Hey, Castle fans! With one more week until the mind-blowing season finale, Castle returned last night to its usual format and to New York for some lighthearted, entertaining fun.

Written by series creator Andrew Marlowe’s wife, Terri Miller, this week’s episode of Castle, “Pretty Dead,” found Castle and Beckett trying to solve the murder of a beauty queen who was choked from behind with her own sash. Talk about some cutthroat competition, right?

Because next week’s season finale is going to be so intense and emotional, this episode, like the Los Angeles episode last week, was a nice enjoyable episode and was deliberately written to be so before things really start to get crazy next Monday.

But alas, back to this week’s episode. For everyone who caught it, let’s get recapping!

Drama, Blackmail, and Scandal

This week’s murder victim was Miss Illinois, otherwise known as Amber Middleberry in the widely renown “Baron’s All-American Beauty Pageant,” appropriately named after its millionaire sponsor, Victor Baron.

Found strangled during rehearsal, Castle and Beckett are called to investigate Amber’s murder, and they are quickly thrown into all of the pettiness, materialism, and secrecy that is the pageant world.

After talking to all of the pageant girls and the people in charge of the pageant, Castle and Beckett learn that Amber was a very talented violin player, and even though she had her violin when she went back to her hotel room that night, it was nowhere to be found the next day.   

So, Beckett has Ryan and Esposito search the dumpsters behind the hotel in case the killer disposed of it, and sure enough, it’s there with a set of fingerprints that belong to one of Amber’s pageant mates, Miss Georgia.

Now, although this girl is clearly obsessed with winning, she didn’t kill Amber; she only confesses to taking Amber’s violin so as to make her lose the competition. Yet, it’s what she found in Amber’s violin which is the key to why she was killed.

Specifically, there were several nude photos of Amber with the message written, “You know my price. Pay up or I’ll destroy you,” written on the back, which of course leads Castle and Beckett to believe that Amber was being blackmailed.

Yet, the question remains as to who the person was doing the blackmailing, and thanks to some valuable information that Ryan and Esposito pick up, it looks like their prime suspect is Amber’s old boyfriend, Jeremy.

As it turns out, Jeremy moved to New York last month, so Castle and Beckett go to pay him a visit. Only when they get there, Jeremy is already dead, having hanged himself.

Yet, returning M.E. Perlmutter asserts that the hanging is just a cover-up for the strangulation. So like Amber, Jeremy was murdered too, bringing Beckett and Castle back to square one.

Of course, leave it to Castle to make a game-changing discovery in that what’s really important about the photos of Amber is where they were taken; namely, Victor Baron’s house in the Hamptons.

Upon questioning him, they learn that Amber was actually the one doing the blackmailing in that she requested that Victor give her the pageant questions so she could win or she would expose their affair.

Unfortunately, however, Amber’s pageant consultant, Justin, found the photos and thought Jeremy was blackmailing his prized client, the one who was supposed to be his comeback and save him from ruin, so he paid Jeremy a visit and subsequently killed him.

When Amber found out about this, she threatened to turn him in, and because he just couldn’t have this, he killed her too.

Wow, OK, I’m exhausted. Way too much drama for me.

A Daughter’s Dilemma

Amidst all the case drama we had going on this week, Alexis was dealing with her own personal drama. Her ridiculously smart boyfriend, Ashley, got into just about every amazing college in the country, so Alexis was struggling in terms of what this meant for their relationship.

For instance, could they handle long-distance successfully even though the odds were against them? Moreover, wouldn’t him giving up Stanford, his dream school, to stay with her in New York make him eventually resent her?

Well, Alexis certainly seems to think so, so she does the only thing she thinks she can do: she breaks up with him.

Of course, this just leaves her and Ashley both miserable, and as a result, Ashley goes to the precinct to ask if Castle will intercede on his behalf and tell Alexis that he’s decided to go to Stanford, and he wants to give a long-distance relationship a shot because he thinks it could work.

In an adorable father-daughter moment, Alexis asks Castle what he thinks, and he responds with some pretty good advice telling her that the choices she makes are the only thing she can control in life, and it is these choices that will define her.

So, he is happy to see Ashley and Alexis back together at the end of the episode, but on the other hand, he is not so thrilled about the plan Alexis has come up with.

Because she is a genius like her boyfriend and has been taking extra classes, she’ll have enough credits to graduate high school in the fall, and she’s decided to apply early to Stanford so that she and Ashley can both be there together in January.

Oh boy. Did you see that look on Castle’s face? Yes, this is going to play out very interestingly next season.

Still, perhaps what I liked most about a lot of these exchanges between Castle and Alexis and Castle and Ashley is just how much they paralleled Castle’s relationship with Beckett.

For instance, when Ashley arrives to speak to Castle, he asks him, “Mr. Castle, have you ever been crazy about someone who’s determined to push you away?” and right after he finishes saying that, Beckett comes up behind them.

Clearly, this is an obvious reference to the relationship these two have, and again, the look on Castle’s face at that moment was priceless.

What’s more, there are references to finding your soul mate but not taking that risk, and as this also characterizes the Caskett relationship perfectly, I have to think that all of these many references and moments are leading up to something huge next week.

Happy Anniversary

Back once again this week was Captain Montgomery, who happened to be in a bit of a bind.

Namely, it’s his 30th wedding anniversary, but he doesn’t have a clue as to what he should buy his wife.

Of course, Castle lends his wisdom to the situation saying that the best gift to give a woman is something that she said she wanted when she thought you weren’t listening. Aww, how sweet!

And what exactly has Mrs. Montgomery been wanting all these years? Well in a first time appearance on the show, it is revealed that she has wanted her husband to retire so that they can go travel and see the world together.

Thus, Captain Montgomery announces that he’ll be retiring from the force next year, and while Castle is shocked, Beckett tells him that he retires all the time but never actually goes anywhere. She says to give it a week or two.

Comedy Galore

Well, they wanted it to be a light and fun episode before the finale next week, and this is just what the Castle folks gave to us.

In particular, I thought it was hilarious at the beginning of the episode when Esposito is talking about having to watch a parade of beautiful women in evening attire, and Castle keeps responding with, “I bet you did.”

Also, I loved how Beckett described her former roommate freshman year as “Elle Woods on steroids,” and how the host of the pageant, Bobby Stark, was basically Charlie Sheen.

Additionally, it was great to see Martha again in this episode, if only for a moment, and I just loved how she revealed to Castle that she once competed in pageants and that her talent was the way she wore a sweater. Classic Martha right there.

Captain Montgomery also showed his comedic side when he attempted to ask Beckett what he should buy for his wife and lead with, “Beckett, you’re a woman, right?” Poor guy seemed so helpless.

What’s more, the interaction between Castle and Beckett in regards to the nude photos of Amber was hysterical, and it was funny how Castle tried to cover by saying he was looking at the photos “only in so far as it pertains to the investigation.”  

Now, as ecstatic as I was that we saw a lot of Molly Quinn in this episode, I immediately noticed the absence of one of my favorite Castle characters: Lanie.

Sure, Perlmutter got the job done, but I missed my weekly dose of Tamala Jones, and I’d take Lanie over him any day.

Next Week’s Episode

As I’ve mentioned several times, next week’s episode, “Knockout,” is going to be a huge game-changer, and if there’s one Castle episode you don’t want to miss this season, it’s this one.

So make sure to mark your calendars and clear your schedules, and for now, enjoy the promo and post your thoughts on this week’s episode in the comments below!

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(Image and video courtesy of ABC)

Nicole Bessette

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV