ABC’s hit series, Castle, began its eighth season on Monday night with a plethora of changes both behind the scenes and directly within them. Longtime Castle writer, Terence Paul Winter, and returning writer and former The Following showrunner, Alexi Hawley, have taken over as co-showrunners after the spring departure of series creator Andrew Marlowe and executive producer Terri Edda Miller. With some new characters on the show this season and some vastly different situations for the returning ones, there seemed to be a great number of changes for Castle fans to deal with once Season 8 began. And while change is typically not a bad thing in real life, it is also rarely a good thing for a popular television series. New voices behind the scenes often want to make their mark on a series which can result in changes that tend to alienate even the most loyal of fans. But any concerns that Winter and Hawley would fall into that age-old television trap were most certainly put to rest right from the start in the first episode of a two-part premiere.
Written by Winter and Hawley and directed by longtime Castle director, Rob Bowman, Monday’s “XY” was an impressive start to the new season and an exciting first hour. It provided a noticeably fresh approach, complete with new characters and some intriguing new situations for the returning ones (including Beckett being promoted to Captain), as well as an interesting way of telling the story throughout the two-parter, yet it also did well to honour the elements of this long-running series that fans have come to know and love over the years. With references to past cases, the inclusion of “always” within the opening scene, and hints that there may be storylines from previous seasons that are not entirely resolved and may come back to the surface again this season, there was certainly enough within the episode to show the audience that this would still be the show they had long been captivated by, while also making it clear that there would be some exciting new elements to keep it fresh as well.
“XY” presented an interesting angle to the storytelling, taking a very personal mystery with Beckett disappearing on her first day as Captain and telling it almost exclusively from Castle’s perspective, something that will balance out in the second part of the premiere, “XX”, which will turn the tables and take the audience through this same mystery from Beckett’s perspective instead. While this was done to some extent in last year’s “Resurrection” and “Reckoning,” the Castle team took it to an entirely different level here, forcing the audience to experience the story through the eyes of Castle himself, thus allowing us to fully understand his confusion, frustration, and desperation as we were forced to see no more than he did throughout the story.
Also, there were a pair of new and reportedly recurring characters who were added to the mix, including Sunkrish Bala, who we really did not see much of in this episode but will surely see a lot more of in the concluding episode, and Toks Olagundoye, who joined the Castle world as a sassy, independent investigator named Hayley that unintentionally crossed paths with Castle, Ryan, and Esposito as they searched for a lead in Beckett’s mysterious disappearance. Olagundoye was quite remarkable in this role, maintaining a genuine likability throughout the episode, while also making the audience question what her hidden agenda may be and what she could be hiding from Castle and the guys. She also seemed to take an interest in helping Alexis, something that became the catalyst in convincing her to assist the NYPD despite her disdain for them and showed a remarkably empathetic side to her character as well.
We also saw the return of Jack Coleman as the imprisoned former senator, William Bracken, and while his involvement in Beckett’s disappearance was likely not as it initially appeared to be, it did lead to one of the most intense scenes of the episode as he and Nathan Fillion’s Castle faced off against each other for the first time in the series. There seemed to be a sense that perhaps the storyline of Beckett’s mother’s murder, a mystery that defined the series for its first six seasons, may not have been as resolved as once believed, something that opened the door for the intriguing possibility that this story may be revisited again.
Speaking of captivating scenes, Alexis figured very prominently into the storyline on Monday night and Molly Quinn delivered some of the most memorable performances of the episode, even stealing a few scenes along the way with some exceptional moments. This episode did well to cement the fact that Alexis is all grown up and ready to continue in the footsteps of both her father and her step-mother, a direction the character has been heading in for the past few seasons and is now embracing quite passionately and with absolute maturity. Yet there was still that innocence within Alexis and that sense of desperation and helplessness that came through with heartfelt emotion as nothing matters more to her than her father and also now her step-mother, something that came across quite poignantly in one of the episode’s more emotional scenes as she pleaded with Hayley for help finding Beckett.
With that said, Nathan Fillion also delivered a fantastic performance, taking on the challenge of truly driving the episode from his character’s perspective and doing it exceptionally well. It was easy to feel his confusion, his desperation, and his frustration as we were forced to question what was truly going on with Beckett and what she may be involved in. Exploring every possible facet of the character of Castle is what made Nathan’s performance stand out, showing his physical strength, his intelligence, and his heartfelt drive to protect his wife and his daughter, willing to do whatever it took to do so, while also displaying his vulnerability and sensitivity along the way.
Of course, the very heart and soul of this story has always been the relationship between Castle and Beckett and while there was limited screen time for the beloved couple, the result of scheduling challenges that actually seemed to lend a positive impact to this interesting dual-perspective approach, the scenes they did share together were as captivating as ever. The opening scene delivered all of the chemistry and magic between Fillion and Katic that fans have come to know and love and while it was made clear that there would be some changes to the dynamic of their working relationship, it also made it equally as clear that their romantic relationship would continue to shine as the core of this series. Likewise, their reunion scene later in the episode, while brief, was also filled with that sense that regardless of how dire their situation may seem throughout this episode, their experience would only serve to bring them closer and stronger than ever while also possibly presenting them with a fresh new challenge to face together this season.
Overall, “XY” was an entertaining, intriguing, and compelling start to the season, and while it is difficult to judge the full premiere on only this first part, it seems to be quite clear that fans are in for an exciting conclusion with next week’s “XX,” as well as a fantastic new season for this long-running series that is anything but past its prime.
QUOTE-WORTHY LINE OF THE NIGHT:
HAYLEY: You really love her, don’t you?
CASTLE: Like a house on fire.
What did you think of Monday’s episode of Castle? What were your favourite moments or scenes? What do you think is really going on with Beckett and how is Bracken involved? Did you enjoy the new character, Hayley, or are you still unsure what to think of her? Were you impressed by the role Alexis played in the episode and how vital she was to the investigation? What was your favourite moment with Esposito and Ryan? Share your thoughts with us in our comment section below!
Castle airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on CTV and ABC.
Lisa Caputo is a proud TV Junkie, something that is evident by her extensive collection of TV shows on DVD and Blu-Ray. A trained scriptwriter, cinematographer, and video editor, Lisa is a firm believer in the craft of storytelling, always looking for compelling stories, captivating characters, and a healthy dose of clever dialogue and stunning drama. Before joining TheTVJunkies.com, she was a freelance writer for TV Guide Canada, covering shows like Castle, Grey’s Anatomy, The Following, Revenge, Big Brother, and Big Brother Canada. You can catch her on Twitter at @Lisa_Caputo.