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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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“The separation thing is getting really old,” Castle tells his mother this week. And that’s a pretty meta statement, even for a show this self-referential. The estranged Mrs. Castle isn’t even in the episode; the only sign of Beckett in “Cool Boys” is her empty desk and her husband’s continued moping. With the dynamic duo still rent apart by a thin plot device, the position of Castle’s partner is up for grabs weekly. And who should be the lucky contestant this time around but loose cannon detective Ethan Slaughter, played by Nathan Fillion’s Firefly crewmate, Adam Baldwin? Shiny.

Slaughter last appeared in the season 4 episode “Headhunters,” where he wore a fetching brown coat and the writers had a field day with all kinds of references to Joss Whedon’s cult-classic space Western. The in-jokes aren’t as prevalent this time around, but the episode does rely heavily on Fillion and Baldwin’s push-pull chemistry, still as fun as it was on the deck of Serenity.

Slaughter seeks his old collaborator out at Richard Castle Investigations, which registers a “DEFCON One” on Castle and Alexis’s coded alarm system. The detective is working a case that has something to do with the high-profile burglary of a seemingly impenetrable office building, Booth Tower. Castle has no interest in the microchip that was stolen, but can’t resist Slaughter’s bait of juicy plot bunnies for his next book. Ignoring Martha and Alexis’s protests that Slaughter will certainly get Castle into more trouble than he usually finds himself, he goes with him to meet his informant.

That informant ends up being this episode’s dead body, and Slaughter is now mourning “the best snitch” he ever had. Victor Lee was a 30-year-old man who was killed in his own apartment the night before by a knife to the neck. Ryan and Esposito see that Slaughter’s was the last number Victor ever dialed and question him about their conversation. Slaughter plays dumb about Victor’s mystery meeting to shake them off. He knows exactly who the man was going to see but prefers to rock the investigation with Castle and Castle only, à la “Butch and Sundance.” (“You know they die at the end of that movie, right?”)

According to Slaughter, Victor hung out with a group of mouthy criminals but was totally straight himself. Their interview with Victor’s ex tells a different story. The informant, who worked a minimum-wage food-service job, told her he was about to come into some cash, though he didn’t say from where. Slaughter may be a nut, but he has his own moral code. He’s hurt to learn that Victor may not have been immune to the promise of a quick score, but he agrees to follow the lead to the next clue.

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The lead is a dealer named Trucco who specializes in moving expensive tech. The microchip lifted from Booth Tower was a prototype of a “next-gen cell phone” and worth upwards of a million dollars to a competitor. Slaughter and Castle track Trucco down, and Castle makes Slaughter promise to play nice going forward. For Slaughter, apologizing to Trucco after he slams him against a brick wall is about as nice as he can play. The guy’s got next to nothing anyway. Victor never showed up for their arranged meeting, so Trucco had no product to shop around. He does mention that Victor had a partner; this is news to Slaughter.

Poor Espo and Ryan have spent more time chasing Castle this season than actual criminals. They’ve been relegated to trailing two steps behind their friend, who’s usually doing something he’s absolutely not supposed to be doing. In this case, he’s still riding with Slaughter after the lab finds his fingerprint on the hilt of the knife that killed Victor. More damning still: Slaughter’s stepped into some hot water in his own precinct and is looking at a possible dismissal. Could his moral code have shifted enough to include conspiring with one of his low-life informants to make some cash?

Castle doesn’t think so, but he understands why, under the circumstances, Slaughter would want to clear his own name of the crime. Ryan and Espo posit another possible scenario: Say Victor’s mystery partner killed him and then realized that his victim had hid the goods before he died; if that partner were Slaughter, he might enlist his “Sherlock” to help him find the chip. “Good thing Castle’s not dumb enough to fall for that,” are famous last words.

All these fools could use a little help in the field, but unfortunately, Hayley Shipton has been offered the recurring position of showing up for just long enough to feed Castle useful information. I can’t imagine that she makes more “consulting” for Richard Castle Investigations than she does running down identity and art thieves for big-time insurance companies. Maybe she just likes the office’s sleek decor. Regardless of whether it’s that or hanging out with Alexis that keeps her there, Hayley digs until she finds a strange and relevant detail about Victor’s personal life. He was a mentor to a troubled teen, and that teen has a genius-level IQ.

Louis Prince, our “criminal Good Will Hunting,” has deep-seated trust issues, or so says the administrator of Operation Mentor. Mr. West tells Slaughter and Castle that Louis rejected five other mentors before clicking immediately with Victor. If Victor had brought Louis in to be the brains of the heist and then betrayed him, that might have been one abandonment too many.

