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Castle | Monday, 10-11 p.m., ABC The ''I love you'' uttered by Castle (Nathan Fillion) to Beckett (Stana Katic) ?as she lay injured from a gunshot in…
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At the time that this recap is being written, ABC has yet to announce its decision one way or another on season 9 of Castle. So here we are on the brink of the possible series finale with an episode about the prophesied end of everything. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could blame the devil instead of ratings when our favorite shows teeter on the bubble?

Whether or not the prince of the underworld makes an appearance in “Hell to Pay” is up for debate, but the belief in one seductive, destructive force that will end the world as we know it is all over the episode. For Castle, the fixation comes from repeated viewings of The Omen and his writerly tendency to overplot. For murder victim Gabriel Shaw, it comes from a lifelong obsession with fringe dogmas and a chemical imbalance. The escaped patient from Peakmore Psychiatric bleeds out on the floor of Richard Castle Investigations in the middle of a relentless storm that throws the city into darkness, but not before he scares the holy Moses out of Hayley and Alexis.

The deceptively bloodied ax in Shaw’s hand insinuates that this episode will be an homage to everyday slasher flicks; the Latin phrases he mutters and the ones painted onto his body tell a different story. (I hope everyone’s brushed up on their religious horror film canon!) A visit to the institution he escaped reminds Rysposito and Castle that Shaw was committed after attempting a very high-profile murder. He showed up the home of billionaire philanthropist Warren Crowne 20 years previous to execute his “mission from God.” The family survived his attack, but Shaw never let his holy commission go. Later, Warren Crowne and his wife died in a freak skiing accident, leaving their son Victor an orphan. A very rich one. What more was there for Shaw to do?

Peakmore failed to contact the police after the escape and instead sent orderlies out to look for Shaw, hoping to clean up the mess quietly. One of the orderlies found Shaw at a church he often mentioned, but let him go when Shaw promised to expose him for stealing and selling meds. That revelation sets Castle and the cops up to retrace Shaw’s steps from the encounter at the church up to the moment he was killed.

Shaw was murdered, by the way, with an implement that Lanie can best describe as a “talon.” And if that word doesn’t get Castle’s reckless fancies going overtime, then the next part does. Lanie also finds sulfur in the wound. That’s all it takes for Castle to be convinced that the suspect they’re looking for is straight out of hell. The writer has to play both demon-hunting Winchester brothers on his own, though, because his ravings are met with the same half-withering/half-pitying looks from his colleagues as any of his other wild theories.

Still, Castle’s open mind is helpful because they’re tracking the movements of a victim who also truly believed that the devil was in their midst. Before he was a patient, Shaw was a “spiritual consultant” for a P.I. named Noah Cramer, whose former office Castle’s business now calls home. Knowing that Shaw came for the location and not for the people occupying it, Castle has a pretty good guess what the victim was planning to do with that ax. The office houses a safe that he’s never tried to open, all to preserve his ability to dream about what wonders lie inside it. (Also, to make this narrative work.) “So you chose fantasy over reality?,” Hayley asks. “Well, duh,” Castle answers. Always.

But whatever happened to Noah Cramer? Like the Crownes, he also met an untimely death in strange circumstances — a trend in individuals who encounter Shaw. His widow and son are called into the precinct for an interview. Shaw stopped by their home after his escape looking for some materials from his time working together with Noah. The boy looks like he has more to say about what his father left behind, but his mother presses his arm with a firm hand and stops him. She got rid of everything, she says. Shaw demolished her husband’s reputation, but this isn’t just a grudge. Shaw was “evil,” Mrs. Cramer says. She’s visibly not sorry that he’s gone.

Not finding what he needed at the Cramer home, Shaw eventually made his way to the office. There are still hours between those visits to be accounted for, but the safe itself is the next best lead. Hayley cracks it (“I need 28 minutes and a chocolate milkshake.”), and the contents of the secret chamber are even stranger than best-selling novelist Richard Castle could have imagined. Castle, Hayley, and Alexis advance into the dark, cobwebbed room, flashlights flicking over religious artifacts and defaced photos of the Crownes. The star of this macabre shrine is Victor Crowne, just 9 years old when his parents passed.

NEXT: It’s all for you, Victor

Alexis does a quick search for Victor and finds that he’s made quite a lot of himself with the fortune he inherited. He’s the head of his own company and due to turn 30 in two days — on the very date that Cramer and Shaw had circled as mankind’s date with the apocalypse. It all fits, in Castle’s mind. The Antichrist, or the personification of the devil on Earth, is believed to be a mirror image of Christ. According to the Bible, Jesus began ministering at the age of 30. The Antichrist is supposed to come into his power at the same age.

