All good things must come to an end, and in the case of Castle Rock it appears the good ended two episodes before the season did.
That may seem harsh, but after eight episodes of mystery, intriguing character turns, and increasing wonder the first season of Castle Rock took a turn in its final two episodes that it never recovered from. Last week saw the show jump into Stephen King’s multiverse concept with both feet as we were introduced to a whole other world where the man we know as the Kid (Bill Skarsgård) was actually named Henry Deaver. He had a wife and a baby on the way, but after his father committed suicide Henry came back home to town to discover a young boy caged in his father’s basement. The boy was the young Henry we knew, and the eleven days he went missing in our world were actually years spent as a prisoner in this one. This, claims, the Kid, is what happened to him in our world. He was taken captive by Warden Lacy on the same night young Henry went missing.
The implication heading into the finale is that rather than be a figure of real evil — possibly a devil or demon of some sort — he’s actually a victim of the portal. After sharing the story with Molly (Melanie Lynskey) he asks her to convince Henry (André Holland) to help him find the schisma in the forest. Henry can hear it, but the Kid can’t. Henry’s far from an easy mark, though, and he grows even less amiable when he ends up in a cell with the Kid. Prisoners from Shawshank are temporarily waylaid when their bus runs over the new warden who walks into the street after an unnoticed visit from the Kid. They execute a bloody escape that spills through the police station and into the streets of Castle Rock, and the mayhem allows the Kid to take Henry by gunpoint to force him into the woods.
It feels like the act of a desperate man and lends credence to the Kid’s story — why would the devil want Henry to revisit the forest? — as does Molly’s run in with with Ruth (Sissy Spacek) on the bridge. The older woman is preparing to jump and says she’s met Molly on this spot many times before. Molly mentions that one of those times Ruth actually left town and moved to Florida with Alan, and it strikes Ruth as a real memory. That again adds credence to the multiverse argument, although it could just be a sign of dementia.
So if the Kid is telling the truth it ends the season as something of a tragedy. An innocent man held prisoner for decades. Another man trapped in the role of uncertain captor. As the Kid points out, you reach a point where you’re not sure which side of the bars you’re actually on, and these two men, tied across time and space, are both prisoners. It’s appropriately devastating, but its punch is lightened dramatically by the endless unanswered questions. Why does violence and death follow the Kid and seem to strike those who challenge him? (Which itself raises another question,namely if the Kid can influence those around him why wasn’t he able to influence Lacy into releasing him?) Why does his face transform briefly into a rough CG scream? Why does Henry’s memory return of what happened in the woods with his father but still lack any recollection of those eleven days?
It’s worth noting that it’s fair to question the veracity of the Kid’s story. For one, he’s the one telling it, and it wouldn’t be out of character for the devil to mislead and misdirect in an effort to cause suffering. And two, there’s that damn smile in the very end of the episode (not to mention the brief one he shows after telling Molly she was happy in the other world). That ending alone makes a strong argument for his true evil, and it suggests he’s more than happy with the pain he’s already caused as well as the misery most likely coming Henry’s way. It drove Lacy to suicide, don’t forget, so a similar fate may be in Henry’s future. It’s a long way to go to end on a downer note for one character, but it works well enough with its theme that tragedy is attached to people not places.
The problem with that interpretation, though, is that it makes episode nine a frustrating waste of time. If the Kid was lying that whole ep was a distracting fiction amounting to nothing, and to devote a tenth of a limited-run series to a lie — especially so close to the end — is more than a little annoying. That’s time better spent with a true narrative, more interesting answers, or with characters who’ve engaged us over the previous eight hours. We could have had an entire hour devoted to Jackie Torrance (Jane Levy)!
“For the wages of sin is death,” is the bible quote from Romans that affords the episode its title as well as parting thoughts on the show itself. They’re all sinners, and death follows, but it’s just not enough. Neither answer regarding the Kid really satisfies, and we’re left to choose between a begrudging tragedy or a more traditional horror tale that wasted time on empty misdirection. Season two will reportedly shift its focus to an all-new story meaning no more answers are coming… in theory. The multiverse might yet provide an opportunity for closure in this world or the next.
References! Quotes! Questions!
- “Someone always ends up dead.”
- The overhead shot of Castle Rock as the prisoner escape causes mayhem feels more than a little reminiscent of the town-wide mayhem at the end of Needful Things.
- Love young Henry’s nod to Danny Torrance and The Shining as he’s being chased in the snow by his mad father and backtracks in his own footprints.
- Seriously. Give me a second season focused exclusively on Jane Levy’s Jackie Torrance heading west in pursuit of a horror story.