Kate Beckett, the main female character in the ABC crime drama Castle is many things: detective, daughter, partner, lover, friend, coffee drinker, nerdy girl, trauma survivor…
She’s also a hero, but her heroism goes even deeper than saving her father from his descent into alcoholism; saving her partner Richard Castle from numerous life-threatening situations; and saving countless others through her work as one of New York City’s best and brightest homicide detectives.
Kate Beckett is her own hero; she’s her own savior. And in a society where so many “romances” still feature men saving women from forces both outside and inside of themselves, Beckett’s desire and ability to save herself matter immensely.
Beckett’s journey towards saving herself takes center stage in Castle’s fourth season. In “Kill Shot,” Beckett reaches her emotional breaking point when the hunt for a sniper brings her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the surface. And in the season finale, “Always,” she becomes so consumed by her need to avenge her mother’s murder that she loses all sense of reason, refusing to see the value of her own life beyond taking down her mother’s killer.
It’s true that these episodes focus on the fact that Beckett deals with emotional pain that has the ability to cripple her, but it’s false to assume that these episodes also insinuate that Beckett is weak. It’s quite the opposite, actually; in detailing the mental and emotional struggles that Beckett faces while dealing with her own shooting and her mother’s death, these two episodes show just how strong Beckett is. We as an audience have to see the darkness that she could (and does) descend into in order to appreciate exactly what it is that she saves herself from.
Beckett may be strong, but she’s not perfect. In fact, Beckett’s strength comes from the fact that she is imperfect. Beckett is deeply flawed; she has been broken emotionally and physically, and those events have taken a distinct toll on her as a person. But Castle is written in such a way that we are meant to respect and admire Beckett more for having seen her flaws. She doesn’t always do the right thing, but who in reality does? Instead, she is given the ability to make mistakes, have emotional baggage, and still be a character that we admire.
For a lot of female characters in the media, strength and imperfection are mutually exclusive concepts; you can’t be as deeply flawed as Beckett is and still be considered a strong, admirable woman. Instead, these broken women are often fixed and rescued through the love of good men. In the same vein, the stereotypical “strong women” are often automatons masquerading as three-dimensional characters; they are perfect, and in their perfection, they are profoundly boring.
In “Kill Shot,” Beckett herself admits to being “damaged goods,” and it’s clear that she struggles with the idea of being anything less than those aforementioned automatons. She doesn’t want to admit to having PTSD because that is admitting to being less than perfect. However, when she finally admits to Detective Esposito that she sees herself as damaged, he responds:
“That’s right. And that’s okay. You think it’s a weakness; make it a strength. It’s a part of you. So use it.”
While Esposito gives her this advice, in the end, only Beckett can put that advice into action. She’s the only one who can turn her own perceived weaknesses into strengths, who can work through her pain and use it to become a stronger person. And that’s exactly what she does.
For the majority of “Kill Shot,” the relationship between Beckett and Castle takes a backseat to Beckett’s struggle with her PTSD. It’s a risky move for a show that revolves around this relationship, but it’s ultimately the right move. Castle isn’t Beckett’s knight in shining armor, and Beckett isn’t anyone’s damsel in distress. He supports her in the ways that he can: offering her a cup of coffee, doing what he can to solve the sniper case, and asking Esposito for advice because he knows that the detective is better equipped to help Beckett. This doesn’t mean that Castle loves Beckett any less because he isn’t there to hold her while she’s falling apart; if anything, it means he loves her more.
There are things you have to do on your own, and sometimes falling apart is one of them. In this case, Beckett has to fall apart on her own so she can start to put herself back together on her own. Castle supported her, Esposito offered her advice, but, in the end, Beckett is the only one who can truly save herself because only she knows the depths of what she has to save herself from.
During the fourth season of Castle, Beckett’s sessions with her therapist are essential for the audience to see her growth as a character. It’s during these sessions that we see Beckett taking control over her own life – and doing so without Castle present. At the end of “Kill Shot,” Beckett tells her therapist that she struggles with more than just her PTSD; she has seen herself as damaged goods since the day her mother died:
“I’ve let it define me, drive me. It’s made me who I am. But now…I want to be more than who I am.”
This decision is all Beckett’s; Castle didn’t push for her to seek help or to be anything other than who she is – flaws and all. Beckett doesn’t go to therapy because Castle wants her to; he doesn’t even know at this point that she’s seeing a therapist. Instead, she wants to be a better person for herself. She wants to be defined by more than her mother’s death not because that’s what Castle wants, but because it’s what she wants. A comforting embrace from Castle might have been more romantic than a scene between Beckett and her therapist in “Kill Shot,” but it wouldn’t have been nearly as realistic – or as empowering. Before Beckett can share her life with Castle, she has to make peace with her life for herself.
