Title Secret Santa
Two-Sentence Summary While investigating the murder of a Santa impersonator, Castle and Beckett prepare for their first Christmas as a couple. Romantic reunions, new traditions, and expanding families appear on the horizon as the holiday spirit descends on the 12th Precinct.
Ryan: Jenny says to me, “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas without kids.” She wants to try. But I come to work; I watch the news every day…It seems like the world’s falling apart. How am I supposed to bring a kid into that?
Esposito: World’s always falling apart, bro. Since the beginning of time. But having kids, raising a family…That’s what keeps it together.
My Thoughts I was excited for “Secret Santa” from the moment I found out Castle would be doing a Christmas episode this season. And I can honestly say that this episode didn’t disappoint. Were some things different than I was expecting? Yes. Did I get the epic “Caskett gift exchange” I’d been dreaming of for years? No. But I got something that was quite possibly even better: an episode filled with the warmth that makes Christmas such a special time of year, like a mug of hot chocolate on a snowy winter evening.
The case itself didn’t matter too much to me. Although, I did love Castle’s theory about the clock and the secret organizations of time-guardian Santas. Anytime Castle gets to unleash his childish side and tease Beckett with elaborate theories, I’m a happy girl.
Ultimately, this episode worked because it was filled with the sense of family and love that is especially important to us around the holidays. Each character had a story, and each story felt like it came from a natural place of character development. Even Captain Gates got in on the act this week; her disdain for her mother-in-law was hilarious but also believable. I’m a big fan of using humor to soften the audience towards Gates, but I like it best when her humor is snarky like it was in “Secret Santa.”
I found it incredibly sweet when Ryan revealed that Jenny wants to have a baby. We’ve watched them grow from first dates to marriage proposals to last season’s wedding and now a baby. But it broke my heart in a very real way to hear Ryan voice his fears about bringing a baby into a world that seems to be getting bleaker all the time. It’s a very real fear for anyone who’s ever thought about having kids, but I can only imagine that it’s 100 times worse for a homicide detective.
That little scene between Ryan and Esposito about having kids is the epitome of why I love Castle so much. For as great as Castle and Beckett are, this show wouldn’t work without the other dynamic duo in the 12th Precinct. In this episode, when it could have easily become solely about Castle and Beckett’s first Christmas together, these two partners were given a genuine moment of heartfelt conversation that actually touched me more than anything Castle/Beckett-related in “Secret Santa.” I loved that it was Esposito—the one who went through hell and back as a soldier—reassuring Ryan. And what he said is so true; family is what keeps the world together when it looks like it’s crumbling. That’s always been one of the biggest messages Castle espouses: the idea that families—both our biological one and the one we choose—are our sources of light in a world that could so easily become darkened by tragedy.
(Side Note: Anybody else get really sad because Esposito wants a family so badly and Lanie’s not ready? Or is it just me? Jon Huertas really sold Esposito’s loneliness in this episode, which made his act of kindness at the end even more beautiful.)
Ultimately, like any Castle episode, “Secret Santa” would either be made or broken by the interactions between Castle and Beckett. And while the interactions weren’t as big as many were expecting (myself included), they were ultimately just right in terms of the tone of the episode. This was an episode about family and what family means to us during the holidays. It started out that way from the get-go, with Castle’s distress over Martha and Alexis deviating from the usual Christmas Eve plans.
I don’t always relate to Castle’s open, childlike personality, but I certainly did in this episode. I felt his pain at the idea of his traditions changing; I understood his enthusiasm for decorating, his exact times for opening gifts, and his giddiness over the idea of a Christmas movie marathon with Beckett (“Or some other kind of marathon that makes life wonderful…”). For Castle, Christmas is a celebration of hope, a light in the cold December darkness. It made perfect sense for him to love the holiday with his whole heart, and it also made sense for Beckett to be a little gun-shy about embracing it in the same way.
Nathan Fillion has been stellar this season, but I’m not sure he’s been better than he was in “Secret Santa.” He made Castle’s sense of holiday cheer feel warm but not overbearing, and he perfectly captured Castle’s disappointment as each Christmas Eve plan fell through. It was a fine line to walk between genuine heartbreak and petulant whining, and he walked that line with a tightrope artist’s grace. Also, if you’ll allow me a moment of superficiality: He looked gorgeous in this episode.
My favorite moment of Castle’s in this episode was his surprisingly mature reaction to Beckett’s lie about working the Christmas Eve shift. For anyone who thinks this episode was lacking in the Castle/Beckett department, look at this scene again and think about the last time Beckett lied to Castle about something that mattered to him. Gone is the Richard Castle of last season’s “47 Seconds,” who assumed the worst about Beckett and punished her for lying to him. In his place is a Richard Castle who understands that there’s always a reason—a story—when it comes to Beckett, who confronts the issue calmly and with an open mind. I must say, I like this Richard Castle much better. This is character and relationship development at its finest.
And of course there’s a story behind why Beckett works the Christmas Eve shift, and what a revealing story it was. I had a feeling that Beckett wasn’t a fan of Christmas because of her mother dying so close to the holiday, and Stana Katic once again broke my heart with the grief that Beckett keeps just below the surface. But I was surprised by her reasoning behind working, though I shouldn’t have been. Beckett has always used her grief to fuel her work; she honors her mother through her job. So it made sense that she would be her own version of a Christmas Batman, protecting the city from the pain she feels every day.
Castle’s reaction to Beckett’s explanation was even more beautiful than her story. Fillion has a way of softening his face while Katic is delivering these big, revelatory speeches that melts my heart. He looks at her like he’s falling in love all over again with this woman as she opens up new parts of her life story with him, like it’s an honor to be the one she chose to share that story with.
While that scene was my favorite moment between the two in the episode, I definitely found myself enchanted by the holiday happiness of the ending. Seeing Beckett arrive at Castle’s door all smiles—ready to celebrate Christmas for the first time since her mother died—made me feel the same way I felt when she showed up at his door in last season’s finale: proud. Beckett’s ready to start a new tradition, one that honors her mother by celebrating the joy and love of the holiday season. Her tradition of protecting the city in her own way was noble, but it was based in the kind of pessimism that used to define her. Now, with Castle in her life, she’s ready to open her heart to the hope of Christmas again, the belief in the good rather than the fear of the bad.
Standing together in front of Castle’s gorgeous Christmas decorations—foreheads pressed against each other with a gentle intimacy that still surprises me—these two characters looked the very picture of real love. It’s not always flashy gift exchanges, flowery speeches, and big kisses. Sometimes, love is a warm smile, a whispered “Merry Christmas,” and an ability to simply be still together and share a quiet moment. That’s mature love—believable, relatable love. And that’s what the writers and actors have given us this season with Castle and Beckett, a love story to believe in.