Is season four the best season of Castle to date? It might be a bit early to declare this season a winner with only half of its episodes aired, but the show is definitely running on all creative cylinders this year.

Castle has always been a fun procedural that relies heavily on the charm of its leads, but this year, however, the show decided to change the game. While still keeping the delightful Castle-Beckett charm, Castle has dared to shake up several key relationships and story-lines.

There’s no reward without risks, but Castle‘s creative risks have paid off in a compelling season. Here is a list of the reasons why Castle has been doing oh-so-right in this, its best season to date.

1. More Personal Stories
During Castle’s first three seasons, most of the show’s supporting characters remained shrouded in mystery. Sure, Ryan and Esposito popped into cases to crack wise while Alexis and Martha were always good for a fun family story, but it’s always been Castle and Beckett’s show.

This season, however, the show has often stepped back to give the supporting cast their own spotlight episodes. It has worked beautifully.

Alexis has developed from a perfect, sweet daughter into something much more interesting: a real teenager. When her rejection from Stanford demolished her vision of a perfect future with boyfriend Ashley, she didn’t react in her normal, rational way. She moped and pouted and wore a lot of sweatpants. In short, she reacted like a normal teenager. She also dipped her toes into some other normal teen activities like throwing an accidental post-breakup rager. Castle has kept the crux of Alexis’ personality while developing her into a more well-rounded and realistic character.

Ryan and Esposito have also had nice spotlights this season. In “Kick the Ballistics” we learned more about Ryan’s past and his sense of duty. We’ve seen more of fiancee, Jenny, as the two approach their big day. Esposito has not fared so well in the romance department, as his relationship with Lanie took a hit this season. Still, in the fantastic Beckett-centric episode “Kill Shot” Esposito got to play the hero, talking to Kate about her insecurities and his own issues with his sniper past.

2. Changing the Relationship Dynamic
Most fans would agree that the relationship between Richard Castle and Kate Beckett is what keeps them coming back to the show. The push and pull between the goofy, charismatic Castle and the steely, tough Beckett is the centerpiece on which the rest of the show hinges. But keeping a central relationship stagnate is creative death. Thankfully, season four has seen plenty of development on the Caskett front.

Since Beckett’s shooting and Castle’s “I love you” in last season’s finale, the relationship status quo has been upended. With Beckett’s knowledge of how Castle feels about her, many of their interactions have taken on a new dimension. It’s refreshing to see the show play less coy about the romantic feelings between our favorite crime fighters. This season seems to be promising a romantic development in the future, without a rush towards the finish line.

3. Delving into Kate’s Issues
When the show began Beckett was tough and emotionally distant, leaving Castle as the audience’s entry point to the world of the series. As the show has progressed, we’ve learned more and more about what makes Kate Beckett tick. This season has seen Stana Katic do some of her best work as Beckett’s walls have come crumbling down.

Click here for our full argument about why Stana Katic deserved a Golden Globe nomination.

The fallout from last season’s shooting means that Beckett has been seeing a therapist, and we’ve learned more about what makes her tick. Getting to see more dimensions to Beckett is always a good thing, and it has allowed the viewers to see how she really feels about Castle.

4. Continuing Story-lines and Mysteries
Last season, the show really began digging into the mystery surrounding the death of Beckett’s mother. It turned out to be a cover-up that included the former Captain Montgomery and beyond.

The show hasn’t entirely dropped this mystery this season. The premiere episode hinted that the conspiracy might go higher than anyone realized, and Castle was advised to keep Beckett from digging into her mother’s death — for her own safety. But if there’s one thing we know about Beckett, it’s that she can never let sleeping dogs lie for very long.

The mysterious death of Beckett’s mother isn’t the only ongoing storyline getting play. Beckett has also struggled with unspoken emotions and with the fallout from her shooting. While Beckett lied to Castle about remembering his three little words, it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out. And we’ll be tuning in every week to see it.

5. Breaking up the Formula
Castle, like most procedurals, has something of a formula. Dead body, hunt for the killer, red herrings, murderer found: the end! This season, Castle has often broken with this formula, incorporating an underlying story about one of the characters.

The best two examples this year were “Cuffed” and “Cops & Robbers”. “Cuffed” subverted audience expectations by trapping Castle and Beckett by themselves while the supporting cast got a chance to take center-stage. In the excellent and formula-busting “Cops & Robbers,” the case of the week was a bank-heist-gone-wrong — with Castle and Martha trapped inside.

This season, Castle has gotten a lot more adventurous playing with the format of the episodes with faith that its built-in audience of loyal viewers will take the ride with them. And so we’re treated to truly fabulous episodes that build tension because they’re not what we expect from the show.

What do you think? Is this the best season of Castle to date? What do you think the show is doing right this year? Sound off in the comments!

Morgan Glennon
Contributing Writer

(Image courtesy of ABC)

Morgan Glennon

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV