For the first time perhaps ever, fans of a show, especially such a long running show, have been happy to hear that it’s been cancelled. This time, there’s none of the usual outrage, hurt feelings, petitions, save-the-show websites, kickstarters, whatever. This time, there’s vocal jubilation that a show, Castle, will be no more. And it’s not from internet trolls; it’s from the longtime and sometimes rabid fans who have watched it for the last eight seasons. Why? Because said fans just weren’t going to let a disservice regarding the co-lead, Stana Katic, go down like it was slated to go down. The affection by the fans for Katic’s character, Captain Kate Beckett, was every bit as much as that for star Nathan Fillion‘s titular character. So much so that fans would rather the entire show come to an end than Beckett. Tonight that end came in the form of the Season 8 – and subsequently the series – finale, which was even more of a shock than the news that started the whole thing. The finale, which had two endings shot for it depending on how the renewal winds blew, is a bittersweet but welcome end to the show for the fans whose extreme displeasure at how the entire scenario of Katic’s pending forced departure and Beckett’s pending demise may have helped make television history.
So what’s the story here? It was announced a few weeks ago that co-lead Stana Katic was not asked to return for a possible Season 9 by the producers due to “budgetary reasons”. And yes, consider very much those quotes sarcastic. It proved to be the final nail in the coffin of a program that had been so fun for six seasons, until it demonstrably lost its way the final two. Katic’s ouster wasn’t necessarily an evil conspiracy by the production against her, but perhaps the least shitty alternative available to resolve a relationship between the two leads, Katic and Fillion, that has been rumored for years now to have become toxic. Even so, that deterioration of their professional partnership never manifested itself on screen, as the natural chemistry between Castle and Beckett never diminished, even when the program was saddled with such boneheaded plots that sought to slowly steer Castle toward a future without Beckett over a period of a couple of seasons. What the showrunners failed to realize is that the very core of the entire thing – and what the fans grabbed onto like a pitbull was and always had been the romance between Castle and Beckett, aka “Caskett”.
For those not in the know, Castle centers on a rambunctious playboy novelist, Richard Castle, who gets so inspired by Beckett, a savvy female NYPD detective, that he creates a new character based on her named Nikki Heat and follows her around on her cases for research. It’s your basic civilian-with-a-knack-for-solving-crimes-helping-the-police procedural, but with a fun hook and two appealing leads. Fillion was the wisecracking, painfully green novice crimefighter, with Beckett as the hard-nosed cop who could give it as good as she got it from her annoying sidekick. At first he’s a bothersome annoyance, but soon proves himself an unconventional yet capable investigator. The requisite will-they-won’t-they is also afoot throughout until they will and they do. There’s also a mythology surrounding the murder of Beckett’s mother that’s unwound meticulously over the course of six seasons. Throw in a couple of supporting detectives who pal around with Caskett, Ryan and Esposito (Seamus Dever and Jon Huertas), and Castle’s teenage daughter and nosy actress mother (Molly Quinn, Susan Sullivan) as sounding boards and occasional foils, and for the majority of its run, Castle’s been a successful staple of ABC’s Monday night lineup. In fact, with 173 episodes, it increased viewership every year of its first six seasons, eventually reaching its zenith as the 13th-ranked show on TV two years ago.
Fillion’s pre-existing fan base showed up when the show got its start in March of 2009, but it didn’t take long for Katic to garner notice as Beckett. From the moment that she and Castle solved their first case, and Castle made the offer to “debrief each other” and how great it would be, and Beckett came back at him with a sexy, “You have no idea…”, fans were hooked. I know I was. What was great about Caskett was that the requisite banter was top notch, and although Castle frequently pulled Beckett out of her comfort zone, she could just as easily disarm him with a flash of sexiness, on which she otherwise kept a tight lid. Beckett would give glimpses into a bad girl past of which Castle couldn’t get enough, and Beckett was likewise affected by Castle’s mischievousness. The playfulness of the main characters was balanced out by the heavier fare of Beckett’s mother’s murder, into which Beckett almost lost herself early in her career, and which Castle investigates although Beckett told him not to. His findings lead to a mythology that unraveled well during the show’s run. Creator Andrew Marlowe knew just the right formula for revealing layers to the conspiracy surrounding the murder, which was the meatiest subject matter that Katic got to explore on the show. Although it stretched on for six seasons, the mystery never wore out its welcome, and was some of the best storytelling on the show, especially when it’s revealed that someone in the police force was complicit in the murder.
