Castle: So THAT Happened

Castle S04E23: "Always"

I think deep down, in our hearts of hearts, we all knew exactly what was going to happen in last night's Castle finale. It didn't matter if you'd been reading the plot synopses and watching the preview videos or not. Anyone watching this season with even a half-hearted regularity knew what was coming. Dogs who happened to be in the room while you watched with a half-hearted regularity knew what was coming. The exact circumstances might have been obfuscated, but in the end things seemingly could go no other way. This was the moment when Castle and Beckett were going to finally make good on four years of flirtation, frustration, awkward glances, and near-constant dilly-dallying over the question of "will they feel the same?" And to the writers' credit, they handled it just about as well as could possibly have been expected, given the outsized expectations of the show's core audience and the story corner they'd more or less written themselves into over the last couple of seasons.

That said, I don't think there was any truly great way to handle this stuff, when you factor in that the writers still have to address that terrible, yet omnipresent conspiracy thing. After all, Castle and Beckett's feelings for one another are so intertwined with the big honking conspiracy that not-so-secretly drives Beckett's will to continue living that it's nearly impossible to separate the two elements from one another. No matter how much Castle and Beckett have seemed like they might be able to step away from the looming specter of the malevolent forces that seem oddly obsessed with making sure that one very specific NYPD cop either dies or stops bugging them, that was probably never going to happen. This is a storyline that's going to keep going in random spurts until this show eventually goes off the air.

In that regard, maybe I almost do prefer how this season has kind of limped along, more or less pretending that the whole conspiracy thing kinda sorta didn't exist, mostly due to Castle's deal with The Smoking Man—er, I mean, Shadowy Parking Garage Guy—to keep Beckett safe, provided she doesn't get a wild hair up her ass to start investigating again. All of this seemed like it could only be building to the finale, wherein that wild hair would, in fact, go up Beckett's ass, based on some random case that just so happened to be connected to the all-encompassing conspiracy. And it did.

Before we got to that case, however, we were treated to one of those delightful Big Episode tropes that I maybe find a tad hokey, but that others often seem to find effective: the cold open on a climactic moment, followed by 45 minutes of "how we got to this spot." That cold open showed us something admittedly quite shocking: Kate Beckett, dangling from a rooftop by her fingertips, calling out for Castle's help. Oh no, she's slipping! Will she survive? Aaaaaaand EPISODE.

Kate's unlikely dangling act came by way of the murder of a reformed thief, whose execution-style killing came in a random back alleyway in the "bad part of town." As it turns out, the reformed thief perhaps wasn't so reformed. Initially his record looked clean--military service, discharged with honors, a loving wife who defends his honor vigorously against Beckett's accusations that he might have fallen back into old habits, etc.--but perhaps unsurprisingly, he didn't just turn out to be an innocent victim. For a minute his previous association with a Latin gang looked like it might have been his downfall, but when DNA failed to link the suspected gang member to the crime, it sent the investigation spiraling in a dark and clandestine direction. You see, the DNA not only wasn't that of the gang's leader, but was that of the man who shot Beckett.

So why did the man who shot Beckett kill this former burglar out of the blue? Because the former burglar was working for the big honking conspirators. He'd been hired as a one-off (times are tough, you know) to break into the home of the now-deceased Captain Montgomery, the man who had effectively sacrificed himself in order to keep Beckett alive. The burglar was looking through Montgomery's files looking for...something. Whatever that something was, it got him killed, and it probably had some tie to Beckett's shooting.

This is where the episode maybe started to lose me a bit. Realizing that it's conspiracy investigatin' time again, Beckett rallies her troops together under the explicit order not to tell anyone else what's going on. The team's going renegade on this one, though Detective Ryan has serious misgivings about keeping information from Captain Gates, misgivings that Detective Esposito essentially brushes off with a stern look and a weirdly intense delivery of the word "bro."

Castle has his own misgivings, but they're more directly tied to Shadowy Parking Garage Guy's apocalyptic warnings regarding Beckett's safety. He calls up just long enough to remind Castle of what we already know, which sends him into a tizzy of trying to downplay every piece of evidence they get and not-so-subtly trying to nudge Beckett off the case altogether. When that doesn't work, he goes for the more direct approach.

Admittedly, I was dreading this scene. I've said before that I am not a huge fan of when Castle goes all Serious Business on the audience. I like this show in its breezier times, when Castle and Beckett are allowed to just banter back and forth with one another while the other detectives show up just long enough to say fun things and also explain evidence and then murder is solved and everybody's happy hooray. I knew that this episode wasn't going to be that, so I'd girded myself for hyperserious facial expressions and potentially dubious expressions of feelings for the next hour or so.

Color me pleasantly surprised that the scene actually managed to deliver some emotional heft without sucking the life out of the show. Castle's teary-eyed confession to Beckett that he'd been trying to protect her by hiding his interactions with Shadowy Parking Garage Guy and deliberately trying to throw her off the case landed with accurate impact, and Beckett's hurt, flustered reaction was arguably some of the best performing Stana Katic has done all season. Her anger felt genuine, and almost justified, in a way. Nothing about Castle's explanation sounded anything but condescending, even if his heart was in the right place. Likewise, when Nathan Fillion uttered the words, "I'm done..." I believed him. Earlier in the season when the two stopped being friends for a while, the whole thing felt more petulant and pointless. This split actually felt painful. Again, painful isn't necessarily what I'm looking for when I watch Castle, but in service of what the writers were trying to do here, it worked.

