"Kill Shot" reigns as one of the strongest, best-written episodes of the entire Castle series, with exquisite acting, careful plotting, satisfying if painful character development, and marvelous attention to such details as the lighting of sniper hides, a psychiatrist's office, and the evidence room; the boisterous noisiness of a bus full of adolescents; and the careful, almost painful, close-ups, especially of Beckett and Esposito.] In perhaps Stana Katic's most exquisite acting of the Castle series to date, Beckett denies, succumbs temporarily to, admits, and then confronts the PTSD resulting from her near-fatal wounding by a sniper at the end of Season 3. In this character-driven episode, several male characters provide anchors for, and contrasts to, Beckett's turmoil. Michael Dorn [of Star Trek: the Next Generation fame] as psychiatrist Carter Burke projects depth: depth of calm, depth of comprehension, depth of compassion. Without pushing, he quietly tells her some uncomfortable truths which she needs to accept in order to truly begin the healing process; his non-judgmental affirmation, both of her need for healing and of the fact that she may not yet be ready for further work, allows her the freedom to choose her next steps, the freedom to admit, finally, that her psychic wounds predate by many years her being shot a few months ago.
In a similar fashion, Esposito shares his truths with her, even when she does not, at first, want to hear them: he is the only one of the team besides Beckett to have endured the same sort of PTSD. When Castle, discussing that fact with Esposito, asks, "What helped you?", Esposito's eyes tell us that he knows how to get through to Beckett – and he does. Alone in the evidence room with Beckett, Esposito shows her the weapon used to shoot her – and it is Esposito who then reminds her that a sniper's rifle is only a weapon, without personality or will of its own. When Esposito adds that murderers are "damaged goods," Beckett admits that she, too, is damaged goods. Instead of giving her a "No, of course you're not" pep talk, Esposito agrees with her – and then tells her, "Now use it." [As Katic outdoes herself in this episode, so does Jon Huertas; we have seldom seen such depth and fine detail of Esposito's character.]
Somewhat less calm than Burke, somewhat less firm than Esposito, Castle reins back his badinage completely, but stands up to Beckett's refusal to admit her PTSD. Sensing that she needs emotional space as much as she needs help, he keeps most of his concerns for private conversations with Ryan and Esposito. In a reverse of his usual go-where-Beckett-goes M.O., Castle points out, as she is leaving for more investigation, that he can be of more use at headquarters helping to sort out the rapidly-accumulating clues – and he reassures her that she's doing just fine. [Further evidence of Chief Gates' gradual acceptance of Castle's usefulness to the team, introduced last week, is shown as she genuinely interacts with him, eschewing her usual sarcasm, just as he eschews his usual wisecracks.]
Without dealing as directly with Beckett as do Esposito, Castle, and Burke, Ryan offers his quiet and competent support and reassurance, working steadily in the knowledge that catching this sniper is the best thing he can do for Beckett just now. As often before, Ryan and Esposito join ranks to support and protect Beckett if she needs it – and they do so without any suggestion that she might be incapable of acting on her own. All members of Beckett's team remain equal, no matter whose life manifests the most tension and stress in a particular episode. And Gates is beginning to emerge as an actual character with actual thoughts rather than as merely a monumental pain in the fundament, capable only of knee-jerk sarcasm.
Although this episode lacks the usual detailed subplot, Alexis and Martha once again provide both moral and practical support for Castle; Alexis discovers the key to the cipher of what those paper dolls mean. Instead of a subplot per se, this episode compares and contrasts Beckett's PTSD with the trauma which powers the sniper; in their confrontation, the differences spring into bold relief.
As mentioned above, even the lighting of this episode, particularly the deliberate half-illumination of Beckett's and Burke's faces as the two of them confront the "darkness" and "light" characteristic of Beckett's life, further enhances the overall excellence of this episode. The settings are dark; the crimes are dark; the emotions are dark. . . yet the episode leaves the viewer certain of "lighter" days to come in the lives of Beckett and her team.