Binge or Purge?: Castle Rock.
Castle Rock is a slow-burn tour of Stephen King’s most celebrated fictional town, and you could say the devil is in the details.
We’ve covered a lot of Stephen King’s works here on the site; the good, the bad, and the terrifying. When Hulu announced the series Castle Rock, I was intrigued. Castle Rock is not an adaptation of any of King’s stories, instead it is inspired by the fictional town King created to house some of his best stories. Cujo, The Dark Half, The Dead Zone, and (my favorite) Needful Things all called the tragedy stricken town home. When I learned that Bill Skarsgard, who recently terrorized audiences as King’s malevolent clown Pennywise in IT, was going to star, I was hooked.
Castle Rock serves two main functions: it is spiritual homage to King’s most engaging themes, and an Easter Egg laden gift to connoisseurs of his work. You don’t need to be a hardcore fan of King…but it helps. Castle Rock tells its own story, but is so suffused with his style, sense of place, and eccentricities that you’re rewarded for at least knowing that Shawshank prison has a bad history, and that sheriff Alan Pangborn’s fate is tied to the town in more ways that one. I would heartily recommend reading or watching at least The Dark Half and Needful Things as crash course for watching Castle Rock. If you want the whole shebang, you can add Cujo, The Dead Zone, and The Shawshank Redemption.
Castle Rock (Hulu)
Henry Deaver (Andre Holland) thought Castle Rock, Maine was far behind him. As a child he was adopted by a pastor and his wife in Castle Rock and had to deal with a religious household..and the constant rumors following a black child being raised by white parents. One winter, Henry went missing on the same night his foster father had a fatal accident. Never shaking the blame of the local gossips, he moved to Texas, working as a lawyer for death row inmates.
One day a prisoner (Bill Skarsgard) is found in the depths of the infamous Shawshank Penitentiary: no name, no ID, no record. The only name he knows is that of Henry Deaver. Deaver is forced to return to the seemingly cursed New England town he fled decades ago in order to defend the strangest client of his career.
Episode 1: Severance.
Dale Lacey, outgoing warden of Shawshank, commits suicide on his final day. His replacement, eager to improve the for-profit returns of the prison, has two young guards explore a derelict wing of the prison, looking for space to put more inmates. In a pitch-black water tank they find a young man in an improvised cage. The Kid has no record and almost no language, all he can say is “Henry Deaver.” Now a lawyer in Texas, Deaver reluctantly takes the case despite his own dark history with Castle Rock.
In an episode that begins with a dramatic decapitation, I still came away feeling this episode was slow. I like Andre Holland; his exasperation with small town ways and trepidation at returning to Castle Rock is a good lens to present the town through. Part insider, part outsider, he’s a perfect tour guide. Bill Skarsgard is wonderfully creepy but not overblown as The Kid, and Noel Fisher plays the conscientious guard who tries to help him in an engaging and sympathetic manner. It’s only mildly unsettling so far, but the cast is rock solid.
Episode 3: Local Color.
Henry turns to Molly (Melanie Lynskey) for help. Molly was an odd child who tried to befriend Henry as a kid. She has a gift/curse of being able to receive other’s emotionally charged thoughts, Henry’s in particular. As an adult, her condition causes her to self-medicate with illicit prescription drugs. She avoids Henry as his tragic past ties into her own condition.
Episode 3 is where the series really grabbed me. The pleasantries are out of the way and we’re down to brass tacks. Melanie Lynskey’s character is fascinating as a sort of blend between The Sining’s Danny Torrence and the kids from the Loser’s Club in IT. Her actions are definitely the complicating incident that casts the die for each character; there’s no going back for our three leads now.
Episode 4: The Box.
With the strangeness of Castle Rock, the peculiarity of his client, and the deeply painful memories of his childhood piling up on him, Henry decides to take a cash settlement from the prison. Alarmed that the misdeeds of the prison will go unpunished, the young guard (Noel Fisher) who called Henry decides to take drastic actions.
Thanks to the push Molly gave the plot last episode, episode 4 is a major catharsis of actions…many of them irrevocable. The series goes from mildly disturbing to horrific in the blink of an eye, with the signature gout of violence that King tends to use when announcing the point of no return. It’s an episode that grabs you and yanks you by the hair; it’s fantastic.
Binge or Purge?
I would suggest taking in Castle Rock at the suggested pace of one episode at a time until episode 4. Getting to soak in the flavor of the series, ferret out details and references and to speculate what will happen is part of the pleasure of the series. It’s a bit of a lost art in TV where it seems you either watch the whole season in a go or pass completely. J.J. Abrams‘ penchant for mystery and unanswered questions actually is a good fit for this show.
Let Castle Rock work its tendrils into you; explore the town before getting ready for the really deadly stuff. After episode 4, it’s pretty much a roller coaster you’re going to want to binge if you’ve found the first couple episodes to your taste. I felt the early going was a tad slow, but I liked the characters and atmosphere. Once it gets into gear, it’s one devilish ride.