⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 8 reviews.

tl;dr: The ridiculously sublime adventures of Rick Castle and his much more qualified friends. Not exactly high art, but a whole lot of fun, with greater depth and better plots than it needed.

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Discovering that Castle has been made available on Disney+ was a great birthday surprise back in March – I've been a big fan for years! It's no surprise then that we burnt through the first season pretty quickly, though I was surprised at how short it had been (only 10 episodes? Was this during the writer's strike?).

Still, I'm glad to say I still love the show. Castle himself is a bit more of an eye-rolling party douche in the first season than I remember, but the scripts keep this balanced well enough with his family life to make him at least a little likeable. Plus, it means that Beckett can legitimately be annoyed at him without the audience utterly disliking him or her actions seeming petty, so it works fine.

The rest of the cast are just as I remember. In fact, I was surprised how quickly the show settles into a rhythm. The pilot introduces a single character that is never seen again (Castle's ex-wife and manager), but other than her very little changes from episode one to episode one hundred (from what I can remember at least). On top of which, having now made our way through several similar TV series, I have to say that the actual plotlines in Castle are above average. The whodunnit elements are decently crafted, the stories are novel, and the twists are earned. Many similar shows simply withhold information from the audience in order to keep the murderer secret, and whilst Castle still does this to some extent it feels natural. There aren't moments when a key clue is revealed later that should have been obvious in an earlier scene, but just wasn't shown, for example; if the characters should have picked up on it, the audience is shown it, even if the relevance doesn't become immediately clear.

Of course, the big comparison is between Castle and The Mentalist. When Alison started me on the latter, I was consistently struck by how similar the two felt. The Mentalist is one of her all-time favourites, whilst Castle is one of mine, so I've had a fear that the similarities might ruin it. Luckily, whilst there are obvious comparisons (the kickass female detective who thinks outside the box, the rogue and handsome consultant, the comedy buddy partners, the whole murder-mystery premise, the hints at romance etc.) the shows are different enough to feel fresh. I like to think of Castle as the less gritty, more wholesome equivalent to The Mentalist, even if it goes in for some surprisingly graphic murder scenes.

Overall, then, I'm still a huge fan. Some of the dialogue has aged to the point of sexism or at least slightly creepy lechery, but for the most part, the jokes still land, the stories are still interesting, and the characters are still a lot of fun. It's lighthearted fluff, but it's much better than your average lighthearted fluff, and it never fails to elicit a smile.

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

The second season is more than twice the length of the first. I think we finished it in about the same amount of time 😬😂 In other words, I'm utterly hooked once again.

I'd say, overall, the second season is a little weaker in terms of the individual murder plots, but much stronger in terms of character arcs. Castle is a lot less skeevy and a lot more charming (though still a bachelor at heart), and the rest of the surrounding cast get some nice bits of growth here and there. Of course, the big central will they, won't they around Beckett and Castle works well enough, though I felt the ending was a little cheap. Honestly, it felt like they'd been cancelled, so decided to wrap things up, then got extended and had to quickly write themselves into a position for another season. If that genuinely happened, then I think Beckett's cop boyfriend going nowhere seems fine, but I still think they could have done better than "Castle gets back together with his ex-wife out of the blue". Like, literally anything would have been better. Still, the whole "I'm off for the summer", "We'll see you again in the Fall, right?", "Of course" back and forth couldn't have been more telegraphed as to TV seasons if it tried, so maybe they knew it was phoned in and tried to laugh it off.

That said, a lacklustre final five minutes shouldn't utterly mar an otherwise excellent finale. I did really like Beckett's boyfriend and watching her whole conundrum unfold. Similarly, I thought the show did really well to resolve the season one cliffhanger neatly and did a good job of advancing the plot about her mother's killer; it came out of the blue and made for a really interesting episode. And my earlier note on the murders being slightly lesser is a minor one – they remain surprisingly intelligent and hard to predict, without resorting to cheap TV tricks.

Which is all to say that season two was a huge amount of fun, exactly the Castle that I remember, and I imagine we'll be steaming ahead through season three very shortly.

