Castle season 8 episode 16 review: Heartbreaker

Castle's talented actors continue to be its best draw, as this Esposito-focused episode shows...

This review contains spoilers.

8.16 Heartbreaker

Heartbreaker is one of my favorite kinds of Castle episodes—if you ignore the first two minutes.

As I have made it abundantly clear in my reviews, the strength of this show is its actors. Time and again, they save episodes that would otherwise be damned by uneven writing and misjudged instincts on the part of the new showrunners. Their individual skills and the chemistry they exude as a group is what keeps us holding on even when it seems like the show is spiralling downward.

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So any episode which tightly focuses in on one of their characters is almost always a joy to watch, and Heartbreaker, which put Javier Esposito in the limelight, is no exception.

It seems that nine years ago—or not long before we met Esposito, this being season eight—he was engaged to a woman who turned out to be something other than an interesting girl he met in a club, fell in love with, and asked him to marry him. She was actually Mako, part of a two-person team both with shark names) that pulled off a heist of ten million in gold coins. For some reason which is never explained, Javier somehow knew that his fiancé, who had been acting “weird” (which really just translates to distant, in this case), was responsible, and arrested her.

She has since been sent to prison, and Javier hasn’t spoken to her since then.

Until the gel that her partner—who she never ratted out—used to disable the security system in the first job is found again at the crime scene of a second heist, one in which one of the security guards was shot and killed, bringing it under the jurisdiction of Captain Beckett and her team. Now, Sonia Ruiz is their only chance of finding their killer. Beckett and team enlist her help, which requires that they release her in order to see if she can smoke out her former in Spanish Harlem at a bar he used to frequent. Of course, someone has to go with her and Castle, Beckett, and Ryan would all stick out like sore thumbs—“You’re gonna send me into a bar in Spanish Harlem with Saint Paddy on my arm?”—so it falls to Esposito to escort Sonia on the mission to find her old partner.

Along the way, we get a conversation which, while it doesn’t reveal a new Javi—he’s always been one half-inch of gruff detective/player coating over an essentially great and generally sensitive guy—lets us peek under the hood of one half of our favorite bromance. That Ryan and Castle are listening in is all that keeps the scene from being a little two maudlin as it becomes clear that, despite all his protestations to the contrary, Esposito is not entirely over Sonia.

But that doesn’t mean he trusts her either. And I don’t think you can give Jon Huertas enough credit in this episode for pulling off the balancing act that he does throughout. Because, in the end, Sonia is not to be trusted and does double-cross him, running out on him once he lets his guard down—twice. Because in the hands of a mediocre actor, what generally happens in these cases is that you spend your time either annoyed at the guy for not trusting her when, with the kind of audience omniscience, you know she can be trusted (because the writers have sent you signals to this effect) or angry at him for being stupid enough to continue to trust her after everything she’s done.

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But the success of an episode like Heartbreaker depends on not know whether she can be trusted, and thus whether or not our hero can afford to. Who killed the armoured truck driver, in this case, is less the mystery than whether Sonia Ruiz is deserving of a second chance with Esposito. And oddly enough—though perhaps less so for Castle than some other stories—it’s less about the script than the actors. Because the script has to create repeated situations where it seems first like the person probably is trustworthy and then others where it’s almost certain they aren’t. And that’s not all that difficult.

What is difficult is selling those situations. Making them work by making them real and believable. And we see this again and again in the give-and-take between Huertas and Angélica Celaya (from last year’s Constantine). She has just enough vulnerability and regret mixed in with her snark to make us hope she’s innocent (from her sake as much as his). And Huertas shows us who he was with Sonia, making his last-moment confession of what he considered doing when he found out about her first crime believable despite what we know about his ethics as a cop.

Castle may be primarily be about Kate and Rick’s romance, but Heartbreaker is just as much a love story. Just one with a bittersweet ending. They may not be together, but they salvaged their feelings for each other in the end.

And speaking of endings. Remember me mentioning the first two minutes of the episode? So in case you blinked and missed it, after all the ridiculous subterfuge about Kate deep-sixing their relationship and then them hiding their relationship from everyone to keep LokSat from going after Rick, Lanie greets Castle at the crime scene with a “So happy you and Beckett are back together!”

That’s right. They’ve put all their friends through hell (because everyone has to tiptoe around both parties, trying to comfort both without appearing to take sides, etc., etc.), and us in the process and we don’t even get to see the resolution? Is it because they thought we’d be so happy it was over that we wouldn’t notice it was missing? Or did they finally realize, when they went to write the dialogue where Caskett explains to Martha and Alexis and Espo and Ryan and Lanie what they did and why, how stupid the whole thing actually sounded?

Because let’s face it: there have been few plotlines as stupid as this one in recent memory. And they probably didn’t even let their LEO friends in on the LokSat part of it, which makes even less sense. The whole danger comes from that piece: whether LokSat knows he/she is being investigated—not degrees of separation from Kate Beckett at this point. If nothing else, the boys could be watching their backs. There is strength in numbers when it comes to this sort of thing.

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But that would make too much sense.

On the other hand, at least the whole breakup/hidden romance thing is finally dead. At this point, I figure it’s only a matter of time before we hear that Andrew Marlowe is stepping back in. For right now, however, renewal for season nine is still up in the air as are Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion’s contracts, and some fans are saying they’d rather see the show go now than hang on for another season. If current showrunners Hawley and Winter are in charge in a putative season nine, they are promising no large story arcs, only crime-of-the-week type episodes, and if this season is what their arcs would look like, then weekly one-offs sound like a blessing.

I think I’ve made my own feelings clear on this. Where do you guys stand? Renew? Cancel? New showrunners? Crime-of-the-week episodes? Where should Castle go next?

Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Fidelis Ad Mortem, here.