Castle season 8 episode 21 review: Hell To Pay

Castle has been cancelled, which might just be for the best, seeing as it appears to have run out of story...

This review contains spoilers.

8.21 Hell To Pay

Well, it’s finally happened. The axe has fallen, and ABC has officially cancelled Castle.

For most fans, it seems, the news is being met with a mix of resignation and relief. After all, the show has been a stalwart for ABC, with die-hard fans of Caskett and Fillion tuning in reliably for the last eight years. Unfortunately, ever since Andrew Marlowe stepped down as showrunner, the series has lost its way. That culminated in this season’s confused, canon-and character-contradicting LokSat storyline, which seemed to cut the heart out of what made Castle so enjoyable: the chemistry between not only the show’s romantic leads but the entire ensemble. But still the fans held on. 

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When ABC announced that one of those leads, Stana Katic, would not be returning for a season nine, however, a cry went up among those fans. It was one thing for the new showrunners to unnecessarily and unsatisfyingly put the Caskett relationship through a meat grinder. It was quite another to attempt to permanently remove one of the two characters in it. The possibility that the show could survive such a blow would have been doubtful no matter who was in charge, but under its current management, there was little doubt it would be a disaster. The fans themselves began calling for the show to be cancelled, and last Thursday, they got their wish.

So all that’s left is for us to see what they do with the last two episodes. And if Hell To Pay is any indication, then Crossfire will likely be a disappointment. I hope I’m wrong.

It seems as if this season has been made up of two kinds of episodes: the LokSat-focused episodes (which may or may not have an unrelated crime in them, but definitely will do little to actually advance the LokSat plotline) and the Rick’s-being-a-fool episodes. Hell To Pay falls into the latter of these two categories.

In these episodes, something about the case at hand sparks Castle’s imagination, making him relate it to some sort of fanciful narrative or supernatural myth which he teases throughout the episode. Eventually, however, the mystery is solved, and as Tim Minchin might point out, the answer isn’t magic or mythical beasties—it’s the janitor, the guy who runs the water slide, or some other rational explanation.

Unless it’s this season, of course. In which case, it almost certainly is magic—a magical lamp, for instance, or in the case of Hell To Pay, possibly the Anti-Christ.

Okay, okay… The Anti-Christ didn’t do it in this episode. In fact, he was the one who was almost done in. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The episode starts with Hawley and Alexis hanging out at the office of Castle Investigations, when they are interrupted—literally—by an axe-wielding maniac. Hawley gets the drop on him, but it’s pointless since he spouts a few words of Latin and then drops dead from injuries sustained earlier in the evening. The rest of the episode involves the team trying to piece together what happened from the time the victim, Gabriel Shaw, escaped an institution for the criminally insane until the moment he stormed Castle’s office.

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Shaw’s commitment to Peakmore Psychiatric was due to his attempt, twenty years earlier, to kill a member of the billionaire Crowne family—the young son Victor—whom he believed to be evil. Despite Shaw’s capture and conviction, the family was unnerved enough to escape to the Continent where, ironically (or not, if you’re Rick Castle), the parents were killed in a freak accident (avalanche), leaving young Victor alone, but the heir to untold wealth and power, neither of which he get full control of until his thirtieth birthday—just two days away.

Put evil child, dead parents, some Latin, a bunch of sulfur, and the fact that Jesus did not come into to His own until He was 30 together, and it’s clear—to Rick—that Victor Crowne is the Anti-Christ and they are living through The Omen (or rather, Omen III).

Before he succumbed to his mental illness, Shaw was a “spiritual consultant” to a private detective who worked out of the same office that Castle Investigations now use, and the wife and son of the detective Cramer—who, like the Crownes, died under hinky circumstances—report that Shaw came to visit them in search of some research that his former employer had. It turns out that this research is still housed in the Cramer-now-Castle offices, behind a vault door that Rick has refused to open out of a Schrödinger-inspired fancy.

After Hayley cracks the safe, uncovering a room dedicated to the supposed evil of Victor Crowne, Rick’s fantasy really takes off, as he goes with Ryan and Esposito to question Crowne, who Castle believes has marked him for death. Crowne, however, is innocent as some good old-fashioned police work soon susses out. It seems that it was actually the widow Cramer who dealt the death blow to Shaw, unable to deal with him after the misery he brought to her family when he first attempted to kill the Crownes.

But, as it turns out, Shaw was not alone in his beliefs about Victor, and the son of another of his fellow travelers, Oscar von Eckland, burgles the vault, knocks Castle, and steals the Angel blade, the only weapon capable of killing the Anti-Christ. The team discover him just in time as he stands over the bound body of Victor Crowne, dagger raised for the death blow. Victor is saved and thanks Castle for his help, promising him anything he desires.

What separates this episode from the others we seen like it this season is that the writers do not stoop to the season 8 insanity we’ve seen in this type of episode—where Castle’s fantastical theory seems more likely than not. Here, everything is easily explained without recourse to the paranormal. And along the way we get some great moments: I think my favorite is when Irish Catholic Ryan and prep-school alum Castle simultaneously translate the Latin that Shaw uttered before he died. (What I don’t buy is that Alexis couldn’t translate it, but I digress.) But there were others—Beckett intentionally scaring the hell out of her husband. Twice. Castle asking Victor if he’d literally just made a deal with the devil. And Hayley demanding a chocolate milkshake in order to open the vault.

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So why, you might ask, if the episode is better than most of its ilk this season and had great moments, was it a disappointment?

Well, because it was the penultimate episode ever of a show that has had a single myth arc tying together all eight seasons, to one extent or another: the Joanna Beckett/Bracken/LokSat story. So if you, as showrunners, know that you’re in enough danger of cancellation (and trust me, they known all season) that you’ve shot two different endings to the season, why on earth would you waste the second-to-the-last episode on a crime of the week rather than building up to the series climax tonight?

I can think of one good reason: because you don’t have enough story to tell. We’ve been told all season that we’d finally get answer by the end of the season. Now we’re facing not just the end of the season but the series itself, and after literally eight years build-up, it just feels like there are too many threads to sew them all together in a single episode. How do come up, in 42 minutes, with an ending to all that which will be satisfying and narratively feasible?

Maybe I’m wrong, but Castle’s track record, especially lately, doesn’t give me much hope that I am. We’ll know soon enough. After all, as Shaw said: Finis omnium nunc est.

The end is nigh.

Read Laura’s review of the previous episode, Much Ado About Murder, here.

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UK viewers: Castle season 8 is currently airing on Alibi.