett that we’ve had glimpses of in this episode and the one before. It’s very much like how I felt about the second wedding. With that I didn’t have to like the path that got them there, or how the actual wedding was done, in order to be happy that the characters were finally married. In this case, despite the horrible story that’s been told thus far, the sheer relief that at least Castle and Beckett are no longer apart is a positive thing.

Even though Castle and Beckett probably won’t be getting much more together screen time than what’s been going on this season, the fact that they will be on the same team and not estranged makes the time they are together far more engaging. It could be entertaining to see them pretend not to be into each other – not to mention all those fun and sexy clandestine meetings – sort of like the beginning of Castle Season 5….

Maybe they won’t even all be that secret. If Castle just suddenly gives up on her that may surprise everyone that knows him and raise a red flag. Now that they’ve had that anniversary tryst Martha and Alexis won’t be totally surprised if Beckett’s visiting the loft during the process of her and Castle “working things out.” Oh, wait, that was the deal in Castle Season 5 as well…. (I told you this was a segue into the con portion.) Honestly, my hope would be that this entire “LokSat” thing gets wrapped up ASAP and they try going back to what would be the next logical steps. What are those steps? I’ll be getting to that.

The Cons

1. Castle and Alexis

Before I get into the big issues with “Mr. and Mrs. Castle” here’s a small one.  Alexis being right there while Castle makes innuendos about his night with Beckett is another one of those slightly icky moments between the father and daughter pair.  It’s a small moment, but it really bugs me how they’ve thrown all the father-daughter boundaries away.  The only time they seem to have Castle remember that Alexis is his daughter is when it’s good for a laugh.

2. Hayley & Vikram

Earlier I said that I could understand Martha’s acceptance of Hayley because Martha just wants Castle’s P.I. business to turn a profit. As for Alexis, even though she’s supposedly all grown up now, she’s really just a college student who’s been raised in a privileged safe environment. She’s not that experienced in the ways of the larger world. Pulling the wool over her eyes is understandable.

The real problem is that Beckett, Castle, and detectives Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) all act like Hayley is this well-known entity – and she’s not.  They all know why she got kicked off the force in London. She was a bad cop in the way that Ethan Slaughter (Adam Baldwin) is – reckless, with no respect for procedure and following the law. When she chastises Castle for not telling Martha and Alexis that the real reason Castle asked Hayley to come over was to hack into Beckett’s cell phone, I wanted to smack…someone: Hayley, Castle, or maybe the writers. In the season premiere the advice Hayley gave Castle is that one must be willing to lie to his friends and sometimes, “even be willing to screw them over.”  Now she’s the morality police? Really? Hayley was introduced to the show as sassy but unethical and untrustworthy character. It’s galling to see everyone acting like she’s this fine upstanding citizen.

I have a similar problem with the character of Vikram Singh (Sunkrish Bala). Why does no one suspect him of anything? With the initial phone call Beckett’s reaction tracks, but her subsequent trust in him doesn’t. Likewise, when Castle learns that the text message on Beckett’s phone came from Vikram he goes, “Our Vikram?” The fact that he knows Vikram now works for the NYPD as a tech analyst is disappointing. With the bad guy supposedly caught at the end of episode 8 x 2, why would Vikram not go back to his old job at the U.S. Attorney General’s office. Working at the NYPD is a definitely career step down for him. Castle never blinked at this until now?

The one thing that Vikram has over Hayley is that the writers don’t suggest to the audience that this character is completely trustworthy. There are consistent breadcrumbs that could end up leading to Vikram being a definite bad guy. His shooting of the guy in “XX” for instance. The “low-level analyst” is very comfortable with a gun. The way he pulls Beckett away from Castle is suspect as well. He really doesn’t want Castle to know what they’re doing. He reminds Beckett that it would put his life at risk, (There’s the Jedi mind trick, again. Castle was at risk the moment Beckett decided to investigate “LokStat.” Her being with him or not is irrelevant), but his worry is clearly really about Castle finding out.  Those cell phone call that Ryan and Esposito traced from the onboard killer to someplace uptown…do we know where the stupid strip club Vikram found to use as a secret place to work is located?  Vikram could have set up the guy that ultimately gets taken down as the partner – or not.  This ambiguity works well.   Although we’re still left wondering why none of the doubts crosses the mind of anyone onscreen at least they aren’t trying to convince the audience that Vikram is a good guy.  He’s still a part of the darn “LokStat” story though – so it’s not really a positive.

3. Another New Character?!

Public Defender Caleb Brown (Kristoffer Polaha) may be connected to “LokStat.”  Do I care?  No.  The one thing I do know and care about is that there are too many new characters being thrown on this show.

4. A Retro Always?

This is the big overarching failure with the episode – and the entire season. The writers haven’t tried moving the story forward, they’ve been attempting to rework stories from past seasons!  “Mr. and Mrs. Castle” is their attempt at Season 4’s “Always” and it does not work.  I hated the entire “Beckett is obsessive and to blame for everything” fights and the way Castle tells her that she could have “just come to him” and they could have worked on it together and pretended to be apart.  My reaction isn’t because these things aren’t isn’t true in the context of the last seven episodes – they are.  The problem is the entire storyline that’s created the situation is a bunch of bull.

