It's a bumpy road to Regionals.

By Sage Young
February 09, 2016 at 03:12 AM EST
Richard Cartwright/ABC
S8 E9
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It’s been a long winter’s nap for Castle, and the hiatus all but wiped Castle and Beckett’s memory of their rocky start in season 8. When we last left them, Caskett were finally dealing with the mess they’d both made out of Beckett’s investigation of Lockset. And while that organization will certainly surface again to cause some mayhem before the finale, right now it’s time to get back to the fun. Back to murders and innuendos, if you please, show. That’s why we’re here.

Publicly, the couple remains estranged. Behind closed doors, they’re having “productive” naked lunch meetings and dutifully making up for lost time. Lost naked time. As she heads out for a sit-down with Gates, Beckett promises Castle that she’ll tell him everything she knows about her target when the timing is right. (“Trust me, 007. When it’s time, you and I will take down Lockset together.”) What’s the hold up? Is Beckett waiting for some concrete sign that it’s time to bring her partner into her vigilante side project? Or is this delay script-manufactured to set up some future catastrophe? Time will tell.

Castle then takes his mother’s frantic call about a body found in a theater where Martha is rehearsing. Robyn King was a 20-year-old ex-con employed by the theater as a night janitor. Martha had met her the previous day and liked her. She’s shaken by the girl’s death and demands Castle find her killer.

An observation by the theater’s production manager leads the 12th to Olivia “Mama” Toussaint, a dealer who was Robyn’s boss at the time she was arrested. “Mama” claims she cared about Robyn, even after she got out of the game. (Think Miss Hannigan if she had Annie and the other orphans supplying club drugs to the 1 percent.) Mama bets her bottom dollar she’s owed some respect, but she didn’t get what she came for when she visited Robyn and found out she was running with a new crew.

The clue to that crew’s destination hides in a string of emojis that flash across her phone while it sits in evidence. Castle show the symbols to his girl Fridays, Martha and Alexis. “I don’t speak emoji,” Castle confesses. But Alexis, the show’s resident youth, knows a sheep, an ear, a deer, a bull, a shopping bag, a beach ball, and a fish on a poll can only mean one thing: the abandoned Shepherd Torres Shopping Mall down by the river. Alexis and Castle raid the place without any backup because how else is a single dad going to connect with his college-age daughter? They move through a dark and foreboding warehouse and into one of the most wholesome displays Castle has ever seen. It’s an a capella jam in full swing.

The two watch in barely restrained glee as groups go head-to-head in a “riff off” around a garbage can fire. The crew led by Corbin Bleu of High School Musical fame goes in on Blue Suede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.” Their opponents have just started their counter attack, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” when the cavalry Castle called arrives. It’s chaos, and every innocent kid with a song in his or her heart scatters, screaming.

NEXT: Snitch perfect

Castle is able to pull back a group of girls he spotted wearing bracelets identical to one Robyn was wearing. This was Robyn’s new family, a group of young women who met through a prison arts outreach program called the No Backslides Partnership (NBP). The Aca-Cons were preparing to audition for the All-American A Capella Competition when they made a decision to kick a member out. As their de facto leader, Robyn took on the duty of giving Agnes the bad news. Unlike the rest of the girls who wanted to go straight, Agnes wasn’t bothered by continuing to live a life of crime. She was bothered by the ousting, though. Possibly enough to kill.

Agnes is certainly acting guilty — she ditches her apartment and skips a meeting with her parole officer. Beckett interviews the bland do-gooders behind the NBP to get their take on her. Linda and Scott Weinberg were idealistic young lawyers when they founded the organization, and neither can believe (or is willing to believe) that Agnes would have gone so far.

While the investigation heats up, Castle and Beckett are engaging in a little theater of their own. As far as Ryan and Esposito are concerned, the two are still at odds. Beckett is enjoying this more than she should, especially the part where she gets to Streep it up, reaming Castle out for honing in on the case and landing a painfully real slap across his face. But Castle isn’t so skilled at the play-acting. When he and the boys pay a visit to Agnes’ on-again, off-again boyfriend Dexter, Ryan and Esposito corner him outside the man’s door to ask what he could have possibly done to make things worse with Beckett. Flailing, Castle cops to cheating with “Svetlana,” a Russian underwear model who, to his credit, sounds like just season 1 Castle’s type.

