(My quick review of Castle Rock episode 10: Romans and Season 1 is HERE.)
That was an
enlightening exciting disappointing season finale.
Later in this post I’ll give my favorite explanation of events, which tries to incorporate everything that happened and didn’t happen, because I can never resist a little pseudo-fan fiction writing of my own. I could tell you at least half a dozen others that I’ve made up since the episode was released. Every viewer has their own versions, just like we all had theories through out the season. It’s part of the fun of a mystery.
But I didn’t watch this show as a choose your own adventure/write your own ending show. I resent writers who try to pass off lazy writing and an unfinished story as an artistic choice. And make no mistake, that’s what creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason have done. They thought it would be cool to leave the ending up to the viewer, and didn’t even decide on an ending between themselves.
This show was set up as a mystery, and the payoff at the end of a mystery is discovering answers to the bulk of the questions the series has posed. That way, viewers who are matching wits with the characters and writers have closure and satisfaction. This would have been an acceptable, but still disappointing, season finale for the first season of a 3-5 season mystery series that was going to explore a complex science fiction/supernatural mystery, like Orphan Black or 12 Monkeys.
Since season 1 was advertised as a self-contained story, I call BS. They can leave questions about the nature of their universe open, but this season’s mysteries needed to be solved. They could have left us with an amazingly ambiguous but thought-provoking ending, like the best anthology series often do. But this wasn’t thought provoking. It was just flat. We’re left going in the same circles we’ve been running in all season, not contemplating some deeper philosophical truth.
For the showrunners, this isn’t a show that’s about something. This is a show that wants to stump the viewer with unsolvable, unpredictable mysteries and dazzle them with cool ideas. I think of it as the Legion syndrome. You could just as easily call it the Lost syndrome. The creators were so busy showing off how talented they are and what huge Stephen King fans they are, that they forgot to tell a coherent, compelling season long story with a consistent through line, an earned conclusion for each character and a satisfying ending. You can’t solve the mystery because the clues purposely don’t add up.
The creators of shows like this justify the current trend in lazy, self-indulgent writing by telling fans that they aren’t going to answer every question and tie up every plot thread so that viewers have to think about the show afterwards and answer their own questions. Because we’re lazy viewers if we want our entertainment to tell us a complete story that makes sense.
There were so many tangential episodes and plot lines this season, that it almost feels like the season itself was an anthology. Too many episodes were Stephen King fan fiction chapters loosely tied together by the writers’ favorite characters. It was cool fan fiction, sure. But it really was fan fiction, nothing more.
The characters were great on paper, and so many were portrayed by amazing actors that you couldn’t help but care about them. But very few were given the courtesy of a complete story arc. It’s hard to even justify the existence of many of the featured players, much as we all love to see their portrayers. What was the point of Josef Desjardins, Odin Branch, or Young Willie? Or even Jackie Torrance? The three men added nothing that couldn’t have been given to other characters, or condensed into one character. If Desjardins was a set up for season 2, then he should have been left for season 2.
And what, in the end, did the Gordon, Lillith and the B&B subplot add to the story of Henry, Kid, Ruth and Molly? It seems like the ultimate purpose of the B&B was to allow Jackie to bury an ax in someone’s head. Since Jackie herself is an extraneous character with no impact on the larger plot, that was a lot of wasted time. Sure, it was a fun Stephen King rip off, but what was it doing in the story of Henry vs Kid? They even had to make Henry act out of character and break into a house in order to shoehorn it into the main plot. We didn’t need an entire episode of bloody mayhem to prove that bad people move to Castle Rock to do bad things. Zalewski’s words were borne out throughout the entire season.
The creators say that the big question of the season is, “What would it take to turn a death row lawyer like Henry into the jailor of a prisoner for life?” But that’s what they didn’t show us. We never see inside Henry. Through others we learn about his past, but Henry never deeply questions his own past or beliefs. We don’t get to see any of his moral or physical struggle over whether to lock Kid up again, or if there even was one. He’s been suspicious of Kid from the start, and he never wavers from that position. He never really gives anyone a chance to change his opinion, and seizes on any evidence that validates his own feelings.
It took nothing to convince him to become the jailer, because locking Kid up again was already his inclination. It just took time to convince him that he was the man for the job. Since he had a shell of a life and almost nothing to lose before the season started, jailing Kid gave him purpose and redemption.
Like Lacy and Matthew before him, he seized on the opportunity to do the right thing and didn’t ask too many questions. Unlike Lacy and Matthew, he has a different religion, the religion of the Law, and he feels the conditions of his religion have been met. He heard the Kid’s case, and made a judgement. He decided where the line of judgement fell on Kid’s truth. Henry’s been living with doubt his whole life. It’s unlikely to swallow him now.
That also means the Kid will eventually become someone else’s problem, probably Wendell’s, and that Henry’s saddled with him for the foreseeable future. Even though Henry can hear the schisma when he decides to lock Kid up again, he doesn’t call it the Voice of God. He accepts the responsibility of keeping a person in a cage forever, and what it says about him that he’s capable of doing this.
As they say in the Inside the Episode: Romans video, the season comes full circle. Henry still doesn’t remember much, and he’s still alone most of the time. But he’s returned to his hometown to live, and accepted that he is the monster and murderer that he always thought he was. But he accepts that he has to do these things to keep the town safe. To keep his son safe.
