I was undecided about whether to recap Castle Rock because I was afraid it might be too scary for me, but we had a request, so here we are. Be prepared to hold my hand, dear readers!
The show takes place in the Stephen King universe, using some of the locations and characters from his books and some actors from Stephen King’s other filmed properties, but it tells an original story. Castle Rock itself is a small rural town in northern Maine, home to several King books, including Cujo, The Dead Zone and The Dark Half. Shawshank State Penitentiary, from the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, lies outside of town and is one of the town’s main employers.
Hulu released the first 3 episodes this week, but I’ve only watched the first, so no spoilers for the other 2 here. I’m also not going to spend much time looking for Stephen King Easter Eggs or referencing the stories that are the foundation of this one. I’ve read some of Stephen King’s works and seen some of the films/TV series, but I’m not the kind of fanatic who’s tried to keep up with everything he’s ever done.
King also has a tendency to either forget to include female characters or be misogynist toward the ones that are there, so by about the 1990’s I’d had enough of that and haven’t read/seen much that’s new since then. Castle Rock should be able to stand on its own in the modern world if its going to survive, not depend on nostalgia for old works, and it shouldn’t stay stuck in King’s past mistakes.
The pilot of Castle Rock introduces most of the cast members, but it’s hard to tell who’ll get the most attention going forward. André Holland (Moonlight), who plays Henry Deavers, is given the most screentime and is advertised as one of the leads. He’s fantastic and so expressive, just as he was in Moonlight. Melanie Lynskey (Togetherness, Sweet Home Alabama) is also advertised as a lead. She only has a few minutes of screen time, all of it spent being objectified by a teenager while she buys drugs or mooning over her crush, Henry. Lynskey is always amazing, so let’s hope the writing for her improves.
The cast also includes Bill Skarsgård (It), Sissy Spacek (Carrie), Scott Glenn (Daredevil), Terry O’Quinn (Lost), Frances Conroy (American Horror Story), Jane Levy (Evil Dead), Noel Fisher (he’s a Ninja Turtle), and Ann Cusack (Better Call Saul). That’s a pretty great resume for any show. We only got a taste of Sissy Spacek and Frances Conroy in this episode, but both of their characters seemed like they had potential to cause unintentional (or intentional!) mayhem. More of both, please.
Okay, so, now that we’ve established that I love the actresses they’ve cast and am into the actors (Noel Fisher is really great in this episode), let’s actually recap it!
The episode begins with a flashback to 1991 and a missing child, because scifi mystery shows are required to have missing (and/or abused) children this year. Sheriff Pangborn, a stalwart Mainer who is gruff but good and is a character from several books, sits in his police truck in the woods, in the snow, and listens to a radio report about 11 year old Henry Deaver, who’s been missing long enough that his rescue operation has become a recovery operation and officially suspended until spring. It’s so cold outside that they assume he’s frozen to death by now. The announcer starts to talk about it hitting -30˚F, but Pangborn pushes a Gene Pitney cassette tape into the stereo.
He loads his revolver, grabs his thermos, and sets out with a stick to search the snowbanks for bodies. When he finds one, we all hold our breaths as he digs through the snow to see what’s buried, then breathe a sigh of relief to see that it’s a dead deer instead of a little boy. That’s one trope temporarily avoided.
After that drama, Pangborn needs a drink of whatever’s in his thermos. As he’s sitting on a hillside overlooking a frozen lake, the wind suddenly howls and everything around him creaks and groans. When he looks again, Henry, the missing boy, is standing in the middle of the icy lake. Pangborn runs to him, calling his name, but Henry is in a daze and stands still.
The radio is still broadcasting in present day Castle Rock, with the DJ saying, “As the saying goes here in Castle Rock, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.” I thought the saying was that there are 2 seasons in Maine, either winter and construction or winter and the 4th of July, but I’ll accept their inferior alternative for now. (Have I mentioned that my mother’s family has lived in Maine for ~400 years?)
Castle Rock is looking a bit dark and run down, like most small towns in the northern US. As the radio dial is turned, a reference is made to private prisons. Inside one of the biggest, nicest houses in town, a man in his late sixties makes breakfast in bed for his wife. Dale Lacy is the warden of the Shawshank State Penitentiary, and this is his last day of work before his forced retirement. His wife, Martha, is happy he’s finally retiring. She wishes he’d taken the buyout he was offered 30 years ago. Would that be when the prison went private?