Season Three

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Season three gets off to a solid start effectively undoing the (still weird) ending to season two. We've flashed forward to Castle's supposed return, except he's fallen off the grid, with both Castle and Beckett effectively waiting for the other to make the first move. Then, responding to a tip-off on a murder investigation, Beckett and friends burst into their main suspect's house only to find the suspect dead and Castle standing over her body, murder weapon in hand 😲

Of course, it's all a case of wrong place, wrong time, but it's also a cleverly antagonistic way to bring the characters back together, and lets everyone be a little annoyed at each other whilst providing a clear narrative for putting the whole business behind them. I'm a particular fan of how Ryan and Esposito handle the whole situation, and generally find that their characters continue to take on fun new angles throughout the season.

The rest of the season is a solid mish-mash of the kind of cases we now expect from Castle. There are the quirky episodes that focus on subculture and the paranormal (psychics, Men in Black and aliens, steampunk, Prohibition whisky, and magicians), the harsher "real-life" moments (the abduction of a kid caught by a birder on camera, the racial bias of the US justice system), and the cross-season story threads. Here, we obviously get some further development on the shady organisation behind Beckett's mother's murder, which are handled well and keep the suspense amped (see below for finale), but we also get the introduction of 3XK. The "Triple Killer" is a nice foil to Castle and a clear Moriarty analogue; the way they leave the episode with 3XK escaping and sparing Castle's life is a good setup for what I imagine will become a very personal vendetta against a recurring villain.

Season three also gives us our first big escalation in two-parter episodes, with the slightly ludicrous dirty bomb plot. It just about works thanks to the more character-centred plot around Castle and Beckett almost dying in a walk-in fridge, but I'd be lying if I said "mystery writer helps save all of New York from a nuclear terror plot" wasn't on the very edge of what this show should try to get away with (and I worry a little about how they escalate from here 😂).

Overall, the plot lines are dealt with well, give the various characters a good sense of personal development, and keep overarching narratives moving forward nicely. There's no season-two-finale twist that undoes any of the good character work; instead, season three feels like a solid and stable show with a good idea where it wants to end up. It's not quite as flashy as a result, and the murders themselves are starting to feel a little more tropey and by-the-numbers, but overall it remains a solid detective show with some real heart.

And speaking of finales, this one is a bit of a doozy. The revelation around Montgomery falls into a trap of being a little too telegraphed in the immediate plotline and a little too out-of-character when considering his actions for the past three seasons, but the show makes it work well enough. Better handled are how each character directly reacts, particularly Ryan and Esposito (again) whose anger and guilt are very neatly portrayed and really cement their position in the overall story. The whole thing goes down extremely well, and sets us up for that near-fatal shooting at his funeral with a real (and literal) gut punch. It's one hell of a mean thing to have done to those watching the show as it came out, but as far as cliffhangers go it's one hell of a strong one, and finally forces Castle to admit his feelings. How season four deals with the fallout from such an explosive episode will be interesting, to say the least.

Season Four

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Season three left us with Beckett dying, Castle (finally) admitting his feelings, and the whole team torn apart by the revelations surrounding Montgomery that led to his death. Obviously, the first episode had to pull some serious weight going into season four, and luckily it delivered. Beckett's own trauma is well done, though her refusal to admit to Castle that she remembers his admission of love does wear a little thin as the season goes on (though I'm glad she's at least in the driving seat for that, it would be more annoying if she genuinely couldn't remember I think).

I don't know how well the portrayal of PTSD really is, but I think the fact it's a recurring theme throughout the season is done well and does the sheer horror of season three's finale justice, particularly in the lone sniper episode. The added guilt and nuance the shooting provides to Castle and Beckett's relationship is also solid, plus the excuse to bring in Gates as the new captain and have that provide a less heavy form of antagonism to the plot strikes a good balance.

Season four also spends a lot less time on "generic" episodes and more on story-development ones. There is fallout left and right from Beckett's shooting, but also from 3XK and a few other callbacks. These often allow us to focus even more closely on a specific character, including Ryan and Esposito. Ryan's episode where they discover the gun 3XK stole from him was used in the murder of a young woman is a particularly well-done story and helps pull his character away from simply being the light relief to Esposito's brooding sarcasm.

