Nancy Drew Episode 18 Review: The Clue in the Captain’s Painting

A makeshift finale wraps up the story of Nancy Drew’s first season in a way that’s largely satisfying – but it’s difficult not to wonder what might have been.

Nancy Drew Episode 18 The Clue in the Captain's Painting
Photo: The CW

This Nancy Drew review contains spoilers.

Nancy Drew Episode 18

“The Clue in the Captain’s Painting” is being promoted as Nancy Drew’s “spring finale,” thanks to the coronavirus pandemic that’s wreaked havoc on virtually everything in the world over the past few weeks, including television production timelines. Narratively speaking, the hour largely works as a stopping point for the season – Owen’s murder is solved, there’s a certain amount of closure between Nancy and Lucy Sable’s remaining relatives, and the Drew Crew gets to reaffirm their friendship over drinks at The Claw. George even gets to address the uncomfortable elephant in the room that is her affair with the man who turned out to be her best friend’s father, proclaim her self worth, and choose a future with Nick, whatever that may end up looking like. 

There’s a lot here that’s really satisfying, from both a narrative and a character perspective. Yet, it’s hard not to pine, a little bit, for the four episodes of Season 1 that will never exist, and the original ending creator Noga Landau envisioned. After all, Nancy Drew did so many unexpected things this year – including solving both Lucy and Tiffany’s murders, revealing Nancy’s real parentage and killing off Owen Marven, all with nearly a half dozen episodes still to go – what might a real season finale have looked like? 

In theory, the remaining story from this season is meant to be folded into the drama’s sophomore year, and “The Clue in the Captain’s Portrait” does work as a set-up of things to come. There’s an unfortunate lack of Nancy and Her Two Dads drama, but all the more grist for next season, I guess? Carson is conspicuously absent given that his daughter’s boyfriend has just been viciously killed, but Ryan does at least try to make sure Nancy’s okay, even if his attempt to insert himself into the proceedings is awkward and generally unwelcome, at best.

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That Owen’s murderer turns out to be a regular human person – Lucy Sable’s brother Joshua, already named as the killer of Tiffany Hudson – feels a bit convenient, though the bittersweet revelation that he died trying to protect Nancy is a nice touch. (Even if it’s just yet another thing to add to her inevitable therapy bills.) 

Kennedy McMann gives an especially nuanced performance here, balancing Nancy’s grief over Owen’s death, her guilt over the fact that her presence in his life helped bring it about, and her ongoing emotional confusion regarding what has basically been the entire upending of her life over the past 48 hours. Even if the whole “my mother gave birth to me and then immediately jumped/fell off a cliff” thing doesn’t get any less bizarre every time she tells it. 

That said, Nancy’s confession to Patrice Dodd that she’s her granddaughter was surprisingly affecting, and one hopes we might see the two of them attempt to forge some sort of relationship next season. Besides the fact that she’ll likely want to learn more about the woman who gave birth to her than what’s revealed in the lyrics of a creepy children’s rhyme, Patrice is maybe the only character on the show who’s had it as rough as Nancy has this year. (See also: Being shut up in a sanitarium that was possessed by an evil spirit, learning her son was a killer, developing dementia.) The two women could certainly bond, and her presence could provide a kinder alternative to the Hudson relatives who will inevitably have some fairly harsh opinions about Nancy’s arrival in the family. 

McMann’s scenes with Alex Saxon are also especially strong, and the kind, unassuming friendship that sprang up between Nancy and Ace has rapidly become one of the best things about the series’ first season. (I honestly feel bad for writing the character of Ace off as a pointless slacker in earlier episodes. Mistakes were made.)

No episode of Nancy Drew is complete without a terrifying supernatural element, however, and that comes in the continued presence of the Aglaeca, the vengeful sea spirit with an apparently more complicated history than we previously understood. (And an extremely disgusting Swamp Thing-esque appearance. Yuck) 

The idea that the creature is perhaps somehow connected to the Marvin clan is an intriguing one. Did Great Great Great Grandpa Marvin help create the being? Its presence in the captain’s painting seems to indicate that’s possible, and would explain its initial interest in Owen during the blood ritual that started all this. Plus, let’s be real, it would certainly make for a more compelling family saga than watching Bess jockey for position Succession-style amongst a horde of shallow Marvin cousins whose names none of us can remember.

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Given the awkward position in which Nancy Drew is forced to end its season, it’s hard to know what to make of the decision to leave the Aglaeca’s curse hanging over everyone. Were this a regular season, this story might have been tied up in Episode 19 – or it could have gone all the way to the finale. We just don’t know. But, its current framing positions this monster as a bigger deal than the angry spirits the gang has faced before, and a problem that won’t be solved by simple seances or rituals. 

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until next season to find out precisely what that means.