Dale gets ready for work and says goodbye to his wife, then drives out to the same lake where Henry was found. He ties a rope to a tree and makes a hangman’s noose on the other end. Siting in his car, all dressed up in a suit and tie, he puts the noose around his neck and puts the car in gear. Just then, a fluffy, friendly dog comes up behind the car. Will Dale still kill himself with Cujo trying to stop him?
Yes. Yes, he will. Actually, he floors it, and drives the car over the cliff into the lake, making sure there’s all the necessary momentum to achieve the goal.
And that would be the other required element for scifi mysteries this year, a suicide. Culturally, we are lost, self-destructing and giving up. Make of that what you will. I give the prize for best twist on the missing child/suicide tropes to Netflix’s German series Dark, which used time travel for a unique take on it.
Meanwhile, Shawshank Penitentiary is a medieval stone castle surrounded by fog with named gates (like the wagon gate) and draw bridges. Ok, they aren’t quite draw bridges, but they’re close. It stops just short of having gargoyles lined up behind the barbed wire. No subtlety there.
Warden Porter, a woman, starts her tenure early because of Lacy’s untimely death. She looks at Lacy’s cluttered office with disdain and begins to get her bearings. Officer Zalewski and Deputy Warden Reeves bring her up to speed on the basics of the facility. If they can increase occupancy by 20%, the budget will be increased by $1.5 million. However, the habitable parts of the facility are already at full capacity. There is one section that’s been closed since it was destroyed in the Christmas fire of ’87, the west wing. According to Zalewski it has 60-70 beds. No one ever goes in there, but no one knows why.
We all know what that means. The monster lives there, but someone dropped the ball and forgotten to pass on the legend of the monster. Or the monster has mind control powers.
But fictional characters never figure these things out, so Zalewski and his partner, Boyd, are sent to check things out. On their way, Zalewski wonders why Lacy would off himself when he had a six figure severance package coming to him from Northeast Correctional, in addition to his pension.
Zalewski and Boyd make every horror movie mistake possible. They unlock the lock that’s been in place for 30 years. They separate, and Boyd TAKES A NAP ON A DEAD MAN’S BUNK. They note where the bodies of the dead were stacked. Zalewski, on his own, finds recent footsteps in the ashes, which he follows. I am definitely Dustin the Hobbit/Hufflepuff from Stranger Things in this game. Don’t open the big scary door and then the other big scary door, Zalewski!
But of course he does, and then he climbs down the ladder into the tank where someone has been held captive long enough to create a bucketful of cigarette butts. Zalewski picks up a small notebook from the floor, and when he stands up, he sees that someone is behind bars on the other side of the room. All we see is his eyes and some bars, while the music gets loud and blaring for a moment and bright light flashes into the camera. It’s a pretty cheap thrill, like would have been done in a 60s B movie.
Zalewski, sensibly, runs.
Somebody gets sent back down to the tank to fish the captive out, while the prison does a full bedcheck to try to figure out who’s missing and who he is. But they aren’t missing anyone and he won’t talk. He’s a young adult, starving, and afraid of everything. Everything, including showers, seems new to him.
Zalewski and Boyd investigate the tank further and wonder what that kind of captivity would do to someone’s mind. Boyd remembers someone doing solitary in “the hole” for two weeks who, “came out thinking he was the Easter Bunny.” Boyd proves his deplorable character by laughing about it.
Zalewski notices that the coffee can of cigarette butts has been taken out. Warden Porter has them, and is comparing them to the cigarette butts that Warden Lacy left behind in her office. They match. Lacy sat outside the cell and smoked while he held the kid captive in the cell for who knows how long. Sitting and smoking probably wasn’t all that happened. Boyd quickly comes to the conclusion that the kid was a sex slave.
Reese informs the warden that there’s no record of the boy’s fingerprints anywhere. He’s never been processed by anyone on any charges. Porter says it’s a public relations disaster. Reese asks her whether they should call the police or the board first. Showing why she was chosen for the job, Porter decides they should “take a beat” and consider their options before telling anyone that the previous warden was secretly holding a kidnapped sex slave in the prison, probably for years.
You can practically hear the wheels turning in her head. No one knows he’s there and there are no records of him. Maybe he could just disappear again, or be quietly paid off along with signing a nice non-disclosure agreement. No criminal charges or civil suits need ever be filed, and the press/public never need to know. Let’s get him fed and medicated, then see how sane and cooperative he is.
Zalewski and Boyd are already discussing what will happen to the boy. Zalewski is hoping he’ll be freed, while Boyd, the practical, cynical one, knows it won’t be that simple. When the warden goes in to question the kid herself, he speaks for the first time. All he says is, “Henry Deaver. Henry Matthew Deaver.”
