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‘Castle’ finale snatches a conclusion from the jaws of a cliffhanger

Stana Katic, left, and Nathan Fillion star in "Crossfire," the series finale of ABC's "Castle."
(ABC/Byron Cohen)

Endings are tricky and perhaps particularly tricky in television. The inertia and the momentum of a series that every week has increased its mass, sometimes over the course of years, make it difficult to steer.

We’re told that TV is novelistic now, but TV is a less manageable form than the novel, messy and collaborative, episodic and inconclusive, with a life of its own, a life that somehow can resist or rebuke the interference of the people who make it. There are so many threads to tie up, so many layers to focus on, that summing up is hard to do.

Once the fate of NYPD Capt. Kate Beckett was put in play with the news a month ago that Stana Katic, who plays her, had not been offered a contract for a ninth season of ABC’s mystery-romance “Castle,” fans began lobbying for the show to die an honorable death, to self-cancel rather than hobble into the future on one leg and leave partner Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion) to a single future. “No ‘Castle’ without Beckett” was the cry. The fate of the series itself was announced only last Thursday; even before that, however, showrunners Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter — shepherding their first and final season — made it known that they had filmed an attachable coda that could turn a cliffhanger into a conclusion, technically speaking.

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Spoilers from here on out.

The “Castle” finale, called “Crossfire,” which finally solved the less-than-compelling mystery of LokSat — not a college entrance exam, but a mysterious CIA something or other — was a decent enough episode, especially given the weight it unexpectedly had to carry. It had been built as a bridge to a season that could have included a Beckett alive or dead, not to hold the weight of all the years behind it and all the years to come, and the hopes and dreams of dedicated fans.

Stana Katic, Nathan Fillion, Seamus Dever and Jon Huerta are seen on the set of "Castle."
Stana Katic, Nathan Fillion, Seamus Dever and Jon Huerta are seen on the set of “Castle.”

Still, Castle and Beckett said “I love you” to one another twice, once in person, and once over the phone, and each independently declared the reasons for that love to one of the episode’s villains. Gerald McRaney as Mason Wood, who ran the Greatest Detective Society that Castle didn’t join but could have earlier this season, turned out to be LokSat, which allowed that business to be concluded, though not before he managed a left-field reference to Milo Minderbinder, from “Catch-22.” Jed Rees (a favorite of mine, from “Galaxy Quest” and “The Chris Isaak Show”) played Woods’ affectless right-hand man. Castle and Beckett, whom the plot kept apart for much of the time, spent the hour walking into impossibly clever traps that made adequate sense if one didn’t think about them too much — which one didn’t, concentrating rather on the endgame.

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There was some satisfying riding to the rescue by detectives Ryan and Esposito (Seamus Dever and Jon Huertas), and it was pleasurable, too, in the usual way to see bad guys brought down and rounded up. At the station, there were hugs for everyone (with the main cast all present and accounted for), and then Beckett and Castle went home alone, where the episode’s third villain — Kris Polaha as evil attorney Caleb Brown, supposedly burned in the trunk of a car — turned out not to be dead. Shots were exchanged; everyone took a bullet; our heroes crawled toward one another like Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones at the end of “Duel in the Sun.”

Then, a pan to an unfamiliar empty room, as some old lines of dialogue took us back to the series’ beginning, followed by a slingshot into the future — “Seven Years Later,” read the title card — as the room was filled with books and furniture and Castle and Beckett and a bevy of beautiful little children, sharing a sunny breakfast, as in the epilogue of a Victorian novel. It was a scene that lasted all of 38 seconds by my watch, and in which nobody spoke, though the overlaid dialogue continued. He said something about a writer needing inspiration, and she said, “Always,” and he said, “Always.”

“To be fair to the fans,” Hawley had said, “even if we thought there was the small chance that we wouldn’t come back, we owed it to them to sort of craft something.” What they really owed them, of course, was not a tacked-on sort of something but a real ending, though I imagine there were practical reasons they couldn’t offer one. What they did provide had the air of a hasty reconvening of two actors for a few quick shots after the season had wrapped. (I am only telling you what it looked like.) If production had finished before ABC made their fatal decisions, if the sets had been struck and packed away, an actual alternate ending couldn’t easily have been filmed — not without writing the sort of checks there no longer was the will to write.

It wasn’t great — it was like picking flowers out of somebody’s yard on the way to a date and calling it a bouquet — but it was something. It didn’t abandon Castle and Beckett to die holding hands on a kitchen floor, but left them happy, ever after. And though I know they are not real people, I am grateful for this canonical kindness.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd

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