The boys pay a visit to Crowne Enterprises, and Rysposito try to talk Castle down from his Damien high while they wait to be seen by the boss. Victor Crowne is exactly how a lot of people would picture the Antichrist if they were pressed to do so: rich, corporate, smug, and with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. Castle is unsettled, especially when Victor tells him that his company’s clean water initiative will go global coincidentally when he hits the big 3-0. (The Antichrist’s true motives are supposedly masked by pure intentions.) Victor is candid about his hatred for Shaw, whom he blames for cursing his family. But he alibis out of Shaw’s murder. He was working in his office all night and the security cameras confirm it. That’s good enough for Beckett, but not for her husband. (“He’s not going to be bound by earthly laws, Beckett. That’s Demon 101.”)

The results come back on the strange ink that covered Shaw’s body, and it’s a mixture that Castle recognizes. He returns to the chamber where Hayley and Alexis are cataloging Cramer’s possessions. Hayley matches the list to a letter from a Carl von Eckland, who identifies the substance as an “anointing oil” meant to prepare God’s warriors to face demons. Von Eckland is yet another associate of Shaw’s felled in the prime of his life, but his son Oscar still keeps his dad’s business alive. When Rysposito and Castle visit Oscar, he expresses disdain for his dad’s fanaticism and the zealots who still come to buy his wares. He did anoint Shaw with the Latin phrases that were on his body when he died, though. Beliefs aside, he’s not one to turn down 50 bucks.

The team is getting closer and closer to the end of Shaw’s timeline. Security camera footage from around von Eckland’s building catches Shaw being followed into the loading dock where he was presumably stabbed. But Rysposito share this evidence with their captain sheepishly because the damage that the cameras endured during the blackout warped the video to the point of supporting Castle’s demon hypothesis. The grainy clip looks like something out of a Japanese horror movie; the jerky figure following Shaw appears and disappears over and over again as they watch.

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But there’s nothing otherworldly about the solid evidence that comes from a new eye witness. A bouncer at a nearby club saw a car leave the loading dock around the time of the murder, and it’s one that Noah Cramer’s widow is known to drive. Under Beckett’s interrogation, Mrs. Cramer confesses that Shaw’s passionate obsession with conquering evil was too much for her to deal with all over again. Facing the man she blamed for her family’s woes, Mrs. Cramer picked up one of her gardening tools from her trunk — one covered with sulphuric fertilizer — and stabbed him.

Mrs. Cramer doesn’t know anything about a robbery of Richard Castle Investigations the night before, however. While Beckett slept, Castle followed his preoccupation with the case’s religious significance back to his office. In researching methods of vanquishing the Antichrist, Castle happened upon an image of a weapon that he recognized from the vault. A demon (or a person who carries night vision goggles) knocked Castle out and stole the Angel Dagger along with all Cramer and Shaw’s files about Victor Crowne.

Belief is the key. Shaw’s killer doesn’t believe that the Antichrist is alive in New York City in 2016, but the person who stole the Angel Dagger does. And he left a bracelet behind. It’s identical to the one Oscar was wearing on his wrist when they met him.

Castle, Ryan, and Esposito race to Crowne Enterprises and learn from the head of security that Victor is in the basement with the “notary.” Oscar von Eckland did inherit his father’s faith, despite what he told the cops. And with Shaw dead, he believes himself responsible for wiping the devil off the face of the Earth. Castle finds Oscar just as he’s holding the Angel Dagger over Victor, about to plunge it into his bare chest. They struggle, and when Oscar is thrown across the room a structure gives way to bring a dozen metal pipes crashing down on top of him. Oscar survives, but the event is still peculiar. Castle unties him, and Victor is oddly composed for a man who was about to be slaughtered by a person who thinks him the Antichrist. He shakes Castle’s hand and makes him a promise. “You saved my life. That means I owe you,” Victor says. “Whatever you want, just ask. It’s yours.” Like or not, Castle may have just made a very powerful friend.

Odds & Ends:

  • I can’t be the only one eating up all this chemistry between Hayley and Alexis, right?
  • “Naked Twister” in a blackout sounds like a recipe for a black eye, a kick to the groin, or both.
  • How does a police captain not know the name of a local psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane?
  • “Have you found a recipe?” “For what, Antichrist cookies?”
  • Why must we joke about Castle being “marked for death” in this time of stress over Beckett’s fate?

Episode Recaps

Castle | Monday, 10-11 p.m., ABC The ''I love you'' uttered by Castle (Nathan Fillion) to Beckett (Stana Katic) ?as she lay injured from a gunshot in…
Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic team up as a crime novelist and a homicide detective — but are they more than partners?
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