Features and Columns · TV

Did ‘Castle Rock’ Just Jump Over the Shark and Into the Multiverse?

By  · Published on September 5th, 2018

Castle Rock has been the kind of show that doles out minor answers while asking bigger, more important questions, but this week’s episode has switched it up a bit by offering a pretty big revelation. Don’t mistake that for meaning there are no new questions, though, as plenty of those arise this week too as the show finally leans in pretty heavily to one of Stephen King’s *big* ideas that he’s explored across multiple books.

The books? The Dark Tower series. The idea? The multiverse.

The WTF starts rolling almost immediately as the Kid (Bill Skarsgård) — who we last saw pointing to the woods and telling Molly (Melanie Lynskey) that’s where she died — is enjoying a morning jog. We’re clearly not in Castle Rock anymore, and that ‘s confirmed when we discover he’s a medical researcher in a big city giving a presentation on Alzheimer’s. A phone call from Alan Pangborn states his mom Ruth is fine, but that his father has apparently killed himself and he should return to Castle Rock.

Yup. The Kid is Henry Deaver.

This new Henry returns home, and we quickly discover that he’s not the only thing different in this world. Castle Rock is booming. Molly is popular and in complete control of her gifts. There’s a young boy in a cage in Henry’s father’s basement. And worst of all, Jackie (Jane Levy) is nowhere to be found! But back to the boy in the basement… it’s the boy we previously knew as young Henry Deaver, the adopted son of the reverend and his wife, and it turns out he suddenly found himself in this world unsure of what was happening. He went home, but in this world the reverend was not his father and instead imprisoned him thinking he was sent from god as an answer to his prayers. The reverend sees him as a source of evil, an evil that has haunted Castle Rock for generations, and if this sounds familiar it’s because this is exactly what happens to the Kid in the Castle Rock we know.

So here’s the basic breakdown. The eleven days that young Henry went missing back in 1991? He was actually trapped in this alternate reality for years. It’s new Molly and new Henry who help him return to the woods where he returns home, reappears on the ice, and is rescued by Pangborn. That window into the multiverse also brings new Henry through only to be captured by Warden Lacy and caged in the basement of Shawshank. Structurally this means that old Molly and old Henry need to help bring the Kid to the woods so he too can return home to his own world.

Simple enough, but both halves of this leave more than a few questions. For one thing, none of it explains the deaths that follow the Kid in this world and young Henry in the second. The Kid’s actions haven’t been overtly violent, but he’s clearly caused pain, suffering, and carnage. How does that square if he’s just an innocent guy sucked through a wackadoo time portal? He’s also had ample opportunity to return to the woods since his release from Shawshank, but he hasn’t yet gone looking in earnest. He also hasn’t tried contacting his wife — she wouldn’t know him, obviously, but you think it’d be a priority. And let’s not forget that he had a child coming in the other world. Can another surprise be on its way?

There’s a lot to take in this week, but in some ways there’s also very little. The episode will delight many, particularly fans of David Lynch’s trippy disregard for narrative or Lost‘s subplot filler, but it’s a double negative for me. First, we’re separated for a whole episode from the characters we’e been following — the penultimate episode at that — and it feels like pressing pause in the third act of a story. That’s bad enough on a narrative level, but it also creates an emotional disconnect. Sure there are some answers here, but whether they satisfy you or not you’re still left with a vacuum of human connection just as things we’re building to a crescendo. And while it answers the direct question of where the Kid came from it leaves just one last episode to answer the remaining dozens of questions.

The plus side here, of course, is that the episode affords viewers the opportunity to enjoy Skarsgård getting to act like a normal person. Between this and It he’s been typecast as the Stephen King weirdo, but he shows a different range with his performance here and it’s refreshing. A more confident Molly is also appreciated, although that comes to a bloody end.

The beauty and struggle of covering episodic television is that the pendulum can swing from one episode to the next, and while last week was fantastic this week is not. Ideally it’s a bump, but with just one episode left it’s a bump that may have caused the otherwise strong season some irreparable damage.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.