Hello, fellow Castle fans! While I won’t be writing about every episode of the show this season here at NGN, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on important episodes and moments as they present themselves, and this premiere seemed like the perfect place to start.
I’ll admit it: After Castle’s spectacular Season Seven finale, I was skeptical about Season Eight’s premiere. How could any episode follow “Hollander’s Woods,” which was written as a potential (and, had it been necessary, satisfying) series finale? How would the show survive without Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller at the helm? How would it bounce back after a season with a handful of strong episodes but far more mediocre ones?
“XY” was the answer to all those questions, and what a confident answer it was. With Rob Bowman directing and new show-runners Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter penning the script, “XY” was an episode with a point to prove—that this show could still be exciting, engaging, and surprising in its eight season. And the way it chose to prove that point made me wonder why I ever thought the show might have been better off ending with “Hollander’s Woods.” There’s still plenty of story left to tell, and if this is how the show is going to tell it, then I’m more than happy to keep watching until the final chapter is written.
Here are five reasons why this season premiere made me feel confident that this show still has a lot of life left in it and has found the right people to bring that life out of it.
1. It went back to the show’s storytelling roots.
I know that Season Six’s “Veritas” felt like the perfect ending to the Johanna Beckett murder arc that drove much of the show’s drama in its early days. However, after the 3XK plot was wrapped up last season, the show was missing something without a familiar dramatic arc to push these characters to new places emotionally in ways that still made us care. Castle’s disappearance never quite became the new dramatic arc I think it was supposed to be, so I found myself eternally grateful that this episode’s intensity was rooted in a familiar conflict: Kate Beckett vs. Senator Bracken—as well as Rick Castle vs. the secrets Beckett keeps when dealing with Bracken. Those conflicts have produced some of the best episodes in the show’s history, and they’ve always allowed us to explore deep things about Beckett. I loved that this episode was driven by the idea that Beckett’s obsession with Bracken and all he’s done wouldn’t just automatically stop once he ended up in prison. He’s the root of so much emotional trauma in her life, and it makes sense for her to be unable to put that behind her. Bringing Bracken back also allowed us to see Jack Coleman in all his twisted, evil glory once again. It’s good to have a familiar foe to root against, and I liked seeing these writers embrace that familiarity with a new twist that kept things exciting.
2. The mystery was actually mysterious.
There’s plenty to be said for familiarity (and I just said most of it), but there’s also something to be said for the unknown. “XY” managed to balance the familiar and the unknown quite well. After eight seasons, Castle doesn’t often surprise me anymore, and when it does, it’s not always in a good way. (See the aforementioned Castle’s disappearance arc.) But this time, I have no idea what’s going on except for the fact that it’s connected to something I already have an emotional investment in, which is really all I need to know to keep me on the edge of my seat. I found myself frustrated with Beckett and her secrecy, which is exactly what I was supposed to feel. And—more importantly—I found myself feeling as frantic as Castle about getting answers. I like when I feel like the characters and I are in the same boat emotionally, and that’s what I felt every time I looked at Nathan Fillion’s expressive face. This mystery has serious implications for the show’s characters, and even the fact that what Beckett’s doing is a mystery at all has serious implications. It made me eager for Episode Two the moment Episode One ended, and that’s exactly what a good premiere should do.
3. HAYLEY SHIPTON.
I was so nervous about a new character coming into this group I’ve grown so attached to over the years. But by the time Hayley’s interrogation scene was done, I was sold. Toks Olagundoye fit in with this ensemble like she was always meant to be there, and she had just the right kind of chemistry with every actor she shared the screen with. I instantly loved Hayley’s dynamic with Castle because I’m always interested in male/female platonic relationships on television. Olagundoye is incredibly charismatic, and Hayley is exactly what this show needs in terms of a new character: a confident, complex woman who isn’t just somebody’s love interest and has an attitude that says she does not suffer fools. I can’t wait to see more of her.