Similarly, the bank hostage plot with Castle and Martha trapped inside was a very neat way to switch up dynamics, give Martha a little more personal strength, and show how resourceful Castle really can be. I thought Alexis' reaction was a little odd and not particularly great, but her general college arc was more interesting and having her intern Lanie was a lot of fun, so she still comes out of the season on a highly positive note.

Of course, this wouldn't be Castle without quirkier outings, and whilst season four never really hits the high notes of some of the episodes past, plots around superheroes, haunted houses, fairytale killings, zombie attacks, and "linchpin" theory are all a lot of fun. The latter is the answer to where they go from "dirty bomb": Castle helps stop World War III! So yeah... really, where do you go from here 🙄

On the other hand, we do get more than a few episodes which now firmly fit into the "TV detective story" trope of only revealing information as necessary to pad the plot out. For the most part, the character's themselves are now interesting enough to make these episodes still very enjoyable to watch, but the spark of the mysteries has dulled a little.

And then, finally, we get some closure to what happened at the end of season three. First, Castle learns that Beckett does remember her shooting, and takes this to mean that she's just not that into him after all. This is dealt with well, but it does paint Beckett in a slightly poor light as their relationship unravels and she refuses to take any responsibility for that situation. Still, ultimately it sorts itself out in the big finale. At times this feels like a retread of stories past, what with Castle walking away again and Beckett falling off the deep end, going behind Gates' back, and generally disobeying orders. The difference is that the narrative is used to break her out of the old cycle and forces Beckett to finally make a go of things with Castle. It also (for once) drives a logical and believable rift between Ryan and Esposito, leaving us in a situation where the entire team is split down the middle. Guess we'll have to see where it goes from here!

Season Five

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

We're finally in a position where Castle and Beckett are together, and whilst this plotline does take a little too much of the focus of the fifth season, it's also used to good effect. Some of the better episodes are those where the twists and turns force the two to reckon with what this means for them, their careers, and those around them. Top of that list is the moment Beckett ends up stuck on a live bomb, leading to a genuinely interesting and well-paced bottle episode/clip show that helps delve into their characters.

Of course, this is Castle, so there's still plenty of time for whacky adventures and homages. In fact, I think it's fair to say that by this point the actual murder plots are secondary to the pop-culture references, conspiracy theories, and X-Files-lite plot devices. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we're long past the early season high points of actual mystery writing, instead getting plots ripped from The Ring, Terminator, Disturbia, and Taken (though this last one does at least give us some fun answers to who Castle's father is). Oh, and of course a moment in the spotlight for bigfoot 😁

There are also solid episodes involving Beckett's mother's killer, 3XK (a really fun ride where Castle himself ends up suspected of murder), and a decent cliffhanger where Beckett is (finally!) offered a promotion to a more appropriate organisation. I mean, this is a woman who has (with help) thwarted several terrorist plots, found a dirty bomb when the FBI failed, uncovered a major criminal element hiding within US politics, and must have one of the best case-close rates in the country.

Yet the easy highlight of the season is The Wild Rover, in which Ryan takes centre stage to infiltrate the Irish mob, an organisation he has previously worked within as an undercover cop. It's a heartfelt and tense episode that gives us an entirely new look at the character. When does Espo get similar treatment?

Season Six

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

So we open with Beckett in Washington DC, now working with Cuddy from House (of all people 😂). I thought these opening episodes were quite a bit of fun, though the continued storylines with her team back in New York did leave little wiggle room for them to actually take the show in a wholly new direction. Still, it gives Kate a chance to really show her colours, do the right thing... and lose her career over it. All in all, I thought this tied up promotions etc. quite nicely, and presented us with some rare instances of actual repercussions.

