SDCC TV Review – Castle Rock
Castle Rock premiered its first episode at San Diego Comic-Con, followed by a Q & A with the cast and crew. Seeing as I am a Stephen King fan and the cast for this new Hulu series is loaded with talent, I made it into Ballroom 20 for a first look. The first episode was prefaced by a video introduction from executive producer J.J. Abrams.
What may be confusing to the casual viewer and the Stephen King non-reader is that this new series is not based on any of his specific books. It is, however, set in the world of Stephen King’s books with both subtle and overt nods to the many characters and settings. This series is a semi-original story with showrunners and creators Sam Shaw (Manhattan, Masters of Sex) and Dustin Thomason (Manhattan, Lie to Me).
The first episode opens in 1991 on a Bronco in a forest of snow. A man (Jeffrey Pierce) exits his vehicle with a walking stick, used less for assistance in walking but more for poking the ground for bodies. He finds a body and tentatively uncovers what lays below, a deer. Taking a break at the edge of a frozen lake, the camera pans down to his jacket labeled “Pangborn.” While sitting there, there are some odd sounds, like the earth is moving, and out of nowhere, a boy appears in the middle of the lake. The man runs towards the kid yelling, “Henry!”
With a flash-forward to 2018, we find a man, later identified as Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn), making breakfast for his blind wife, Martha (Frances Conroy). In the conversation with his wife, we learn he took a buyout and is, or will be, retired. He says goodbye to his wife and leaves in a car. He makes his way to a cliff and while sitting in his car, puts a noose around his neck. Just as he is about to push the gas pedal, a large, fluffy, white dog appears out of nowhere and barks at him. This only momentarily distracts him from his task and seconds later; he decapitates himself and his car drives off the cliff, sinking into the lake. As it sinks, a sticker on the bumper identifies it as being a part of corrections at Shawshank.
Both of these scenes have enough questions to base the rest of the season on, and the first episode just gets started on addressing both. It turns out Lacy was the warden of Shawshank State Prison and his replacement (Ann Cusack). Questioning why Lacy kept a whole wing of the prison empty, Officers Zalewski (Noel Fisher) and Boyd (Chris Coy) go to the abandoned wing to count beds. Zalewski is left to do most of the work and finds fresh footprints. He follows them to a locked water tank of some sort that he climbs down into. He finds an unaccounted prisoner (Bill Skarsgard) who has been left in darkness and squalor for who knows how long. There is no record of this prisoner, even using fingerprints, and he finally utters the words, “Henry Matthew Deaver.”
The real Henry Deaver (André Holland) is notified coyly by Zalewski of a prisoner mentioning his name. Henry is a lawyer in Houston, reeling from the death of his last client put to death by the state. On a whim, he comes back to his hometown to try and locate this prisoner. The prison is not helpful in his search, and he leaves empty-handed but not giving up. He, of course, returns to his childhood home where his mother, Ruth (Sissy Spacek) has failed to recognize her adopted son and has some medical problems, but nothing is specified. Henry is also surprised to find Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn) shacked up with his mother. Alan mentions that the warden committed suicide on the same slope that Pangborn found young Henry. Begrudgingly, Henry takes up residence in his old room.
The episode ends with a mash-up of the characters’ stories escalating bring the episode to a tense and heightened end. The mysterious prisoner breaks out of his closely watched cell and goes on a creepy killing spree at Shawshank, one that Zalewski is witness to on his security monitors. Henry returns to the slope where he is found and seems to have an out-of-body experience. Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey) a character only briefly touched on in this episode, opens a box that seems to contain the clothes Henry was found in when he was a child. She examines these clothes for a predetermined amount of time, setting a sand timer next to her. And we finally learn that it was Lacy who put the prisoner down that old prison well and told him to say Henry’s name when he was found.
Castle Rock is a definite must-see for Stephen King fans, even those who are not readers. There are quite a few Easter eggs in the first episode, the most obvious being the Shawshank prison from The Shawshank Redemption. While the first episode focuses mostly on the unnamed prisoner and Henry Deaver, it also touches on secondary characters like Molly Strand that will play bigger parts in the upcoming episodes. Jane Levy who plays Jackie is not even seen in this episode, but was teased in a preview for the rest of the episodes and was also on the panel at SDCC.
Stephen King recently sent a message out through his social media channels to not focus on the Easter eggs in the series, but to enjoy the story of Castle Rock. If this series receives a stamp of approval from King himself, I will continue to watch the series. The first episode lays the basis of what the first season will be about and what mysteries will be touched on, and it is already intriguing and begs for the viewer to continue to the next episode.
Castle Rock streams on Hulu, with a new episode being released every week. Currently, episodes one through four are available to view (or binge).