Henry Deaver isn’t the kid’s name. It’s the name of the missing boy who the sheriff found at the opening of the episode. I forgot to mention that he’s black, but it’s going to become important now. He was probably the only black person in Castle Rock as a kid, since he was adopted by two white parents.
Henry is now a defense lawyer in Texas. He’s currently representing the oldest death row inmate in the state of Texas on her last appeal before her execution. He loses the case, even though she’s an abused woman whose first lawyer was an alcoholic and later disbarred. Not much sympathy in the courts for women who rise up against men, no matter how justified.
That evening, he goes to Leanne’s execution as her witness. The lethal injection kills her, but then she comes back. Henry tries to stop the state from giving her a second injection, but is unsuccessful.
Over her last meal, Leanne tells Henry about her first memory and asks him about his. His first memory is 24 Hours from Tulsa, the Gene Pitney song that was playing in Pangborn’s truck when he found Henry on the icy lake that day. All of his earlier memories were gone.
Leanne says that she hopes that after death you’re wiped clean and start over with a blank slate as a new person. Henry remembers the sheriff talking to him about what had happened right after he was found. The sheriff was looking at the available clues to piece together what he could of the story. No blank slate in reality, even though Henry’s mind was blank.
Reese tells Warden Porter more about Henry’s story. His father went missing at the same time and was found in the woods with a broken back. He died three days later. When Henry was found and was okay, everyone blamed him for his father’s death.
Porter and Reese continue to discuss the case and how they can make the issue go away with the least amount of trouble. House the kid with a violent roommate so he can have an “oops”? Drop him off on the Canadian border and make him someone else’s problem? Porter doesn’t want to bring a defense attorney into what should be an internal affair.
Leanne had told Henry about the alligator farm that her father used to take her to, so in her honor he goes to visit one. He’s carrying a brown paper bag with a bottle or something inside, could be her ashes.
As he’s watching an alligator prepare to eat a chicken, he gets an anonymous phone call from the prison telling him that there’s a prisoner there who’s requested him. It’s Zalewski, who then hangs up. Zalewski heard Porter and Reese’s conversation and wanted to make sure the kid’s rights were honored. The kid hears Zalewski make the call and smiles slightly to himself.
Moving on, it’s time to meet Molly Strand, who’s currently buying drugs from teenage entrepreneur Dean Merrill. Molly’s a little short on cash for this drug run, but Dean can’t do loans, even for his favorite childless MILF. He gives her what she can afford, based on the cash she brought, and they part ways after a pleasant transaction.
He did suggest that she’s buying more than usual and might be selling them herself, but there’s no indication of that. She says she has a condition, and my storyline senses are telling me that she’s stressed out and possibly developing an addiction. Just don’t OD on the opioids, Molly. You don’t want to become another television statistic.
As Molly drives away, she sees Henry getting off a Trailways bus that’s just gotten into town. She stops and stares longingly at him while he gets his luggage, then sinks back, becoming one with her seat, hoping he doesn’t see her as she drives away. I think we’ve all been there, done that. It’s crush stalking 101. This is the kind of thing they hired Melanie Lynskey to do.
Henry could’ve actually used a friendly face. The Pleasant Dreams Inn is boarded up, a nearby car radio is playing an evangelical sermon telling him that he’s d*mned for all eternity, and all of the (white) faces staring at him are distinctly unhappy.
Molly drives around the corner and pops one of her new pills, or whatever it is the kids are taking these days. Henry walks toward his father’s old church and gets called a killer by the one person who speaks to him. The church graveyard has been paved over for some reason. Henry goes inside the church and visits his father’s photo. Matthew Deaver was pastor from 1952 -1991.
Flashback to Alan Pangborn bringing Henry home in 1991 and asking again where he’s been and what he’s been doing for the past 11 days. The temperatures have been so cold that someone would freeze to death in one hour if they stayed outside. He also asks if Henry knows about his father. Henry says again that he doesn’t remember. Pangborn brings Henry’s mother, Ruth, out to the car. Henry is clutching a toy figure of a man in his hand. It’s white/unpainted, but I can’t tell what it’s a figure of.
In the present day, Henry walks home. When he gets there, the smoke alarm is going off because Ruth left a pan on a hot burner and went outside. Henry goes out to find her, but she doesn’t recognize him. Though he’s in a suit and tie, she thinks he’s there to cut down some trees for her and starts up a stream of delightful chatter. She even tells him that she adopted a black son, at which point he tells her that he is her son and herds her inside.
