Tuesday, 31 May 2016

TV Show Review: Castle Season 8 (2015-2016)


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Well, now that the show’s been over for more than two weeks and everybody has had some time to tend to their wounds, we still gotta talk a bit about that train wreck of a last season… and then put Castle to rest for good:

The premise: 

David Amann gave up the position of showrunner after only one year, so there had to be yet another change in that position for season eight. Terence Paul Winter and Alexi Hawley took over the lead position. Season eight was to consist of 22 episodes and had to face the difficult task of continuing to tell engaging stories after all loose ends had been tied in season seven’s finale and all characters been left in a good place. Yet there was promise for the future with Beckett having been promoted to Captain, Castle being more successful and content than ever as a writer, and the rest of the gang happy and ready for new adventures.

What happened then:

Aaaand, it all went pretty much downhill from there. But where to start…? It seems like the people in charge over the summer completely forgot what the show is about: “a writer and his muse”. Seeing
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that the new showrunners were involved in the making of Castle before, I find it really hard to understand how they could have gotten it so wrong. Well, many people are now saying it was a test run foreshadowing the events that took place after season eight (the whole Stana Katic and Tamala Jones fiasco), but, though plausible, that’s just speculation and simply cannot be enough to justify all choices in storytelling. Anyways, Castle and Beckett were separated in the two-part season premiere “XX” and “XY”, because of yet another conspiracy plot. Even though the partners had learned from mistakes of the past and now operated as a team no matter what, all this was thrown overboard in these two episodes, leading to half a season of minimal interaction between the show’s two leads. The romantic Caskett relationship, as well as their fruitful working relationship that were once the core of the show, now no longer seemed integral and were purposely sabotaged.

While, of course, a show on the air for eight years has to undergo some changes over time to keep things interesting, these new developments actually need to make sense. In the case of Castle, they very much didn’t. The story was taken away from the precinct and into Castle’s P.I. office. It seemed like goofy and untrained, yet creative out-of-the-box thinker Rick Castle was no longer a murder mystery writer looking for inspiration. Instead he now was a full time private investigator. Urrghhh, that horrible P.I. storyline!!! Seriously! Granted Castle got his private investigator’s license last season already. But the only reason he ever did that was when he was banned from the precinct for one reason or another and only to investigate cases of stolen purses and the like. Just a fun little past time playing make-believe detective with super cool gadgets. But no more: Now this guy with no skills, no experience, and no authority in the field is suddenly handling guns and working big time conspiracy cases like it’s nothing. Riiiight…. 

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If Rick Castle’s transformation wasn’t bad enough, his daughter’s development just takes the cake! Okay, I have not been a fan of Alexis since about halfway through season two, but at least she was such a marginal character that you could ignore her. Again, no more: Alexis Castle, the book-smart owner of a Bachelor’s degree in journalism (or medicine? Don’t know, don’t care), is now the front and center of everything. Little Miss Wannabe Veronica Mars now is an expert in just about everything from computer hacking to surveillance to espionage. If that came out of nowhere, her already annoying character traits from seasons before certainly didn’t. Her daddy’s little know-it-all girl routine taints just about every episode and is often more present than any Caskett scenes.

Season eight also introduced some new characters. Haley Shipton (Toks Olagundoye) is a British former MI6 agent, who now works as a P.I. and helps out Castle in the season premiere. She quickly becomes his inofficial partner and mentor at the office. Haley is a nice enough character, who has a lot going for her, but whose addition seems very forced at many times – especially seeing how she takes over most of the dynamics and scenes that Castle and his usual partner Beckett had before. The other new addition to the mix is Vikram Singh (Sunkrish Bala). He was a technical analyst at the state department, where Beckett used to work and then seeks her out to solve the season’s conspiracy plot. Vikram, except for the season premiere, is merely a token, experiencing no character development whatsoever and only showing up once or twice to be scared or give Beckett some surveillance updates.

With the addition of two new characters and that horrid P.I. storyline taking up large parts of screen time came the neglect of the lovingly created regular supporting characters and their development. Ryan and Esposito advanced to Castle’s on-call fixers, who, it seemed, only existed to look stuff up for Castle, come to his rescue, or provide some slapstick comic relief. Only towards the end of the season they were suddenly remembered. The birth of Ryan’s second child, Nicholas Javier Ryan, and Sarah Grace’s dance recital provided some nice family moments and the episode “Heartbreaker” (8x16) introduced us to Espo’s convict ex-fiance, further estranging him of Lanie Parish and possibly giving him a nuance of room to grow. Speaking of Lanie, the characters that really didn’t get enough screen time this year were medical examiner Lanie Parish and Rick Castle’s mother Martha Rodgers, who each got one important side-plot in one episode and sporadically popped up here and there a few times throughout the season.

But the character that was really done a number on was Kate Beckett. What happened to her character was the most aggravating part of the season. She went from co-lead, inspiration, and moral backbone of the show to what, at times, felt like a mere supporting character. The season premiere,
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which introduced the LokSat conspiracy and had her running off again in secret, basically erased all the progress Kate made personally in the past seven years. She had beaten the demons of her past, was no longer manic and restless, and had found fulfillment and strength in her partnership with Castle. But, oh well, let’s just make that all go away for some cheap little drama due to lack of other, more plausible plot ideas. As if that wasn’t enough Beckett was ridiculed and subtly undermined left and right, even though she had been promoted to precinct captain at the end of last season. Taking over from the fear and respect inducing “Iron” Gates, Beckett instead became “Captain Hoochie Mama” and the like. After Castle and Beckett reconciled, it sometimes even felt as if the writers used her as mere ‘bed-bunny’ to the writer. Add that to the way Stana Katic’s exit from the show was handled in April and you get a pretty good picture of the importance of her character as part of the show and maybe even the reason for the complete running to the ground of beloved kick-ass Kate Beckett.

