Castle season 8 episode 18 review: Backstabber

Castle devotes an entire season 8 episode to developing the character of Hayley...

This review contains spoilers.

8.18 Backstabber

This week, Hayley was solidly inducted into the ranks of Castle regulars by getting an episode about her. The purpose of these kinds of episodes is to give us background and real texture to the characters that surround Beckett and Castle. They explain why these characters are who they are—because while Castle has a fine cast, it’s not really an ensemble show. Rick and Kate get character development of one kind or another in almost every episode. But it’s hard to really learn much about the secondary characters because of their limited time on-screen.

Thus we’ve had episodes about all of our regulars, like the one about Kevin Ryan’s past as an undercover cop that highlights for us where the steel that he occasionally shows in dealing with suspects comes from. We are so used to him being the boy-next-door to Espo’s more tough-guy persona that those “bad-cop” moments can seem out of character—until The Wild Rover explains for us exactly how tough Ryan himself can really be. This season’s Heartbreaker did the same for Esposito in reverse: we got to see the sentimental guy under that gruff exterior—and perhaps some insight into why he was so gun-shy until near the end of his relationship with Lanie. And of course, Lanie, Martha, and Alexis have also had their own bits of this kind of spotlight. It is a testament to what each of the actors has brought to their characters that makes us want to know more about them.

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But the question for me, going into last week’s Backstabber, was are we at the point where we care enough about Hayley to want an episode that opens her up?

Hayley’s presence on the show has been a set-up, both for Castle as a character, and for the audience. We were given the reason a few weeks ago as to why she really started hanging around—she was worried about Rick after the memory wipe he had done, and decided to keep an eye on him. But for the most part, she has felt artificial: like a character introduced to reinvigorate a flagging series, or for the more cynical, a black character brought in to replace another black character who they were writing out (Penny Johnson Jerald’s Victoria Gates) or putting on the back burner (Tamala Jones’ Lanie Parish). And from her introduction, there have been questions that the writers have very overtly woven into the story—not just why she entered Castle’s life, but why she has the skillset she has and whether she is essentially a good character or one who we should continue to be on our guard about.

This week’s Backstabber answered those planted questions. 

It seems that Hayley is still getting legally questionable work while hanging around the Castle detective agency and helping Alexis whip it into shape (which answers the question of how she can afford to live in an expensive city like New York with seemingly no job). On one of her jobs, set up by Bryce Robert, someone she used to work under at MI6, she is paired with a second-story man named Marcus. They are supposedly trying to catch a high-level executive cheating on his wife by putting spyware on his computer. While doing this, they are almost interrupted by another employee of the energy company who brings a date up to impress her. Hayley manages to finish uploading the spyware and get out while Marcus decides to stay behind and watch the amorous couple go at it. Marcus is found dead the next day with a stab wound in his back.

It quickly becomes evident that the entire caper was a set-up, that there is no cheating husband, that what Hayley uploaded to the man’s computer was a virus that knocked out the power in London, and that Hayley is intended as the patsy on which the whole thing will be pinned. The gang, including a suddenly not-by-the-book Captain Beckett, rally around to try to find out who is setting her up and why.

Where all this dips into Hayley’s backstory is that we learn that, in addition to working for MI6, the reason she no longer does is that they ordered her to leave behind her friend and partner, agent Wesley Connors (played, not quite passably by Aaron McCusker) and he was captured and executed by the Iranians. This is why she doesn’t like or trust the agency now, and probably a big portion of why she doesn’t talk about this part of her life.

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While the plot itself works well, and most of the acting done around it is spot on (I especially appreciated Alexis’s reaction to nearly being shot on entering Hayley’s apartment and Castle’s more serious side in his concern for his new guardian angel), the episode itself feels forced. We haven’t really known Hayley long enough, it feels, for this kind of an episode—she’s still getting established, and it wasn’t until well into the second season that we started getting these types of backstories for any of our other secondary characters. Are we emotionally invested enough to care yet?

More importantly, the level of loyalty displayed by the rest of the regular characters seems out of proportion to their actual relationships with her. It makes sense for Alexis and possibly Castle to want to have Hayley’s back to the point we see in Backstabber. They work side-by-side with her and Hayley has provided her a gal to pal around with.  But the same can hardly be said for Ryan, Esposito, and especially Beckett. They are all putting their professional lives on the line for someone they don’t really know. Why would they be willing to take the risk that would go with hiding a suspected terrorist? That kind of stuff can carry the death penalty.

And yet they blithely do. There’s not even a discussion.

But again, that aside, the plot is tight and it does give us a convincing backstory for Hayley. What it does not, this close to what must certainly be the last season for Castle (or at least the last season worth watching, as I cannot see many fans tuning in to the show without Stana Katic, who has said she’s not returning for a ninth season), is get us any closer to LokSat or move that storyline in any real way. They now have only four episodes left to sew up that story arc.

Showrunners Winter and Hawley have said that they will have it sewn up, but if we can take them at their word, it’s hard to imagine them doing so in a way that’s really fulfilling considering all the strands that have to be pulled together at this point. 

Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Death Wish, here.

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