4. Alexis is growing up.
Big changes are happening on Castle. Beckett is Captain. Gates is on the path to becoming Chief. Ryan and Jenny are having another baby. But no change was more emotionally profound than what we saw with Alexis in “XY.” She’s not the teenage girl from the pilot anymore, and she’s also not some precocious young adult whining about being treated like a grownup, which the show was sometimes guilty of writing her as at times. Alexis is a woman now. Professionally, it was cool to see her work independently and make huge strides in the case on her own. But it was the personal growth she showed as a character and Molly Quinn showed as an actor that moved me beyond anything I was expecting. The scene in which Alexis talked to Castle about Beckett’s secrets was a standout. I love when this character lays down hard truths: Castle isn’t a cop, and there are some things Beckett shouldn’t tell him, no matter how much he thinks of them as partners. Alexis wasn’t saying that in a way meant to downplay her father’s relationship with Beckett; she was saying it to defend Beckett’s actions, which I’m not sure we’ve ever seen her do so fervently before. The vulnerability Quinn displayed in that scene was surprising; it was genuinely moving to watch Alexis tell her father how scared she was when he went missing. This is the kind of woman I always hoped Alexis would grow up to be, and I’m so excited to see where this season takes her as a character and Quinn as an actor. And as a side note: I am loving her new haircut (and was it a darker red, too?)!
5. It was fearless and ambitious.
I love ambitious storytelling. I love when writers swing for the fences and aren’t afraid to take risks. And “XY” was as risky as it gets. It started the season with a mystery that demanded you know the show’s mythology in order to understand its stakes. It asked a billion questions and answered pretty much none of them. It brought back a storyline some people were probably happy to be rid of because it’s not “light” or “fun.” It made us watch a character keep dangerous secrets from the person they love—again. And it featured a man tortured by having his head shoved in a plastic bag full of spiders. In short, “XY” didn’t play it safe, and I loved it so much for that. It exceeded my expectations at every turn, and it did so with a confidence that reminded me of the way the show handled the first episode after Castle and Beckett got together (Season Five’s “After the Storm”).
What allowed this episode to be ambitious was the fact that it reminded us again and again of the most important thing when it comes to this show: Castle and Beckett love each other. Whether it was Castle giving her that perfect “Always” bracelet, Beckett telling him she loves him despite being unable to give him answers, or Castle saying he loves his wife “Like a house on fire” (one of my new favorite expressions of love and devotion of all time)—this episode was able to go to crazy places because its heart was in the right place. It’s a rare thing to feel as confident in a fictional relationship as I feel in Castle and Beckett’s marriage, and I treasure that confidence immensely. With that foundation as strong as it is, the show can take chances and pull them off. And I liked seeing the new team behind Castle play with that right off the bat. It’s always fun to be pleasantly surprised, and, after eight years, it’s nice that Castle is still doing that.
Crazy and intense. Overall I thought it was a good start. With Stana being gone during week 1 of filming, the new Showrunners had to make it work in Castle’s view. My guess is that all those people who DVR’d week one may want to watch week 2 live. To me, Beckett’s point of view will be far more interesting.
I thought they did a great job of working around Stana’s absence to still create a compelling story. I know a lot of people think Part 2 of this arc will be more interesting, but I found this first episode more than interesting enough to hold my attention. I never mind when we get an episode devoted to exploring Castle’s thoughts and POV because we really don’t get many of them. And those episode never fail to remind me of how much he loves his wife.
It certainly was fast paced and kept one interested however for myself I could see no valid reason for the “Hayley” character except to take up the precious 45 or so minutes the rest of the cast has to play with.And although I realise that Ms. Katic was unavailable for the first week or so due to other commitments, having her in the episode so little and of course no Martha!!! just shows how much these two add to the overall enjoyment we have found in the 7 years of this show!
I am not sure if those that have loyally followed this show for the first 7 yrs. will stick with it if it turns out to be little more then “Rick’ PI & his daughter mentored by the Haley character. I had hoped that Beckett & Alexis would come together in a sort of team…not some newbie! Filling in for her.
