I’m a crazy Christmas person. And by that, I mean I start thinking about and planning Christmas months in advance. I start doing the countdown sometime around August. I have post-Christmas depression every December 26 without fault.

Needless to say, I was beyond excited at the idea of a Castle Christmas episode. And, as usual, Marlowe and Co. delivered perfectly. Secret Santa was a lovely episode, with a fun case and great insight into our beloved characters. Castle and Beckett found themselves facing the prospect of spending their first Christmas Eve together, Ryan was left doubting whether it was worth it to bring a child into the world, the Castle family mused the importance of family traditions, Esposito tried to recruit Lanie into spending Christmas Eve with him, and Gates suffered endlessly from her condition of daughter-in-law.

The case was a fairly simple one: professional Santa Claus Edmund Smith falls from an airplane down to the park. The cause of death, however, isn’t the fall or the freezing cold, it’s a gunshot wound made by a 38 millimeters. Once they start digging, they find out that Smith wasn’t simply a Santa: up until five years ago, he was a private equity manager at a firm that basically left people without homes. Once a man died in a car crash after falling asleep out of sheer exhaustion, Smith’s guilt prompted him to try to make it up to the deceased’s family. He moved next door to them and tried to help them regain their property, for which he would’ve left his ex-wife lacking a considerable chunk of her money. This did not sit well with the former Mrs. Smith.

Once again, the killer is the spouse.

It was definitely not one of the most interesting cases in the show, but it was enjoyable nonetheless (though perhaps my appreciation for all things Christmas is clouding my view). However, what really made the episode shine were, in my opinion, the interactions between the characters.

Let’s start with Gates. May I mention that I love how much a part of the team she’s become? Not only is she joking with the detectives (and even Castle!) now, but she’s sharing bits and pieces of her personal life that contribute to making her character a lot more full-fledged than she initially was. This is the first episode since Montgomery’s death that I felt that the Captain wasn’t simply part of the team, but also part of the family. Kudos to Penny Johnson Jerald for making Victoria Gates such a wonderful addition to the 12th.

Now Castle and Beckett. Ever since her mother’s murder, Beckett has always taken the Christmas Eve shift at work. It makes her feel as though she’s protecting the families that are celebrating, whereas she and her father never do anymore. But when Castle tries to convince her to spend Christmas Eve with him, she tells him that Gates gave her that shift, leaving out that she actually volunteered for it. When he finds out the truth he’s upset, but eventually he confronts her about it.

I can’t say I appreciated finding out that Beckett lied to Castle- again– only to have him find out the truth through a third party- again. However, I loved how mature he was about it. Let’s not forget that this is the same man who only last season decided to cut Beckett out of his life altogether instead of simply asking why she lied to him. And yet… it’s also a different man. Because Richard Castle has grown, because he knows what he wants and he’s no longer willing to let false pride get in the way. I love the lack of epiphanies here, there’s nothing but realistic growth. Nathan Fillion has played the transition brilliantly and subtly.

Let’s move on to the final scene between the pair. It’s so significant to who they are now, both as a couple and individuals. Castle and Beckett literally meet halfway, both sacrificing something they’ve held on to for years in order to make room for a new tradition: a tradition they intend to build together. Their scene in front of the Christmas tree made me grin like a six year old with a new toy and I can’t get enough of the happiness they feel when they’re together. No doubts, no pointless mind games, no hesitation. It’s real, mature and intense. Two adults who know what they want and are willing to make sacrifices for it, because they know that the reward is far more satisfactory than any other romantic relationship they’ve ever had.

I also enjoyed Ryan’s dilemma, though I wish they had expanded on it a little more. What Esposito said is true, there are no guarantees, but an internal conflict like that one doesn’t disappear overnight. Oh, well. I like that they’re following Ryan and Jenny’s lives together. Same goes for the relationship between Lanie and Esposito. My hopes for a reconciliation are slim to none at this point, but it’s great to know that they remain friends, if nothing else.

What were your thoughts on this episode?