Of course, that split wasn't to be long-lived. After tracking down her would-be assassin via video footage and some investigative trickery, Beckett and Esposito ran off to nail the guy, while Ryan threw up his arms and, again, reminded them that they were totally breaking the rules. His warnings of following procedure would prove to be prophetic, as Beckett and Esposito ultimately found the assassin to be a bit much to handle. After deftly killing a hotel manager and knocking Esposito down for the count, him and Beckett had what might just have been the most one-sided fight on a rooftop I've ever seen. Beckett, tough as she is, wasn't a match for this extremely trained-up killer. He tosses her over the side of the building and leaves her to think about her fate. And yet, all she can think about is Castle.

But Castle isn't there. He's off at Alexis's graduation. In the outer fringes of the episode, Castle's been pep-talking his daughter about her Valedictorian speech, trying to help her find her voice and say what's truly in her heart. And while he's watching her deliver that grand speech, Beckett's being rescued by Ryan and SWAT cops, who only arrived after Ryan told Captain Gates what was really going on. Given our previous history with Gates, her scorched earth response to being lied to wasn't unexpected. She suspends Esposito and Beckett, though Beckett takes this opportunity to quit the force (!!!) and walk around in the pouring rain to sit on a park swing and stare longingly at the empty park swing next to her, as if to say, "Oh, how will I ever fill this park swing-sized hole in my heart?"

This, of course, brings us to the show's coup de grace, the moment every person who watches this show specifically for the will they/won't they romantic implications has been waiting for. And again, to the writers and actors' credit, they do a solid job of dragging it out just that extra inch to screw with the audience a bit. Beckett's here in Castle's apartment, soaking wet and pretty much throwing herself at him, and yet Castle isn't just jumping on this. He's still hurt, he doesn't know why she's changed her mind, he's resisting her kisses! I could practically hear people screaming "KISS! KIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSS!" at their televisions. And then they do. And then they keep doing it. And...well, you can guess from here.

This leaves the show in a more interesting position than I'd expected going into the episode. I generally loathe it when shows shake up the formula just for the sake of shaking up the formula, but the idea of Castle and a now non-cop Beckett now having to sort out the direction their lives will take after having just powered through four years of aching tension in a single night of torrential sexual congress is actually intriguing to me. I have no idea if this exile will last only as far as next season's opener, or if we'll suddenly discover that they've opened the Castle & Beckett Detective Agency and never plan to go back to the way things were. Whatever ends up being the case, I'm looking forward to finding out next fall. Mission accomplished, I guess?

Random Thoughts:

Molly Quinn and Susan Sullivan have had some true highlight episodes this season, but this wasn't one of them. Alexis's speech toward the end was a nice piece of writing, but her tensions throughout the episode were pretty much just there to make Castle think about the whole Beckett thing. Sullivan was barely there at all. As side characters on this show go, I'd much rather see more of them, though I'm guessing that next season, Alexis's role will be scaled back a bit, due to the whole college thing.

– I'd probably find Beckett's tendency to blame the victim way more offensive if she weren't so often right. Still, the tactlessness she displayed when handling the murder victim's wife—long before she knew that he was actually up to no good, mind you—was super uncomfortable to watch.

– As much as I've disliked Captain Gates as a character (through no fault of Penny Johnson Jerald), she could not have been a more perfect representation of every angry police captain ever when asking for Beckett and Esposito's badges and guns. I maintain that every cop show, movie, musical, or whatever else needs to have at least one "Your badge and your gun!" scene to succeed. Despite the supposed heaviness of the situation, I did let out a bit of a gleeful cackle when Jerald delivered that line.

– Ryan's frustrated girly toss of some random object on his desk might be my favorite Ryan reaction to anything ever. He's such a sensitive boy, it's almost cute to watch him get all worked up. I know that's not the point, but I don't care.

– Sad and serious Nathan Fillion is my least favorite Nathan Fillion. But again, he and Stana Katic really punched through the material here and made these scenes work. Given that I was never super invested in their relationship beyond their workplace camaraderie, I have no idea how this sudden humping of each other will affect their chemistry next season, but I at least have a bit more hope than I did going into the finale.

– On the negative side, that last stinger scene, in which Super Assassin Man tracked down Shadowy Parking Garage Guy and threatened him, while saying something to the effect of, "...and then we'll deal with Detective Beckett, once and for all," was the most cartoonishly insidious-sounding thing ever said by a non-cartoon. Have I mentioned how much I hate this giant conspiracy thing?

– The true impact of the finale's events are sure to be most thoroughly felt among those who've dedicated their lives to writing Castle fan-fiction. I feel like the impact of Castle and Beckett fan-fic has been lessened greatly, now that they truly are a couple. However, the sudden tension between their supporting players is sure to give Esposito/Ryan slash-fiction writers all sorts of new directions to explore.

What did you think of the episode? Were you happy to see Castle and Beckett finally get together?

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