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» Tuesday, May 17, 2016Final Thoughts on the Castle Series Finale
These things never turn out as well as I write them in my head, but here goes anyway:
I was with Castle from the beginning. A super-successful mystery writer who works with the police force, solving crimes, and adopting one of the police officers, a smart, ambitious female detective, as his muse (falling in love with her in the process)? Let me on that boat! The series was never great art and sometimes improbable situations popped up, but it was a television series, not a documentary. It was fun, yet had some incredibly dark episodes (the final confrontation with 3XK for example, although I tend to flippantly refer to him as Y2K). The leads were smart, funny, and likeable. Plus we got supporting characters like the writer's intelligent (and not vapid) daughter and eccentric mother, the police detective's two male associates whose "bromance" worked well, a sharp and classy medical examiner, and a perceptive police captain (eventually two of them) willing to give them enough leeway while tenuously holding them in line. You always waited in anticipation for next week's episode and mourned a little when each season was over. Castle even actually broke the lifelong curse of "when the characters get married, it ruins the romance." With a perplexing pre-ceremony cliffhanger thrown in (season cliffhangers used to be a novelty; IMHO they're now just a fat pain in the ass) that held off Castle and Beckett's wedding for several episodes, the show managed to continue without really breaking the stride of the original series setup.
The nicest part about the series was watching the characters grow. Alexis Castle, the schoolgirl-going-on-forty, who initially viewed her father with sweet exasperation, finished high school, got dumped by a boyfriend, and had her own wild child experience, moving in with the amiable Pi (a series non-favorite) until she realized he drove her crazy. Martha Rodgers started out as sort of a restrained Auntie Mame type, then regained her confidence in the last few seasons. She dated again, started her own acting class. We watched Kevin Ryan and Javier Esposito's friendship and partnership deepen, through Kevin's marriage and fatherhood and a perilous undercover job, through Javi's on-and-off romance with ME Lanie Parish, and through ordeals that tested their friendship, including being tortured and being trapped in a fire with little hope of rescue. Sometimes their exchanges were humorous, and always fun. Ray Montgomery's story arc, with revealed secrets from his past having to do with the murder of Kate Beckett's mother, played to a sad but appropriate conclusion; sadly the strict but canny Captain Gates never really got a sendoff, but disappeared into the fictional world of "promotion." Kate Beckett softened much through her eight years, but she was never less than professional throughout them. She did not go all simpery and soft once she fell in love, instead becoming tough and tender in one dynamite persona.
But it was Richard Castle's emotional growth that we watched with the most pleasure. From a ne'r-do-well celebrated author who, it was strongly shown in early episodes, was more childlike than his teenage daughter, Castle matured through his relationship with Kate Beckett. His first two marriages were driven by sex and juvenile attraction; his relationship with Beckett was one eventually full of maturity. Yet Castle never lost his sense of fun or of wonder or his belief in the unbelievable: the man who could devote his soul to Beckett and see the sobering reality of police work could still fan-squee over favorite actors and classic television shows and believe in the supernatural. First season Rick is someone no woman would go to for a deep, long-lasting relationship; seventh season Richard was a responsible adult who still held surprises in his soul.
Characters like these get under your skin; they live and breathe as surely as the guy next to you on the bus and the gal who occupies the cubicle next to you at work. They embody that part of the Richard Bach quote which states "...fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats." Even with the wedding bobble, Castle slid to a beautiful season finale last year, and had the series ended there, it would have been fitting and good.
Instead, we were "treated" (if I can use that word without a sour taste in my mouth) to an eighth season exasperating in the extreme, with new show runners who seemed to have no conception what made the later-episode characters tick. We had Kate separate herself from Rick on some bizarre excuse to cover up that she was on another crusade (a heretofore unknown leftover threat called "LokSat" stemming the conspiracy surrounding her mother's death) that might endanger her husband—as if their separation actually made Rick or his family any less vulnerable. The Hayley Shipton character introduced at season beginning became a regular having clichè-ly "found a family" with the Castle/Beckett entourage, and Alexis' college career disappeared in favor of her "girl Friday" role at Castle's newly-tarted-up PI agency, reduced to popping in with a online clue when Dad needed it or looking concerned when someone was in danger. Ryan and Esposito turned into comic relief, including a godawful mini story-arc with Espo being angry at Ryan for mistakenly shooting him in the ass. Not to mention an episode called "Dead Again," which has to go down as the worst episode of Castle ever (perhaps as the worst episode of any one-hour drama period). The producers chirped that they wanted to "recapture the fun of first season." First season was over, fellas. The Castle characters were no longer what they were in first season, but apparently you couldn't see that.
Personally, what made this worse was that eighth season Castle felt like deja vu because I'd been through this with The Waltons in 1980s. If you didn't watch that series, several of the cast, including Richard Thomas' iconic John-Boy, had left by this time, but it was a CBS favorite, and the stories were still fairly intelligent while following the family through World War II. One character introduced in fifth season, as the children grew older, was Curt Willard, a doctor who later married eldest Walton daughter Mary Ellen. Curt came to Waltons Mountain having already been a doctor for coal miners, and had fought for mine workers' rights against goons with clubs. He was a strong character matched with the strong-willed Mary Ellen. Unfortunately, in seventh season, Tom Bower, who played Curt, felt the series didn't give him enough to do. In most episodes that season he'd been with the Army. So the producers gave him a brilliant, wonderful sendoff in "Day of Infamy," where, after being transferred to Pearl Harbor, he was killed treating the injured. The episode was, based on the memories of my mother who was an adult at that time, a microcosm of the Pearl Harbor attack homefront experience.
CBS made an early decision to cancel The Waltons at the end of its eighth season; unhappy fans (including myself) protested and CBS relented. Season nine became a tired retread that reached its nadir before Christmas, when a plot straight out of Bad Soap Opera revealed that Curt was alive! He had been mistakenly declared dead and was actually living in Florida under an assumed name! Why didn't he contact Mary Ellen? Well, he knew she wanted children and his injury had emasculated him! Curt, the guy who had fought guys with clubs, who'd braved the mercurial Mary Ellen, who ran out under gunfire to tend wounded men, felled by a downed dick—a mockery of a good character and an outstanding episode. "Be careful what you wish for," indeed.
So if you ask me if I'm unhappy Castle has been cancelled—actually I'm not. It reached its end for me in the season seven finale at the awards banquet, and this year was just Bizarro Castle, with everyone acting out of character, an alternate universe where nothing quite made sense anymore. The producers couldn't even bother to give the series a decent concluding scene; it was just a made-over quickie happy ending for what was supposed to be a cliffhanger ending leading into a Beckett-less season nine. (Some fans are still saying "the series was called Castle and could have gotten along without Beckett." But the story was never just about Richard Castle; it was how his respect and love for Beckett made him into a better man, how he'd found his soulmate.) Like a Curt who came back from the dead, the protagonists had turned into people I not only didn't recognize, but was starting to dislike. Frankly I wish Castle and Beckett had stepped out of a shower ala Bobby Ewing in Dallas and let us know the whole season was a dream. As far as I'm concerned, there was a banquet, Beckett made captain, and seven—no, eight—years later, as predicted in "Time Will Tell," Beckett's a senator and they have three kids of their own.
Farewell, guys. I wish you the best. It was a great ride while it lasted.