Timing is a funny thing; and for some Castle fans, a wound may have felt salted when an episode with the central purpose of scaffolding a backstory around a rookie-season character aired on the same day that the news about Stana Katic and Tamala Jones’ exits from the show were announced. “Backstabber” doesn’t benefit from the coincidence; not when the prospect of a Beckett-less Castle is suddenly very real. And that’s a shame, because Hayley Shipton was long overdue her moment in the spotlight.
This episode does succeed in beefing up Hayley’s relatively thin character — a Hacker™, who has Done Things™. Straight though she’s gone, the ex-spy just can’t quit shady missions, especially when the man asking for favors is her former MI6 team leader, Bryce Robert. She partners on the job with a man named Marcus, previously unknown to her and possessing a great many unattractive qualities. Bryce tells the two that his client suspects her husband of cheating on her, so the in-and-out job is to upload spyware to man’s work computer to catch him in the act. Hayley completes the upload and bails while Marcus waits to watch an illicit late-night tryst in the office behind the next glass wall. The next day, Marcus resurfaces as the 12th’s morning victim, stabbed in the back where Hayley last saw him.
Hayley feigns interest in Castle’s renowned deductive abilities to gain access to the crime scene at Manchester Energy. (Why would an international spy think she could learn something from a mystery writer? Flattery will get you everywhere.) Finding Marcus there, she goes into self-preservation mode. Hayley purposely handles the gum she had handed to the deceased mere hours before and points out the lightly disturbed workspace of Ned Werner, the drunken lothario they saw in action the previous evening. None of that distracts the detectives from identifying Marcus, though they do see the logic in Ned as an inside-man possibility. When Hayley steps away to call Bryce, he has little to offer but a number she’s been dreading. Everything’s gone to hell, Bryce tells her. He lied about the purpose of the mission, and now she has no choice but to go “Code 44.”
That’s the code for “find that ax you’re hiding in the china cabinet, unearth your go bag, and play passport roulette to find out what country you’ll be visiting next.” Alexis serendipitously stops by Hayley’s place just as her new (only?) friend is about to beat it out of town. Hayley doesn’t give Alexis specifics, but she does say that Bryce’s words were referring to last resorts and life and death. Alexis pleads with Hayley to “stay and fight” for her life instead of going on the lam. And though it’s at least partially a selfish sentiment (Alexis doesn’t even know what’s going on or how great the risk is), Hayley acquiesces because deep down, she wanted someone to tell her that.
After calling her floor guy (I assume), Hayley goes to the precinct to see what’s up with Werner. She and Castle watch his interview, where the man claims complete ignorance of Marcus. He was just a horny guy doing a mindless thing. In an effort to impress the woman he met at a bar, Werner logged into the secure system and attempted a little party trick: blacking out the prime minister’s house for a few seconds. Because he was blinded by his sex haze, the office drone didn’t see anything suspicious in his date’s sharp interest in the power needs of the U.K. (Personal props to con artist “Carla” for wrapping herself in a corset fortress to confuse and distract the poor rubes she seduces.) The romp and subsequent security breach don’t come out until Hayley takes a reticent Werner into the bathroom and sticks his head in a toilet — she knows he wasn’t as alone as he’d initially claimed. (“Hayley waterboarded Ned.” “I did no such thing. It was more of a swirly.”)
With Alexis’s words in her head and two empathetic faces right in front of her, Hayley tells Castle and Beckett that she was in Manchester Energy the night of the murder. Beckett pulls her immediately into the interrogation room to get the story, and it’s a welcome reminder that Beckett doesn’t really know this woman all that well. Hayley offers up Bryce’s name and gives Beckett their brief espionage history. Bryce is the only lead they have, so the team tries to catch him at his ex-wife’s house before he leaves the country and changes his name. There’s a commotion as they approach, and Hayley finds her old mentor dead. Lanie calls attention to the location of his stab wound; between the very same vertebrae as Marcus’. (What are we going to do without Lanie? These corpses aren’t going to examine themselves.)
Bryce’s warning wasn’t an overreaction, and Hayley is the logical next target of the killer. Or maybe she’s something else. She checks her bank account to see that $10 million had been wired to her from the company of the hour. And on the news, all of London is plunged into darkness, the result of an alleged “cyber attack.” Hayley isn’t meant for death; she’s meant to play the role of the brilliant hacker behind what the FBI is calling an act of terrorism. “She’s gonna need a miracle to stay out of jail,” Beckett tells Castle gravely. He takes Hayley to his panic room to hide out while they figure out how to clear her name. Eccentric rich guy tastes pay off yet again!
