It’s not quite the holidays until Santa plunges to the ground, red sack in tow, and dies. More like murdered. That’s exactly what happened in the opening scene of Castle Season 5, Episode 9: “Secret Santa,” adorned with caroling music to boot. Sadly, it was all witnessed by a young family trying to make snow angels in Central Park. Santa might have to exchange all of her presents for a therapy session package this year … and seven years after that one. That kid is going to be scarred for a while.

Elsewhere, Casa de Castle is all decked out. It’s Rick’s favorite time of year and he went all Martha Stewart on his own place. But he loses a bit of his jolly spirit when both Alexis and Martha make Christmas Eve plans — a family-honored tradition — without him. Hopefully, all won’t be lost since at least Beckett will be there, unless she has to work. Castle and Beckett have also opted to forgo presents for their first Christmas together (really, it’s Beckett voicing this repeatedly) because it’s too much added stress.  

Now, back to our regularly scheduled crime. Our vic really is Kris Kringle, according to his ID. But a pair of custom leather boots will give them his real name. Castle, on the other hand, believes that Rudolph and the sleigh are still somewhere in the sky without a driver. 

Down at the precinct, Ryan says that no scheduled planes flew over Central Park. So this sleigh theory is sounding a little more “clausible” by the second. But if someone flies under 1,300 feet in Manhattan, you don’t have to phone it in. That tidbit of intel comes courtesy of Gates’ mother-in-law, who happens to be a licensed pilot. Let’s just say, we might have found Gates’ achilles heel, as she isn’t looking forward to spending the holidays with her. 

Esposito asks Ryan if they are going to spending their time-honored holiday tradition as usual, with Maddon and a six-pack. Apparently, Javi forgot about that wedding he went to a while back. Ryan’s married and Jenny has other plans. There goes another tradition! And Javi is left to wallow in his singlehood.

Castle and Beckett get some interesting news from Lanie. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the back. She also found red paint chips embedded in his suit. Esposito shows up to the morgue and tells Caskett that their Santa Doe is really Edmund Smith. Beckett and Castle take a hint and leave Espo alone to flirt with Lanie, since that’s the only reason he went there. But Lanie picks up on Javi’s “scent” and tells him that she’d be game to get together after the holidays, not just because he feels lonely. 

Castle and Beckett hightail it to Smith’s place, but no one answers (because he’s dead, right?). His neighbors, the Cabots, say the last time they saw him was around 5 p.m. the night before with his Santa costume bag. They question whether Ed had any enemies and Tim, the son, points to a picture of a man, David Dunne, who he saw him banging on Ed’s door and threaten him. Even more incriminating is that Dunne is a pilot. 

They trace Dunne to a “Santa school,” where he teaches other Santas to be … well, more Santa-like. He says he didn’t kill Smith (the standard line of all suspects), because he was handing out gifts to kids at an event. He was upset with Edmund, who swiped a Cartier gig right from underneath him. 

Dunne tells Beckett that he met Smith five years ago, when Edmund was at a real low point in his life, and Dunne helped turned him into a world-class Santa. He was just a little peeved, but is that cause for murder? 

Ryan confirms Dunne’s alibi. He also says the Smith’s agent didn’t book him on any Santa gigs the night he was killed. So why was Smith in his Santa costume?

Espo unearths more info on Edmund — he was a private equity manager five years ago and looked completely different than he does now. On the night he was killed, he withdrew $2,000 and made a phone call to his ex-wife, Gwen Harwin, who he hadn’t talked to in years. Ed called her to apologize in person for walking out on his family five years ago. One minute he was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life," and the next, Christmas morning, he peaced out with no explanation. She said that after he apologized, he got into a cab and noticed a motorcycle following him. 

Over at the suspect board, Castle figures the pieces to this mystery puzzle have something to do with the movie, in which an angel saves a businessman. If Edmund was trying to start over, and Dunne was the “angel,” what was Edmund running away from? 