Still, the DC subplot was quite quickly overshadowed with some of the better episodes for a while. Number One Fan is just a good mystery in a different setting, with Castle playing hostage negotiator once again, and uses some interesting storytelling to keep you constantly guessing. Then Time Will Tell is a very fun time-travel take on the likes of 12 Monkeys that easily sits up there with earlier season's genre episodes. Later episodes on telekinesis, ninjas, and memory altering offer decent moments, too, though the standout is the 70s themed mobster episode – everyone clearly had a huge amount of fun 😁

Out of the side cast, I really enjoyed Alexis' death row case, though feel the show fails to take this anywhere interesting after the fact. As for Ryan and Esposito, here we get a big moment for both of them whilst trapped in a burning building, which works as a nice way to both up the tension and gives everyone a whole lot of scope for emotions. Speaking of emotions, the introduction to 3XK's femme fatale plastic surgeon protege is a very fun episode and a nice spotlight on Lanie, for once.

As for Castle and Beckett, after the initial standard long-distance relationship trope, it's basically back to normal. There's the odd thing here or there – Beckett getting used to tabloid gossip about her, Castle being jealous, etc. etc. – but nothing too heavy, and I'm okay with that. After a relationship-heavy previous season, it's okay to take the foot of that peddle for a bit. Instead, we get a return to the Bracken storyline, which I'm still unsure if I'm happy about. On the one hand, it's nice to see an end to this plotline, and it certainly had some good twists and moments of tension. On the other, the whole "the tape is in the elephants" thing is a bit weak, and it all wrapped up extremely quickly. Still, it was a decent enough "big ending", even if it came moments before the biggest cliffhanger the show has had to date! The result is a perfectly entertaining sixth act, though one beginning to show its rough edges a little too much.

Season Seven

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I'm still unsure how I feel about the whole "Castle disappears for months and is found at sea with no memory" plot. On the one hand, it creates a new mystery that the show can spend some time unravelling. On the other, it seems to mainly be used to set us back about two seasons with Castle and Beckett's relationship, purely so we can pad out the story and kill time by retreading old ground, which is just dull. Time will tell, I guess, but honestly, the season finale mystery around the murder that Castle experienced in his childhood is way more interesting and I think it's a shame that this was hinted at for so many seasons and yet wrapped up in a single episode – it deserved more, particularly with the excellent serial killer design 🤷‍♂️

Once we're back to regular murders, season seven is certainly not bad, but there are few standout moments. Castle going undercover in a kindergarten is a lot of fun, the Mars mission has some decent sci-fi homages, and I did enjoy the Wild West episode, though mainly because it was a break from Castle/Beckett squabbles amid a more light-hearted setting – the actual plot was a bit dull. Elsewhere, the parallel universe episode was just a bit weird (fun enough, but the weakest genre outing in terms of walking that X Files line of believability) and most of the other episodes feel more like filler than anything else. The season does get a bit more interesting when Castle spins off to become a P.I., but only a little, and they reverse course way too quickly in my opinion.

Again, the best episodes tend to focus on side characters or recurring villains. Esposito's negotiation on the train is a really nicely written episode, albeit with a slightly baffling ending relating to his love life, and the plane episode with Alexis is great (though House possibly did it better). And the return of 3XK is a great two-parter with some excellent suspense and nail-biting moments, though again with an interesting ending where Beckett just fully murders someone and it's never mentioned again.

The result is a season that feels more up-and-down than ever before. It's keeping us chugging along happily, and I'm certainly rarely bored by the show, but at this point I do wish we could get some meaningful character progress. I keep thinking about more modern shows like Brooklyn 99 that have the guts to just let the core romance happen and then move on with the story, rather than keep inventing reasons to set them back a few steps. That said, I did go into this season thinking they were going to kill off or somehow remove Beckett's character, as I remember that there was an off-screen falling out between the two leads around this point. Lots of time it seemed likely: 3XK, the P.I. stuff, her issues with his disappearance, her sudden interest in a promotion. However, I'm glad they didn't and definitely feel that it made this season a bit harder to watch, so take my criticism with a pinch of salt.

