In “Kill Shot,” the episode of Castle that aired on November 21, 2011, Kate Beckett bared more than her scarred chest. She got real, y’all, and it made me so happy. (If you don’t know from Castle, check out my posts The Investigative Methods of Kate Beckett and Props to Castle!)
In most cop shows, soldier shows, vigilante shows, and movies where things explode gloriously behind beautiful people, a person (usually a man) who has been injured warriors up and toughs it out. Oh, he might grimace at the tug of skin and muscle over a sore spot—the locus of a gunshot wound—but he, along with everyone else, knows it’s unacceptable to the point of being un-American if he stops to deal with the psychological, or even the physical, consequences of injury.
It is rare, in TV or movies, for the character dealing with such an injury to be a woman. But Kate Beckett, good cop growing into extraordinary human being, is such a character. And the situation she faced last week—in which her department was chasing down a sniper much like the one who put a bullet through Kate’s heart not so long ago—put her in a precarious position, both literally and figuratively.
What a dilemma for the writers to face—if Kate does anything other than soldier through like a good American man, she could be seen as weak (read: feminine), not able to warrior up (read: man up). On the other hand, Kate must deal with her injury if she is to be a good cop. And if the writers of this show want to tell the truth—if they want to create characters who are as close to real people as fictional ones can get—that means Kate’s going to have to deal with pain. People—men or women—who deal with pain do all kinds of things. They cry. They throw stuff. They repress, deny, snap at other people, give in, admit they aren’t almighty, and face their demons. That’s what Kate did in this episode, and I have to say that I was deeply impressed—with the writing, the acting, and the way the show got real about Kate.
As she tries to come to terms with her pain, Kate:
- Snaps at people she cares about.
- Denies having a problem.
- Talks to her therapist, but refuses to truly engage with her problem, giving him a line that essentially says she doesn’t have time for the pain—she knows she has to man up.
- Looks at her damaged body in the mirror (more on this later).
- Damages her body further by drinking too much, having flashbacks, and accidentally cutting her arm.
- Cries. Alone. Hard.
- Leaves the scene of the investigation, more than once.
- Relies on the truthsaying of a friend who has been there (more on this too).
- Goes back to therapy and admits it’s time to get real emotionally—time to woman up.
Kate beautifully blends the parts of getting through pain that are traditionally masculine (denial, drinking, toughing it out) with the parts that are traditionally feminine (crying and self-reflection, both physical and emotional). In doing so, she embodies humanity rather than a gender.
Three of the ways in which Kate faces her pain deserve closer examination:
Kate Bares Her Scar
At home, alone, after showing some symptoms of possible post-traumatic stress disorder, Kate stands in front of a full-length mirror, dressed only in pants and a black bra. She looks at the scar on her chest, just to the side of her right breast.
So here we have a beautiful woman, on television, wearing a black bra, and not being sexy in the least. She’s being human. And her body is damaged.
Oh, that is real. And rare.
Later, near the end of the show, when Kate is facing the sniper, she bares her scar again. This time, she is unarmed, and the sniper is pointing a gun at her. She pulls down her shirt to show him her scar, to prove that she knows where his victims have been. Where he has been.
So here we have a beautiful woman, on television, wearing a black bra, and not being sexy in the least. Both she and her would-be killer are human, and their humanity transcends the fact that Kate is a woman and her audience is a man. Although her bra is exposed, it’s beside the point.
Yep, real. And rare.
I think Castle has given us a teachable moment, y’all: it is possible to see a beautiful woman in a bra on TV and NOT objectify her. In fact, it is possible to see her body as a body—fragile, strong, struggling—and not as a vehicle for sexual pleasure.
Kate Gets Help From a Friend
No one gets through pain alone, no matter how tough they are. Kate needs some help—from her therapist, from a partner. One of the things I like about this episode is that the help doesn’t come from Castle—because Kate and Castle have romantic feelings for one another, and because Castle isn’t a cop, his help might have felt like emotional rescue. No, Kate gets help from her friend and fellow cop Esposito. As Castle puts it, Esposito is the only one who can understand what Kate is going through, because he’s been there himself.
In a scene that contains some of the best dialogue and best acting this show has ever produced, Esposito shows Kate the rifle that her would-be killer used to shoot her. Kate backs away.
Esposito tells her that the man who used the rifle, like every other bad guy, is damaged goods.
Kate says, “So am I.”
Esposito could have denied the truth—instead, he acknowledges it. “That’s right,” he says. “And that’s okay.” And then he says, “You think it’s a weakness? Make it a strength. It’s a part of you. So use it.”
I love it that these lines are delivered by a man—he doesn’t say it’s necessary to deny pain or weakness, which is what a manned-up man would do. He says it’s ok to accept and own your weakness, so that it becomes the flip side of your strength. That is something we need to hear from TV heroes and heroines more often, because it is the truth.
(An aside: Wouldn’t it be cool if at some point, we saw flashbacks of Esposito’s warrior pain? Wouldn’t it be cool if this show continued to push the boundaries between how men and women deal with pain? What if we saw Esposito cry, alone? Or look at his body in a mirror? What if a woman helped him face his fear of his own psyche? Just a thought…)
Kate Stops Manning Up
Y’all can correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, manning up means stop your whining and do it anyway. That’s great, as far as it goes. There are times when manning up is truly necessary—like when the clock is ticking on finding a mass murderer, and you just don’t have time to figure yourself out. For this reason, among others, I’m all for the cessation of whining and getting stuff done.
However, in order to stop whining and get things done, a manned-up man usually represses some stuff. A man (and, increasingly, a woman) who has been told to man up is not supposed to cry it out, face his demons, examine his psyche so he can accept and own his fear/weakness and continue with his life. No, manning up means don’t cry. Don’t face your fear—ignore it. Don’t examine your psyche—tell it to shut up. Forever.
Why? Why is it that manning up means refusing to examine fear and weakness? Is it because facing fear and weakness is scary?
Kate sure thinks so. She didn’t want to face her fears, which are numerous. Kate fears death, loss, disappointing those she cares about, being less than what she once was or could be, and feeling pain. Sounds about right to me—those are the biggies. But by the end of this episode, Kate abandons manning up and instead womans up—she agrees to examine her psyche, to face her fear so she can be free.
Sitting across from her therapist (a masculine man who clearly knows all about womaning up), Kate acknowledges that the space in her that needs examination was not created by the sniper who tried to take her life. This space of fear and loss and abandonment has been there since her mother died. And Kate is ready to deal with it. She has realized that if you want to be strong, you first have to admit that you are weak—so that weakness can coexist with strength. And she knows that when it comes to pain—physical, emotional, or a combustible cocktail of the two—the only way out is through. Now that’s a person who knows how to man up, woman up, and generally get things done.