The director has called cut. The film has stopped rolling. The extras have been sent home. Still, despite advertisements touting Sunday's Law & Order: Criminal Intent as the series finale, star Kathryn Erbe is still hopeful the show could live on.
"I know that I would be there in a heartbeat. I'm fairly positive that Vincent [D'Onofrio] feels the same way. Everyone was really hoping that, in the 11th hour, we'd get some word," she tells TVGuide.com. "Whether the fans are able to muscle us back or not, who knows. They have amazing power."
Watch videos from Law & Order: Criminal Intent
Erbe knows the power of fans very well. After leaving the show unexpectedly at the beginning of Season 9 with her longtime on-screen partner in crime, D'Onofrio, Erbe is convinced it was pressure from Criminal Intent's loyal viewers that paved the way for their return for the series' tenth season. "They brought us back. That's clear to me," she says. "The outcry was deafening. So maybe they can do it again?"
Producers expressed interest in keeping the spin-off alive earlier this year, and the series itself has experienced somewhat of a creative resurgence as it nears the end. The tenth season has welcomed guest stars including Cynthia Nixon and Steven Weber, and turned hugely popular news headlines like Charlie Sheen's meltdown and the Spider-man Broadway saga, into riveting hourlong cases. The drama has even introduced a heavily serialized storyline with Detective Goren's therapy sessions.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent takes on Charlie Sheen for season premiere
The ratings have also been on the uptick — improving from last season's average of 3.05 million viewers to 3.81 million viewers over the seven episodes so far this year.
"I just know that these eight episodes were like a gift. To be able to come back and have closure with the crew and the cast and everyone," Erbe says. "If you lose something, when you get it back, it's just a different perspective. So we all came back rested and fresh and ready to have fun and do good episodes."
She adds: "If that happens again, fantastic. It would just be like icing on the cake."
Kathryn Erbe returning for Law & Order: Criminal Intent's final season
The series' proposed end comes just as many are starting to question the future of the entire Law & Order franchise. When Criminal Intent launched in September 2001, the flagship series and its first spin-off, SVU, were both thriving. Since then, two poorly received iterations came and went quickly (2005's Trial by Jury and 2010's Law & Order: LA) and the mothership has been off the air for a year. If Criminal Intent does not return, SVU (which just lost longtime star Christopher Meloni) will be the only version left standing.
"It's strange and sad. That is a huge hit to New York actors and New York crew," Erbe says. "It's been such a staple for over 20 years and it's kind of a rite of passage so to speak. ... It helped a lot of people stay afloat."
Despite her continued hope for a Season 11, Erbe says she thinks the end will be a happy one for fans if Sunday's episode indeed serves as the series finale. "I know we set out to make it satisfying and we're going out much more OK than we were the last time," she says, referencing Goren and Eames' first exit in 2010. "The one thing I know you're going to see is that Goren and Eames are on much better, more solid ground. Healthier, happier and in good shape."
Check out photos from Law & Order: Criminal Intent
Luckily, Erbe knows she won't have to close the book completely on Detective Eames, thanks to the stamina of Law & Order reruns. "I just imagine Eames continuing on, solving these cases with Goren and living her life, and in a way that is what will happen with the show," she says. "No matter if the episodes are new or old, fans just keep watching, which astounds me — their bottomless appetite for these characters and the stories."
Law & Order: Criminal Intent's series finale airs Sunday at 9/8c on USA.