They spend a few minutes working through some communication issues. It seems like they don’t talk often, or at least don’t talk honestly. She asks about his baby, Wendell, who’s 15 now. (Hey, time flies when you get older. Anyone could make that mistake.) He asks about the home health aide that Medicaid is supposed to be paying for. Ruth says Constance is gone, possibly dead, but that’s a little vague.
Next Henry hears footsteps upstairs and asks if there’s someone else in the house. It turns out to be now ex-Sheriff Pangborn, who’s shacking up with Ruth semi-regularly. Henry gets a bit territorial, but honestly, if she won’t let a medical person stay, someone like Pangborn is a decent substitute. He seems like a good guy, she’s known him for decades so those memories should stick around longer than others and she’ll keep recognizing him, and no one’s going to take advantage of her with the sheriff in the house.
However, Pangborn is played by Scott Glenn, and, let’s face it, the guy can be dodgy, so maybe Henry is right to be concerned. I’m not sure his Netflix MCU character ever met anyone he didn’t try to kill, including the kids he raised.
Next up, Henry wants to know where his dead dad has wandered off to. It seems that the church has moved the cemetery that used to be right next to it. They made some bad investments and have had to sell off pieces of land. They must have turned the cemetery into a parking lot? Anyway, the bodies are in another lot up in another town. Pangborn signed the permission slip for Ruth and deposited the settlement check.
Back at the prison, The Kid, as he is officially known on IMDB, watches a mouse scurry through the corridor outside his cell, then get caught in a trap. The Kid has such an intense, calculating look on his face that you just know he’s going to eat the mouse and turn the trap into a tool he’ll use to escape and fight off all of the guards.
Henry arrives at the prison and explains his situation. The staff are as helpfully unhelpful as they can possibly be. Warden Porter shows Henry a binder with printouts of the inmates for him to go through and identify his anonymous client. She assures him that they’re switching to digitized software as soon as he leaves.
She still hasn’t told the prison board about the Kid or the potential scandal. She tells Reese, “You don’t get on the board by springing problems on the board.” Henry gives her his condolences for Warden Lacy. His father ministered to the prisoners and always said good things about the Warden.
That might explain his father’s murder. Matthew discovered what Lacy was doing so Lacy attacked him and was going to abduct Henry, but Henry somehow got away. Seems too simple though. The answer won’t be anything we can guess right now. Matthew will have been Lacy’s accomplice or something.
Porter: I wish I could help you find your client Mr Deaver. I can’t very well call up a ghost.
Henry: Thing is, a ghost called me. From inside this prison.
Porter: Your anonymous caller. And then you flew two thousand miles?
Henry: Had some free time.
Porter: Mr Deaver. The average CO [corrections officer] is a 25 year old who makes 9 dollars an hour. These guys don’t think much of lawyers. And in a state as lily-white as Maine, is it possible that you were the victim of a prank? If this was a goose chase, I hope you’ll accept my apologies.
Henry: And if you happen to find the missing page from your book, you’ll get in touch. I assume private prisons still fall under the purview of the Constitution.
Porter: This isn’t Texas, Counselor. Actually, it would be pretty odd if we did have one of your clients. Maine got rid of the death penalty 150 years ago.
Henry: How’d you know I work capital cases?
Henry: I didn’t say I work capital.
Porter: Oh, we don’t have gallows here, but we do have cable news. I was sorry to hear about your client.
Henry gives her a fake smile and leaves. He knows what she was trying to do, and it didn’t work. He’s not an incompetent lawyer who can’t win a case. He’s an altruistic lawyer who takes the cases no one else wants because sometimes he might save an innocent person’s life. His childhood taught him how to deal with people like her, who take what they think is a little negative knowledge about him and blow it up into lies about his character and abilities.
He was falsely blamed for causing his father’s death, probably mostly because of racism. Porter just brought racism into it again, using what little she knows about his story. But the people she suggested might have pranked him would first have had to still care enough about his story to bother, then they’d have to be smart enough to find him. Then they would have to be interested in pulling a prank that had little chance of paying off, when they could pull local racist pranks much more easily.
Nothing we’ve seen in the town, from the relocated grave to the confusion when the Kid brought up his name, suggests that anyone would still care about making that much of an effort to hurt Henry, unless he was already right in front of them. Same thing with Porter’s suggestion that he was on the national news. He knows he’s not famous. She totally overplayed her hand at the end of the conversation. He knows she’s hiding something. That’s why he brought up the constitutional right to an attorney.
As Henry is walking out of the facility, Zalewski is supervising the prisoners in a baseball game. He can’t help but watch Henry leave. Henry notices Zalewski watching him, and figures out who must have called him.
