So the word finally came down Thursday that after eight seasons, ABC had canceled "Castle." The episode that airs Monday will be a series, and not a season, finale — a conclusion, not a cliffhanger. (Producers were ready with alternative endings, just in case.)
This news was followed by an unsettling month the word that Stana Katic — who plays NYPD Det. Kate Beckett, the crime-solving romantic partner to Nathan Fillion's mystery writer sleuth Rick Castle — had not been asked back for a potential ninth season, although Fillion and other cast members had. (Less crucially, Tamala Jones, who plays medical examiner Lanie Parish, was also dropped.) But the fate of the series itself remained a mystery.
Even in its often trying eighth season, which saw a change in showrunner from creator Andrew W. Marlowe to longtime staffers Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter, "Castle" played regularly in my house. I may have never missed an episode.
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It's been something to reliably take the edge off a Monday night. Somehow its predictable absurdities and mathematical plots — it was likely that the killer in any episode was a character introduced in the first 10 minutes and forgotten until the final five — never crossed over from endearing to annoying. That Beckett was too glamorous to be true or Castle too goofy was never a problem for me; the settings were colorful, the supporting cast very much an ensemble.
Until this final announcement, I awaited the finale with trepidation; in some ways, it felt academic — something I could skip, knowing that whatever happened to Beckett would be more imposition than fulfillment. (I wouldn't have been sorry to have missed the "Good Wife" closer either, even though it was the considered work of the series' creators.) I could leave early and give myself the last word: And they lived happily ever after, on motorcycles. (See Season 8, Episode 18.)
Still, there was more to "Castle" than Caskett — the couple name used by the fandom and nodded to by the series — most notably Castle's relationship with daughter Alexis (Molly C. Quinn) and mother Martha (Susan Sullivan). Indeed, it has at times been one of TV's great family portraits, with Castle an endearing picture of confused, caring fatherhood.
And whether or not Hawley and Winter were intentionally laying the groundwork for a Beckett-less future by setting Castle up as a private eye and bringing in Toks Olagundoye as a new partner in crime-solving, it's possible that a back-to-basics series, minus the unprofitable long-arc machinations of the current year, might even have been an improvement. But we will never know.
I am certain, however, that there would be no good way for Beckett to go while Castle remains.
If she were alive at the end of the finale, which finally gets to the bottom of LokSat — the person or thing (don't know, don't care) that has distractingly dogged this season — parting them would seem an arbitrary contrivance. After the customary will-they, won't-they obstacle race, Castle and Beckett finally became a couple in Season 5 and married in Season 7, though they have never really been allowed to settle down; their enforced separation through most of this season was irritating to say the least, never remotely believable. Breaking them up again would just be cruel.
And to actually knock her off, as trailers suggest might be the case, while undeniably "dramatic" would be totally out of key with the show as produced over most of the last eight years. "Castle" could get dark at times, but this is romantic comedy; it's "All's Well That Ends Well," not "Romeo and Juliet." Killing Kate Beckett would be like murdering Nora Charles, or letting Eva Marie Saint fall to her death at the end of "North by Northwest."
For the record, 3:54 p.m. May 13: An earlier version of this post said that a character played by Grace Kelly didn't fall to her death in "North by Northwest." The character was played by Eva Marie Saint.
Because we see them week after week, sometimes for years, the made-up people of TV can seem realer than real. They live in our rooms, they gather history, they change over time. But they are controlled by writers (and whoever controls the writers) who bend them to their will, alter their dispositions; they have no agency, no way to object to their decided fates. When they go wrong, we know who to blame.
I know we are in an age of artisanal television, and I don't mean to discount authorial vision and intent, but a popular entertainment like "Castle" owes something to its fans — no show lasts eight years without them. Of all the contracts under discussion, here and across the medium, the one between a program and its viewers is not the least meaningful.
It's not always true, paradoxically, that the people who make a series understand it better than the people who merely watch and love it.
Follow me on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)
Monday 10 p.m. KABC
Castle (TVPG) (cc) Crossfire (Season Finale) Castle and Beckett have their lead and are ready to face LokSat, but an unexpected twist puts everything in danger. (s) (N)