Anyway part two will tell the tale I guess! I am still willing to be convinced. But this is just my opinion although with the ratings for part 1 being what they were, I fear I am not alone in thinking they may have waited too long and now changed the show so much that the fanbase will not accept such a drastic alteration to a much loved series!
I respect your skepticism and I shared some of it before seeing it all come together in this episode. But every show—even one with the kind of beloved ensemble Castle has—could use a shakeup when it’s gone on for this long. And I really enjoyed Hayley. With Gates gone and Lanie not being a part of every episode, another female presence outside of Castle’s family was needed, and she fit the bill perfectly in my eyes. I think we’ll get plenty of Alexis and Beckett interaction this season (her defense of Beckett to her dad speaks of a renewed focus on Alexis’s positive attitude toward her stepmom), but I also like that we’ll see Alexis being mentored by another female character, too. It brings a new energy to the show and to Alexis’s arc.
It seems a lot of fans have been worried for a long time about the show turning into “Castle PI,” but I don’t think that will be the case at all. Obviously Castle’s PI business, his dynamic with Alexis, and Hayley will play a big part in this season, but so will Beckett’s story. It always does. So if people are ready to run for the hills because of that, I hope they stick it out for at least a little while to at least see how this all actually shakes out.
I know the ratings weren’t great, but I’d guess that the complete and frankly embarrassing lack of promotion had a lot to do with that. I’ll be interested to see what next week’s ratings look like. Hopefully they’re a nice improvement.
I’m so glad you liked Hayley as much as I did! I liked her dynamic with Castle and the differences between them (that car scene at the prison was one of my favorite moments in the ep) and I liked her encouraging Alexis to take the initiative with the insulin. I want Alexis to have all of the amazing female mentors possible so I will never complain about another one.
I have little to add to your Bracken comments but I can’t let an appearance by Jack Coleman go unremarked. He is perpetually wonderful and creepy and terrible and to segue into other show feelings, I’m so glad he’s back for Heroes Reborn.
This episode was everything I love about Richard Castle. From the big gesture with the beautiful bracelet to his refusing to screw over his friends to his undying love for Beckett, it all worked for me. This is the character I love and more importantly, this is the man Beckett loves and in episodes like this, it’s so easy to see why.
First of all, Jack Coleman’s performance in this episode might have been the tipping point to get me to check out Heroes Reborn. (I was already thinking about it because of Robbie Kay and Zachary Levi, but now I just want more Jack Coleman in my life.)
I’m also so happy to see another Hayley fan (not that I’m shocked we both liked her)! That scene in the car between her and Castle was a standout, and, like you, I’m all about a greater female presence on the show—especially where mentoring Alexis is concerned. I think Hayley is going to do a lot for allowing Alexis to be viewed as an adult character now, which is exactly what the show needs.
And just one big YES to everything about Castle in this episode. When episodes are focused on the sheer depth and magnitude of his love for Beckett, I fall in love with him all over again.
The bag of spiders scene was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen on Castle! Such a fab episode (although was hoping for Martha’s cameo)
I was hoping for a Martha appearance, too! Things are always better when Susan Sullivan is around. And I agree about the spiders—the show has never gone that purely terrifying before. I had to look away!
It certainly has been a while since I had commented on one of your posts. With a new temporary part-time job at a retail store to finishing my bachelor’s degree, it certainly has gotten crazy.
For me, this was probably one of the best season premieres since season 3. It kept you on the toes, made you asked tons of questions without getting confused.There was angst. There was drama. There was cute moments. Most of all, I did not feel that any of the characters on the show were left out. Every single one of them brought it to their A-game.
By far, I have to say Alexis Castle was my favorite to watch this episode. It was such a joy to see her growing up over the past seven years. I was very impressed to see how well she carried herself as an adult. She stayed true to her character, tried to be the more responsible one and yet she still had a certain vulnerability or innocence about herself.