Turns out a lawyer that Edmund tried to contact filed a suit on behalf of the Cabots. In fact, they are part of a 43-person class-action suit against a shady lender, SunCove Funding. The Cabots lost their home a number of years, and Edmund was always doing what he could to help them out. The lawyer was getting ready to drop the case, worth millions of dollars, when Edmund pleaded with her not to. 

Castle briefly changes the subject onto something a bit more pleasant, like his plans with Beckett for Christmas Eve, but she drops the ultimate bomb — she has to work since the precinct is short-staffed. A disappointed Castle mouths the he’s OK, but bolts before his true feelings show. 

Castle-less, Beckett and Espo trace evidence that leads them to an airfield. They notice a helicopter matching the color of the cherry-red paint chip found on Edmund and lots of fresh blood in the seat. But the owner of the airfield is less than cooperative. All he will give them is a fuel log. But somehow it’s still enough to determine the chopper flew to Long Island and back, the same location Edmund had taken the cab to on the night he died. 

Credit: ABC

Castle brings Gates coffee and some flattery in exchange for letting Beckett have Christmas Eve off. We stand corrected before: The biggest secret is that Beckett volunteered to work and Castle’s heart sinks a bit more. How much can one man take?

The team tries to figure out where Edmund was going that night and finds out it was Case Commerce. When they get there, cops are already questioning employees. There was a robbery during their holiday party the night before, and Edmund worked as the Santa, meaning he was probably the robber. The item stolen was a clock worth $30,000. The Cabots’ lawyer needed $25,000 in order to keep working on the case. And Edmund pulled some strings in order to work this Santa job. 

Castle and Beckett are discussing the case and he confronts her about lying. She says that winter reminds her every year of her mother’s murder. It might be a jolly time for him, but her tradition is keeping other families safe, something she couldn’t do for her own. 

Ryan phones back evidence that leads them right back to David Dunne. Dunne goes mano a giant candy cane in a battle he loses with Espo and Ryan. Turns out Dunne lied (shocker!). He was at Case Commerce with Edmund, only he was navigating the getaway chopper on the roof. He said that Edmund ran out of the building and someone chasing him opened fired and nailed him right in the back. Dunne took off and tried to get Smith to close the door, but it was too late. Smith had already fallen out.

The team pulls footage from the holiday party and notices a familiar face that wasn’t on the guest list — Tim Cabot, who happens to be carrying a motorcycle helmet. Gates adds more fuel to this sizzling hot fire. When the Cabots' lost their home, it was Smith’s fault and he has been spending all of his time embodying the spirit of Santa and trying to correct his wrongs. Case Commerce has a storage unit filled with documents that would help the Cabots and others win the lawsuit and Edmund needed Tim’s help to do it.

They conclude that someone at the party must have recognized Smith and foiled his plan. A little digging implicates Mr. Case, who was Edmund’s former business partner. He’s not sweating bullets, until Beckett tells him that his stolen clock actually belonged to the Cabots'. Bingo! This links him to SunCove and their shady mortgage practices.

The team is all set to pin the murder on Case, but he reveals who actually did the deed. It was Gwen. She stood to lose everything. Smith didn’t go to her place to apologize, but instead to tell her his plan to come clean. He was prepping her for a lifestyle change and she killed him to protect her tradition.

Even with the case closed, another situation is eating at Ryan. He’s afraid to go home because Jenny brought up the “baby” talk and he doesn’t know if he’s ready. Espo assures him that he is and ushers him out to go be with his wife.

Beckett escorts Castle out of the 12th, while he explains how his mom made Christmas a magical time on a shoestring budget. He knew if she could do that, anything was possible. They pause at the mistletoe, but Castle wishes his lady love a happy holiday and leaves.

Casa de Castle is still bustling with his other leading ladies, who have canceled their holiday plans to spend it with him. But he knows who he really wants to spend December 24 (and every day after that) with. He grabs his coat and opens the door to find Beckett already waiting for him. They realize that they need to make new traditions together as a couple and share in that missed mistletoe kiss.


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