Castle was recently renewed for an eighth season, but it’s pretty clear that the writers didn’t know that when they wrote “Hollander’s Woods.” The season 7 finale is designed to function as a potential series finale and actually doesn’t fail at this ambition. It contains a genuinely frightening mystery, musings into the nature of the show itself and the relationships between the characters, and many a question to leave fans guessing. Will Beckett decide to run for State Senate? Will Martha get that rent controlled apartment? And most important, how is it possible that, in the seven years he’s worked with the police department, Castle hasn’t learned to wear gloves at a crime scene?

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Continuity: You’re Doing It Wrong

In the opening sequence, a woman escapes from a serial killer only to be hit by a truck. Her would-be killer has carved crosses all over her face, the sight of which immediately sends Castle into post-traumatic stress flashbacks. The truck driver identifies a figure who was following the victim. It was dressed in black and wore a porcelain mask covered with a black cross and black tears. This description does not surprise Castle at all. Why? Because he saw the same killer 30 years ago.

Remember that throwaway reference made about Hollander’s Woods at the beginning of the season? Because the writers’ idea of continuity is making such statements and then dropping them for about nine months, we are technically reaching the conclusion of a season-long arc. When he was 11, Castle spent a weekend in New Hampshire. One day, he got lost in Hollander’s Woods and found a dark, mask-wearing figure lurking about. When the figure left, he found a woman’s body, her face carved with crosses. The figure returned and threatened to kill Castle if he ever told anyone about what he’d seen, but let him live.

Castle had tried over the years to solve the mystery, but no traces of the woman or the killer were ever found. In fact, it was his inability to find the ending to this story that made him want to become a writer. Now, I know what you’re thinking: didn’t Castle want to become a writer after his secret agent dad handed him a James Bond book? That is correct, but it inconveniently doesn’t fit the narrative of this episode, so we’re pretending it never happened. It’s a skill I’ve perfected watching Castle.

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A Little Too Easy

The team eventually finds out that the victim is Emma Mallory, who was in the area investigating the disappearance of her friend Zoey. They realize that Zoey, who had no family, was the killer’s target, while Emma was killed because she was getting too close to revealing his identity. Castle realizes that this is why the killer let him go; the disappearance of a young boy would have been noticed. 

Emma managed to find a car that she believed was connected to Zoey’s disappearance. The car belongs to Connie Lewis, but Castle and Beckett run into an issue when they go to question her, in that she’s been dead for three years. Luckily, she has a clinically insane son, Noah, who announces his presence by shooting at the team from inside of a closet. He’s violent, has a massive victim complex and doesn’t seem to have had any issue cohabitating with his mother’s corpse for the past few years. In short, he’s the perfect suspect.

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In the midst of this drama, Beckett has been abandoning her past seven seasons of characterization and taking the captain’s exam. She gets called in for a performance review, but it’s really just her sitting in a room while two guys yell at her for all the illegal things she hasn’t faced reasonable punishment for over the years. They tell her that she’s not fit to be a detective, and it seems like she’s going to take it when she realizes, “Hey, I’m Kate Beckett. I drink coffee more bitter than these jackasses.” She serves them with some eloquent confidence, at which point they reveal that the entire review was just a test.

What they really want, and apparently what an entire undisclosed New York political party wants, is for Beckett to run for State Senate. Future guy was right! Or not, because Beckett has not yet decided what to do. The important thing is that Castle vows to support her, because they got it like that.

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To Love and Cherish, In Crazy Theories and Crazier Theories

Back to the mystery. Castle is once again uncomfortable because the case has been resolved too easily. He and Beckett visit Dr. Holtzman, Noah’s therapist. Castle immediately recognizes Dr. Holtzman’s voice as the one from Hollander’s Woods. Dr. Holtzman went to college in New Hampshire 30 years ago and gives a creepy speech about secretly being a monster, but he’s got a spotless record. Having learned nothing over the last seven years, everyone thinks he’s crazy. I wonder if there’s a regular flow of cases where Castle is just completely off the mark, but we only see the ones where he’s right. That would explain the complete lack of faith from everyone except Beckett, who is obligated to support him by matrimonial law.

While performing her supportive wifely duties, Beckett finds out that Dr. Holtzman has a farmland, complete with a creepy murder barn. She can’t look into it, but Castle can use the old “technically not a cop” loophole and trespass on the property. He does so and finds a barn full of porcelain masks and victim photography. 

He also finds Dr. Holtzman, who locks himself in the barn with Castle. It’s pretty obvious that this is going to end well because the promo photos for the episode already revealed a happy ending, but something about that mask makes any scene with it inherently tense. The good doctor very nearly finishes the job he started 30 years ago, but Beckett manages to hand Castle a gun and Castle shoots him dead.

Baby Makes Three?

Now that closure has finally been had, Castle is ready to accept the Poe’s Pen Career Achievement Award. Everyone is there, including Tori, with whom Castle has no personal relationship. She looks good, though. Castle gives a touching speech, and all the characters celebrate their past together while looking toward the uncertain future. It wouldn’t have been a bad end to the series. But Castle will be returning in the fall, and we will get to find out if Beckett conspicuously didn’t drink during that toast because she’s pregnant or if the writers just enjoy messing with us. My guess is it’s a little of both.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

Mary Kate Costigan

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV