I’ll Be My Own Savior: The Extraordinary Kate Beckett

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.

13 thoughts on “I’ll Be My Own Savior: The Extraordinary Kate Beckett

  1. The scene with Esposito and Beckett in “Kill Shot” is one of the most powerful in the series for me, and probably one of my favorites in any show. It really emphasized Beckett’s humanity – she’s not a superhero, she wasn’t just magically ok and healed from the events of the finale, physically or emotionally. She’s a human being and because of that, she has flaws. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, she wasn’t better yet and that’s what made Esposito’s comment to her even more powerful. He told her that she didn’t need to be perfect to be good or worthy of healing and moving on. It was ok to be damaged and to have events in her past that were a struggle. He told her it was alright to be real – not having flaws isn’t what makes her strong, embracing those flaws is. Being strong doesn’t mean being perfect or having it together all the time, and that is such a powerful message to send.

    While Beckett has had the support of her friends throughout the season, ultimately, no one but her could make the choice to be strong and move on from her mother’s case. She continued to show her strength by working through her problems with her therapist. She knew she wanted to improve herself in order to be the person she wants to be. She knew she couldn’t have what she wanted so long as those walls around her heart were up and so she worked to take them down, little by little. Part of that was motivated by Castle, yes, because she wanted to be with him, but love doesn’t make her any less strong. She saved herself from her own destructive tendencies in order to be happy, which I feel is something that everyone can relate to.

    • As usual, I agree with everything you said, and I’m so thankful for your thoughtful comments (on this and all of my posts) because they make me think even more deeply about the things I love.

      Now that I’ve gotten my sappiness out of the way, I have to say that I loved everything you said in that first paragraph because that scene is still the most affecting, empowering, and moving scene I’ve ever watched on TV. All too often in the media, we (especially women) are told that being strong means having everything together 100% of the time, and that’s simply not true. No one can do that; we’re human beings with flaws and imperfections and emotions that sometimes overtake us. But strength comes from accepting and working through those flaws and imperfections – even when it feels impossible to deal with them. To see that depicted in such a real way on television was truly inspiring.

      My favorite part of this comment, though, was the statement you made about love not making Beckett any less strong. If anything, I think that opening herself up to love makes her stronger. It takes a lot of courage and strength to love, and it takes even more to love after you’ve gone through the traumas that Beckett has been through. This reminds me a lot of Zoe from Firefly, in that I think getting married to Wash was the bravest thing Zoe ever did. It takes a lot of strength to choose to love when you’ve been closed off to it for so long, and that’s definitely true for Beckett. Choosing Castle and love doesn’t make her a weaker person; it makes her even more admirable because she’s finally at peace with herself enough to share herself completely with Castle.

  2. Omg. This is amazing. I’m sorry it took me so long to get to it. I decided to take a spur of the moment trip to Myrtle Beach this weekend and I just got back a while ago.

    I love your analysis of Kate Beckett. I think this is one of the reasons that she resonates so much for me as a character, because she’s so self-empowered. She’s definitely not a damsel in distress looking for a savior or a protector. In most instances in fact, she’s the one doing the saving and protecting. I love that role reversal.

    And I totally agree that she has saved herself every step of the way. Even in the development of her relationship with Castle, she always chose what she wanted and moved at her own pace, despite any external pressure (from Lanie, Castle, etc.) to do otherwise. She recognized that she wanted to be at peace with herself before she embarked on a life altering relationship with Castle. I like that it was her choice to be in therapy, instead of the usual cop show trope of being forced into therapy unwillingly, as if going to therapy is a weakness.

    This is why I love what happened between her and Castle when she confronted him about the secrets he was keeping. I like that the writers let her be angry about that and didn’t try to make it seem irrational. She had every right to be angry. She had the right to have all the information needed to make her own decision about her life, no matter how Castle felt about it. I feel like he recognized that in the end. And when she finally did have all the information, she did make a choice, albeit after a life or death wake up call. I think that’s what that scene on the roof was all about. In those last moments, before she was about to die, for the first time, she wanted Castle to come and save her. That’s why she heard him saying her name. But it wasn’t him. I think that served to highlight to her, and to us, the audience, that Castle could not and would not be Beckett’s savior. She had to choose to save herself.

    • First of all, I hope you had fun in Myrtle Beach – I’ll be there in August!

      I love everything that you said about Beckett moving at her own pace in terms of her relationship with Castle, and that’s actually going to be the topic of another post on here if and when I can find the time to write it. I love that the writers gave the power to dictate the pace of the relationship to the woman. From the end of the pilot, it’s clear that Beckett isn’t going to be with Castle unless it’s on her terms, and it’s clear that Castle isn’t put off by that at all; he’s actually attracted to her more because that.

      I also agree with what you said about her decision to go to therapy; it’s so important that it was her choice. It shows that sometimes the strongest act is asking for help when you’re not used to doing that. I love that it’s never once insinuated by anyone on the show that going to therapy makes you a weaker person. They dealt with Beckett’s character arc in a very realistic way, and I respect the writers a lot for that.

  3. What a wonderful analysis! So clear and thorough. I’m doing an essay on female portrayals in television (with her character as a positive example) and was looking to read the viewpoints of others to kind of guide my focus. You did a lovely job of laying this all out, with great examples from the show– this is certainly the best analysis I’ve found! I thank you for that and I will definitely be following your blog. 🙂

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