Agnes isn’t there, Dexter weakly insists, but the lipstick stained coffee mug and leopard print bra suggest otherwise. Castle does his best Inspector Clouseau, whipping open closets and breaking stuff before finding the girl in her very obvious hiding place. She ran because she knew how it would look, Agnes says. Robyn had called her former friend to engage her services as a bodyguard at the theater that night. Agnes says that Robyn told her she was afraid of someone in the a capella competition, but Agnes was running so late and thought the threat so minor that she decided not to even go.

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The competition’s director and head judge doesn’t mince words when he talks to Castle and Beckett about Robyn and her group. They aren’t his “kind” of people, and he was not keen to welcome them into the squeaky-clean world of a capella music. But he has no choice but to let the investigators do their thing, even if it means interrupting Corbin Bleu (okay, Hunter) and his Treble Boys rehearsing in their dressing room. Hunter smugly refuses to stop warbling long enough to answer some simple questions, so Esposito hits him back with a little John Legend realness of his own.

At the same time, Beckett and Ryan are casing the Aca-Cons’ dressing room, and Ryan is offering his brotherly support to a betrayed Beckett in her time of need. Beckett is just telling him about her own hot new fling “Dr. Livingstone,” when she hears the Espo’s interview through the vent. She speculates that Robyn might have heard something through that vent that sent her storming out of the theater the night she died, like a production assistant said she did. Hunter takes off at that, but is quickly and soundly clotheslined by Beckett before he can get out of the building.

NEXT: Luxury first aid

Hunter was intimidated by the human interest appeal of the Aca-Cons, or what he calls their “Orange Is The New Singing Sensation backstory.” Robyn overheard him offering a bribe that Dr. Larson was all too willing to take; she threatened to alert the national board to Dr. Larson’s misconduct. But as they argued on stage, she was silenced by the Aca-Cons introductory video that began to play. Just like that, Robyn dropped the topic. All she wanted, Larson claims, was for him to reject the bribe and to give her a copy of that tape.

The heart-tugging package shows Robyn giving an interview about the way music turned her life around, along with the near-death experience she had after delivering drugs to a party. Then a preppy boy arrives in the shot, all turned out for his hero moment. He came across Robyn after the accident, he says, pulled her out of the stolen vehicle, and tied her scarf around her leg to stop the bleeding. Robyn herself was “too wasted” to remember anything that night. Beckett is skeptical and questions Trust Fund Cardigan — who ends up telling Beckett that the make-shift tourniquet had already been applied by the time he arrived. There was no one else there to take the credit (or the jump in Twitter followers), so he gladly did.

Robyn took a cab straight from the a capella competition rehearsals to her faux-savior’s Upper East Side home that night, the cops learn. She knew something was amiss in that tape. If Trust Fund Cardigan didn’t tend to Robyn’s wound, the driver must have. The real driver.

Beckett looks into Robyn’s arrest and finds that the evidence, including the infamous scarf, went missing. She sits down with the retired officer who signed off on it all and throws the knowledge of his rapidly expanded bank account in his face, so he cracks: A woman called, he says. She didn’t tell him her name, but she offered him $50,000 to return the bloodied scarf to her.

Alexis pages through the photos from the party and finds the mystery woman. It’s Linda the NBP co-director, then a rich, carefree, and smashed law student with an Hermès scarf tied around her waist. Fast-forward to Linda telling Beckett that she feared for her career and made a rash decision. Afterward, she felt so guilty that she founded an entire organization to anonymously make it up to her. But Linda didn’t even know that Robyn had figured out what really happened that night; why would she have killed her?

Castle, Ryan, and Esposito arrive back at the competition with Martha in tow to observe justice in action. Linda’s husband, Scott, is accused — it was an accident, he blurts out. “I wanted to make her understand that if the truth came out, it would ruin everything.” Martha smacks him, as well she should. But the show must go on, and no one knows this better than gem of the theater, Martha Rodgers, who gives a rousing pep talk to Robyn’s singing group.

Later, Castle thanks Ryan and Esposito for solving a case that was so close to Martha. “Yeah, we still like her,” Ryan huffs. When Mom and Dad are (fake) fighting, it’s the kids that suffer. This sexy affair role play phase is cute for now, but — for their kids’ sake — let’s hope Svetlana and Dr. Livingstone reset back to normal soon.

Odds & Ends

  • Aca-theme song!
  • Bubble cigar game so strong.
  • “You want we should throw him down a flight of stairs?”
  • “Can you keep a secret?” “No, but you’re gonna tell me anyway.”
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    • 03/09/09
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