He goes home and settles into his childhood bedroom, which appears to be just as he left it when he was 12. He looks out the window at the neighbor’s house, which is dark. Something makes him take a second look, but I’m not sure what.
Pangborn is downstairs with a drink and the papers. Dale Lacy is still the headline news. Henry tells Alan about the mysterious phone call and the kid in the cage. Alan doesn’t have any idea what it could be about. Henry wonders why Lacy took his life, and Alan says that carrying the keys is heavy work or something to that effect. It clearly wasn’t the burdens of the job anyway.
Then Alan tells Henry that Lacy killed himself right where Alan found Henry after he’d been missing, on the bluff over Castle Lake. Alan thinks it’s an odd coincidence. Henry is totally spooked. I agree with Henry. That’s not a coincidence.
Molly goes to her basement to play with her Stalkery Box of Stalking Henry Stuff. You can tell that she does this a lot because she has an egg timer to stop her from doing nothing but playing with the box. She starts the timer and pulls out Henry’s “Missing” poster, and an old jacket of his. When the timer is done, she dutifully puts her toys away. This is what therapy can help you achieve.
Zalewski is on duty in the surveillance camera room that night. He listens to a ball game and browses a baby name book. The Kid is huddled on the floor in the corner of his cell. Everything looks normal. Zalewski looks down long enough to pull a fly out of his coffee. When he looks up again, cameras have gone haywire, people are dead, cell doors are open, and The Kid is on the loose. Kid comes right up to one of the cameras and stares into it dramatically.
I told you that mousetrap would be a problem. He probably trained the fly, too. Zalewski has a baby on the way. Kid better not kill him.
Henry takes a drive out to the buff, where a memorial has been set up in memory of Lacy. As Henry is examining it, snow begins to fall, and he feels as if he’s right back in 1991. His memories are there, in the back of his mind, almost ready to make their way to the surface again, symbolized by his younger self standing behind his adult self, but disappearing when he turns around.
In flashback, Lacy sits in the tank with The Kid and tells him, “When they find you, ask for Henry Deaver… Henry Matthew Deaver.” Lacy gets up, picks up his lantern, climbs out of the tank, and locks the door behind him, leaving the Kid to be found by whoever comes next.
Just who or what is the Kid? This is Stephen King. The Kid being a monster who’s been locked up because of his evil powers isn’t out of the question, and the monster taking the form of an innocent isn’t out of the question either. The monster being an innocent is almost cliché.
I still think the trailer is spooky-scary.
Some standard potential reasons for Dale Lacy’s suicide would be: Depression, guilt, a terminal illness, unrequited love, unable to face life without the job he’s devoted most of his life to, he’s committed crimes that he assumes will now be uncovered since he’s not in the job to keep them hidden any more, he was being blackmailed and this was the only way to stop the blackmailer, he wanted revenge on someone and evidence will turn up framing that person for something that supposedly drove Dale to suicide.
Geez, Bill Skarsgård has scary freakin’ eyes.
André Holland has gorgeous, liquid brown eyes that make me want to follow him anywhere and watch him emote through them. I absolutely understood why the guy in Moonlight held out for him.
The teenage drug dealer thinks MILF means attractive woman who’s the age of his mom, or something like that. At least he didn’t call her a cougar. If use of terms like MILF continues I will break out the links, rants and essays, but I’ll mostly let it go this one time. I’ll just say that it’s a derogatory, ageist, misogynist term that objectifies women and perpetuates the harmful madonna-whore dichotomy. Love yourselves, ladies, and don’t buy into porn terminology or ageist stereotypes. Don’t let other people put them on you.
Alan Pangborn is wearing one of Matthew Deaver’s shirts from before he died in 1991. Henry notices and is upset. I’m not sure what’s most disturbing here: that the shirts are still in the closet in 2018, that Alan is wearing one, or that Henry recognizes it and cares. Sadly, as I was writing this, Mr Metawitches reminded me that he still has clothing in his closet from the 80s that’s he’s worn straight through the decades. Getting old is a sad thing, kids. Clean out your men’s closets. I do, but things always escape. Now, sometimes our son takes the vintage items and keeps the dream alive.
I get the feeling that after the success of Stranger Things, made by a couple of guys who essentially ripped Stephen King off, Stephen King decided that he should rip himself off and make that money. So he gets EP credit on Castle Rock, but has fans write it and pay homage to him. Sometime later in the season I’ll go through and compare and contrast the two series.
Images courtesy of Hulu.