The end of Dale Lacy’s letter from episode 2 reads:
Never again let him see the light of day, that’s what God told me. He told me where to find him, how his prison should be built, how to put an end to all the horrors we’ve seen in this town. What he didn’t tell me was how full of doubt I would be about what we did, or where I’d wind up in the end. I fear for this place. I fear what’s to come, Alan. But I also know Castle Rock still has a defender, even in the dead of night.
That part was read out loud right after Henry and Kid see each other for the first time, through fences across the prison yard. Something about it made me wonder if Henry was the defender Lacy meant, but I thought I was crazy for suggesting it. Guess not. Alan burns the letter as soon as he reads it, so Henry will never know that Kid asked for him because he’s Lacy’s chosen successor. Why did Lacy choose Henry? Well, obviously God told him to, because God knew what Henry was capable of. 😇
The Actual Episode Recap:
As stated earlier, the episode begins with Henry’s final argument from the murder case in episode 1, where he tries to impress upon the jury the importance of the reasonable doubt standard. Henry’s own personal philosophy is revealed in his statements:
“How much doubt is reasonable? Well, folks, if I had to choose whether or not to take someone’s life, and that is the choice before you today, make no mistake, I don’t think any amount would seem reasonable. Now me, if I had to kill someone? I’d need it etched in gold and signed by God himself. So I ask… How much doubt are you folks comfortable with?”
Then we go to the Previously on…
Henry’s philosophy on reasonable doubt and murder lives outside of normal space and time. It’s one of his unalterable Platonic Ideals, a core belief.
In flashback, Lacy brings Kid a meal and says a brief Grace. He tells Kid that the prison repainted his parking spot, turning it into a handicapped spot with a man in a wheelchair in the center. Lacy appreciated the irony.
Then he laments everything he gave up because he was Kid’s jailer, including having kids. He was waiting to hear from God again with further instructions, but he never did. Lacy pulls out a handgun and points it at Kid’s head. Kid pushes his head between the bars to give Lacy a better target. Lacy still hasn’t heard back from his boss, God, and lowers the gun.
The truth is that Lacy didn’t have kids because Kid is his surrogate son. Or, rather, Lacy is Kid’s replacement father, since the Matthew in this timeline died and couldn’t cage him in a basement for 27 years. The other two jailers, Alt Matthew and our Henry, each already have a son when they take on the role, as did the Matthew in this timeline. The time loop was interrupted by the loss of Matthew from this timeline, so Lacy was tapped to replace him, and took on Kid as his surrogate son.
Warden Porter is supervising the relocation of the residents of the prison. The scandals from the combination of Kid’s captivity, the cover up of Kid’s captivity, and Zalewski’s shooting spree forced the parent corporation to shut it down.
Ruth contemplates jumping from Pangborn Bridge into the river.
Molly asks Kid why he told his story to her. He explains that he trusts her because he’s known the other her his entire life. He can’t find or open the portal on his own, and Henry won’t listen to him. He’s hoping she can convince Henry.
Molly is still feeling the effects of the drugs she took to stop seeing hallucinations. She’s a little confused and wants to know how he knows the portal will be there at all. He says that it just has to be, and asks her to tell Henry to meet him at Harmony Hill.
Molly asks what she was like in the other timeline. Kid softly responds, “Happier.” Molly leaves a message for Henry, responding to his message that asked if she’d seen Ruth. Molly says that she hasn’t, and asks Henry to call her back.
Henry has just left the scene of Gordon and Lillith’s murders because he got a phone call from the new pastor telling him that Ruth is disoriented and wandering around town. A flock of birds does strange things in front of his car, causing him to crash into a load of building supplies that’s stacked in the road. He passes out on the steering wheel.
Molly goes out to look for Henry but finds Ruth, proving my point that she sometimes mistakes one for the other when using her powers. Molly attempts to talk Ruth down off the bridge, but Ruth is distraught over Alan’s death. She wants to jump into the river again, skip back into an earlier point in the timeline the way she did at the end of episode 7, and redo the events that led to his death.
That was a very stealth answer to the question, “Why did Ruth jump off the bridge at Alan’s ceremony?” She jumped because her timewalking skills give her precog abilities, and she wanted to prevent him from going to Syracuse and leaving her alone with Kid. That would prevent the situation where she shot him from ever happening. She wanted Alan to stay by her side in the hospital for a few extra days instead, but she misjudged the timing.
She’s stuck in this time loop with her two sons, reliving Alan’s death again and again, trying to find the right conditions to keep him alive. Maybe she even helped create the loop. Ruth tells Molly that she’s heard everything Molly has to say, in previous versions of the loop.
Molly tries a different tactic. She says, “One of those other times, you left Matthew. You went away, with Alan. You already had a bag packed.”
Ruth looks like she’s been punched in the gut, remembering one of the few happy timelines where she didn’t lose her baby or her soulmate. She says it’s the first time Molly’s said that. After a few minutes she decides to go home with Molly.
A CO brings Porter the next day’s relocation cases. The warden has the TV news playing, which shows a report that the manhunt continues for Kid. The CO muses that all it takes is a few people losing their heads to shut down a 100 year old institution. Porter looks ill.
When Porter gets home, she finds a soap bar figurine waiting in her apartment. She’s the next name on Kid’s list. She’s already exhausted and depressed from the loss of her successful career in incarceration. The figure spooks her terribly.
Next up is a flashback to our Henry and Matthew in the woods in 1991. Why is this flashback at this point in the episode, with no transition? Because we’re supposed to be confused and disoriented throughout the episode. Because a jury is presented with confusing, contradictory evidence and needs to sift through it to create a narrative that makes sense beyond a reasonable doubt. We are the jury, we need to make this mess make sense. But it’s jarring, after the elegance of episode 7, to watch an episode with such bad transitions and no narrative flow.
Matthew wants to know which way the schisma is leading Henry. Henry does what Ruth suggested and pretends he hears it. Matthew recognizes the lie, and that Ruth gave Henry the idea. He tells Henry that Ruth is polluting their spiritual space, because of her affair with Alan and all of the lies she tells in relation to it. But he has a plan that will take care of Ruth, soon. When she’s gone, Matthew and Henry can live in spiritual purity.
When Henry asks where Ruth is going, Matthew answers with the bible verse that gives the episode its title. Romans 6:23- “For the wages of sin is death.” Henry recognizes the verse, and Matthew expresses his pride in his son. But Henry rejects Matthew’s conclusion that Ruth has left him with no choice but to kill her. He runs away from his father, with Matthew calling after him. This is the sequence we’ve been chasing for the entire season.
Matthew must be haunting Henry’s dreams, because the next place we go is back to Henry, still passed out on the steering wheel of his car after his accident. It’s morning, but he shows no signs of hypothermia, because Stephen King didn’t bother to explain to the writers and directors what happens when you spend the night in the Maine cold without proper winter gear. There’s a good chance he also has a concussion, after being unconscious for so long. Consider Henry an unreliable narrator for the rest of the day.
There are dead birds all over the street, from the schisma’s fun with bird designs. A guy walks down the street, picks up a bird, wakes up Henry, and shows him it. He says there are dead birds all over town.The schisma must have reached its peak.
Why does the schisma like to mess with innocent ravens, but leave other birds and animals alone? Who knows. Insert your own supernatural electromagnetism theory here.
Wendell has walked all night in the snow (in a hoodie, but of course he’s not cold either), apparently following the sound of the schisma. He finds Odin Branch’s RV, where Odin’s body has been discovered and the police are investigating. Young Willie notices Wendell and gets a look on his face like he’s just had a clever idea.
Henry goes straight home. When he sees that Ruth is there, he gives her a big hug. Ever the charmer, he doesn’t thank Molly for taking care of his mother. He asks her what she’s doing at his house. Meanwhile Ruth is looking for the Queen from her chess set and mistaking the salt and pepper shakers for chess pieces. Molly says she’s talked to Jackie, who’ll be over later to look after Ruth.
Henry’s distance from his own life really gets on my nerves. His inability to see and understand the situations and people around him is maddening.
Molly explains that she stopped Ruth from jumping off the bridge again. Then she reacts to his fight with Gordon and Lillith. Oh, right, that was a thing. Henry says he doesn’t know what’s happening. Molly tells Henry that “he” came to her. Henry asks who came to her, because he lives on another planet, where obvious clues don’t add up.
Kid makes his way to Harmony Hill Cemetery, the place where he asked Henry to meet him, because he wants to remind Henry of something. Y’all can guess who’s buried there, right?
Molly lists the deaths and tragedies that have occurred since Kid was discovered in his cage. It’s like he’s a magnet for terrible things. Like our Henry was on Kid’s side of the portal (and sometimes seems to be here). Molly says that he knew everything about all of them. Henry, always the Doubting Thomas, points out that he was in the shed for two days going through everything, researching their lives.
Did they have their full autobiographies in the shed? He knows things that were unlikely to be found there, like the combination to the safe and where the Elvis album came from. But Henry’s not going to ask enough questions or listen to enough answers to discover that.
Molly relays that Kid just wants Henry to help him get home through the portal in the woods. Henry thinks they need to turn him in to the police. Molly realizes that Henry isn’t going to help Kid. Henry correctly points out that every time the portal has been used, someone he cares about has ended up dead. It is a pretty strong argument to get past. He asks again where Kid is, but Molly won’t tell him.
The CRPD calls to say that they have Wendell down at the station and need Henry to come pick him up. He’s committed the crime of being Henry’s son and walking in the woods.
Henry rushes right there. He asks why Wendell got off the bus. Wendell says that he was following the sound in the woods. He had to get closer. Henry’s heart drops through the floor. He tries to hustle Wendell out of the station, but Officer Reese, the friendly officer from the investigation into Alan’s death, detains him. She’s the professional one who called him “The Black Death”. She’s got some new evidence on Henry that she can’t wait to share.
The other officers crowd around the door, making it clear that Henry’s not leaving. Wendell was bait to get Henry into the station where he couldn’t get away from them. Henry sends Wendell outside. Then Reese shows him a photo of Odin Branch and tells him that an eye-witness has reported that Henry had an argument with Odin the night that Odin died. Willie can be seen sitting in the office behind her.
Willie probably forgot to mention Odin’s side of the conversation, or what Odin was going to do to him that night. The police probably forgot to even ask. As soon as the name Henry Deaver came up, the investigation was all over.
Warden Porter knocks on Molly’s office door, looking for Kid, but he’s not there. Porter shows Molly the soap figurine he left her and says that Lacy was right about him. Molly asks if Porter’s okay. Without a word, Porter turns around and walks in front of a bus. No, really. She steps straight out into Main St., where one of the buses from Shawshank is driving through, as it takes the relocated prisoners to their new home.
I’m going to say that Kid understands the use of the power of suggestion on people who are already very depressed, especially when people around them have recently committed suicide. I don’t think this one requires a supernatural explanation at all. Believing you’ve been cursed does half the work of the curse.
