Castle season 8 episodes 10 & 11 review: Witness For The Prosecution & Dead Red

After a disappointing first half to Castle season 8, things are looking up. Could Castle finally be getting its old groove back?

This review contains spoilers.

8.10 Witness For The Prosecution & 8.11 Dead Red

Last week, we Castle diehards finally caught a real break. Not only did we get back-to-back episodes, but the episodes we got were largely what we love about the show: a good mystery, a little spice, and most importantly, the gang together and firing on all cylinders… even when they don’t.

The “when they don’t” come in early in Witness For The Prosecution when we find out that Rick witnessed a murder a few months before and is set to testify as the one eyewitness in what seems a slamdunk case. It’s the morning of, and Beckett is in her familiar role of trying to rein Castle in, explaining to him that his usual charm can be a real drawback on the witness stand while Castle, as usual, ignores her and protests the advantages of such charm. It’s like were back in season 3 or 4, with the easy camaraderie and playful tone.

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And, as in the past, they are both right and wrong. Castle flubs the testimony through no fault of his own when the lackadaisical defence attorney is, at the last minute, replaced by sharp public defender Caleb Brown. What Rick doesn’t know but Kate is very aware of is that Brown himself is dirty, involved in at least two points of the LokSAT case she’s investigating, which just further convinces her that the defendant he’s representing has to be guilty. She throws the full resources of her precinct behind the prosecutor, who is scrambling now that Brown has completely undermined the case against Nina O’Keefe (played by the first half of the Clare Grant/Seth Green uber-geek coupling).

And this is where things really start clicking. It’s been a long while since the whole team was playing on the same side (although there are a few moments where we are reminded that Kate is still got the LokSAT sideline going and thus is not revealing everything she knows about Caleb Brown. But being on the same side doesn’t necessarily mean they are playing the same game, as Castle recruits his mother and daughter to help him get thrown in jail so he has time to talk to O’Keefe.

In the meantime, the false trails abound as suspects are eliminated almost as quickly as they are proposed, and the investigation soon leads Caskett and the boys to believe they are backing the wrong horse. Brown, it appears is defending a genuinely innocent woman and they must all race the clock to keep her from being convicted by circumstantial evidence which they, largely amassed against her.

So that’s what’s in the episode and it works as well as any mystery has—especially playing off what we (and Kate) know of Brown to keep us off the scent of the truth). But what makes the episode more effective, from the standpoint of longtime viewers is not what the episode contains, but what it lacks.

While there are brief references to the issues that Caskett had during the first part of the season, they are quick and relatively painless. We are not forced to dwell on them. Likewise, there are no lengthy makeout scenes which inevitably leave us feeling like the showrunners are trying too hard and that all that Caskett are now capable of between them is mauling the sheets.

What’s odd is that this is the first time since the very beginning of this season that showrunner Terrence Paul Winter has penned an episode (he and co-showrunner Alexi Hawley wrote the season opening double episode XX and XY). What’s even more unusual is that this is the episode that got a special day: not just the first time a first-run Castle episode has shown on a day other than Sunday, but on Valentine’s Day. The fact that it was intentionally engineered to run on such a day should have meant more of the “fun and excitement” that has actually had fans abandoning the show in droves. The fact that all that has been dialled back—by one of the showrunners themselves—on such a day, makes me wonder if the clamouring voices of fans have finally managed to be heard and this is, oddly enough, a valentine where the romance has been tamped down from the ridiculous bodice-ripper level of intrigue and pathos we’ve been enduring thus far this season.

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That would indeed be a gift worth celebrating.

Sunday’s episode was followed by one cut from much the same cloth on Monday, Dead Red.

In this outing, Kate and Rick are caught up in a world of international intrigue, but while there are remnants of the Cold War scattered about in the case, the actual conflict is largely a familial one surrounding the death of the son of two Russian diplomats who was investigating the death of one of them—his mother—when he himself had his throat slit.

The fact that the case involves diplomats and “diplobrats”—the over-indulged and legally untouchable offspring—requires that Casket and company work with a security attaché forced on them by the Russian consulate. Luckily, Vasiliy Zhirov, played with gusto by Spartacus’ Ashur, Nick E. Tarabay, seems more interested in hanging out with Castle and talking him into co-writing a book than in trying to solve the mystery.

After a few false starts, it’s clear, however, that Kate and the boys aren’t getting much traction and we suddenly find out that the charming and seemingly laid back Vasiliy is not what he appears to be. The ease with which the character slips back and forth between the sightseeing buffoon and the “cleaner” who makes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in Red Heat look “like weak, non-violent child” is a real testament to the actor’s skill, especially since we see him as the danger he really is, it gives his more joking side a malevolence that escaped us at first.

But the mystery itself, while it does keep us guessing (and here, I have to call out that the mysteries lately, as a whole, are getting better, even as the Caskett has gone to pieces), is not the main attraction. Instead, the episode sets up a series of great moments. There’s the opening one between Castle, Alexis and Martha as they review Rick’s terrible (or wonderful, depending on your outlook—I myself would have adored receiving a baby-sized light saber or Leonard Cohen-crooning robot nanny at my baby shower) gifts for Jenny and Ryan’s shower. Or the old Rick embarrasses himself as just the wrong person walks up behind him (this time, Vasiliy, just as Castle is doing Boris and Natasha references). Perhaps the best are the two conversations between Rita and first Beckett and then Castle.

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It’s oddly sweet that Kate is so excited that Rita has been watching them but not seen through their relationship ruse (though how anyone—especially the boys—have missed it is beyond me). It’s like a schoolgirl thrilled to have impressed her teacher by learning to spell a particularly difficult word. But the later conversation where Rita alternately disappoints Rick by giving him a stepmom only to take not just herself but any chance of ever seeing his father again away, and blesses him with the secondhand benediction of his father’s love for and pride in him is one of the more emotional non-Caskett moments we’ve ever seen in the series.

And maybe, just maybe, these two episodes have shown us how Hawley and Winter might fix the show after the disastrous first half of the season. The quick ducking into a room at the Russian consulate is funny, sexy, and totally Caskett. And takes up less than thirty seconds and leaves us feeling like we have a bit of the old groove back.

In other words, less is more. Especially when we’ve been all but tortured with it in a fashion of which Vasiliy would be proud. Going forward, let’s hope this lesson has been learned for good.

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