RogerBW's Blog

Castle season 8 16 January 2017

2015-2016, 22 episodes. Famous writer Richard Castle continues to work with NYPD homicide detective (now Captain) Kate Beckett, in the final season of this police procedural.

With no cliffhanger to resolve, the season gets straight into setting up its big plot: "Loksat," a rogue CIA operation/operative with shadowy tentacles stretching through the US government. Nobody can be trusted!

Which rather spoils the first eight episodes, in fact, as Beckett refuses to let Castle in on her obsession with this conspiracy, and indeed they split up temporarily. When this show has risen above its cop/not-a-cop police-procedural roots, it's on the interaction between the leads, and when they're off doing different things it just doesn't work as well. Matters improve somewhat after the Christmas break when they agree that they can work together, while remaining publicly at outs; that lets them play off each other in new and interesting ways.

The major new character this season is Hayley Shipton, played by Toks Olagundoye, an ex-MI6 operative of the cinematic sort whose major character arc is clearly meant to be "learning to have a family rather than being a lone wolf"; unfortunately, similarly to what happened in those episodes of Doctor Who made when William Hartnell was being unreliable, she keeps being flipped around into whichever character-shaped hole in the story needs to be filled, and never gets to develop a convincing personality. Oh, we need a friendly computer genius? Sure, she can be that, for this one episode, and never have those skills mentioned again.

This also promotes a symmetry that could be dramatically interesting: most of Castle's associates are female (mother, daughter, Shipton as a fellow PI) while most of Beckett's are male (Ryan, Esposito, and Vikram Singh her fellow conspirator on the Loksat investigation). But the writers never seem to do much with it, instead falling back on Castle's willingness to make up wild theories about the case of the week or play the adolescent boy who can now afford the big toys. That's worked before, but this season it felt like going back to the well too many times, especially when Castle's roped in to play a sudden believer in the Antichrist and the End of Days. The core cast has been unusually stable for a show like this, with seven principals running all the way from episode one to episode 173, and they're obviously used to each other; but they don't have the sense of ease and relaxation that I perceived for example in recent Rizzoli & Isles.

Some episodes work better, especially when humour is allowed to mix with the grim business of catching murderers: the hyperosmic woman who recognises a killer's scent, the return of Adam Baldwin as the ultra-macho Detective Slaughter, and Beckett returning to the police academy as a guest instructor to track down a killer there, are all bright spots.

The eventual ending to all this bears all the marks of a hasty fixing in post-production. In what was clearly meant to be the season-end cliffhanger if the show had been renewed, obgu Pnfgyr naq Orpxrgg ner fubg naq penjy gbjneqf rnpu bgure gb pynfc unaqf sbe jung zvtug or gur ynfg gvzr; gura gurer'f na nhqvb vafreg bs Pnfgyr'f naq Orpxrgg'f cnegvat yvarf sebz gur svefg rcvfbqr, naq n fhqqra fjreir gb n fubeg frdhrapr bs "frira lrnef yngre" jura gurl unir guerr puvyqera (ohg unira'g abgvprnoyl ntrq), jvgu n ibvpr-bire sebz Pnfgyr (znlor sebz na rneyvre rcvfbqr, gubhtu V qvqa'g erpbtavfr vg) fnlvat gung rirelguvat'f terng. That's frankly a pathetic save; it feels like a desperate quick fix so that the episode could be got out on time, rather than something put together by actual script-writers and producers. The announcement that Stana Katic – and Tamala Jones – wouldn't be coming back for season 9 was made less than a month before the finale was broadcast, and the announcement that the show was in fact being cancelled was only four days before the broadcast; I suspect that the producers were surprised by the negativity of the fans' reaction to the loss of Beckett, which suggests that they really didn't have any idea about why people would watch this cop show rather than one of the indistinguishable others.

When it was good, it could be very good, and it only rarely managed to be terrible. For a modern show that's a pretty good outcome.

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