After a shocking season 3 finale, Castle and Beckett are back for their fourth run around the TV schedule. Does the premiere fix the issues raised by last year’s conclusion? Will fans finally see some progression between the protagonists, or the case that’s tied the last three years together? Read on to find out.

The Castle premiere picks up right where the season 3 finale left off. After Captain Montgomery is killed during a shady operation including the people behind the murder of Kate Beckett’s (Stana Katic) mother, a sniper shoots Beckett while she’s giving the eulogy at Montgomery’s funeral, causing Castle (Nathan Fillion) to finally confess his love for her.

Beckett is immediately rushed to the hospital, where the precinct’s medical examiner Lanie Parish (Tamala Jones) is waiting. Castle, his mother and daughter, and detectives Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Esposito (Jon Huertas) all wait for news while Beckett goes into surgery.

She lives (of course), but must recover for three months. In what seems like the writers pressing a plot reset button, Beckett can’t remember anything about the shooting, including Castle’s confession. Castle blames himself for her injury, reasoning that if he hadn’t pushed her to investigate the case, she never would have been targeted.

Three months later, Beckett returns to the precinct, which has made no progress on the case. Ryan and Esposito are gridlocked because they can’t tell the new captain, Victoria “Iron” Gates (Penny Johnson Jerald, 24) about Montgomery’s involvement. Gates has kicked Castle out of the precinct and forces Beckett to earn her way back to full duty, while keeping an eagle eye on everyone.

After the disappointingly somber season 3 finale, I was hoping that Castle would return to its sweet spot and drop the “intense” storyline surrounding Beckett’s mother. No dice. The writers seem determined to inter-stitch the show with a handful of heavy-plot episodes, concentrating a season’s worth of drama and story in a few short hours. Apparently it needs to be said again: Castle doesn’t work as a dark, big-city crime drama, and the latest episode in this storyline does almost nothing to clear up an already convoluted plot.

First, the good news. Penny Johnson Jerald is an excellent choice to replace Ruben Santiago-Hudson, bringing a hard line, no-nonsense voice to a group of characters that were starting to feel too much like a group of cowboys (and girls). Not only is Captain Gates played with a believable stubbornness, she represents a new challenge for the detectives and Castle, who formerly had their way around the NYPD and the city. Castle pulls strings with the mayor to allow him to remain as Beckett’s “partner,” so both of them will have to tiptoe around the commanding officer for the foreseeable future.

Plus, as long as the show insists on dialing up the drama five or six notches a few times every year, Castle’s daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn) finally raises the question of what a playboy writer is doing in the middle of a high-stakes murder/conspiracy. The writers have driven the character to be more than a sounding board in the last season, and look to be doing even more now. This, combined with Beckett’s believably frustrating post-traumatic stress disorder, add some much-needed realistic touches to the episode.

…until you look to a police stand-off and see Nathan Fillion with his “WRITER” Kevlar. Because no matter how hard the script works to push these characters into a dark and moody atmosphere, it’s impossible to forget the show’s unavoidably silly premise.

Castle is a great show when it sticks to fun cops-and-robbers mystery and the back-and-forth banter between the incredibly charismatic Fillion and Katic. Here at least, we finally see some progression. On the romantic front, the ball is entirely in Beckett’s court, and she almost flat-out tells Castle that she won’t be pushing the relationship forward until her mother’s murder is solved. This presents an issue for Castle, who’s now trying to solve the murder on his own, for reasons that are hastily provided.

I enjoy Castle, I really do. It’s one of the shows for which I never miss an episode. But the reason I watch it is not because it’s a hard-hitting drama that leaves me on the edge of my seat. It’s a silly cop show that’s a lot of fun, mostly on the merits of the two leads and some great dialogue. M.E. Parish shouting “Come on Kate! Don’t you die on me!” isn’t even okay dialogue – it’s repetitive, fill-in-the-blank drama that a lot of other shows do better.

The many episodes in this arc haven’t been fun at all, and it looks like they will continue in this fashion for at least another year. I’m sorely temped to skip the rest, simply waiting a week whenever I hear another quip about Beckett’s mother. These episodes have the weakest stories and writing of the entire series, forcing me to simply lose interest in who killed who and why.

That said, it looks like the show will be returning to its comfort zone in no time, with some much-appreciated romantic progression on Beckett’s part. I’m much more excited for the rest of the season – at least, the part of it that has the protagonists solving crimes instead of circling the same one over and over.

Castle airs Monday nights at 10:00 PM on ABC. Be sure to tune in next week, when the gang solves a superhero murder. Yes, really.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelCrider