Castle Rock: Season 1
A good author can tell a story that is capable of fully engaging the audience; a great author is a world builder. Not only is the story fascinating, inexorably captivating the audience from the first-page novel or a screenplay, but they can craft a fully functional and internally consistent universe. This universe can serve as fertile ground for more than one story, if done properly it can form the foundation for an entire franchise. The most common way for this universe building to manifest is as a platform for a consistent roster of characters and linked situations. The more difficult way to incorporate this consistency is to populate the universe using a series of seemingly superficially connected stories. The indisputable trailblazer of this technique is the American Master of Horror, Stephen King. Mr. King is a prolific author to hundreds of novels, short stories and novellas; many made into movies, miniseries, television series, and Broadway shows. He has now undertaken a foray into the latest technological innovation in entertainment streaming video services. Hulu might be late to the table, significantly after successes by Netflix and Amazon, but they have quickly established themselves with a succession of critically acclaimed series such as ‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ ‘The Path’ and even an entry into the Marvel universe with ‘Marvel’s Runaways.’ They have taken a unique end exceptionally intriguing approach with their original series, Castle Rock’. Any devoted fan of Mr. King’s oeuvre can readily confirm, most of his stories are set in the corner of Maine filled with his supernaturally bizarre towns. One of the most frequently used is Castle Rock. Pulls bits and pieces from throughout the King Universe he eponymous series Hulu created while expertly avoiding any over the overt relationship. However, there are a plethora of references to a wide gamut of Mr. King's library of work. The few direct references have typically presented a reference made by the characters, a carefully placed prop or even the name of a character. The series presents a well-crafted mystery infused with brilliantly designed horror tropes drawn from the dark recesses of his brilliantly his uniquely twisted mind.
The town of Castle Rock is the home of one of the most iconic facilities in King’s universe, the Shawshank State Penitentiary, made famous through the movie of the same name and the novella that served as the source material ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.’ Castle Rock was one of many small towns that suffered a financial collapse that devastated the entire community. The main storyline begins with a flashback to the winter of 1991 when the region was in the grips of a brutal New England blizzard. Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn), finds missing child Henry Deaver (Jeffrey Pierce) standing on the town's frozen lake. The boy had been missing for nine days. Considering this artic condition, his chances of survival were none existent. , it would have been impossible for him to survive yet he was in perfect health. Back in the present, the warden of the prison, Dale Lacy (Terry O'Quinn), he was the head of the Penitentiary and stalwart pillar of the community for almost three decades. One grey day drive to an embankment where he secures a rope — running its length to the front seat where he places the noose around his neck. Gunning the engine, the vehicle careens off the edge falling in the water. The noose snaps decapitating the man. Events in King’s stories made be superficially mundane but his genius for the macabre can turn anything dark, mysterious and forbidding. Committing suicide in a car has been a standard trope for decades typically through carbon monoxide poisoning. Hanging with a rope and noose is centuries old. Combing a car, drop down a cliff and noose to result in a decapitation is unique as well as deliciously twisted. The placement of such a graphic as this so early in the premiere episode is brilliant. It hits the audience with a visceral punch that forces even the most jaded viewer to become completely focused on the screen. It is the visual equivalent to a page-turning moment in a book. This is a trademark or Mr. King effortlessly transported to the teleplay by Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason.
The position of Warden passes to Theresa Porter (Ann Cusack) whose first day is marred by the suicide of her processor. Right from the start, Porter is under an inordinate amount of pressor, overseeing the transition of Shawshank from a State prison to management by Northeast Correctional, a for-profit institution. To maximize profits, she intends to increase the number of beds to the maximum, and if possible, beyond. She realizes there is an entire wing located in the lowest level that so unused she orders it reopened, correctional Officer Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher), is part of the team sent to investigate, Block F has been closed since the 1980s due to a fire that killed many inmates. When Zalewski arrives, he discovers evidence of recent activity. Footsteps in the dust. They lead to hatch that opens to a water cistern. Down in the dank, the dark bottom is a cell securing a single young man, The Kid (Bill Skarsgård). In another King-centric casting, Mr. Skarsgård was most recently seen portraying the evil, Pennywise the clown, in the 2018 film of one of Mr. King’s most famous novels, ‘It.’ The prisoner says only one thing: a name, "Henry Matthew Deaver."
Henry (André Holland), I now an adult working as a lawyer for death row inmates on their last appeal. Considering this vocation is one that rarely receives a positive outcome, Henry is a man of strong character pre-disposed to tilting at windmills. Years ago, Henry left home hoping to leave the emotional baggage of Castle Rock behind. Many accused young Henry of faking his disappearance for attention greatly stressing the boy. He was adopted by the town minister, Matthew Deaver (Adam Rothenberg), and his wife, Ruth (Sissy Spacek). Even back in 1991, a wife couple adopting an African American child would raise eyebrows, mitigated by Matthew’s ecclesiastic standing in the community. The casting of Ruth was another direct association to the greater sphere of Mr. King’s work. Ms. Spacek had the titular lead in ‘Carrie,’ the 1976 film that served as her breakout performance and had the distinction of introducing Stephen King as a cinematic master of Horror. In flashbacks the younger Ruth was played by Schuyler Fisk, the actual daughter of Ms. Spacek.in the present Henry’s return reunites him with a childhood friend, Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey). Molly always had an exceptionally intense psychic connection to Henry which was part of a generalized ability similar to the King troupe, the Shinning, making Molly a very strong empath. This constant barrage of emotions results in id migraines that she self-medicates with street drugs when necessary. She works as a Real Estate agent, a meager living considering most properties in Castle Rock are associated with murders and suicides. Molly has an assistant, Jackie Torrance (Jane Levy), the self-appointed Castle Rock historian. Her actual name is Diane, but she renamed herself after her uncle Jack, a family pariah. He was involved with a murder/suicide at some remote, fancy winter resort. Of course, this refers to ‘The Shining,’ making her uncle the character famously portrayed by Jack Nicolson. She is anxious to interrogate Henry to help appease her obsession with the dark history of the town.
The Kid is a catalyst, remaining constant as he instigates massive changes around himself. The series is remarkably well crafted utilizing such menaced plot devices that the audience is maintained in a perpetual state of suspense. With more decades of viewing that I care to think about, I have rarely been as entertained as while watching this series. It could only work during this remarkable age of streaming video, Wikia sites, and online commentary, could a story of this sheer complexity be properly told. Continuing a synopsis would be impossible without spoilers. It requires a substantial amount of concentration and undivided attention. It is not a show to casually watch in the background, it possesses the intricate structure of a thousand page King novel and must be given the same consideration to details and interconnections.