Marlowe also maintained the sexual tension on just the right temperature, letting it simmer long enough, four seasons, for it not to get overcooked. The evolution of the Caskett relationship to a romantic one was a positive that took the show in a new direction. Unlike Moonlighting, Castle wasn’t undone by the change and the show kept running along relatively smoothly until the Season 7 story of Castle’s two month disappearance right before their wedding became the harbinger of doom. They were engaged to be married, and in fact, Castle was on the way to the wedding in the Season 6 finale when his car – and the show – went right off the road in a flaming pile. Castle was similar to The X-Files in that the two shows share the distinction of having gone on for longer than they should have. In Castle’s case, by one season definitely. So why the reversal? It can be squarely placed on the departure of Marlowe, who stepped back in Season 7 and left officially in Season 8. In his place, new showrunners David Amann (Season 7) and Terence Paul Winter and Alexi Hawley (Season 8) put their own stamps on the show…that is to say they stamped it right into lower ratings, fan discontentment and bubble status.
What went wrong? The big albatross of Season 7 was not the overarching story of Castle’s two-month disappearance right before the wedding, but its nonsensical resolution that, even when you heard the circumstances surrounding it, never seemed right, nor even complete. Castle was also later separated from investigating with Beckett for a time in Season 7 due to underworld ties he had made that the DA was uncomfortable with. Enter the biggest swerve of the entire show and the part of the beginning of the end: Richard Castle, P.I. Yes. But that wasn’t just it. It was adventures that Castle would have on his own or – more importantly – with characters old and new who were not named Beckett, especially the comely, but ultimately unnecessary outsider Toks Olagundoye as former spy and Castle’s new partner in the P.I. biz, Hayley Shipton in Season 8.
As bad as Season 7’s semi-resolution of Castle’s missing two months was, Season 8 has moved right from fan discontentment to outright “WTF?” status. That and the concerted effort by the show runners to twixt the two characters, whose portrayers by then had reportedly been so outwardly antagonistic that they needed couples therapy (another rumor, so take that bit of info with a salt lake). That seemingly led to the even more nonsensical overarching story for Season 8, Beckett’s pursuit of a shadowy villain named LokSat, who had ties to the man who killed Beckett’s mother. LokSat eliminated the team of which Beckett was a part when she briefly left the NYPD for a federal gig in Season 5, and also figured into the remainder of Castle’s missing two months. Beckett, who had the bright idea to “separate” from Castle to protect him from the connected, ruthless and deadly LokSat as she investigated on the sly, yet essentially continue to interact with him and let him work cases per normal was the most hair-brained story of the entire series run. It’s this repeated and methodical separation of the two main characters, who were never as good apart as they were together, that was looking more and more like it was ultimately going to culminate in Beckett’s death and a soft reboot for the show. For some reason, Amann, Winter and Hawley, all of whom have been producers on the show for years, sought to rewrite the playbook that directly led to the success of the show: keep the mythology manageable, keep Castle quipping, and most importantly: keep Caskett together no matter what. The fans have known this since the beginning. Amazing that the producers didn’t.
Be that as it may, there may be more to the scuttlebutt of the two actors’ aversion to each other than we’re likely to know. If that is the case then that probably takes the show runners off the hot seat and maybe puts them one that’s still a bit more than lukewarm. Fillion has supposedly garnered the reputation of wanting Katic gone, and Katic had reportedly developed something of a mercurial attitude toward the show. One thing that’s more than a little apparent though, Fillion doesn’t look to have actively fought to have kept his co-star on the show. The “budgetary reasons” malarkey definitely rings more hollow than Kevin Bacon here.