Reese goes through the recent crimes that have occurred in Henry’s vicinity. He hears the schisma and has difficulty focussing on her voice or seeing her clearly. Than she moves on to noting that there were unsolved crimes relating to him in the past. Now there are more “questions.” Reese tries to talk him out of waiting for a lawyer, since he is a lawyer. Because he’s not stupid, Henry refuses to speak, other than 2 words: “Phone call.”
With his one phone call, he calls Molly, who’s just finished giving her statement to the police about Porter’s accident. She still has Kid’s figurine. She tells Henry that the figure is just like the one Kid left for her. Now she doesn’t know what to think about him.
Well, strictly speaking, we’ve seen at least 3 soap figures on this side of the portal, that I can recall. Henry came home with one after he was missing. No one died. (Matthew was already dead and the portal killed Alt Molly.) Kid left one for Molly, and it didn’t affect her or Jackie, because they aren’t guilty or suicidal. He left one for the woman who tried to screw him over and in the process got several people killed, and she killed herself. Still going with the figure reminding Porter of her crimes, rather than cursing her.
Henry makes a decision. He asks Molly to do him a favor. He wants her to drive Wendell home to his mother in Boston, then keep driving until she’s someplace warm that she’d like to settle. He wants her to get away from Castle Rock and him, and make a fresh start someplace. Molly says that he doesn’t even live in Castle Rock, and the police can’t possibly believe that he caused these deaths. Resigned to his fate, Henry says that he thinks he’s going to be sticking around for a while. People in Castle Rock have always believed whatever they wanted about him. As Molly leaves, she tells Henry that Kid is at Harmony Hill.
Kid stands in front of a grave and waits. Henry is escorted to a cell and locked in.
The CRPD sends out the entire force to arrest Kid. As they throw him to the ground to cuff him, we can see that he’s looking at the grave of “Deaver Boy- Born to Heaven”, the stillborn baby that Ruth and Matthew lost, Kid’s actual counterpart in this timeline. He doesn’t look surprised that Henry has sent the police after him, and he doesn’t resist arrest.
If you think about it, Kid is the original version of Henry Deaver. Our Henry is a replacement, just like Dale Lacy replaced Matthew Deaver, when Matthew was unable to fulfill his role in the time loop. Maybe the time loop began when baby Henry died and Ruth got caught in a grief loop, or when the timeline had to cope with too many replacements.
As she’s driving Wendell to Boston, Molly makes sure that he understands that it’s the town that’s evil, not his father. Wendell asks if the town’s disturbance has anything to do with what’s in the woods? She doesn’t answer.
Kid is placed in the cell across the aisle from our Henry. Two magnets do funny things when they’re placed close together, and these two are no different.
Kid tells Henry that he understands why Henry sent the police to arrest him. He would’ve done the same thing. But if he gets stuck here when the portal closes, more people will die. Kid can’t stop it.
Our Henry asks who Kid is. Kid says he’s a victim, the same as Henry. Henry doesn’t believe that Kid is a victim who has no control over the violence. Kid describes the cage Henry was locked in, which Henry thinks is a dream, but Kid knows is real. Henry has to sit down.
Kid says that it took a while for him to remember everything after he came out of his cage, until he got back to the Deaver house. Then it all came back, and Henry’s will, too. Maybe slowly, maybe all at once.
Henry tries a test. He asks what would have happened to the Ruth in Kid’s world if she hadn’t left Matthew. Without hesitation, Kid says that Ruth would have died, since Matthew knew all about her affair with Alan. She told him later, once they’d run away from Castle Rock. Kid quotes Romans 6:23- “The wages of sin is…”
Henry finishes the verse, “…death.” He stares at Kid in amazement.
I think Henry is a believer now, but that won’t necessarily affect his decisions.
Jackie has been called in to take care of Ruth. It’s so nice to see her gainfully employed. Ruth is fussing over being taken care of. Jackie puts her to bed.
The two Henry’s are combined into one cell. Magnets can attract or repel each other, depending on which ends (poles) meet. So far, we’ve seen the benign reaction, as our Henry believed that he was the opposite of Kid, and opposite poles are peacefully drawn together. Now, Henry knows they are the same, and they are forced into close physical proximity with no escape. We’re about to see the explosive reaction of like magnet poles in close proximity, repelling each other. Metaphorically speaking.
The Shawshank prisoners from the bus that ran over Porter are brought to the empty cells. They recognize Kid on their way in, and begin to taunt and threaten him. Kid says nothing, just watches them intently. Henry stares at everyone.
Ruth picks up the Knight from her Lewis chess set and thinks of her fondest memories of Alan, who was her knight. She holds the chess piece to her chest. She senses what is happening in the prison, possibly even contributes to it. Or else the editing for this episode is even worse than I thought. I think that on a subconscious level she’s sending energy to free her sons. Until Alan died, the police left our Henry alone out of respect for him. Since Ruth blames herself for his death, she wants to help her boys now. I knew those chess pieces helped her work her magic.
The prisoners turn on each other, first arguing, then breaking out into a fight. One gets stabbed, which brings the guards in. They call the bleeding prisoner up to the bars, and he manages to disarm the guard, then start shooting. The guards and the prisoners riot, all killing each other. The prisoners that are left let themselves out of the cells and take the riot up into the station then out into the street. Finally, a set of the guards’ keys slides across the floor to stop at Kid’s feet.
Throughout the violence, Kid just keeps staring without moving, never showing any fear of the chaos. Henry is alarmed, then scared, and cowers in the corner like a normal person. Once the prisoners are gone, Kid unlocks the cell and tells Henry to come with him.
Remember that time, at the beginning of the episode, when Lacy pointed his gun at Kid’s head? How often do you suppose that happened? Remember how those prisoners treated him in Shawshank? Remember how a guy packed Kid in his trunk and stuck him in a dungeon for 27 years? And how his stepfather/the sheriff, who was in uniform at the time, allowed it to happen?
Kid is no stranger to injustice. Who knows what kind of violent scenarios his mind conjured up during 27 years alone in the dark. He doesn’t lie to himself the way that Henry does. He doesn’t hide from the past. Kid is immune to violence, and it’s not that strange. What we just saw was probably one of his revenge scenarios playing out, whether he caused it or not.
But, as with Porter’s suicide, the elements were in place without him. The prison conditions left the prisoners ready to riot before they even got on the bus, the CRPD cell was overcrowded, the prisoners weren’t searched, the guards didn’t stay in the room to keep them under control, then they let themselves be lured in too close to prisoners who were more dangerous than they were trained to deal with.
I believe that Kid has the power to amplify negative energy within people and take advantage of it. But he can only use what’s already there. That’s why he didn’t affect Henry, Wendell, Molly and Jackie. It took him longer than usual to crack Ruth and Alan. They all have little to no negative energy, or their powers are stronger than his. But everyone associated with the prison and the police department was steeped in negative energy, so they only required a small push from Kid.
When Kid and Henry get upstairs, there are bodies and blood everywhere. Young Willie is on the floor, dying, but he tries to speak to Henry. He tells Henry not to go out there. Willie tries to say more, but can’t. We’ll never know what he meant or what really happened to Odin or why he was in this story at all. But Henry is very moved by the death of the man who framed him for Odin’s murder.
This deadly riot has taken out many enemies of both Henry’s. There aren’t going to be enough Castle Rock police left to care about Henry and his proximity to crimes, when there’s no real evidence against him. The one charge that they might have made stick was Odin’s murder, since Willie used the town’s prejudice to cover up his own role in Odin’s death. With the combined physical evidence and Willie’s testimony, plus Henry’s past, Henry could have been convicted and gotten a long sentence. Now that Willie’s dead, they’ve lost their star witness and their case. Kid got his revenge against the prisoners and against the police force for their mishandling of Henry’s case on the other side, which led to Alt Molly’s death. Killing the police force was really a two-fer. And unlike Henry, Kid takes care of his own.
Kid has acquired a gun and uses it to hurry Henry along. Henry tries to refuse, on the grounds that Kid caused all of this violence. Kid keeps making the point that the violence will stop when he leaves the timeline, but Henry can’t seem to grasp that. Also, it’s terrible to say, but they’ve got some dying people there. How about grabbing one to use as their blood sacrifice to the portal?
Alas, fictional characters are rarely as practical as me. Kid has only been through the portal once that we know of, so he may not know about the blood sacrifice.
The city of Castle Rock is awash in violence, accidents and fires. Putting the 2 Henry’s together was the worst idea ever.
As they walk through the woods, Kid tells Henry that he doesn’t want to hurt him. When they get to the portal, Henry will see that Kid’s story is all true.
This triggers Henry to flashback to 1991, when he ran away from his father after learning his father planned to kill Ruth. These flashbacks remind me a lot of Ruth’s timewalker jumps.
Henry runs through the woods with Matthew chasing him, calling to Henry that he doesn’t want to hurt him. Henry reaches a dead end at the top of the bluff. A flock of birds flies over. Henry backtracks away from the cliff, using his own footprints in the snow, so that Matthew won’t be able to follow him easily.
Matthew follows the footprints to the cliff overlooking the lake. The flock of birds become very thick and distract Matthew. Henry runs out and pushes Matthew off the cliff. Within moments, the schisma gets unbearably loud, and Henry disappears.
In the present time, Henry hears the schisma getting loud again. Kid notices. A helicopter flies overhead, distracting Kid and allowing Henry to jump on him, wrestle him to the ground, and grab the gun.
Henry stands up and points the gun at Kid. Kid is face down in the snow. When he looks up, for a moment his face is revealed to be ancient, and he hisses at Henry. Then he reverts back to the face we’ve seen all along, looking scared and shaking his head “no”.
The showrunners have confirmed that what we saw was the face of a very aged Bill Skarsgård. Old doesn’t equal demon to me, and I think it’s ageist to automatically make that assumption. We see Kid’s face from Henry’s perspective, meaning through the eyes of an unreliable, biased narrator. That also means that we don’t see what Henry’s true face looks like.
Both Henry and Kid could be ancient because they’ve been stuck in this time loop for so long, but Henry has lost access to his memories and much of his power. Maybe Henry isn’t ancient because he’s the stand in for the real Henry from this timeline. Maybe that’s why Kid was surprised to see him when they met in the prison visitors room.
But the show isn’t interested in asking or answering these questions. Instead, it’s time for a one year time jump, a voiceover that echoes two previous voice overs, and a Henry-style glossing over of the resolution of what just happened.
We jump from Henry holding a gun pointed at Kid’s head to modern train tracks. The camera takes on the perspective of the engine, then flies overhead for a view of the town.
Henry: “Truth doesn’t change; it’s just truth. Pure. But justice? Well, that looks different, depending on what side of the invisible line you’re on.”
This startling reference to purity, so much like his father’s justification for planning to kill his mother, is made to one of Henry’s new clients. Henry is no longer a death row attorney. Now he handles small town disputes between his fellow Castle Rock residents. It’s easier to muster up the spiritual and moral clarity needed to see where the line of judgement falls when there’s a property line in question rather than when you’re deciding whether or not a murder was justified.
