The First Knives Club.
Credit: Richard Cartwright/ABC
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…
S8 E7
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Once Castle established its four-sided series chemistry, the show became one never-ending double date, dozens of murders included. Now fans are dealing with the concurrent breakdown of both of the show’s tentpole duos. The Caskett estrangement smacks of a brazen attempt to inject some new conflict and sexiness into a dynamic that fed on will-they-won’t-they dramedy for years. (Would a season 8 Castle love scene have been quite so heated if Rick and Kate had been waking up together every morning, business as usual?) But the build of tension between Ryan and Esposito — our Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or maybe our Bert and Ernie — is too much to handle at the same time.

The murder in “The Last Seduction” is one of the more violent Castle slayings. A young man returns home to a small, dark apartment, grabs a beer from the fridge and notices a knife missing from his cutlery block. The biggest one, natch. Lanie counts nine entry wounds in young Scott McCoy, out of work actor and frequent bar brawler. Castle, who’s squirmed his way into another case in a favor-swap with Ryan and Esposito, notes that the ferocity of the killing suggests a crime of passion.

And a crime of passion is what Ryan and Esposito’s NYPD-assigned therapist thinks they may be heading for. The guys aren’t making any headway in their sessions. Previously on Castle: Esposito passed the sergeant’s exam and Ryan didn’t. Ryan shot Esposito in the butt in an unfortunate case of friendly fire and maintains that it was an accident, not internalized jealously like Esposito suspects. (“Tell that to the hole in my ass…the one that he put there.”) The therapist suggests that dissolving the partnership might be the best option at this point, but the boys aren’t ready to give up. Perhaps a buffer would relieve the tension. Luckily Esposito and Ryan know just the attention hog to distract them from their issues.

Castle is willing to be the detectives’ mediator because they promise to distract Beckett while he sets up a surprise in her office. Tomorrow is their first anniversary, and he’s hellbent on celebrating it, whether they’re physically together or not. Ryan asks Kate to come along with him to interview Anton Ford, an ex-con whose prints were all over the victim’s apartment and who had been seen getting beat up by Scott a couple of times at the same bar. He’s a decent suspect, except he’s got a few inches and a lot of pounds on the guy and he nearly bursts into sobs when he sees the crime scene photos. Anton was Scott’s friend and a pick-up partner. In their version of Extreme Wingmanning, Anton would take a dive in a staged fight so that Scott could take home the rich, married woman of his dreams. Or at least his dreams for the night. Anton remembers a few of Scott’s marks and agrees to describe them for a sketch artist.

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Meanwhile, Castle is staging “Operation Boo-yah,” a Chuck E. Cheese-ing of Beckett’s office. He clearly didn’t learn from the cautionary tale of one Tobias Funke; he coats the room in confetti and his signature romantic cheesiness. Still, Beckett misses the big goofball and is moved enough that she agrees to accompany him to an anniversary dinner. It’s a “time out of the time out,” they reason, terribly. I wonder if they’ll discuss where Beckett disappeared to last week, since no one else has mentioned a reason for her absence.

As a skilled investigator and a lover of all things conspiracy, why hasn’t Castle questioned the fact that Vikram has apparently been hired at the 12th? Maybe it’s been explained that he feels more comfortable staying in New York than returning to Washington and that Beckett did him a solid, but we haven’t seen that scene. He’s concerned that Beckett having a nice dinner with the man she married will derail their investigation (mind your business, Vikram), yet he waltzes into her office while Castle is there to deliver new evidence. Suspension of disbelief: activated.

Anyway, Vikram does have information relevant to this case. Scott McCoy was receiving regular transfers from shell corporations to an account with a different mailing address than the apartment where he was found dead. Ryan, Esposito, and Castle take a look around his staging area, a flat that’s un-lived in and obviously a swanky hook-up spot for his paid trysts. The buffer method is simpler in theory than in practice. Esposito and Ryan are bickering so much that their buffer needs a buffer from them. Castle suggests a tactic he and his second wife Gina found helpful. They wrote their grievances down and shared them later and found that some seemed less important after the heat of the moment passed. Ryan takes to this strategy immediately, annoying Esposito even further by furiously writing notes. Between insults, the investigators assess that the apartment is tricked out with a WiFi-enabled camera and printer with a photo still in the tray; clearly somebody was watching, and that was the person paying Scott his fee.

Anton’s descriptions match the various headshots and tabloid photos of socialite divorcée Annika Smythe and her wealthy, blond pals Claire Stephens and Nancy Underwood. Castle’s eyes light up at the news that they might be dealing with a “murderous First Wives Club” who’d learned that they’d all been played by Scott and banded together to kill him. (You know he was choreographing the musical number in his head.) He trolls Annika’s Instagram and finds out that they’re all having a spa day later, and this is exciting because spa days mean naked time…and the perfectly innocent opportunity for someone to see which woman has a dragonfly tattoo on her lower back that matches the one in the hidden camera still from the apartment.

