Dorothy, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. That’s the best way to sum up “PhDead.” After the conclusion of “XX,” the future of Caskett is in doubt. But let’s be honest, they’ll get back together. That being said, “PhDead” introduces the viewers to the new dynamic. Love it, hate it, on the fence, this new twist will stick around for awhile.
Castle wakes up alone and has a new toy, a home operating system that will undoubtedly keep him company. But he soon realizes how to win Beckett back, working cases with her to rekindle that spark he feels is out. He seeks out Lanie’s help, who is willing but not willing to get in on the plan. Lanie’s a good friend to both Castle and Beckett, but she’s clearly Team NYPD.
Meanwhile, Beckett pummels a punching bag and contemplating the search for LockSat with Vikram. She knows she is gambling because once Castle gets a whiff, he’ll step in and rightly so, but that’s not the point right now. Beckett just hopes she hasn’t torpedoed her marriage in her vigilante quest.
The case of the week starts off with appears to be a man who looks like an escaped convict found in Central Park. Like a good gumshoe, Castle gets an idea who the victim might be and follows the lead to a Hudson U.
Back at the 12th, the team figures out the victim of the week, Peter, is not really an escaped prisoner but a student at HU. They head to the campus where Beckett runs into Castle who just accepted a guest professorship. She warns him off but it is useless. Their paths will cross. Beckett also makes a point to tell the boys to steer of working Castle. Yeah, right.
When Castle tries to investigate anything, it often ends on a weird note. He enlists Alexis to help smoke out a potential suspect. It ends Alexis get the guy to open up but it is clear he’s not the murderer.
Onto LokSat, Vikram tracks down someone who may have been involved in Allison Hyde’s death but he’s a ghost which sends Beckett searching for help from Smith.
The equally mysterious Smith tries to tell Beckett to drop the investigation but he eventually relents and gives some place to look. He knows it’s no use given their history together.
The investigation leads Castle, Alexis and the boys to a frat party where Castle tries to be one of the brothers where he gets some valuable intel. Peter was dating a professor. She was running an underground Stanford Prison Experiment funded by the U.S. Army. She turns Team NYPD onto the Peter’s lover, the university dean. But she’s not the killer, either. The fact of the case aren’t adding up. They are missing something.
Of course, everything works better with Castle and Beckett solving cases together and that’s exactly what happens. Castle and Beckett go back to the mock prison where they try to recreate the victim’s escape. This gives them opportunity to talk about their marriage. Beckett tries to cover and say it’s not him but her. The separation is clearly weighing on Beckett’s mind.
They realize, the Peter had help getting out their cell. They catch the killer. It’s a friend from the experiment who felt slighted by Peter’s wandering eye.
The episode is bookended almost as it began: Beckett and Vikram continue the investigation. Castle and Alexis talk about the relationship.
Overall, for the first episode out from the new dynamic, it had some legs for growth. Every episode must be viewed in that lens. As promised by the producers, the investigation into LokSat is in the background and not the central focus of the episode. In terms of storytelling, many TV show episodes have secondary stories. “PhDead” has the main story (case of the week), the B-story (Castle and Beckett’s relationship) and the C-story, the investigation into LokSat. Each of the stories are balanced effectively.