Season Eight

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Despite a slow decline in the quality of the show, I went into season eight still thoroughly enjoying Castle and rooting for a strong ending – and I think the show delivered. Knowing this was the final season, it was really weird when they just fully wrote Beckett off on the first episode (suddenly all those rumours and fears of a schism reared their head again), but the ensuing plot was actually quite fun. I also really enjoyed the introduction of Hayley and Vikram as new characters, and the hard pivot towards Castle's P.I. business, though Alexis' involvement is never explained clearly enough (why is she no longer at university?) to not be a bit weird. It feels like they suddenly realised the actress was clearly an adult and perhaps they could make better use of her character if they just fast-forwarded time a touch.

What I liked less was the excuse to once again drive a wedge between Beckett and Castle, and was extremely glad that they dropped this ridiculous act midway through the season. I mean come on we've done this before multiple times, stop retreading the same ground, especially when they are simultaneously trying to tell interesting, progressive stories about their early marriage. A total absence of Castle's father (and introduction of his step-mum) was also a bit weird, though ultimately fine.

Speaking of wedges between people, I'm in two minds about the manufactured Ryan vs Esposito plot. On the one hand, the actors clearly had a lot of fun and it was genuinely amusing at times, plus it let us explore some slightly different sides of their characters. On the other, it totally ignores seven seasons of storytelling and character development that they would ever get this caught up in a very stupid disagreement (even if one did accidentally shoot another). Overall, I give this story element a solid meh.

In terms of episodes, I enjoyed the Glee-esque homage, the Saw and Unbreakable rip-offs, the whole "apocalypse axe-murderer" thread, and the trial episode that Castle botches so heavily, plus the Russian character Vasily was just great and perfectly acted – so happy and deadly, all at once 😁 Plot progression on both Bracken's accomplice and Castle's disappearance were interesting enough (even if their connection ended up feeling a little pointless). In fact, I'd go so far as to say that season eight had some of the strongest regular episodes in several seasons. Totally "normal" murders, like the police academy or the Russian diplomat, were used in interesting and unexpected ways. They're still not close to the early seasons in terms of complexity or nuance, but they were at least better than plot devices used to progress a specific point or punchline.

And then the show ends. With a single episode, we tie up Castle's disappearance, the recently introduced league of detectives, Hayley's story, and Loksat. It's a fun, action-packed episode, that ends with such a weird twist I can't tell if it was necessary or ridiculous. With everything done, Loksat captured, his unit dead or arrested, and Castle and Beckett finally properly together, Caleb (the lawyer and Loksat agent) pops up, seemingly comes out as the real Loksat (though, what, that doesn't work? Or is he just annoyed his "death" is uncovered? Why is he in the apartment? What?!?) and possibly kills everyone... the show is really unclear!

We saw Castle shot. Caleb shot. Beckett shot. Caleb clearly dies, whilst Beckett drags herself to Castle, who is still alive though very much bleeding out. Then we get a fade-over to the first season and a line of dialogue that can definitely be interpreted as "what would happen if we got together, haha", before cutting to "seven years later" and them eating breakfast, surrounded by kids. But seven years from when? From when they first met? If so, this is a What If? looking at how Castle didn't just immediately ask her out: in that universe, it seems they go out, get married, have kids, and possibly never find out about Loksat, hence still being alive in the present. Or is this seven years from them in the present, seemingly unaged, and now having had kids, somehow surviving that shooting?

Was there a ninth season planned and they just cut together some previously shot footage (Castle in particular looks about four years younger in the "flash forward" sequence) rather than leaving fans on a horrendous cliffhanger? If so, where was the show even going? Every major question has been answered, all the characters are moving on up and out (becoming Sergeants, Captains, Castle's mother even moved to her own place, Alexis is off with Haley)... just why?

Yes, Caleb's body being burned in a way that could be traced is a plot hole. They make a big deal about Loksat's ability to "disappear people", so why screw that up? Maybe it was bait to try and find out who else knew, and maybe the writers felt the need to bring Caleb back at the very end to show that off. But even so, why shoot everyone? And if you're going to shoot everyone, why end with such an opaque message! For a show that prides itself on solving the damn mystery I'm not sure I like that it ended on one, particularly after what was otherwise a really solid plot, at the end of a really solid season. Just weird 🤔

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