Katic distanced herself from the controversy of her dismissal from the show, saying only, “Rather than distract from what was an amazing experience, I would just like to say that I’m very grateful to ABC for giving me the opportunity to be a part of a much beloved show.” After a bit of time, Fillion was also diplomatic, stating, “Castle has been one of the greatest joys of my creative life, and I hope the show continues on for years to come. Stana has been my partner all this time, and I thank her for creating the character of Beckett who will live on for all of us as one of the greatest police officers on television.” It’s a benign statement, if not looking like a measuredly guarded one. But the “live on” screams for the notion that they were going to kill off Beckett. The writing was on the wall last year when, with Castle still in the Top 40 of shows, budget negotiations between the production and Katic dragged on till the last minute, spurring on a rather belated renewal for Season 8.
Even though Season 7 was beset with the Castle disappearance issue, it actually had a great season finale, which would have been a wonderful capper to the series, particularly a scene where Beckett had a pivotal encounter with a panel to determine whether she would ascend to the rank of captain. Beckett endured some unexpected verbal abuse from the panel, who secretly had the agenda of gauging her response because they favored her to run for political office. Her reply of how she had handled her job over the course of seven years and her relationship with Castle, both as his muse and his wife was stirring. Castle had his own moving scene when, during an award dinner where was receiving a prestigious writer’s award, he lauded his time with the NYPD, and especially the difference that Beckett had made in his life – again, both as muse and wife. Penned by Marlowe, it would have been the perfect series finale. Instead, we’ve gotten a Season 8 with the LokSat morass that is looking less and less like the show that fans have enjoyed. The story spurred the wider separation of the characters, pissed off the fans and almost certainly was going to lead to Beckett’s demise. Hell, last week, before the cancellation was revealed, the preview of the series finale was a virtual video eulogy to Beckett as she and Castle made their last stand against the minions of LokSat.
It was in tonight’s finale where got to see the best thing about Castle, Beckett and Castle in full-on cooperation mode, working together and both of them having their moments. It was also in tonight’s finale where we got to see what a tacked-on, crowd-pleasing Band-Aid of an ending looked like. The fans wanted their happy ending, and they definitely got it…as jarring and inanely deus ex machina as it was. In “Crossfire”, the LokSat story finally comes to a head, when Caskett’s best-laid plans get turned on them and LokSat sets a trap for them. Castle and Beckett get saved by a new friend of Castle’s, and they have to separate and regroup, and possibly go into hiding as they’re now totally exposed to LokSat, who will not only kill them, but their closest friends and family. There’s plenty of action as Castle gets abducted, truth-serumed into giving up everybody who knows LokSat – even Martha and Alexis – and then turns the tables on his captor, Mr. Flynn. Ryan and Espo show up just in the nick, a gun battle breaks out and Castle has to Matrix bathroom wall his way down to save Beckett who is about to be killed by LokSat. There’s a twist of course…two actually, and a shocking outcome had set the stage for a doozy of a cliffhanger for the Season 8 finale. But since Beckett doesn’t die, we cut to…7 years later, and a Norman Rockwell painting of a happy ending with Castle, Beckett and their three children, as foretold in a Season 6 episode called “Time Will Tell.” Bookend the whole thing with some dialogue from the first episode, and send Caskett off into syndication bliss.
Not an altogether bad resolution to the LokSat story all things considered. But as to the entire series run, it’s a sweet ending, but it has that Bruce Lee Game of Death / Brandon Lee Crow / Paul Walker Furious 7 trickery feel where the suddenly-dead series had to be brought back digitally to wrap things up. It’s just too bad that things had to progress the way and to the degree that they did that didn’t allow for a tidier ending. But it was the ending the fans worked to get. Castle had to go rather than come back as some half-assed version that wasn’t true to the show’s legacy nor to the fan base. For fans it’s a double-edged sword, truly. There was only one way to save what they loved and that was by killing it. But as long as they can picture the Castle family running around smiling laughing, I think they’ll take it.