Henry: “And Ron, your line is here… See, runs right thru Wilma Jurik’s azaleas. You dug your septic here. Now, Maine property law is a briar patch, but, I got some tricks up my sleeve.”
Henry drives home to the Deaver house, now decorated for Christmas. He finds Wendell inside, having arrived early for their Christmas together. They play chess, using Ruth’s chess set. Henry looks across the street at Molly’s empty house wistfully. He still misses her.
Molly watches TV with her grandmother, the two of them zoned out, side by side. Molly smiles when her commercial comes on the TV, just as she’s getting ready to leave. She’s the #1 new real estate agent in the Florida Keys, and her goal is to help people stay in their own neighborhoods. Still a small town girl.
When Molly left Castle Rock, she kept driving south until she ran out of road.
Henry: “Some folks get away. Spend the rest of their lives trying to forget this place. Maybe they do forget, for a while. Some never leave, no matter how hard they try. Most of us are trapped here for a reason.”
Henry visits the cemetery to put flowers on his mother’s grave. The dates on her tombstone, which she shares with Alan, read April 7, 1950- February 13, 2019. Alan’s dates are July 16, 1945- October 17, 2018. Like many soulmates, they died within 6 months of each other. Henry had a few months of taking care of his mother and getting to know her again, before she passed. Ruth and Alan are buried next to the Deaver Boy headstone. True to her word, Ruth never left her son behind. Henry stops for a moment to pay his respects to his brother, then leaves the cemetery.
Henry: “Everyone in this town has some sin or regret, some cage of his own making, and a story, a sad one, about how we got this way. ‘It wasn’t me, it was this place.’ That’s what we say. But that’s a story, too. It doesn’t change a thing. Maybe something turned you into a monster. Or maybe you were one all along. Doesn’t matter. You’re here now. This is who you are. This is where you live. This is where you’re from.”
This is Henry’s judgement of Kid. His background doesn’t matter, his past doesn’t matter, where he might go from here doesn’t matter. Where Kid goes, death follows, so Kid must be contained. Henry finds Kid guilty of Henry’s own crime, being present at the scene of the crime one time too many and looking too different from the expected Castle Rock norm. Henry also sentences himself to life in Castle Rock, above ground, but as a jailer for a monster.
Henry makes his way through a break in the fence, into the abandoned Shawshank Penitentiary, and down into the tank where Dennis Zalewski discovered the Kid in episode 1. Kid is back in his cage, in the dark, lying in the back corner. When Henry turns on the lights, he moves to the front of the cage. Henry has brought him a burger and fries as a Christmas present.
Kid says that he knows Henry still has doubts. He asks, “How long are we gonna do this?” Henry says, “Don’t know.”
Kid: “After a while you forget which side of the bars you’re on. That’s what Warden Lacy used to say.”
Henry: “Merry Christmas.”
Kid: “And look how things turned out for him.”
Henry is climbing up the ladder to leave the tank by the time Kid speaks his parting words. Henry pauses, looks back into the darkness at Kid, and up into the light toward his son and his life. He could go back and engage in a philosophical discussion with Kid, explaining that, unlike Lacy, he already knows that he’s a sinner and a prisoner, too, but what would it matter? It’s Christmas Eve, and he has Wendell waiting at home. So he keeps climbing.
Kid smiles in the darkness. Henry doesn’t have the fire in his belly and moral certainty that hearing the Voice of God gave Lacy. He’s not waiting for another command from a God that won’t speak for at least 27 years. And Henry knows they’re brothers. Maybe all hope isn’t lost.
Jackie sits in the Mellow Tiger at Christmastime, and reads aloud a quote from her book, describing in detail how it felt to put an ax in Gordon’s head. Dean Merrill stops at the table to ask if it’s a horror novel and to generally be clueless. Jackie calls him reductive. He doesn’t get the title, Overlooked, either. “Who’s been over looked?”
Jackie tells him it refers to her back story. Ancient family history. She’s actually journeying out west soon. “The best place to finish a book is where it started. I heard that somewhere.”
Just make sure you have your escape routes carefully planned, Jackie.
From Dale Lacy’s letter to Alan Pangborn in episode 2:
People think we’re just one of those dead towns they’ve heard about. A run of bad luck, worse judgement, broken promises. We know different, don’t we? It’s not luck. It’s a plan. And not God’s, either. Remember the dog? The strangler? Sure you do. How about all the others that didn’t make headlines?
1961. It was the fall after they found that boy’s body out by the train tracks. I took a hard hit. Almost didn’t make it home. Turned out, I wasn’t the one people needed to worry about. My younger brother was. That was my first taste of what this town could do to someone.
Take any house in this town. H*ll, take mine. Every inch is stained with someone’s sin. I lie awake at night thinking about all the blood spilled under my roof alone. People say, “It wasn’t me. It was this place.” And the thing is, they’re right.
While both Henry and Lacy make similar statements about the nature of the evil in Castle Rock, Lacy accepts the existence of evil and the devil, and assigns ultimate blame for evil-doing to external forces. Henry either doesn’t believe in anything beyond mundane reality, or doesn’t care. He believes in personal responsibility, and by the end of the season, he won’t even consider extenuating circumstances as acceptable reasons for personal actions. There’s no justifiable homicide in his courtroom.
This puts Henry in the opposite camp from Alt Matthew and Lacy, but the end result isn’t that different. If Henry won’t consider nuances, then he doesn’t have to think about his judgements. His world remains black and white, his conclusions without depth. He might as well be listening to the Voice of God.
