Mitchell Haaseth/ABC
Sage Young
October 07, 2015 AT 12:09 AM EDT

No, Castle fans, you didn’t accidentally tune into a syndicated rerun tonight. “PhDead” is just the first episode in this new Caskett dynamic, and even Castle agrees that it strongly resembles an old one. A bombshell landed in the couple’s happy home in the two-part season opener; Beckett pressed the pause button on their marriage in order to avenge her former D.C. colleagues. Now Castle is waking up in an otherwise empty bed and putting all his faculties to work to spur Beckett into realizing how crazy she is about him. It’s vintage Caskett. And I’m so sorry, Rick, but it kind of feels good to get back to basics.

In the cold open, a man in a prison-issue orange jumpsuit careens through a wooded area in the dark until he can’t escape the blinding spotlight that corners him. “You got me. I give up,” he surrenders, but surrender not accepted: In the harsh light of day, Ryan, Esposito, and Beckett find the same man impaled on a branch. His jumpsuit would suggest that Rikers is home, but no one has gone missing; and they can’t even find a fingerprint match for him. Nothing about him says “I’m in the system.” John Doe, it is.

Perhaps our John Doe’s life wouldn’t have veered so far out of control if he’d had a “home operating system” like Castle ordered from, let’s face it, probably SkyMall. Castle’s loneliness is driving him to extreme acts of diversion, like staging his own remake of Her with his new AI pal “Lucy.” Lucy should absolutely be a continued presence in this season, because a) having someone to talk to will keep Castle’s personal breakdown just on the right side of the cute/sad divide and b) she may actually be on to something. “How’d you get her in the first place, Rick?” Lucy wonders as he bemoans the absence of his wife, and boom, the man’s got a plan.

Castle may not be endorsed by the 12th precinct, but he’s still one of the only civilians in New York who can sweet talk his way into Lanie’s lab, unzip the body bag of an unidentified homicide victim, and escape with only a few exasperated words thrown his way. Fueled by his renewed determination to woo his lady again and buoyed by the millennial knowledge of PI partner Alexis, Castle beats the precinct to identifying their John Doe. His tattoo is of the Hudson University mascot; Peter Garber’s not a hardened Rikers criminal. He’s a co-ed without a record, just an invitation to a Halloween rager. Beckett shows up to the school to inform the dean and finds her shaking hands with her bow-tied and tweed-jacketed husband. Welcome to the faculty, guest professor Castle.

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The 12th’s first lead involves the clock-and-dagger traditions of ye olde Greek system. Peter was the pledge master of his fraternity and got into it with his brother Scott, when Peter took issue with hazing the new recruits. (Good man.) After Ryan and Espo’s Never Been Kissed strategy fails to unearth any new evidence (“Oh, and remember, fiber’s your friend.”), Castle sends in Alexis in a platinum blond wig and a fitted sweater to pump Scott for information. This won’t be the last time in the episode that Alexis’s feminine wiles are given a workout, and it’s weird, but it’s not too weird. She’s guaranteed to catch the eye of a red-blooded fraternity brother. But Scott and Peter had made up and were totally cool, bro. Scott even used his residential housing privileges to set Peter up with an empty apartment as a “quiet place to study.” Sure. 

Every shade of gray (with some fire-engine red accents) is present in Peter’s makeshift BDSM lair, along with a calling card from a jilted lover. “I SAY WHEN IT’S OVER, PETER” is smeared across a mirror in lipstick because the fight between this room and subtlety was already over.  Alexis goes undercover as co-ed Clara again to find out who Peter was tying up (or vice versa) on the regular. This time, she’s in a fetching angel lingerie ensemble for a party at the Beta Omega house. Castle is so laser-focused on getting Beckett back that he almost doesn’t follow his daughter into the party and make a fool of himself. Lucky for us, he remembers himself and then does. (“I need to bro down.”) He gets in over his head in a beer-pong match but does manage to get the name of Peter’s lover from his opponent in the process. Beckett catches him in not the finest of circumstances (“I’m not drunk…I’m casin’ the crack.”), but at least there’s canon confirmation that beer pong is also on the list of “Things Kate Beckett Can Do Better Than Most Humans.”

NEXT: Snitches get stitches 

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