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There are going to be some MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, so if you have not seen at least through the end of Season Four then probably best to steer clear!
So, season five. This is actually a season I watched on television mostly as it aired, which was a different experience than binging on everything all at once. But I still didn't have to wait forever to get to the aftermath of the season four finale and Castle and Beckett finally admitting their feelings for one another.
Overall, I actually think that they handled that particular aspect well, because right off the bat in the opening episode of the season you see that the fact that they're romantically involved is not the most defining factor of their lives. Beckett is still a detective, and Castle is still her partner and their personalities don't change much either. It was a pretty refreshing change from nearly every other time this has played out on television, and I credit the four seasons of strong character development and very capable writers with pulling it off.
Honestly, the season opener was not my favorite. I was starting to get a little tired with how big the conspiracy surrounding Beckett's mother was getting. But at this point it finally reaches it's height, and Beckett comes to terms with it (pretty much) and I was thankful to see the show wrapping it up. It was starting to remind me of the mid-season two parters that always involve an insane plot that is only forgivable because of the acting involved, but those are the only times the writing really stretches past the sweet spot they've found and not always with good results.
Where the writing really DOES work is episodes like "Murder, He Wrote," which is silly as much as it is wonderful and "After Hours" which had a lot of good surprises. They manage to make a clip show have tension and excitement with "Still." And when "The Lives of Others" started, I was inwardly groaning at the intensity of the Rear Window send-up, but the resolution of the episode itself won me over completely, it was by far one of my favorites.
Of course, most people are going to love "The Final Frontier," where they investigate a murder at a science fiction convention and there are multiple Firefly jokes to be had. Jonathan Frakes (no stranger to genre TV himself obviously, but also an accomplished director) deserves quite a bit of praise for his work on the episode, and honestly it's Beckett's episode more than Castle's, and that was a nice change from the expected story. "Reality Star Struck" also impressed me, and not just because Gina Torres is always perfect. The way it brought out new aspects of Gates was especially welcome, I needed a reason to start liking her. The previously mentioned "Still" made me love her completely.
While Beckett and Castle's relationship doesn't really take center stage, the writers do a good job at making sure it's still an important part of their lives. Episodes like "Secret Santa" and "Significant Others" help to advance their story without bogging it down or making it too over the top romantic or really cheesy. I actually am really enjoying having a strong, realistic, and grown up relationship being portrayed on television. It's so much more rare than anybody realizes, but the writers aren't going for the typical tropes here, they're really working at building something that feels real.
Of course, mid season gets bogged down in not just returning to the large conspiracy of Senator Bracken (though "Recoil" ended up having a much better resolution that I ever could have expected, and brought out a lot of great character moments for Beckett) but there was also "Target" and "Hunt." Once again, the mid-season two parter was so over the top that it challenged my ability to deal with the premise of the show and just go along with the story. Usually, even when Castle follows a cliche as a show, I'm on board and cheering them along. But about fifteen times over the course of these two episodes I rolled my eyes and said "OF COURSE they have Alexis, OF COURSE she was the real target, OF COURSE Castle has some wacky kidnap negotiator contact in France..." and the bit reveal of the episode, as much as I found it a little heartwarming, got the biggest "OF COURSE" of them all. Maybe I'm just too worn out from all the convenience of story lines on Doctor Who, I just felt like it made Castle out to be so much less relatable than he was before.
The absolute highlight of the season is actually "The Wild Rover," which is a Ryan-centric episode. I knew Seamus Dever was a good actor, Ryan has been a particular favorite of mine since the beginning, I love the way he's the one that's always willing to buy whatever Castle is selling. But Dever knocks it out of the park in "The Wild Rover," when it's revealed that he previously spent time undercover in the Irish mob, and he has to go back in. I honestly can't come up with the right words to describe just how powerful and well done it is, and it means you'll never look at Ryan quite the same way again. Which is the highest praise I can give it.
Of course, the big story is the cliffhanger at the end, as always. To be honest, the "what will happen between Castle and Beckett" doesn't really concern me too much. It's that the writers put everything on the line, nearly every character we love is going to be affected by Beckett's decision, and I trust them wholeheartedly to do right by the audience, but I don't know what that means. It's the kind of ridiculously complicated situation that is just what life is about, and that everyone faces. Neither choice is completely right or completely wrong, and I cannot wait to see what will happen next season. I'm also more than a little bitter that I have to wait, but that's what I get for catching up to what's airing, huh?