Castle Season 8 Episode 2 Review: “XX”

Castle

How could I describe this week’s episode of Castle, “XX”? How about this:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…. (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

This episode was supposed to give us the point of view of Captain Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) on the events we saw in last week’s episode (if you missed that review click here). On that it certainly delivered. We got to see a lot of Beckett in action, and in her emotions. It’s a great episode in terms of watching Katic’s range as an actress.

I also can honestly say there were many strong and well-written scenes in “XX.” However, “epoch incredulity” was reached more than once. If you’re ready to look at the good, the bad, and the just completely contrived, things about Castle Season 8 Episode 2, then keep reading. I’m also assuming that you’ve seen the episode or are comfortable with spoilers from this episode of Castle, so there will be no gasps of shock while reading. Are we good? Okay, then let’s review:

A Tale of Two Castles: Castle “XX”

Castle

This will be strictly a review of Castle “XX” – I don’t have the heart to recap it. I’d had a bad feeling about this episode when I saw the sneak peeks. I wrote about this issue in depth here, so this is the short version: as a sneak peek, the fact that we saw Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) completely blaming his wife for not telling him about receiving a top level federal distress code made little sense. Now it makes perfect sense. The entire point of this two-part season opener was to try (and the operative word is “try”) to build a case for Beckett to do what she does at the end of “XX”: leave Castle. The episode fails at this , but let me start out with what worked.

The first five minutes of this week’s Castle are riveting. If there’s one thing I got out of Castle “XX,” it’s that Katic could carry her own dramatic series. The opening of Beckett crying as she stares out the window reliving the scene in Castle “XY” where she tells Castle she loves him and runs off is perfect. It’s not just shot beautifully, but the sense of a woman’s heart breaking as she feels the despair of an overwhelming situation reverberates throughout the moment. Then of course, Beckett wipes her tears and pulls herself together because – well, she’s Kate Beckett. She’s got to be strong to help bolster this guy that we know from last week is Vikram Singh (Sunkrish Bala), a low-level analyst from the AG’s office. At least that’s who Vikram supposedly is. The acting and writing for this character work well. By the end of the episode, we aren’t sure if he’s a good or bad guy.

There’s a lot of this kind of thing going around in this episode. Take “security specialist” Hayley Shipton (Toks Olagundoye). The timing of when shows up is suspicious enough to make me think she’s on the wrong side of things as well. Maybe it’s just “mentoring” – this woman who just last week talked about her willingness to turn on her friends to save herself. I can’t help but think she’s trying – and succeeding – to get into the good graces of Castle’s daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn) and slowly turning Alexis against her father for reasons that will only benefit Hayley. So, sure, call it mentoring for now, but it looks a lot more like an adult manipulating a young woman into thinking she’s more capable than she really is. Of course, the writers are continuing to paint Alexis as the wonder woman of detective work, who’s able to come up with new skill sets for whatever plot turn needs to be made, so maybe the issue is more than that the relationship. It’s hard to say.

Speaking of plot turns…because of the emotional, wounded and exhausted state we see Beckett is in, I can buy into the idea that Beckett lets her guard down and forgets her gun on the sink counter. Nobody’s perfect, and if that was the only questionable moment in this episode, there would be no problems for me, especially since the action-oriented sequence that comes next is well done, even if it does mean Beckett would have been dead if not for Castle’s stepmother, Rita (the fabulous Ann Cusack!). I like this new character, even though she falls into the same category as Hayley in terms of whether she can be trusted. Rita gets to say what was my favorite line of the night. It comes a little later when Vikram asks her if she’s CIA.

Rita: “Oh, God no. I’m another three-letter agency – much more exclusive.”

I think this is the only time I actually laughed. (The only downside to this line? A three-letter agency kills any cross-over dreams with ABC’s Scandal…I was hoping for B6-13!)

Based on these first two episodes of Castle Season 8, I’d say that the new showrunners, Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter, have action scenes and conspiracy plots handled well. The story of how all of this ties to Senator William Bracken (Jack Coleman) is good. The CIA actually is on record of having at once been involved in a drug-running scheme (See: The Iran-Contra Affair), so this isn’t an impossible scenario. The final scene between Bracken and Kate is excellent, and I actually was sad to see him die. (I’m gonna miss Bracken, but we saw his body. He’s definitely dead.) In terms of the general conspiracy, we aren’t seeing a replay of the fallout of Castle 6×23 and the mythology which followed it.

What we are seeing is a plot that’s twisted things into a pretzel to try and create the justification to split up Castle and Beckett. There’s been this relentless pounding of the idea that Beckett has this “obsessive personality” that goes beyond getting justice for her mother’s murder. Then we’ve got who first rescues her, then tries to get Beckett to go on the run, and then later tries to convince Beckett to forget everything and stay put. She doesn’t. By having various people say that Beckett’s obsessiveness is back, we are supposed to go with the idea that finding out whomever is responsible for killing Bracken, Beckett’s team, and all the other dead bodies littered across the episode is more important than Beckett staying with Castle. (I’m not happy with the way the body counts have gone up for Season 8. There’s a real callousness about death that hasn’t been a part of the series before.) The problem is, saying this over and over again can’t erase the character that was built up over seven seasons. It doesn’t ring true. The logic behind her leaving also doesn’t make sense.