NEXT: Two theater geeks in search of a musical

Hayley gets a bead on Louis’ location from his IP address (but wouldn’t he have been smart enough to block it?), and Slaughter and Castle find the teen being roughed up by an unknown assailant. Slaughter takes care of the thug and a few coffee tables, too, while Castle tries to calm Louis down. Louis makes a break for it and disappears. Castle lifts his “bad cop” restrictions for the guy who beat up an unarmed 16-year-old, and Slaughter gets to work finding out what this guy knows. He works for a crew run by a career criminal named David Lacey. And Lacey isn’t too happy with Louis because he invented a code that’s going to put him out of business. The thug claims that the Booth Tower heist was just a commercial for their criminal services. Louis designed a program that can shut down any security system, and Victor wanted the bad guys of the city to know it. As Moriarty once said, “In a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king.” Lacey wasn’t about to give up his crown.

Ryan and Esposito are waiting outside when Slaughter and Castle emerge. The partners take the thug off their hands and then cuff and Mirandize Slaughter, since he’s a murder suspect and all. Castle pulls a fast one with Esposito’s keys, driving off with their suspect and their car. Honestly, the obstruction of justice charges are just piling up, and one day, these guys are going to snap and put Castle in jail forever.

Slaughter leads Castle to his chosen hideout: a well-appointed apartment that belongs to his ex-wife. And there are even more layers to Slaughter under his abrasive exterior. He’s a musical theater major who met his opera singer ex-wife in college and entertains his fellow fugitive with an elaborate home-cooked meal. He threatens Castle to keep his mouth shut about his uncool interests, but it’s ineffective. (“Yeah, sorry, I’m trying to be scared. I just keep picturing you doing jazz hands.”)

Louis is in hiding at a warehouse and hacks into Slaughter’s tablet to ask for help, just like Victor instructed before his death. The signal cuts out when someone interrupts him, but Castle is able to get the location of the building from a fumigation notice on the wall. Slaughter and Castle storm in, guns not-blazing, since they’re both unarmed. Slaughter punches the captor who has Louis tied to a chair, and about half a dozen guys with guns emerge from the shadows. In moments like this, when there’s no hope left, there’s only one man to turn to: Leonard Bernstein. Castle gives Slaughter a West Side Story musical cue, and they literally dance-fight their way out of certain death. And we’re back to the cold open, when Ryan and Esposito (forever two steps behind) show up to the warehouse to find a sheepish Castle and Slaughter, plus a crew of unconscious bad guys.

Lacey will go down for kidnapping Louis, but he and his whole entourage have an alibi for the night Victor was murdered. Louis isn’t looking good for the crime either. He had no idea that Victor was promoting his services; he was simply swayed by the promise of fast money and security for his mother. The heist didn’t go down exactly like they’d planned, though. Victor was spooked by something and left Louis to check it out. Castle works out that Victor’s change of plans must have something to do with the $50 million Mr. Booth just reported missing from a secret Cayman Islands account. An enterprising hacker piggybacked off of the microchip burglary to earn a much bigger payday. Who knows Louis and Victor and also has experience moving money around? Mr. West, who had earlier crowed about how much more rewarding his service work was than his former life on Wall Street.

In the end, Victor wasn’t the kind of person who could stay on the up-and-up, surrounded almost exclusively by criminals. People need their role models. And you can’t always tells the good ones by their credentials. Slaughter isn’t the most obvious mentor, but he pledges to look out for Louis from now on, starting with an appeal to the mayor through Castle that ought to get Louis’ sentence mitigated. And before he fades back into his life of shoot-outs and cousin Shawna’s nympho roommate, Slaughter becomes the next in a long line of characters to give Castle relationship advice. “I lost my wife because I wasn’t man enough to put her needs ahead of mine,” he says. He tells Castle to call Beckett’s bluff about “needing space” and demand his share of her problem. It’ll work out because they love each other. (That sounds like a dangerously pushy little move, but okay, divorced guy.) Castle accuses Slaughter of being a secret softie for caring about his marriage. “Only you could take two guys talking about a chick,” Slaughter answers, “and make it weird.” Until next time, Sherlock.

Odds & Ends:

  • I’d like to reserve ten copies of Unsolicited Advice by Martha Rodgers.
  • Swanky new logo for Richard Castle Investigations.
  • “I lose more phones in this line of work…”
  • “We had to Uber here.”

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…
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