Unquestionably the most popular crime procedural ABC has fronted in many years, the final season of Castle unfortunately got too caught up in its unsatisfying on-going mystery arcs taking time away from the single episode crime stories and the always fun character interactions that have been the series’ hallmarks.
The Production: 3/5
How disappointing that the eighth and final season of ABC’s Castle went out with a whimper instead of a bang. Despite ridiculously over-the-top action sequences (hordes of armed mercenaries shooting up New York City streets spraying bullets in every direction and yet managing somehow to miss our heroes hiding behind scant cover), a very unsatisfactory season-long arc that strained credibility continuously, and several episodes where the mysteries simply didn’t hold water or were explained away too conveniently for reasonable audience responses, the series even at its lowest ebb managed to hold a large, faithful group of fans who kept it afloat during its final two rather desperate seasons, but it was clear that the time had come to end the show and let memories of the entertaining earlier seasons remain reasonably untarnished.
Season eight’s major problems revolved around its mishandling of two long running storylines. Carried over from the previous season was the continuing conundrum of mystery writer Richard Castle’s (Nathan Fillion) two-month disappearance which began at the end of season six. In season eight, it became clear that Castle’s disappearance was connected to the season’s other long-running narrative arc: Captain Kate Beckett’s (Stana Katic) investigation into LockSat, a shady CIA analyst connected to the dirty politician Senator William Bracken (Jack Coleman) who had been instrumental in the murder of Beckett’s mother many years ago. The hunt for the identity of LockSat intrudes on almost every episode of this final season, even to the point of Beckett’s separating from Castle for almost half the season in a ludicrously nonsensical effort not to put him in danger (when the identity is finally revealed in the series finale episode, it’s quite a disappointment. Yes, as in The Mentalist’s revelation of Red John’s identity, it involves characters with whom the main characters have been in contact during the season, characters who could have taken Castle and Beckett and all of their friends and family out at any time without any elaborate scheme to bring them down). The intrusion into the regular procedurally-driven episodes of the show always seemed to make those cases seem less important and almost like filler for those whose primary interest was in uncovering the identity of this shadowy super killer. (And let’s don’t even begin to discuss the coda in the finale episode inserted at the last minute when it was revealed days before the finale aired that Castle would not be returning for a ninth season.)
As for the regular mysteries this season, there were a few standouts. Dual puzzle rooms where four men are housed in one and three female significant others are housed in the other made for a diverting episode even if the perpetrator was more obvious than usual for the show. A trio of episodes revolved around Rick Castle’s childlike enthusiasm for and belief in the supernatural as he trails after Aladdin’s lamp, a curious man who keeps coming back from the dead (three different resurrections), and the Antichrist, all making for spritely viewing. The return of rough and tumble Ethan Slaughter played by Adam Baldwin made for perhaps the season’s most enjoyably comic and exciting episode. And, of course, there was the usual assortment of murders this season involving an impaled college student, a Russian mobster, a snake wrangler, a theater janitor, a bicoastal serial killer, a police trainee, and a number of shows involving murdered performers.
Because of Castle and Beckett’s complete preoccupation with the LockSat investigation, two new cast members were added to the team of series regulars: former MI-5 agent Hayley Shipton (Toks Olagundoye) who along with Castle’s daughter Alexis (Molly C. Quinn) kept Richard Castle Investigations private eye firm afloat and former FBI computer analyst Vikram Singh (Sunkrish Bala) who used his hacking skills to gain much needed information on LockSat and his criminal activities. Otherwise, the detective duo of Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas) continued to be reliably amusing (there was a fun spat between the pair that played out over three or four episodes early in the season), and both medical examiners Lanie (Tamala Jones) and Pearlmutter (Ayre Gross) showed their mettle during the season. There was unfortunately less for Castle’s mother (Susan Sullivan) to do this year.
Here are the twenty-two episodes contained on five discs in the season eight set. Names in parentheses refer to that episode’s audio commentary participants:
1 – XY
2 – XX
3 – PhDead
4 – What Lies Beneath
5 – The Nose
6 – Cool Boys (actors Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin)
7 – The Last Seduction
8 – Mr. & Mrs. Castle
9 – Tone Death
10 – Witness for the Prosecution
11 – Dead Red
12 – The Blame Game
13 – And Justice for All
14 – The G.D.S.
15 – Fidelis Ad Mortem
16 – Heartbreaker (writer Barry O’Brien, actors Seamus Dever, Jon Huertas)
17 – Death Wish
18 – Backstabber
19 – Dead Again
20 – Much Ado About Murder
21 – Hell to Pay
22 – Crossfire
3D Rating: NA
The program is broadcast on ABC at 720p in 1:78:1, and these downconverted 480p transfers look on the whole extremely good being anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The program continues to have a very warm color palette, and the DVD conveys this quite well with close-ups and medium shots especially registering at near-HD quality when upconverted. Otherwise, sharpness is very well done with occasional nods to soft-focused glamour close-ups, and color saturation is well above average while flesh tones remain realistic and appealing. Black levels are generally excellent and sometimes even stunning. Only the slightest bit of line twitter and aliasing was noticeable in a few shots. Each episode has been divided into 7 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track makes a better than average use of its surround opportunities. Robert Duncan’s music is always an immersive element in the show, and the sound designers make sure that ambient sounds get placed around the soundfield in almost every episode. Of course, the show’s primary element is dialogue, and it’s well recorded and accurately placed in the center channel. The LFE channel gets a strong workout in several episodes where massive firepower or explosions are present.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Audio Commentaries: as ingratiating as all of the participants are in the two episodes which have accompanying commentaries (see above list), neither one constitutes a major achievement. The speakers give hearty praise to all of the cast and crew throughout and offer little in the way of behind-the-scenes glimpses into the show’s production. Fillion and Baldwin get so caught up in watching “Cool Boys” that they stop talking for minutes at a time.
Deleted Scenes (1:18): three very brief deleted scenes appear on two of the five discs in the set.
The Great Escape (10:43): Nathan Fillion, Molly Quinn, Tamala Jones, Toks Olagundoye, and Jon Huertas are locked in a specially prepared room and given clues to finding their way out within their one hour time limit.
Gag Reel (6:27)
Unquestionably the most popular crime procedural ABC has fronted in many years, the final season of Castle unfortunately got too caught up in its unsatisfying on-going mystery arcs taking time away from the single episode crime stories and the always fun character interactions that have been the series’ hallmarks. The standard definition transfers look about as good as DVD material can look, and fans will undoubtedly want to add this to their other seven seasons of the show despite the serious lapses in this final season.