Kid sometimes uses the power of suggestion for good, not just revenge, when someone is receptive to it. He told Molly her counterpart was happier, which made her believe she could be happier, too. Then Henry gave her permission to give up on him, and she was able to break free of the curse of Castle Rock, despite all of the time she’d spent with Kid and Henry.
Kid tried to help Ruth with his powers, but she was too caught up in her own agenda. Unless you go with my theory that she killed Alan to protect her sons from him. Kid helped her achieve that, then helped her go back to a happier time.
Ruth and Alan had a complicated, truly star-crossed relationship. He was her knight, but he was also the nemesis that, as a timewalker, she had to kill to set the timeline straight. (Wendell in episode 7: “Theoretically, you could kill your nemesis, and fix the whole timeline.”)
Only characters killed by timewalkers stay dead. Alan was the only main character who didn’t come back in some way after he died. Lacy was replaced by Henry and Warden Porter, plus his head came back; Matthew haunted Molly, was alive for years in the alternate timeline, and his body returned to Castle Rock; Zalewski returned in the alternate timeline; Molly remained alive in this universe after her alternate died. Alan died, and only returned in flashbacks. He was the only one killed by Ruth.
(While Alan was alive in the other timeline, he wasn’t in Castle Rock or part of the story. He didn’t return to the game.)
We know too little about Odin’s death and its aftermath to count him either way. His body did reappear on camera when his protégé Willie attempted to frame Henry for Odin’s murder, but that’s not really the same. Maybe Odin possessed Willie and pointed the finger at Henry and Wendell. It’s more likely that Willie killed Odin and saw a way to escape justice by turning Wendell and Henry in the police.
Lillith and Gordon also didn’t come back, but maybe they weren’t important enough to make a third appearance. Or maybe Jackie and Henry, their killers, are also timewalkers.
Instead of the topiary from the book version of The Shining, this season we had living chess pieces. Ruth appears to be the one irreplaceable piece, the queen, in the time loop. Just as there’s only one queen per side in chess, but there are multiples of almost everything else, there was only one Ruth in play.
In the end, it was the Henry’s who were the kings, just as Ruth told Alan. Her sons were what she, the queen, couldn’t leave. The black king captured the white king, and the game was over. Both live to play another day, but they’ll need new queens and some other pieces. I think, in the end, Ruth was Kid’s queen and Molly was Henry’s queen. Matthew was Kid’s bishop and the new pastor was Henry’s. Zalewski was Henry’s rook and Lacy was Kid’s. Alan was Kid’s knight, because he was Ruth’s, and he got sacrificed. Wendell was Henry’s knight, and was sent to safety with Henry’s queen.
Kid is a strategic player who tries to keep as many pieces on the board as possible for as long as possible, and tries to use his adversary’s pieces against him. Henry is focussed solely on taking out his opponent’s king, and bulldozes across the board to do it. All of the other pieces, his own and his opponents’, are expendable. Kid plays with finesse and Henry is both ruthless and intelligent. This time around, Henry’s cutthroat strategy left the two kings isolated and gave him the upper hand.
(I made up this chess theory in the middle of the night. If anyone wants to jump in with better ideas for who was what piece, and analyze the full season as a chess match, I’d love to hear it! Or is the analogy too much of a stretch?)
Jackie used her own experience of putting an ax into a man’s skull to start writing a book based on Castle Rock and on her uncle’s murder spree, aka The Shining. That wasn’t predictable or anything. Still not sure what her character was here for, other than to make it seem like they were attempting gender parity, which actually wasn’t even close, and to add someone with a big name from the King universe.
What will happen to the town of Castle Rock, now that the main employer, Shawshank Prison, has shut down? Molly isn’t there to save it with her redevelopment vision. The town was already poor, with a deteriorating infrastructure and a reputation for violent crime. How can they come back from this?
Here is my version of What Really Happened in Castle Rock™:
Everyone’s powers are real. Everything supernatural you thought was there, or happened, was real. Ruth is a timewalker and Kid is Henry Deaver from another timeline. When Henry was missing for 11 days, he spent 27 years caged in another timeline after accidentally falling through a portal in the woods.
Dennis Zalewski said bad things happen in Castle Rock because bad people are drawn to the town, because they know they can get away with things and the town will turn the other way. For reasons that haven’t been revealed yet, but are true across timelines, Castle Rock is a pit of negative energy, drawing the criminally insane and the just plain evil to it.
Kid’s alternate timeline origin story was true. Being in the wrong timeline both sends disruptive energy into the world and corrupts the traveler who’s stuck in the alternate world. There are two possible explanations for Kid’s alternate face/ ways for the traveler to be corrupted.
Kid and Henry could have been stuck in this time loop for a very, very long time, as Ruth’s many memories of alternate versions suggest. They would have the faces of very elderly men, but Kid’s would also show the negative energy he’s absorbed through the decades.
While Kid has been trapped in dungeons, he’s developed ways to tap into the negative power that surrounds and flows through him. He’s not evil, but he’s been through a lot and isn’t above using the tools that are available to him. His multicolored eyes are an indication of what kind of power is dominant within him at any given time. They’re like a negative energy mood ring.
The other option for Kid Henry’s alternate face is for him to be possessed by a demon. Dr Henry started out a good man and exactly who he said he was, but a demon attached itself to him on his travels, either on his way through the portal or while he was locked in the dungeon. Maybe he made a pact with the devil to get himself released from Lacy’s imprisonment, but the devil is a trickster and didn’t have good follow through on his end of the bargain.
