This week’s victim is named Eric Mercer who works as a local E.R. doctor. Witnesses say that he was killed by a guy driving a black Mustang and wearing a Santa suit. The Santa suit doesn’t really have anything to do the mystery with Beckett pointing out that it made for a convenient disguise for the holidays. Esposito also tells Castle and Beckett that shortly before his death he had been seen carrying around a blue backpack which is now mysteriously missing. When Lanie begins examining the body she finds some tiny mineral crystals but she doesn’t know what they are.
When Ryan looks into Eric’s whereabouts, he finds out that Eric frequently visited an office building owned by a company called Evergreen Sanitation which Beckett notes to be a known front for organized crime (why is it always waste management with the mob exactly?). When Castle and Beckett search the office building they find a makeshift operating room, bringing them both to the conclusion that the victim was a mob doctor.
Back at the station, Castle and Beckett talk to an organized crime detective named McBride and he tells them the office building is owned by the Carlucci crime family currently run by a guy named Dino Scarpella. It turns out Castle knows Dino as one of his many Derrick Storm related research subjects. Castle suggests they ask Dino about Eric reasoning that they still have a good friendship and would want to get Eric’s murder solved just as much as they do. Beckett is her usual amount of skeptical but she goes along with it.
Unfortunately for Castle, when they do finally question Dino, he claims to have no association with Eric. Meanwhile, Ryan and Esposito find a black Mustang owned by Dino’s number two Christopher Carlucci with a bloody Santa suit inside. The case seems to be closed pretty quickly until Castle gets a call from Dino asking for the two to meet and for him to come alone. Dino reveals to Castle that Eric was an illegitimate son of his cousin and that he did his best to look after Eric after said cousin died in prison. He claims that Christopher was framed and wants Castle’s help in finding the real killer. Castle agrees and to seal the deal, Dino makes him swear a blood oath. Beckett is understandably suspicious but Castle somehow manages to convince her to help.
Castle questions Christopher in jail, who tells him that he has no idea who would want to frame him (though he knows plenty that would want to kill him). He also says that Eric had been acting paranoid recently and wanted to find out if he had been under surveillance. With that in mind Christopher put him in touch with the family’s shall we say “tech support” Rita. When Castle talks to Rita however, she says Eric asked her for some stolen credit cards instead and that he might have wanted them to rent a getaway car.
Meanwhile, at the precinct, Esposito tells the other detectives that the mineral crystals found on Eric’s body was road salt which leads them to a salt depot three blocks from where Eric was killed. Once there they find Eric’s missing backpack and inside they find clothes covered in blood.
According to Dino, Eric hadn’t operated on anybody in the family recently, leading the detectives to believe that he may have operated on a mobster from a rival family. They ask Detective McBride if anybody in organized crime have gone missing recently and he tells them that the guy they’re looking for is most likely a mobster from a rival family named Luca Tessaro. He says that all they know for sure about Luca’s disappearance is that three days ago shots had been fired in his neighborhood and Luca hasn’t been seen since. When detectives investigate the alleged crime scene they find a bullet and a bloody bracelet that implicates Dino’s daughter, Jane in both Eric and Luca’s deaths.
When Castle tells the news to Dino, he unsurprisingly takes it badly and is all but ready to kill Castle on the spot. Thankfully, Jane comes in at the last minute to clear things up. She admits to Castle and Dino that she was in a secret relationship with Luca and that she tried to save him and called Eric for help. Jane says she doesn’t know who shot Luca but that a week before he complained about somebody making a power grab against the Tessaro family and that he had been trying to figure out who it was. Dino proclaims that if he finds out the Tessaros were responsible for Eric’s murder then the two families will go to war.
The investigation appears to have stalled until Ryan comes in and tells them that one of Eric’s stolen credit cards was used to order a pizza which was delivered to a warehouse owned by the Tessaros. Castle and Beckett go to the warehouse and find Jane with a surprisingly alive Luca. Jane and Luca tell Castle and Beckett that they originally planned to run away together but the plan went south after Luca got shot and Eric was killed. Luca doesn’t know who shot at him but that the gunman calls himself Il Penumbra. According to Luca,Penumbra started a protection racket on Tessaro territory a few months ago and has remained anonymous by hitting up store owners through e-mails and having the payments wired to a Cayman Islands account. Castle goes back to Rita to help him identify the owner of the account. Thanks to Rita’s help they find out the killer is actually Detective McBride. Dino expresses his gratitude to Castle and says that he owes him one. Castle expresses his hopes that he never needs to cash in that favor though I get the feeling it will come into play when Castle’s memory loss plot line resurfaces.
The ending of the case proves to be bittersweet however, when Captain Gates informs Castle that McBride was gunned down during transport. The D.A. then found out about Castle cooperating with the mob and since they had motive to kill McBride, things look pretty bad for Castle (to be fair the blood oath doesn’t exactly help his case either) and because of these suspicions, Castle is no longer allowed to work with the N.Y.P.D.
During Castle and Beckett’s first Christmas celebration as a married couple, he reminds her of the (never mentioned before this episode) family tradition of writing Christmas poems. This leaves Beckett in a bit of a panic since she has no idea what to write and isn’t helped by Alexis’s admission that it also gets kind of competitive. She does eventually write down a few lines and while I didn’t find it to be that good I guess it’s the thought that counts.
Lanie and Esposito
Lanie’s parents come to visit her for a couple of days, giving Esposito the chance to meet them for the first time. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem for Esposito, except Lanie lied to her parents and said they’re engaged. Esposito isn’t crazy about having to lie to Lanie’s parents but he plays along and Ryan even gets in on the act by inventing a proposal story for “happy couple.” The charade goes well enough and the parents leave without incident but it causes Esposito to think about where the relationship is headed. He decides to break things off saying that they’re probably better off as friends and Lanie agrees.
‘Bad Santa’ was a serviceable episode to end the year on and left enough in the air to make me slightly wonder what the future holds for Castle’s relationship with the N.Y.P.D. However, I found the route they took to get there to be kind of dumb. This isn’t even the first time Castle has used a mob connection and if the D.A. really finds the connections that suspicious, it seems like Beckett would’ve also been suspended given that her marriage to Castle would likely make her look just as suspicious.
As for the breakup between Lanie and Esposito, I know I’m supposed to care about this but I really don’t. Their rekindled romance has barely been mentioned all season so it’s hard to feel any real sense of loss for the two when the writers seemingly couldn’t be bothered to care about their relationship either.
When the show returns in January, Castle appears to have a lot of time on his hands and becomes a private investigator. See you in about a month.