We are supposed to believe that Beckett thinks that her leaving will not put Castle and family in danger. The problem here is that Rita’s conversation with Beckett at the end does not track. Rita’s logic only applies if no one knew Castle and Beckett were married in the first place. Viewers know that the love Castle and Beckett have for each other has been splashed across major media outlets in that world via the following: the engagement announcement, the big Hampton’s wedding that never happened, and Beckett pleading for information about him on national television. Heck, the death squads that were after Beckett knew to go look for Castle to get information – and then she showed up to save him. If these people want to smoke her out, they’ll just go after her family. A sudden “divorce” or split up isn’t going to fool anyone that she’s unattached.

In fact, Beckett’s leaving is the worst thing she can do. By leaving she reveals that she didn’t buy that the “suicide” of AG agent Allison Hyde as meaning Allison was person responsible for this “locksat” thing – which puts the target not just on her, but on Castle and Alexis is well. ( Why Allison’s death makes her the kingpin if all the people she was bringing in are now gone is another WTH plotpoint.) The show works hard to set up that the opposite is true, but while this is better hidden than the stupid marriage license thing in 6×23 that sets off the plot for that stall and separation, it’s in some ways worse. There we have to believe that none of Beckett’s background checks would have noticed such a thing. Here they are trying to get the audience to believe that there’s a legitimate reason for Beckett to run because she’s trying to protect Castle while tracking these “locksat” people down. The former was just silly, the latter is really about hoping the audience will be fooled by all the cloak and dagger talk and the emotional performance by Katic. For all the good ways that the writers have worked the plot, the holes are huge around the areas where they are forcing the agenda of Castle and Beckett’s split.

Other Plot Issues

  • This is the first time ever that I wish there had not been a Caskett kiss. What was that? What, Beckett just drops her guard right there and assumes the area’s secure? After everything that had gone on? What SWAT team cleared the area? I must have missed that part. Once the episode ended, that scene felt even worse – a way of condescending to audience. “Here’s your Caskett kiss. So no complaining.”
  • The episode pulls a similar stunt with having Beckett building a theory in one place while Castle does the same with Alexis and Hayley. No, cutting the scenes back and forth to show they thought of the same thing at the same time is not Castle and Beckett building a theory together. It’s Beckett working with this analyst guy and Castle treating his daughter like his wife.
  • Wise mother-of-Castle Martha Rogers (Susan Sullivan) buys into Hayley being okay. That was so disappointing! Hopefully, it’s just her having one of her fickle moments and when things get serious she’ll see the problematic side of Hayley….
  • Throughout the episode, the one thing that kept crossing my mind is that one could see why Beckett didn’t want to tell Castle anything, because he was just running off making more problems. Him not listening to Ryan and Esposito – like that somehow he was some kind of super cop that was going to figure it out behind their back – was an epic fail.
  • The scene in the office where Castle springs the gun. Another epic fail. In show’s time, it’s been two days since he’s tried that gun spring trick, and he couldn’t do it. Him “saving the day” there wasn’t cool – it was another eye-roll moment.

Final Thoughts

I called this a tale of two shows because that seems to be what we’re getting. The beginning sequence with Beckett and the idea that she triggered something with a search when she worked at the AG’s office is a good one. The action sequences, and Katic’s portrayal of Beckett as she deals with this is good, solid drama.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t just leave well enough alone. Because there is some need or desire on the part of the writers to keep Castle and Beckett apart, the show has thrown in this idea that Beckett is now as obsessed with this case as she was with her mother’s murder and that she needs to, for the safety of Castle, to go off on her own to solve it. This part of the story doesn’t add up. She’s obsessed out of what? Guilt? Even if that’s the case, it should be obvious that leaving is the worst thing to do. Apparently, neither Beckett, nor the audience, is supposed to realize this.

Meanwhile, Castle, Alexis, and Hayley have this weird semi-comic relationship going on that exists in a completely different realm to the story vibe we get from Beckett’s stuff. At least when we watch Beckett, we see a woman who’s deeply in love, scared, and trying to do the right thing. Watching Castle in this episode mostly what he seems is mad at her. He may say he loves her like a house on fire, but listening to all his doubting and seeing the coldness in his eyes it didn’t feel that way.

This is biggest issue of all. I don’t care how great a mystery they come up with around who killed Beckett’s former team. Without the story engine of Castle and Beckett working and being together, it holds no interest to me. This is Season 8. The last thing I want to sit through is a reset of Castle and Beckett’s relationship.

As for watching the Castle P.I. show with Alexis and Hayley? The writers are trying to make that little group something that has some kind of heart. It’s not even on the table in terms of being interesting. The show’s heart is Castle and Beckett. Without them…well, we all know what happens when the heart stops.

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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