Sometimes the demon is in charge of Kid Dr Henry, and sometimes Kid is in charge of himself. That’s what the multi-colored eyes seen in some episodes suggest.
Our Henry also has a demon, or has absorbed a substantial amount of negative energy, but he keeps it under control by suppressing his memories and turning his thoughts away from certain subjects. Death and chaos still follow him, but it’s not as noticeable because of his career choice as a death row lawyer.
Our Henry could also be out of his own timeline, since we were never given an origin story for him before his adoption at age 5. He’s more able to suppress his power to create death and chaos, so he can pass in this world. But it’s still there.
The time loop might have been broken this time, by Molly saying something different to Ruth on the bridge, Molly and Wendell leaving town so that neither was available to die when the portal opened, or our Henry locking Kid back up instead of opening up the portal again, which stopped the Henry’s from switching places. In the normal course of events, Henry would open the portal and they’d both be sucked through again, while a bystander died. It’s not clear what fuels the time loop or whether all portals have evil energy or just this one, but death clings to this one on the inside and outside.
It appears to be something akin to souls that are stuck in the time loop, rather than specific identities, since the loop replaces missing pieces at will. It might even actually be Ruth’s time loop, not the Henry’s or Castle Rock’s.
Kid’s sinister smile at the end of the episode was because his Dr Henry persona has given up on getting home to the life he left behind and given over full-time use of the body to the demon/dark side of himself. Whether he’s an ancient man stuck in a time loop or a man sharing his body with a demon, he knows that our Henry is a worthy adversary. Kid’s not getting out for at least another 27 years, maybe more, but he can see chinks in Henry’s armor that will make the stay interesting.
Henry isn’t a soldier for God, he’s a man of reason acting on his convictions. His doubts are not Lacy’s doubts or Matthew Deaver’s doubts. Lacy came to doubt whether he’d truly heard the Voice of God. Henry made the decision to follow the middle path of sentencing Kid to a lifetime without parole because of his reasonable doubts about the Kid’s identity and story. He witnessed how dangerous the Kid is, so he won’t doubt that locking him up is the right thing to do. And he believes in the law, so he’ll come to terms with the ambiguity of a life without parole sentence. It sounds like Kid is the first of his clients to achieve that, rather than execution.
But Henry’s lack of conviction/devotion to his cause could cause his commitment to Kid’s imprisonment to waver, just as Lacy and Alt Matthew’s did. He doesn’t have a strong reason, like religious fervor, to hold Kid hostage. He only has his sense that Kid is dangerous. Kid didn’t even directly kill anyone. So though Henry believes he’s doing the right thing, it may be difficult for him to resist a better offer.
A More Down to Earth Version:
If you want to stick with a more mundane explanation for the season, with as few supernatural elements as possible, consider the main story to be episodes 1-6. If you take out the extraneous subplots and what seems like foreshadowing but isn’t, you’re left with the story we were watching in the first half of the season: The story of a man who was held hostage in Shawshank Prison for 27 years, who may or may not have evil powers, and the lawyer who’s asked to represent him.
The story of young Henry’s 11 day disappearance remains, but is explained by the presence of Josef Desjardins. Josef could have hidden Henry while Henry was afraid of what would happen to him after he pushed his father off a cliff. Then Josef eventually convinced Henry to go home. Henry developed amnesia from the trauma of stopping his father from killing his mother. Who knows what Dejardins’ kid crate was for. Probably one of Ruth’s dogs.
The ending we were given, by the admission of the showrunners, goes back to the beginning of the season and focuses on the prison, Kid and Matthew Deaver. Those are the questions that were answered. In episode 5, Alan makes his speech at the bridge and talks about his magic skills, especially about his ability to misdirect. Basically, almost everything from that point on was a misdirect away from what would be important to the end of the season.
This was a 6 episode miniseries with 3 bonus episodes that were homages to Stephen King. The few plot points from episodes 6-10 that mattered to the resolution of the season could have been edited down into a new episode 6 for a tighter season. While those later episodes were some of the best of the season, they were really almost stand alone homages to Stephen King rather than installments of the story we’d seen in the first half of the season.
In an interview with Variety, showrunners Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason disclose that the season has been structured as a trial for Kid and Henry, with the audience as the jury who must ultimately decide what the truth is. According to this point of view, the first half of the season is the prosecution presenting its case, then the second half presents the defense.
This would feel much more compelling if the defense’s case had any bearing on the outcome of the season. Since Henry ends up as judge, jury and jailer for Kid, and he rejects everything from episodes 7-9, there doesn’t seem to be much point to including them. Those episodes end up as fake outs for what could have been, if this show decided to actually explore the more imaginative concepts it introduced.
And the sublime episode 7 serves as Emmy bait for Sissy Spacek. Too bad it can’t be pulled out separately to count as a TV movie, the way Black Mirror does with its best episode each season. (Shoot, I compared something to Black Mirror. 🔥)
I discussed the trial aspect of the season in more depth in my quick review of episode 10 and season 1.
I want to thank Esurient for requesting that I recap Castle Rock. It’s been a fun ride, with more to think about each episode than I could possibly fit in each recap. Despite this season’s ending, I’m looking forward to seeing what Season 2 is about. I hope you’ll all be back! In the meantime, I’m open to requests.
Grade for the season: B+
Mainly for the cast, production design, and other individual elements taken out of context. The season long plot deserves a C+.
Images courtesy of Hulu.