I am so glad that the show is taking a bold move in approaching things in a new refreshing light. I feared that the show was getting a little repetitive, but with the new showrunners and this episode, I certainly had hope that this season might just come of strong.
I’m so glad you found time to come back and visit us! And what a great episode to come back to talk about!
I agree that all the featured characters brought their A-game to this one, and that’s often what happens with dramatic Castle episodes (which is why I love them so much). The only character who was missing was Martha, but I’m sure we’ll see her again soon.
I’m so glad you enjoyed this newer, more mature Alexis, too. You’re right—there’s still this vulnerability to her that bridges the gap between girl and woman perfectly. Kudos to Molly Quinn for that.
I also feared the show was getting repetitive, but I’m so glad this episode proved me wrong. We’re in for one heck of a ride!
I have some mixed feelings about the premiere, but for now I’m going to stay optimistic because the Castle cast and crew have earned faith from me with how well they have made this show.
I’m personally not a fan of bringing Bracken back because I feel like that arc was closed very well, and now it feels like rehashing old ground to me. I think part of it that I’m discovering lately that personally as an audience member, once I feel that a certain plotline is closed (be it a more plotty aspect of a show or a relationship), I tend to move on, and I don’t often enjoy having to go backwards and open it up again. At the moment, if this whole story is truly about Bracken I will be a little disappointed. I also went into this premiere basically unspoiled for anything, so I wasn’t expecting anything like this and it caught me off guard a bit. Perhaps I just need a bit of time to get used to the idea, so we will see how I feel after next week’s episode when we know more.
Other than that I only had a couple minor irritations, in that I’m never a fan of torture scenes or spiders (for some reason I can handle dead bodies, but not torture lol), and Castle blowing off Alexis when she was trying to give him a clue to finding the man Beckett was traveling with was annoying. Castle doesn’t usually dismiss Alexis like that, and when she’s trying to give him information that would lead him to Beckett I was surprised that he just walked off. It seemed a tad out of character to me, but I’m going to attribute it to the stress of the situation.
The mystery of this episode was a lot of fun though, I was never sure what was going on and as someone who watches a lot of procedurals I am usually a pretty good guesser. Beckett’s refusal to contact Castle was frustrating, but I am sure she is trying to keep him safe so I’m more intrigued by what exactly her ‘secret’ is and what is going on. I’m looking forward to the next episode so we can at least get some more information, even if they decide to leave this as a season-long arc and leave us hanging on part of the story.
I enjoyed the addition of Hayley a lot, and as long as her presence doesn’t make Castle turn into a PI more like her (cynical, doesn’t care about backstabbing their friends, etc) then I am all for her sticking around. You know I join you in loving ladies that don’t take anyone’s crap 😉
I also really enjoyed seeing more of Alexis, and seeing her becoming more confident/developed in her skills as well as aiding the team in their mystery. I hope we get to see more of her as the season goes on, not just because I like Alexis but also for the family dynamics on this show. (I love her new haircut, too!)
I love all the love for Alexis (and her new hair)!
I can understand the frustration with Bracken coming back; I think my being spoiled helped me prepare for seeing him again, which probably would have been a bit jarring otherwise. I think there’s more to this story than just Bracken still interfering in Beckett’s life, so I’m going to predict that he was brought in more as a way to connect this new mystery to something familiar after the “Castle’s disappearance” arc fell flat last season. That story suffered from being completely unrelated to anything we’ve emotionally connected with on the show before, so I think bringing Bracken into the fold here was done to add a level of emotional familiarity.
I can’t wait for this coming week’s episode, so we can at least get a few more answers! I like a good mystery, but I’m an impatient lady. 😉
Better late than never! 🙂
I have to say I completely agree about your assessment of the show taking risks. I really liked the risks they took in storytelling as well and how they utilized Stana’s absence to take that risk. Your take on the strength of Beckett and Castle’s relationship is dead on. I think it was great to take us down a road with the confidence that their love, their marriage isn’t in question, ever. It holds true to the show they built while allowing for room for that truth to not stifle the show from moving forward.
