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'Two and a Half Men' series finale: With or without Charlie Sheen, last show is for fans

"Two and a Half Men" stars, from left,

"Two and a Half Men" stars, from left, Ashton Kutcher, Jon Cryer, and Conchata Ferrell behind the scenes of the sitcom's finale, "Of Course He's Dead-- Part One and Part Two," which aired Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 on CBS. Credit: CBS / Michael Yarish

Is Charlie Harper alive?

Who cares.

Did Charlie Sheen -- who played Charlie Harper for nine seasons in the hit CBS show -- return to the series finale of "Two and a Half Men" Thursday night?

The answer: In spirit only.

Here's how it all came down. A long trail of crumbs going back months -- to Sheen himself, who insisted he had the single best idea for a return to the show on which he self-imploded in 2011 -- ended Thursday night.

And without Sheen.

With or without Sheen, this last one was for fans; and even for fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger who made an extended cameo as a detective who attempted to decipher the complicated story of Walden (Ashton Kutcher) and Alan (Jon Cryer); and for fans of John Stamos, who also made a cameo.

But let's back up to the beginning of this shaggy (shaggy) dog story. The question of Charlie's mortality arrived early on. Walden said that he could not "find any record of your [Alan's] brother's death," even though he did find evidence about a "crazy rant about a former employer."

But, protested, Alan, "he was hit by a train" in France.

Rose (Melanie Lynskey) with whom Charlie went to France said a bisexual goat was actually killed instead of Charlie, who was brought back to the states, intent on revenge. (Another long story.) By episode's end, Charlie came in a helicopter, with a piano (another story). As he walked from the helicopter -- and that did look like Sheen -- the piano fell on top of him.

Cut to show creator, Chuck Lorre, who said, "winning."

At least Angus T. Jones (Jake Harper) returned, unscathed.

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