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.