TV Series Review: Castle Rock (2018)

Castle Rock is a horror anthology web series that premiered on Hulu in 2018. It is based on characters and settings from the stories of Stephen King. The series stars André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Skarsgård, Jane Levy, and Sissy Spacek. It intertwines characters and themes from the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine.

In 1991, Sheriff Alan Pangborn finds missing child Henry Deaver standing in the middle of the town’s frozen lake. In 2018, on his last day as warden of Shawshank State Penitentiary, Dale Lacy commits suicide. His successor, Theresa Porter, plans to reopen a long-abandoned cell block so that she can maintain the inmate population. While counting the beds, guard Dennis Zalewski finds a Kid locked in an underground cage. The Kid, upon being released, whispers Henry’s name. Porter refuses to involve Henry, who is now a death-row lawyer, but Zalewski anonymously calls him. After returning to Castle Rock and reconnecting with Pangborn and his dementia-suffering mother Ruth, Henry attempts to learn more about The Kid only for Porter to stonewall him. In a flashback, it is revealed that Henry’s father went missing around the same time he did and was found near-death. In a second flashback, Lacy tells The Kid to ask for Henry when the time comes.

The primary focus of Castle Rock is Henry Deaver. Throughout the season, he attempts to piece together his memories and understand them. The Kid (Bill Skarsgård) appears to know Henry and shows a mysterious desire to connect with him. Not only that but he demonstrates a sinister ability to push people into committing evil acts. All the while, Henry struggles with his past and the repressed memories within it. A constant is his religiously devout father who believed he could hear the voice of god in the nearby woods. The town of Castle Rock has a history of tragedy and Henry Deaver is the epicentre. There is a puzzling connection between him and The Kid, one that raises questions about reality itself.

If you’re in any way a fan of Stephen King and his stories then you’ll enjoy Castle Rock. Throughout the season, there subtle links to some of his work. Shawshank prison plays a huge part in the show and there are references to that film. Also, there are mentions of Cujo and even The Shining. In fact, Jane Levy plays a character named Jackie Torrance. Yes, it is exactly what you’re thinking. Jackie even mentions having a crazy uncle who lost his mind at a ski-resort. Early on, I found it a little odd having Bill Skarsgård in the show considering how much I associate him with Pennywise now. As time goes on it became easier to see him as someone else entirely.

Castle Rock is the type of show that asks a lot of mind-bending questions. However, you’ll have to be extremely patient with it if you want answers. At times, it can be very slow paced. Still, I wouldn’t accuse it of being boring. It is shot wonderfully well and has an abundance of striking imagery. The horror elements are lacking though. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of violence throughout but this isn’t a scary TV show. It is far more dramatic as a lot of the time it focuses on Henry and his familial problems.

A huge positive I can throw at Castle Rock is that it manages to stay intriguing throughout. Just when you think you understand the answer it changes the questions. It makes you doubt yourself in the same ways that the characters do.

There a number of strong performances in Castle Rock. As Henry, André Holland once again proves how underrated he is. Bill Skarsgård manages to be intimidating as well as sympathetic all at once. His doe eyed expression often makes him impossibly difficult to read. Then there is Sissy Spacek who shows that she certainly still has it. She stars in episode “The Queen” and it is genuinely one of the best TV episodes of the year if not ever. Spacek and Scott Glenn (Pangborn) have such wonderful chemistry. I cannot underplay the emotional punch that this delivers.

Talking of great episodes, there are those titled “Past Perfect” & “Henry Deaver”. These serve as a huge payoff for your investment and deliver the major twist of the season. They explain a lot regarding Henry’s past, his link to The Kid and just who exactly The Kid even is. Still, it leaves a lot unanswered in the build to the finale.

Unfortunately, the final episode of Castle Rock is a disappointment. The show decides to end things in an extremely ambiguous way but it is completely unnecessary. By the end, the primary question isn’t a complex one but we don’t get a definitive answer either way. Strangely, there is an oddly placed time jump that forgoes the answers all together. Castle Rock wants you to doubt what you’re seeing but it asks a little too much. Its conclusion leaves you feeling like the characters, in a state of limbo much like how it all began. Once the credits roll, it’s hard to know what to think. On the whole, it asks a lot of questions but doesn’t answer some of them in ways that are satisfying.

Castle Rock has moments that prove it has the ability to be a truly great show, one that everyone should watch. However, it has pacing problems and its muddled finale left me feeling a bit let-down. Still, that season 2 teaser got me all kinds of excited.

Castle Rock
  • The Final Score - 8/10
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