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'The Beast' finale with Patrick Swayze

THE SHOW "The Beast" finale

WHERE | WHEN Tonight at 10 on A&E

REASON TO WATCH Patrick Swayze's last starring role?

CATCHING UP Those behind a rogue operation within the FBI - the Outfit - who have haunted and hounded Charles Barker (Swayze) his entire career have ensnared him in a setup involving a rooftop assassination.

WHAT TONIGHT'S ABOUT Barker and sort-of partner Ellis Dove (Travis Fimmel) go right to the heart of the Outfit, but in the process must locate a woman; she was taken - kidnapped is probably the better word - in the so-called Red Gauntlet plot, in which an ambassador was killed and his daughter snatched by the Outfit. She's all grown up now but has led a life believing Barker was behind her father's death. Charles must set her straight, and find out who the ringleader of this criminal empire is.

BOTTOM LINE Is it giving away too much to say that Swayze's Barker ends tonight on both feet? Probably not. A&E has made no secret that it remains noncommittal about renewal, which could be determined - as network boss Bob DeBitetto told The Associated Press recently - by "whether [Swayze] would be up for another grueling production schedule." That presumably means the future of this enterprise is largely dependent on Swayze's health, even though the show's numbers have been soft (about 1.3 million viewers a week) and the buzz is largely MIA.

So Barker stays alive, just in case. Nevertheless, Swayze has been gravely ill with pancreatic cancer. His old friend and "Ghost" co-star Whoopi Goldberg told Us Weekly recently, "Like the rest of us, [he] doesn't know when it's going to happen - because it will happen, that he is going to go - but he doesn't know when or where." (She also said he's "busy as hell," too.)

As for Swayze's Barker? In lesser hands, this could have been a three-day-old-stubbled cliche: the rogue cop bathed in real and metaphoric shadows. And, yup, the show's failings - confused plot lines and an almost suicidal bleakness - were visited upon the star to some extent. "Doubt's good," he says tonight. "It's part of what keeps me breathing." Hope is good, too, and let's hope Swayze - along with the intense, durable and utterly memorable Barker - gets a chance to properly wrap this yarn. They've both earned the right.

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