Castle Season 8 Premiere Review
Like half of the shows I go back to and watch over and over, I have no real idea why I keep going back to Castle. Sure, Nathan Fillion is charming as hell, but the storylines for the episodes are often more stupid than interesting, the puns and jokes make James look like a comedy genius, and it always paints cops in an incredibly negative light more so than almost any other TV program except for the news. And yet I keep coming back to the same dumb plots, the same barely likable Esposito, and the same terrible jokes. So here I am, at the dawn of a new season, and pretty much nothing has changed. But it hasn’t gotten any worse.
This episode, titled XY, is actually kind of interesting in its setup. See, this is actually the first part of a two-parter, with the second half, titled XX, set to air next week. Both episodes are set over the same period of time, but XY is told from Castle’s point of view and XX is from Beckett’s. As for the story itself, after a seemingly unconnected stabbing, it’s Beckett’s first day on the job as the new captain of the precinct. Castle comes in with a cake that has a bracelet buried in it, and the two are in love at each other. The Beckett gets a phone call. She claims it’s a telemarketer and heads off to 1PP for a meeting. Castle, meanwhile heads to his PI office to find that Alexis has been solving cases while he’s been busy with stuff or something. Castle gets called in by Ryan and Espo for a case, where they find three dead bodies and Beckett’s new bracelet in a pool of her own blood. The race is on to find out what the hell is going on and how Beckett’s involved in it all.
In terms of a setup for a two-parter, it’s not a particularly bad one. Sure, it is kind of ridiculous when the full scale of what’s happening is fully revealed, but when it comes to Castle I expect for the murders these cops catch to be connected to some insane conspiracy to assassinate the president of some multinational corporation in order to topple a regime in South Carolina or some horseshit. Hell, they even pull Senator Bracken, the man who orchestrated Beckett’s mother’s murder in the first conspiracy of the show, out of the prison hole he’s been written into so Castle can threaten his life with a scholarship. No, that really happens.
This episode also brings a lovely trope that Castle uses sometimes, the British X-Factor. Not the show, a character whose goals just line up with the Castle and Beckett’s enough to be of help but they’re still an unknown element that can and will go off on their own, usually making things harder for the cops. Her name is Hayley Vargas, a disgraced cop turned private security hunting down a hacker who stole a bunch of social insurance numbers, three of which were being used by the dead guys. She makes everyone’s life a little more difficult and teaches Alexis some tricks of the PI trade. I don’t like her. It’s mostly her accent. Castle seems to have a talent for hiring British people that sound like they just started having a British accent 5 minutes before they started shooting their scenes. And even though I just saw this episode a few hours before writing this, her accent is one of the only traits about her character that stuck out to me. That and she was a bit of a bitch.
Speaking of Alexis, ever since she was about to leave high school I’ve found the character more and more insufferable. When the show started out, she was Castle’s precocious teenage daughter, enabling the man-child that is Richard Castle and saying the one thing that makes the House parts of Castle’s brain light up so he solves the case. But as she got older, she became more and more of a Mary Sue-esque character, suffering no actual failures in her life with the exception of one, maybe two, and this episode is sort of a culmination of that trajectory for me. Apparently, after the contractors remodeled Castle’s PI office, she was there when a client showed up, took the case on herself and closed four cases off screen. Then, after being told about manipulation tactics, she flawlessly puts them to use getting a paramedic to let her into his ambulance to look at security footage. She is so goddamn perfect at everything and it’s getting really irritating. But that may just be me.
As for the rest of the regular players they’re barely in this, at least not in any real way. Beckett is on the run so she only shows up for a hot minute to shoot some people, and Lanie is there to tell us that the dead guys are dead. Ryan and Espo are there, but they don’t really matter. They have their ongoing shtick of opposite viewpoints, with Ryan wanting to move up in his career what with a new baby on the way, and Espo not giving a fuck about moving anywhere other than Beckett’s old desk. Oh, and they have their own version of rock, paper, scissors called gun, knife, Kevlar… I fucking hate that. It’s a small thing, and really only bugs me, but it’s a point in the episode so I’m going to bitch about it. Why do shows keep insisting on making new versions of rock, paper, scissors? It’s so unnecessary. If this was some kind of future thing or set in the olden times I’d give it a pass because either rock, paper, scissors has been forgotten or not made yet, but this show is set in the now. Rock, paper, scissors works just goddamn fine as it is. Stop trying to make your own shitty thing! It’s never gonna catch on! Fuck, man.
The only thing about the episode that really stood out is, as it usually is, Nathan Fillion. The man was basically built for the role of Castle, and at this point could play the character in his sleep. The best moments of the episode, hell, of the entire series are with him. But he’s mostly just doing his routine in this episode. He’s in a largely reactionary role this time around. He’s usually being led places or having other characters giving him the info necessary to move the story along. The episode does avoid the pitfall of having him be super serious, which never really gels with what we see of him throughout the rest of the show. I usually end up going back to the time when Castle tortured an injured man when Alexis was kidnapped. It was incredibly out of tone for the show and has stuck with me ever since. This time around he does get serious, most notably with Bracken and the aforementioned scholarship shanking, but he doesn’t push it too far so it’s more believable for the character and he’s able to come back from it with relative ease.
Castle has never been a great show. There have always been these little niggles and fairly big problems that keep from being anything more than alright. And that’s what this episode was. Not the over the top bombast of a race against the clock for an NYPD detective and mystery novelist to find a dirty bomb in the heart of New York, and not some bullshit joke case to wrap up a season. An okay start to a probably underwhelming two parter to kick off a season that hopefully starts the show on a march to wrapping the hell up.
While Nathan Fillion is charming as always and the conceit for this first part of season premiere double bill is somewhat interesting, XX does little more than stay the quality course. It doesn't swing into the so ridiculous it's laughably enjoyable, nor does it go generic and boring. It goes right down the middle, occasionally wavering between pretty good and pretty annoying.