In “Always,” we see Beckett lash out at Castle when she learns that he was trying to serve as her hero, even though his intentions were good. When he reveals that he made a deal for her safety, thus keeping important information about her mother’s case from her, she furiously defends her ability to make her own choices:
“You cut a deal for my life like I was some kind of a child. My life. Mine. You don’t get to decide.”
Again, the writers make a gutsy move here by eschewing romance in favor of Beckett realistically getting angry that any person – even the man who loves her (and whom she clearly loves as well) – would attempt to control her life without her knowledge. It might have been more romantic for Beckett to understand that Castle loves her so much that he’d do anything to keep her safe, but it’s not realistic for the character of Kate Beckett. She doesn’t want a savior or a protector; she wants a partner.
During this confrontation, it’s clear that Beckett is losing her grip on rational thought in favor of blindly going after the people that want her dead. As Castle puts it, she’s ready “to die for [her] cause.” But he never begs for Beckett to let him be her protector after she says she doesn’t want that from him. Before he loved her, he respected her, and because he respects her, he knows that he could never really be her savior:
“You’re right, Kate. It’s your life. You can throw it away if you want, but I’m not going to stick around and watch…”
This line poignantly shows the dichotomy between Castle respecting Beckett’s ability to make her own choices and loving her to the point that he’s unable to cope with the choice she’s made. Castle knows that he can’t save her, but he can’t watch her fail to save herself, too. When romance and realism collide, the result is often tragic, and that’s exactly what happens in this scene.
The end of “Always” is anything but tragic, though, and that is due to the choices made by Beckett in terms of living the life she wants to live. For the first time in the series, she is faced with the reality that she could die alone, and it becomes clear that dying alone for her cause is not the path she wants to take anymore.
Ultimately, Beckett is the only one who can convince herself “that her life is worth more than her mother’s death” (in the words of her father in “Knockout”). No one else can make that decision for her. By choosing to walk away from the case that would almost certainly cost Beckett her life, she shows just how far she’s come.
Some may say that Beckett’s choice to resign from the police force was done because of Castle, but that explanation takes away so much of Beckett’s growth. Beckett doesn’t choose to resign because she can’t be a cop and be with Castle at the same time; she chooses to resign because she’s finally found peace. She became a detective to honor her mother, and someday she’ll come back to the precinct (because what else would the show be about?) to honor other victims. But for now, she doesn’t want to be a detective anymore; she doesn’t want to live her life in the shadow of her mother’s homicide. Like she said in “Kill Shot,” her mother’s death made her who she is, and in resigning, she makes real the choice to be more than that.
For so long, Beckett was afraid of happiness, believing that she couldn’t have earned the kind of life and love that she’d always wanted until she solved her mother’s murder. By choosing to love Castle, she chooses real happiness for herself for the first time since her mother died:
“I just want you.”
Beckett wants Castle. Wants. She doesn’t need Castle. She isn’t replacing one obsession with another. This is how Kate Beckett ultimately saves herself: by realizing that her life deserves to be lived for herself, not for another person – be it her mother or Castle. She is a complete person on her own, and it’s her choice to be with Castle rather than a need that she feels like she can’t control (like the urge to chase her mother’s killer). The love that she feels for Castle is healthy and empowering. He sees exactly who she is, and he loves her without ever trying to fix her.
One of the most frequently discussed parts of the love scene at the end of “Always” is the moment when Beckett guides Castle’s hand to the scar from her shooting. This is the moment when the emotional is made physical in terms of Beckett’s acceptance of her traumatic past and her new future. Beckett is a scarred woman in many ways; she will never be exactly as she was before she experienced the traumas that changed her life. But she’s finally made peace with her scars – with her past – and she’s ready to share that part of herself with Castle. Beckett may be her own savior, but that doesn’t mean she has to heal alone. She lets Castle touch that part of her that will always be physically damaged, and, in doing so, she shows that she’s finally ready to let someone love her as she is – damaged goods, scars, and all – because she’s finally learned to love herself.
During the show’s first season, Castle spells out the essence of Kate Beckett’s character in describing her dogged sense of determination:
“Most people come up against a wall, they give up. Not you. You don’t let go. You don’t back down. That’s what makes you extraordinary.”
During the fourth season of Castle, we see Kate Beckett working on breaking through her emotional walls with the same level of tenacity and resilience that Castle described in the first season. By choosing to go to therapy and then choosing to live for herself rather than for a cause that would kill her, Kate Beckett becomes a better, stronger woman because she wants to – not because anyone else is demanding that from her. She takes control over her own life, finally seeking out happiness instead of running from it. She’ll always have scars, but she’s finally made peace with them.
In the end, Castle and Beckett’s journey might read like a fairytale, sealed with true love’s kiss. But unlike Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, Kate Beckett isn’t saved by Castle’s kiss. She saved herself.
And that’s what makes her extraordinary.