My favorite thing to rise out of the episode was Ryan and Esposito. Much like we talked about Beckett and Castle finding a mature rhythm after their engagement I feel like this episode gave us a more mature Ryan and Espo, even in spite of the run for Beckett’s old desk. Their response to Beckett being missing was methodical and not irrational which in turn kept Castle in check – a role usually played by Beckett. And that final scene in the 12th I thought was particularly stellar.
Speaking of that final scene. No matter what happens this season, whether it’s a final season or if it starts to wane, Castle and its creative team get all the props in the world for crafting a show so smartly over the last seven years that I am invested in everyone on that screen. I literally screamed and jumped off my couch at the realization that LT had been shot. LT is a background artist. I think he’s had 2 maybe 3 episodes in 7 seasons where he has had a line and I cared. I cared because over that same time the show has cared about giving the viewers a 3 dimensional world. Yes we have our primary characters we care about, but this world is so richly drawn that those leads have created interactions and moments that have drawn the background characters as a vital fabric of the show. It’s something very small, but as a fan of the show who has invested in these characters it is a credit to why I became invested.
I think the mystery was above all else smart. Where Rick’s mystery felt contrived from the beginning and more like an excuse, this felt authentic. It teased a specific connection to Bracken, which turned out to be a fun red herring and a great way to bring Bracken in to get into Castle’s head. Because he put an honest mirror on the situation. He opened up the reality that Castle can no longer blame Bracken for Kate’s tendencies towards secrecy. I thought opening back up Kate’s brief tenure at the AG was a plausible way to create a new mystery that could have connective tissue for the show.
As for the introduction of Haley. I am willing to wait and see. Mainly because with the exception of Pi Castle has cast this show extremely well and has established characters successfully over the years. I feel like any show that can successfully replace Montgomery has a minimum of 5 episodes to successfully integrate a character into the fold. I like the actor a lot who is playing Haley, I will be curious to see how she integrates into the mix of players.
I am glad that they are looking to find ways to bring Alexis into the day to day of the show. I think that can be fun. I thought the method of her solving crimes without Castle knowing it was a bit of a stretch and clunky. We know Alexis is savvy and resourceful from her kidnapping. She could have been redoing her dad’s office and then jumped into to helping him here without having already solved cases. Having Castle treat her like she should stay on the sidelines and having her defy him to help would have worked just as well in my opinion. But it’s a minor quibble in an overall strong first episode.
I am very intrigued about how this connects back to the Dreamworld episode and Beckett not pursuing the guilt and knowledge of that Navy official. I suspect we will learn that while Bracken was responsible for Beckett’s mom his operation was fueled by others.
Either way, I think Hawley and Winter have gone a long way to establish a few critical things. This season of Castle will hold strong to the things we are invested in around Castle’s relationships, but particularly as it pertains to Beckett and Castle that being committed to one another it doesn’t mean that they (like all couples) won’t have challenges. Old habits die hard and we will see that play out with Beckett. And that this new reality is an adjustment for all our favorites – Alexis, Ryan and Espo included.
Oh how I’ve missed our Castle discussions!
Your take on Ryan and Esposito’s new maturity is spot-on. I thought it was indicative of the episode as a whole that it honored who we’ve always known them to be (especially with the fighting over the desk) while still allowing them to show major signs of growth. It was one of the first signs that this was going to be all about pushing these characters into new places and eliminating any kind of feeling of things growing stagnant.
I have nothing to say about your reaction to LT except YES. I loved talking about that with you on Twitter.
I share your minor quibble about the clunky reveal that Alexis was solving cases behind Castle’s back. But I’m definitely ready for more of the Alexis we saw in this episode.
I’m so excited to watch this season unfold, and I’m so happy this episode managed to surprise me in the best possible way.
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