NEXT: Peep show

Beckett declines the offer of all three boys to accompany her to the steam room to stake out their ladies who lunch. Hayley just happens to be in the building to retrieve the painting from “The Nose,” and would you look at that, she’s also a girl. Beckett may have stealthy skills in certain situations, but it’s almost impossible for her to unclench enough to look like as blissed-out as a one-percenter enjoying a mud wrap. Plus, one of the women recognizes her as a cop immediately, thanks to her world-famous writer husband. A chase ensues, and leave it to Ryan and Esposito to write up a very thorough report of the all-girl towel run that scandalized the entire Upper East Side. (“I’m not sure quite how this is relevant.”)

The dragonfly belongs to Claire Stephens, and she did sleep with Scott, but the cops are missing the identity of his employer. He was hired by her husband to seduce her, Clare alleges. With hard evidence of one night of passion, her ex was able to lean on the infidelity clause in their prenup. Her friends had the same experience. Claire could have still taken the loss out on Scott, Beckett says, and a neighbor did say that she saw a person matching Clare’s description at Scott’s apartment the night he was killed. Claire explains that she was there to ream him out for his role in the shakedown, but that he apologized sincerely to her before she could even let loose. He’d had an experience in his most-recent seduction — his last seduction, hence the title — that had him re-thinking his whole corporate gigolo thing.

The husbands of the not-murderous First Wives were all represented by Lindsey Trent, a divorce lawyer infamous for her slimy tactics. If Scott’s charm was in her bag of tricks for helping her clients keep their money, then those payments would be represented in her client log. Ryan and Esposito hatch a plan to have Castle pose as a potential client and somehow get his hands on the information. Beckett catches them in the act that she has very much not authorized and demands that the guys shut off their direct feed from Castle’s glasses in order to protect their ability to deny whatever is about to go down. She sneaks off to watch the meeting herself, face falling when it turns uncomfortably real. Cocky Lindsey spouts off the possible reasons for Castle’s interest in divorcing his careerist of a wife, really laying it on thick on how her workaholic nature must have left Castle feeling neglected. (Mind your business, Lindsey.) The jig is apparently up when Lindsey receives a call from a friend in the DA’s office giving her a heads up that Beckett is seeking a warrant for her log. But while Castle is being thrown out of the building by a beefy security guard, Alexis is waltzing in with a mail cart and photographing the pages of the log. At least one Castle team is still in tact.

The most recent user of Scott’s services was toy magnate George Keller, a “playboy” who seems to have been gearing up to humiliate his third wife in the same way he jettisoned his second. Not so, the smug man says. And his story checks out: he’s renewing his vows with wife No. 3 and has the $2 million ring to prove his commitment. But Keller is too smarmy to be clean. Castle gets a tip from a friend that Keller was having issues with another woman in his life: his mom, the CEO of his company. (“George hired Scott to honeypot his own mother.”) Her son went to great lengths to mar Penelope Keller’s wholesome reputation to cheapen her in the eyes of the company’s board of directors. She’s still more fit to lead than her son, a fact that’s evident in her refusal to feel shame about enjoying Scott’s companionship. (“It was time, and it was lovely.”) It was her story that started the sea change in Scott, and he realized that easy money wasn’t enough of a reason to humiliate women and ruin their lives.

Scott took Penelope’s key card and used it to enter the Keller offices for ten minutes late the night he was killed. George Keller used his own key card to enter later, but stayed until after Lanie’s range for time of death. The only other person besides George who had as much to lose from Scott’s attack of conscience was Lindsey. At this point, Esposito and Ryan have officially decided to get their own divorce after this case is finished. They split up in the firm’s office, still barely speaking to each other. Esposito follows Lindsey to her office to arrest her, not noticing the revolver in her desk. She pulls it out on him. It wouldn’t be smart to shoot a cop in her own office in the middle of the day, but the number that Lindsey did on Scott’s body pointed to her capacity for being erratic and impetuous. Ryan steps into the doorway just as Lindsey pulls the trigger and dives in front of his partner. She takes off down the hallway, and Ryan is unresponsive for one terrible minute. His eyes snap open while Esposito hovers over him. The bullet hit his metallic notebook, the one that Esposito had shoved into his pocket earlier in irritation. (“Isn’t that why you put it there?”) Sometimes, it’s the combative relationships that challenge you and save your life.

A near-death experience ought to put an end to Ryan and Espo’s trouble in paradise. Bickering is their strong suit, but they needed a swift kick and a major reminder of their bond. Castle and Beckett reconnected too, and rediscovered at least one aspect of intimacy. It’s interesting that Beckett finds a physical connection less dangerous than clueing Castle into the mission that she’s taken up. But with one post-coital look at an inscrutable text from an unknown number, Castle knows that Beckett is back up in it to her neck. Next week is Castle’s fall finale — and maybe time for Rick to stop taking “I need some space” for an answer. Based on Castle and Beckett’s mirror opposite stances on the fair use of secrets in relationships, a lot of healing is going to need to happen once the truth comes out.

Odds & Ends:

  • “I look lovely every day, Castle, and no, you can’t see the body.”
  • “Castle, you’re supposed to be our buffer, buff.”
  • The “Javi & Kevin Calling Each Other By Their First Names When They’re Being Sincere” Squad
  • “Call our lawyers, honey.” The First Wives were the real heroes of this episode, weren’t they?
  • “Kate…I have never given up hope. Not since the day we met. And that will never change until you tell me it should.”

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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