NEXT: A lifelong “Bond”
But the trail is dead unless Ned Werner’s attempted 3 a.m. hook-up can be found. To the horror of his daughter, Castle finds the corset that “Carla” was wearing by Hayley’s description alone. (“Nikki Heat research.”) Rysposito review the lingerie store’s customer data and ID Beth Wynne, a career con artist. She tries to run for it when the boys and Hayley find her at her hotel, but let it never be said that Esposito won’t body-check a woman into a parked car when necessary. This was just a job for her, Beth tells them. It was for Marcus too; he was taking orders from a mystery man called Edgar. Beth never met the man, but she knows that he smokes cigars and that he hired a team to open up a path to Manchester Energy’s grid. Based on the plan Beth laid out, Castle notes that neither Hayley or Bryce were essential to its success. Beth didn’t get it either, but Edgar specifically requested their presence.
Before the motel, Richard Castle Investigations is paid a visit by an active MI6 agent, Steven Mallory. Mallory reads Castle the riot act about abetting Hayley. She isn’t who she claims to be, Mallory insists. She’s a skilled and inhumane operative who allowed her partner to die during a mission. Listening from the panic room, Hayley winces at this, and Alexis notes it. But Hayley’s had enough sharing for the day, and she begs off of elaborating on this former partner. Anyway, Castle had just reaffirmed his loyalty to Hayley even in the face of one of the Queen’s trusted servants. He and Alexis will allow her one more secret.
WANT MORE? Keep up with all the latest from last night’s television by subscribing to our newsletter. Head here for more details.
The “spyware” that Hayley installed on that Manchester Energy computer was really a devastating computer worm. She takes Marcus’ laptop off Beth’s hands to see if she can crack the code and identify its author. For once, the two shoes drop at the same time. One: Hayley discovers that the code is one of her own creation. And two: Beckett matches a screen capture of “Edgar” from the surveillance footage outside a cigar club to a newspaper photo of Hayley’s old MI6 partner, Wesley — the one who was supposedly executed by the Iranians. Mallory fills in the gaps and confesses some earlier truncating of the truth. Haley and Wesley wrote this code together and unleashed it on the Iranian nuclear arms program on MI6’s orders. Wesley was late getting to the rendezvous point, and their MI6 bosses made the call to pull out and leave him there. Hayley thought she’d left her partner to die, and she left the agency because they abandoned him.
Alexis tells Castle that Hayley bolted when she found the information she sought (“like she saw a ghost”), and the NYPD makes a special request of MI6. They need to know where their closest safe house is. Hayley is already there, attempting to reason with Wesley. The Iranians didn’t finish the job, but they did torture and disfigure him. And in case you hadn’t guessed yet, it drove him insane. The whole Manchester Energy gag and the murders were part revenge against the men, agency, and country that ruined his life, but the plot was also a test for Hayley, who Wesley still imagines as his willing partner. He calls Hayley by their private nickname and recites old daydreams of theirs back to her but instantly turns against her when she makes it clear they are so not in this together anymore. He ties her up to do some genre-appropriate Bond villain monologuing; Hayley counters with a speech about openness and family and a real life beyond “the rush of the mission.” Wesley spent years planning this reunion, and it is not going well; the calvary arrives right as he’s about to say goodbye to the past and slit her throat. Castle cuts her down and Hayley uses her knowledge of the space to head off Wesley before he can escape. Going quietly isn’t an option. Wesley won’t entertain the idea of incarceration again, in any country. His options are “freedom or death,” and he makes the decision for Hayley when he charges at her with his knife raised. She shoots him and collapses over his body.
The wrap up is tidy. Beckett placates the FBI, Hayley helps undo the work of her worm to light London back up, and MI6 tries to mend fences with a lost asset. Hayley isn’t tempted to rejoin the service; she’d rather stay with the people who stood behind her and in front of her while her character was being questioned. The show has done a lot of telling instead of showing in regard to Hayley’s past life and her devotion to Castle’s extended family. But, for this episode at least, I bought it.
Odds & Ends
- Martha’s book release is the C-plot that just won’t end.
- “The world’s greatest detective…after Batman.”
- That gift won’t be so cute when Beckett gets killed off in a motorcycle accident. (Dear Castle: Please don’t do that.)