Why Ultimately The Episode Fails

The new showrunners have spent the last seven episodes having Beckett act like the woman from Seasons 3-4 while trying to convince the audience that her actions were because the character is this broken and obsessive woman.  This is very opposed to the woman we’d known for seven seasons.   Yes, Beckett had  been wounded by her mother’s death.  It led her to become a champion for justice, but she also became obsessive around trying to find justice for her mother.

Before Castle had come into life, Beckett had put down looking for her mother’s killer to become one of the best homicide detectives on the force.  In the Season 7 alternate universe, Beckett has become a police captain and gave up trying to find out who murdered her mother.  In other words, Beckett’s obsession was localized!  Without Castle there to push her back into trying to find her mother’s killer Beckett would not have fallen back “down the rabbit hole.”  Beckett’s passion for being a homicide detective didn’t come from obsession.  It came from not wanting, “the families of the victims” to go through what she did.  Smart and tenacious, yes.  Crazily obsessive?  No.  The scenario that new showrunners Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter came up with has nothing to do with the character of Beckett we’ve watched develop over seven seasons.  Having everyone say over and over again that Beckett is really this obsessive person doesn’t make it ring true to the character we’ve watched the seven seasons prior.

What’s worse about  “Mr. & Mrs. Castle”  that the episode does not have the earmarks of a “hail Mary” pass done to fix ratings.  Everything the new showrunners have said about this season leads up to this!  This entire fall arc…was planned.   This is what co-showrunner Terence Paul Winter had to say to TVline about the plans for Castle Season 8 after the two-part premiere:

The characters of Castle and Beckett both mean a lot to us, and their relationship means the world to us as well. So we have a real plan for how to guide through this new path, and we really do believe it’s going to be something that will be satisfying overall. If people give us a chance, they’re going to really – hopefully – appreciate the journey that we’re going on.

They can believe all they want to, but this was not in any way satisfying.  This was a total trashing of all the work that’s gone in creating these characters over seven seasons.  It’s clear now that the entire reason for this breakup was to try to recreate the dynamics of Castle Season 4 and try to rewrite “Always.”  Right before the airing of Season 8.  Hawley, in an interview with Marisa Roffman for Give Me My Remote, actually said he wanted to “re-pilot the show a little bit.”  The phrase, “Castle 2.0” has been tossed around by Hawley as well.  Hence Beckett is suddenly this obsessive person willing to risk her marriage and endanger her family for a group of people she knew for less than six months.  Trying to justify it with, “she thinks she’s protecting him” not only doesn’t change the facts, but it makes Beckett not just obsessive – but stupid. Meanwhile, Castle is this clueless man whose only fault is…loving Beckett?

One of the great things about “Always” is the balanced way the season dealt with things.  Beckett lied to Castle about hearing him say “I love you” when she’d been shot because she couldn’t handle it.  At the same time she’d spent the entire season in therapy learning how to bring her emotional walls down so that she could handle it and let Castle into her world – which in “Always” she does.  She’s flawed and imperfect but at least we could see the logic behind the reasons and kind of get it. Meanwhile, Castle’s been keeping his own secret all season about the deal struck for her life – as well as the fact that he’s also been secretly investigating the case.

Everything blows up in the last three episodes of Season 4.  Castle finds out Beckett lied so he goes out partying in Las Vegas and flaunting a blonde stewardess at a crime scene.  Then he nearly gets himself killed by trying to make Slaughter his new “muse.”  Beckett is afraid she’s lost him, but then an opportunity comes where she’s able to tell him about the therapy and why, and Castle gets the bigger picture.  He learns not to conclusions about why Beckett does things.  In “Always,” just when she is ready to take baby steps to a romance with Castle, Beckett gets triggered, obsessive – and kind of insane –  when  a case breaks open that could lead to her mother’s killer.  She and Castle have a huge fight where she learns Castle had been keeping a big secret – to protect her.   Beckett is furious and is willing to lose everything to catch her mother’s killer – or so she thinks.  Because of “Always” we see Beckett realize that the most important thing in her world is Castle – not her job, not catching her mother’s killer – and can appreciate the journey it took to get there. Then, this happens:

While there’s no doubt that Beckett’s apology to Castle is well-warranted, Castle has his own part in the equation.  Both were holding secrets while trying to do what they thought would allow them to eventually have a real shot at an intimate romantic relationship.  Plus, what’s triggered Beckett is something that was the traumatic event of her mother’s murder.  Beckett was culpable, but it was understandable as well.  The entire arc is one of character growth for Castle and Beckett and moves the relationship forward.

In the scenario of “Mr. and Mrs. Castle not only is there backtracking over old ground but Castle is in a position of being completely blameless while Beckett character arc of seven seasons has been rewritten in seven episodes.   She’s a broken and obsessed woman who’s lucky to have Castle put up with her.   There’s not even a point of reason for risking what she is.  For instance, if there had been some sense that if she doesn’t find these people they will come after her and her family.  Instead the opposite is true: her investigation makes it likely that they will come after her and her family!  There really is no justification.

In this “LokStat” story, Vikram says (which means the information is suspect) it’s Beckett setting up a computer search investigating her mother’s murder when she was working with the feds in D.C. that triggered the murders of her former colleagues.  Perhaps one could argue that she feels guilty.  That’s a lot of guilt for people you knew for six months.  Castle’s stepmom Rita (Ann Cusack) certainly came off as more than capable of handling this.  What happened to Season 7 Beckett, the woman who learned so much from her more “fabulous” counterpart in “Hong Kong Hustle” and wrote a list out of her priorities because she didn’t want to ever put work before her marriage?  On top of that, as I, and many other online viewers have pointed out, even with choosing to investigate, there was never a real reason for Beckett to split up with Castle to protect him.  No matter how many times it’s said or by how many characters that Beckett needed to do this to protect Castle, the actual facts as laid out in the story show that there was no real danger to Castle that would be fixed by her leaving. Even if she’d chosen to keep it a secret there was no reason for her to leave.  None.

The Wrap Up: Fifty Shades of Gray

More than anything it’s this major flaw in the plot of Season 8 that made watching “Mr. & Mrs. Castle” like riding a rollercoaster.  It’s full of highs and lows with a few loop-de-loops thrown in for good measure, and at the end of it, I was left feeling nauseous.  The second time I watched wasn’t any better.   Back in Castle Season 4, the finale “Always” was the single best episode of bringing a couple together I’d ever seen, and the reviews across the boards were full of praise.  It made sense that Beckett, after a year in therapy, is deeply affected by her most recent life and death experience in a way she’s never been before.  Beckett went into therapy because she wanted to be able to bring her walls down to have the kind of relationship she genuinely wanted.  In case you don’t recall, she said what that was in the Castle Season 3 episode, “Setup.”

Beckett:  “I wish that I had someone who would be there for me and I could be there for him and we could just dive into together.”

In Season 3 Beckett knows what she wants a relationship to be – but she also sees that she tends to have “one foot out the door” when she starts one.  It’s after the premiere of Season 4 that Beckett is able to put together that more than just a foot out the door for safety she has “these walls” up that keep her from the kind of relationship she wants.

Castle and Beckett were supposed to get married at the end of Season 6.  Why they didn’t is a rant for another day, but the short version is that until this season Castle had never had such a blatant out-of-nowhere plot move to stall the forward progression of Castle and Beckett’s relationship.  That stall in Season 6 was also done by sacrificing some of Beckett’s canon history and integrity in a story that has never added up.  Castle Season 7 had its own problems (some – like having Castle  as a P.I. – have inexplicable been carried over to Season 8) but the second half of it showed a Beckett who was happy in her marriage, but restless about her career.  As a woman who does want to make a difference in the world, who is talented as a homicide detective and a strong sense of justice, this makes sense.  However, in “Hong Kong Hustle” Beckett is very clear that she does not want to sacrifice her marriage to chase after career goals.

Aside from the weird flip-flop in the Season 6 finale,  the growth of Kate Beckett as a character has been a strong thruline – until the new showrunners came in.  Rather than move forward with the characters they decided to try  resetting back to Season 4.  All of this unnecessary angst was done so that the writers could  have Beckett be “broken” again – even though we’ve seen all the work she did in her healing.  They needed her to be in the wrong so Castle could get mad the way he did in “Always” – so that they could have a reunion scene that sets up this new idea that Castle and Beckett will now pretend to be broken up while they work on the case together.  Again, it’s the same faulty premise.  How is their appearing to be broken up going to be protecting anyone?

In my preview I said this episode was fifty shades of gray.  That’s because there are some sweet moments, and interesting things that do occur, and the show had to do something to stop the bleeding.  If Captain Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) and writer Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) didn’t get back together in this episode there is no way Castle would have an audience when the show returns in January.  This ending cauterised the wound ripped open by the new plot presented at the top of Castle Season 8.  Who doesn’t like sexy Caskett? It’s absolutely a move in the right direction.  Maybe now the show will move into where it should have gone once they’d gotten married: Castle and Beckett being there for each other while together they dive into whatever comes their way.  That was Beckett’s Season 3 relationship description and it is the perfect template of what viewers want to see and the logical next step of the story.

The question is will enough viewers get past the awfulness that these eight episodes have been? In the past there have been a couple of times fans have had to pretend an episode didn’t really happen in order to go along with series in general.  Castle 6×23 is one of them.  I also know that if I mention “The Squab and the Quail” I will get a flurry of upset responses.   However, those were single episodes, not an entire story arc.  I’m not sure how much forgiveness Castle fans have left in them, although I am sure many are going to try.   The damage from this part of the Castle Season 8 story arc is going to take a long time to heal, and even if the healing process does end up going well…it’s going to leave a nasty scar on this series.

Okay, it’s your turn now.  Let me know in the comments how you felt about the Castle Season 8 winter finale!

Want more news and reviews about  Castle Season 8 and other shows?  You can follow me on Twitter.

[Photo credit: Mitchell Haaseth/ABC]


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