The episodes:

What made Castle such a special and successful show for seven years was the well-working mix of mythological story arcs and quirky, stand-alone episodes in between. I hate to repeat myself, but: no more. The big LokSat cased that spanned all season and was hastily introduced in the premiere was sloppily executed at best. That Senator Bracken, the big bad wolf of 6 (!) past seasons, who was methodically investigated and then convicted, should have an even more evil operator in the background that nobody had heard of before, was utterly ridiculous from the start. But the case was only picked up sporadically during the year, with little progress, and the resolution of it in the series finale was far-fetched and came out of nowhere.

The bad episodes by far outweighed the exciting and logical episodes this season, but there were a few highlights none-the-less: “Dead Red” (8x11) caters to the Caskett mythology and had some nice meta layers to it. The murder of a Russian diplomat’s son has Castle and Beckett dive into the murky
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waters of international politics. They have to work with a security officer, who turns out to be a huge Nikki Heat fan and is super excited to be working with the real-life Rook and Heat – good times. “Death Wish” (8x17) not only has a crazy Castle case involving Aladdin’s lamp, but also has a heartfelt family moment after the complicated birth of Ryan’s second child. Episode 8x16, “Heartbreaker”, gives us a bit more of Espo’s backstory involving and ex-fiance, as well as the nice bromantic Rysposito moments we’ve been waiting for all season, and even an Esposito family dinner. “PhDead” (8x03), “The Last Seduction” (8x07), and “Mr. and Mrs. Castle” (8x08) involve some on-duty sparks and banter that I missed dearly in many other episodes this year, and some secret off-duty romance.

The highlight episode for me this year was “Fidelis Ad Mortem” (8x15). The gang goes back to their old hunting grounds at the NYPD academy, when a recruit is murdered there. This episode is action packed with some cool close combat fighting scenes and a The Departed twist. We also get some
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more background information on the team’s education at the academy and Beckett’s exemplary status even back then. For once this year we get to see Beckett treated with the respect she deserves and her skills and character are integral for solving the case. While Castle and Beckett are not actually working together here, their interactions still reflect some believable depth to the Caskett relationship.

Sadly, a lot of other episodes could not live up to the expectations or were downright horrible. I talked about the two- part season premiere before (“XX”, “XY”), which was supposed to be an innovative way of storytelling by showing things from Castle’s perspective in the one and Beckett’s perspective in the other episode. Needless to say that didn’t really work and storywise any character developments of past seasons were radically undermined. “The Blame Game” (8x12) took Castle and Beckett hostage in a Saw-like game. A Saw reference in 2016? Come on! Things only got worse from here: In episode 8x13 (“And Justice For All”) Castle went undercover as an English as a Second Language student at community college. Could have been fun, but was just too ridiculous. For one Castle faked being a French Canadian – as if he could and would not have studied English in this bilingual country right next to the U.S.. I mean WTF?! That the accent he spoke in was horrible and insulting only underlines the ridiculousness that was 8x13.  

Then we had another L.A. episode this season (“G.D.S.”, 8x14) that strongly reminded you of the similar season three episode, only this time Castle had Haley and Alexis as partners instead of Beckett (that already tells you all you need to know). Castle goes there to find out more about the time he was missing two years ago, a mystery that was just warmed up out of nowhere and of
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convenience, since it kinda was solved last year already… The whole thing is staged in a way that strongly suggests Flash Forward knock-off and had me rolling my eyes even more, when in the end not only Haley is involved in Castle’s disappearance, but it turns out Castle was investigating LokSat at that time. Sure…. 

In the past episodes suggesting supernatural happenings and playing on Castle’s child-like eagerness to believe in anything from Bigfoot to vampires were always told with a winking eye. But this year things got way out of hand. In “Dead Again” (8x19) the team investigates three attempts to murder a guy, who just can’t seem to die. To Castle he therefore must be immortal and is worth studying. What Castle himself would have just seen as a fun and charming turn of events that he himself would only have liked to believe in the past, now turns into reality for him. He more than harasses the poor guy in the hospital with superhero theories and advice. Castle throws things at the man to force him to reveal his other powers among other things. It is annoying as hell and way too much – a far cry from the charming, tongue-in-cheek man-child that just loved to let his imagination guide him for a bit. Now he is no longer charming and more of a spoiled, rich brat that doesn’t know any boundaries. Incidents like this one happen more than once throughout the year, although this one is the most extreme.

Finally, I won’t say anything else about the disappointment that was 8x22 “Crossfire” as I have done so in length in an Episode Close-Up.

The Verdict:

I would have loved to give Castle a lovely final send-off and I will definitely always remember and re-watch the show’s first seven seasons fondly. But as for season eight all I can say is: What the hell
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were you thinking?! There were a few heartfelt moments and funny scenes in between the mess, but overall the focus of the show was off, the dynamics between the characters were off, and, after all we know now, I can’t help thinking that some of the apparent behind-the-scenes drama must have found its way onscreen. While I would have loved for the show to go on in its established and beloved form for many more years, I am glad it’s over now. And for the life of me I can’t understand why you’d make a season eight just for money’s sake if you didn’t have any ideas what to do with the show or how to further story and characters. 

So farewell Castle! Thanks for the laughter and the tears, and the romance and drama over this almost-decade! And say “Hi” to my other beloved shows residing up there in TV heaven ;)

Rating: 

2 comments:

  1. Everything I said all season as it was happening. So sad they dumped Beckett in the season opener and just dug her up for cameos throughout the season. Shame on you Hawley, go back to the Following, oh yea, that one tanked also.

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  2. I will NEVER watch another show that Alexi Hawley OR Old Man Winter is associated with, Pitiful excuse of writers, even worse show runners

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