(This is a review. My full recap and analysis are HERE.)
After three fantastic but very different Castle Rock episodes in a row, and a season which left plot threads and secondary mysteries dangling right and left, I was looking for the season finale, Romans, to tie most of them up, and hopefully bring some of the subplots together to explain what it all means. Like a well-written show would do. Which this show has often seemed to be. But apparently that was a red herring.
Instead, what we got this week was a jumble of repeated moments from previous episodes, a sudden return to long forgotten concepts from the first half of the season, and a weak cop-out of an ending. What we didn’t get was satisfying answers to our questions or a mind-blowingly ambiguous ending.
The creators of Castle Rock have gone on record now, after the season has ended, as saying that the season was structured like a trial for the two Henry’s. The questions of who Kid is and whether each Henry is good or evil are left for the audience to decide as members of the jury. This is why episodes 1 and 10 begin with our Henry making a speech to the jury during Leanne’s final court appeal about how to determine reasonable doubt, especially in a case that will end with someone sentenced to death.
The storylines presenting the cases for and against the Henry’s are obvious once you look for them. Episodes 1-6 present the case that Kid, and, in the town’s mind, our Henry, is a monster who deserves to be locked up. His backstory is irrelevant to his crimes. He’s so dangerous and evil that Lacy and Pangborn were right to lock him up and throw away the keys, because he’s a threat to the safety of the community. According to this reasoning, our Henry’s right to walk the streets of Castle Rock as a free man must be questioned as well, and it’s clear that the town convicted him, based on purely circumstantial evidence, long ago.
Episodes 7-10 are the Henry’s defense of themselves and the closing arguments. We find out that our Henry was abused and neglected by a mentally ill father. We discover that Kid Henry was transported here from another timeline. We discover that they were both kept in solitary cages by men who thought they were evil but acted like their friends once they were locked up. They both show us that they love their mother and have tried to do some good in the world.
These episodes try to make the case that both Henry’s are victims of circumstance. Castle Rock is a town filled with evil, going back to its roots. The things that happen around the Henry’s aren’t their fault, each argues in these episodes.
The entire season was full of judgment, all the way from the children of the trailer park and their fake courtroom to the Castle Rock Police Department and their fatal decision to detain Henry without charging him. Characters judged themselves and each other, but the final judgment came down to what our Henry believed about Kid Henry.
And in the end, Henry walked the unsatisfying center line, as he had all season. He refused to take anyone else’s arguments or reasons seriously, just as he had all season. He refused to look below the surface of his own memory or psyche, just as he had all season.
He argued in court that you shouldn’t punish someone with death unless there was absolute certainty that they were guilty. But that’s all he argued.
He didn’t argue for his clients’ goodness or innocence. He lacked the conviction that will sway a jury, and his clients all died. He still lacks conviction, other than a belief in due process and the doctrine of reasonable doubt. That’s all he argues for in court, and that’s all he looks for in life.
So he didn’t kill Kid Henry, because he didn’t know what the outcome of that act would be. It might be the sacrifice that opened the portal. It might make him the murderer of an innocent man. It might release a demon from its corporeal prison. It might make him face who he really is, and make him finish his own dirty work for once.
Instead, he judged Kid Henry guilty, with a side of reasonable doubt. Our Henry still refused to open the portal, because that appears to require a blood sacrifice. But he let Kid live, and continue his sentence of life without parole, underneath Shawshank Prison. Our Henry can live with this solution, because the one part of his past that he did remember is the time that he tried to kill his father, because his father was going to kill his mother, because she was having an affair, with a man she eventually accidentally murdered, who believed Henry was capable of cold blooded murder at 11 years old. Henry realized that he’s a monster who was raised by monsters.
André Holland’s brilliant line reading of the final monologue, in which Henry repeats the lines spoken previously by Matthew and Lacy about why bad things happen in Castle Rock and whether it’s the town or the people who are bad, makes this clear. He knows that he and Kid are both monsters who need to be contained, and he’s made his peace with it.
Kid won’t have the effect on Henry that he had on Lacy, or that Henry had on Matthew, because Henry isn’t a servant of God who’s just following orders based on blind faith. He’s made an informed decision with his eyes wide open. He doesn’t care about Kid’s past as either a pure monster or a good man who was corrupted. Kid is dangerous now, so he has to be contained.
Now that Henry understands what he did to his Matthew, and can guess at what happened during his 11 missing days, he’s more at peace with himself. He can come home to Castle Rock, take care of his mother, and develop a better relationship with Wendell.
Henry becomes a small town lawyer in Maine instead of a death row lawyer, but otherwise, the show ends as it began. Very little has changed in the lives of the main characters. Molly was doing well and on her way to redeveloping Castle Rock before Henry came back. Now she’ll do that somewhere else. Ruth and Alan are gone, which is the natural course of things for the elderly. Alan might have lost a few years, but soulmates often die within 6 months of each other in real life, as these two did. The events of the series just reversed the order. Kid’s life is unchanged, other than his jailer. Henry isn’t just suppressing his own life any more, he’s suppressing someone else’s as well. He’s convinced himself that this is a worthy purpose, and that he’s not a murderer, which allows him to open himself up to a relationship with his son.
No one was a hero or a villain. No one took a brave stand and tried to figure out the nature of the schisma and the portals. No one even tried to figure out what was really going on in Ruth’s mind. Everyone saved their own skin, and left the real problems for someone else to solve. This may be realistic, but it’s not what this story set us up for. We didn’t need all of the mythology and extraneous characters that we were introduced to, just to end up back where we began. And we didn’t need 10 hours of TV. The Twilight Zone frequently managed the same conclusion in half an hour.
Of course, a fair share of what I just wrote is my interpretation, created after watching the episode three times, reading several articles and creating, then discarding, many other theories. That’s the issue with the episode. If Castle Rock was meant to be a season long trial with a final judgment, the audience should have been able to figure that out. Not just a few people who obsess over creating theories, but the majority of viewers should have been able to get it after viewing the episode once. Otherwise, the creators didn’t do their job very well.
Image courtesy of Hulu.