Ah, fall. The leaves are changing, pumpkin is suddenly in everything and Castle is beginning another season of murder and mayhem. In last season’s finale, Castle followed the first commandment of serial dramas (“Thou Shalt Not Allow Thy Romantic Leads Any Lasting Happiness”) and had Castle not only miss his wedding, but plunge to an apparent fiery death via car crash on the way. The season 7 opener, “Driven,” begins immediately after, with Beckett running to the wreck in her wedding dress, trying to reach Castle. It’s obvious that anyone in the car is long dead by now. Luckily, when the fire is put out, Beckett sees that there’s no body inside. And thank goodness, because it would be really awkward if the writers killed off the show’s title character.

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Rules? What Rules?

Based on evidence at the scene, the team quickly realizes that Castle was in the car at the time of the crash and that he was dragged from the wreck before it caught fire. I’m just going to get the obvious out of the way now and say there’s no way any of these people should have this case, given their personal involvement. But at this point, they take cases with similar ethical issues more often than not, so nobody bats an eye at the clear conflict of interest. Ryan and Esposito do force Beckett to change out of her ruined wedding dress. (The dress belonged to her mom, mind you. Poor girl has terrible luck with wedding dresses.) At least that amount of sense is still intact.

A nearby fruit salesman with a Rain Man-esque memory for cars tells Beckett that they’re probably looking for the black SUV we saw tailing Castle in the finale. This leads the team to a junkyard … just in time to see said SUV getting crushed to a pulp. Since this is the second time today that Beckett has seen a car presumably holding her fiance get destroyed, she’s a little on edge. Ryan and Esposito corner Gary Duffin, the man who operated the crusher, but it’s Beckett who body-slams him with 90 pounds of pure fury. Then in the interrogation room, she nearly breaks his fingers before being informed that Castle wasn’t in the car. I refer again to the conflict of interest.

Because Castle is famous and thus more important than other people, the FBI is called into his kidnapping case. The liaison, Agent Connors, suggests that one of the show’s long-term villains is responsible for Castle’s disappearance. This doesn’t really narrow down the list of suspects. Nor does learning that Duffin was hired by Vincent Cardano, Castle’s mobster acquaintance. Cardano says he sometimes makes cars “disappear” for people, because he’s helpful like that. In this case, the person who hired him remained anonymous and dropped Cardano’s $10,000 fee in a dumpster.

The team gets lucky, though, because they recover video footage of the drop. And I hope you have your smelling salts at the ready because DUN DUN DUN! It was Castle himself who dropped off the money! But doesn’t that mean he was in on his own kidnapping, you ask? Presumably, yes. That’s certainly what the FBI is going with, especially when the money from the drop turns out to have been withdrawn from Castle’s bank account before the wedding. I am neither rich nor famous, but who takes out $10,000 in cash for their honeymoon? Did he know the kind of hassle customs would put him through for that? Did he not have a credit card on him? For that reason alone, I can’t really blame the FBI for being suspicious.

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You Think You Know Someone

Although she has a few moments of doubt, Beckett quickly decides that Castle would never purposely leave like this. Thus, she spends the next two months obsessing over the case, long after the FBI has washed their hands of it. Two months is like 30 seconds in Kate Beckett Obsession Time, but still. Her old murder closet, previously used for her mother’s case, is now covered with information about Castle and his disappearance. And then, finally, Castle turns up. The Coast Guard finds him 80 miles off the coast of Delaware, unconscious in a dingy boat riddled with bullet holes. If I had a nickel for every time that happened to me.

Beckett is beyond relieved since, despite all the work she put into the case, she had stopped believing that she would ever see Castle again. Yet here he is, unconscious but overall not in terrible shape. He was in the boat for about four or five days, so he’s mainly just suffering from exposure. His sunburn, which is what the makeup department is going with to show that he’s been through some trauma, is miraculously light for the amount of time he spent at sea. Although I may be viewing it through ginger vision, because it’s akin to what I would get after an hour outside wearing only SPF 30.

A few unpleasant discoveries are then made. First, because Lanie needs something to do in this episode, Beckett has her examine Castle for clues. She finds a key sewn into the crotch of the pants he was found wearing, with the number 38 imprinted on it. Two month before, he had been exposed to dengue fever, which is a tropical virus found in the southern hemisphere. To add to the mystery, she says that Castle was grazed by a bullet weeks ago. He has clearly had an eventful two months.

Second, the team finds the origin of the dingy boat. It came from Gloucester, Massachusetts, and is owned by a man named Henry Jenkins. Becket, Ryan and Esposito head up to Gloucester and find Jenkins at his weekend home. He says he’d seen a stranger camping a little ways up the beach, and when shown a picture of Castle he identifies him as the man.

Beckett finds a tent that had clearly been lived in for a good stretch of time; it’s filled with food, newspaper articles about Castle’s disappearance and various personal effects of his. Most incriminating of all, she finds his wedding tux inside a duffel bag. Faced with this evidence, and the forensic evidence later gathered from the tent, she can no longer deny Castle’s willful involvement in his disappearance.

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Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Remember No Evil

That makes it a little awkward when Castle finally wakes up. Martha and Alexis have no idea what Beckett has found, so they’re overjoyed. Beckett decides to play it cool to find out what Castle knows, so she’s distant but not aggressive when they finally talk for the first time in two months. Castle is flirty as usual, but this is skeevy rather than charming in light of recent revelations. Bottom line: Beckett demands that Castle be honest about where he’s been for the past two months; Castle is unaware that he’s been missing for more than two hours.

So is Castle’s memory loss legit or has he gone to the Walter White school of avoiding consequences? His doctor seems to think it’s the latter, which doesn’t help rebuild Beckett’s faith. Castle insists that they go to Gloucester so he can see the irrefutable evidence for himself, and once there he naturally begins to refute it. He says that he would never set up camp near a body of water because he’s irrationally afraid of tsunamis. By Castle Logic, this is totally legitimate proof, but Beckett is no longer subscribing to Castle Logic.

She takes him to Henry Jenkins’ trailer so he can hear a firsthand account of how much his jig is up. But plot twist! The man in the trailer is Henry Jenkins, but not the Henry Jenkins the team met before. Someone not only planted a fake witness but also hacked the DMV to make him look legit. I hope Castle has been taking notes because this is a crappy crime novel waiting to happen.

The episode ends much as it began: with everyone wondering what the hell happened to Castle. Despite spending the better part of an hour doubting him, everyone now agrees that he was set up to look like he’d left on his own when he’d in fact been kidnapped. They don’t know who took him or how they erased his memory, but they guess that it must be someone with a lot of resources. This is exactly the sort of mystery that would normally send Castle into fits of euphoria, except this one very nearly ruined his life and is thus not as much fun. We’ll certainly get a lot of entertaining mystery novel-esque spins on it, though, because it’s set to be a season-long arc.

Things aren’t any less complicated with Castle and Beckett’s relationship. They are still very much in love after everything. Beckett even discusses almost killing a janitor for touching Castle’s chair. But the strain of the past two months, of having Castle gone and then being sure that he left of his own volition, is too much for Beckett to simply get past. This is probably one of the less contrived ways Castle could use to keep these two from wedded bliss a little longer, especially in light of the great acting Stana Katic did in this episode, but it’s contrived nonetheless. Will these two need to take a break? Will the first commandment of serial dramas ever be broken? We have the rest of the season to find out.

Castle airs Mondays at 10pm on ABC.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

Mary Kate Costigan

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV