Castle Rock – Season 1 (2018)
Created by Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason
Written by Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason, Gina Welch, Scott Brown, Lila Byock, Vinnie Wilhelm, Marc Bernardin, and Mark Lafferty
Directed by Nicole Cassell
Henry Deaver is returning to his childhood home of Castle Rock, Maine for the first time in decades. His mother, Ruth, has slipped further into dementia and Henry feels an obligation to arrange accommodations for her. He finds Alan Pangborn, the retired sheriff living with his mother rekindling a love affair they had behind Henry’s father’s back. The late Reverend Matthew Deaver died under mysterious circumstances when Henry was a child, with his adopted son vanishing into the woods for some days before emerging with apparent amnesia. Even as an adult, Henry cannot remember what happened to him during that missing time. Around the same time Henry returns, a discovery is made at Shawshank Prison; a young man kept caged for years by the former warden. The one thing the man says, no matter the question is “Henry Deaver.”
When I first heard there was going to be a series using Stephen King’s novels and short stories as a thematic foundation I was intrigued. There is no end of adaptations of the author’s work dating back to Brian DePalma’s Carrie in the 1970s. Those adaptations have had dramatic variance in quality with the worst being genuinely terrible. What I liked about this project was that the creators weren’t basing the series of any particular King story, instead examining what makes something a Stephen King production and using those core themes to tell this new story. So what makes Castle Rock a Stephen King story without King helming it?
Henry Deaver is a character with childhood trauma, an encounter with the darkness beneath reality. This simple character aspect makes him sit alongside the best of King’s protagonists. Henry is a man with guilt surrounding his relationship with his parents. Some rumors have circulated throughout Castle Rock that Henry is responsible for his father’s death and his long absence doesn’t help tamp them down.
Castle Rock is a uniquely King creation, a haunted town. Horror has no shortage of haunted houses and specific buildings, but King has always enjoyed playing across an entire community, infusing every little picket fenced house with evil. Castle Rock is not a town at the height of its horrors, but it has settled into a comfortable malaise with them. A suicide or tragic accident doesn’t get the attention it used to because the constant loss and pain have battered the townspeople for so long.
Henry is reunited with his neighbor, Molly Strand, now a real estate agent. She knows some of the secrets about Henry’s childhood that even he is unaware of. Molly is also clairvoyant and takes illegal prescription drugs to dull this psychic sense so she can rest. The return of Henry dredges up some events Molly would rather forget as her attention is on a large scale revitalization of downtown Castle Rock. She doesn’t know why the town has existed under such a dark cloud but thinks she can turn the tide with her plans. Working alongside Molly is Jackie Torrance, a sort of “Jane of all trades” who also operates the town’s only taxi cab. Yes, she is the niece of Jack Torrance, the ill-fated caretaker of the Overlook Hotel.
Henry’s mother Ruth is a quiet figure for much of the season until getting a pivotal spotlight episode in the latter half of the season. , so you know the performance is going to be nuanced and fascinating. Dementia has caused Ruth to slip in and out of the present to the past. She has developed a method of anchoring herself and figuring out where she is in her head, a small trick that becomes more obvious as the series goes on. Scott Glenn plays Alan Pangborn, the former chief of police in Castle Rock. Glenn is just one of those reliable old guys who finds what’s interesting about his character and gets you hooked. Pangborn knows much more than he is letting on about Castle Rock and particularly the young man discovered hidden in the bowels of Shawshank.
Castle Rock is an incredibly slow burn series, but that is in keeping with King’s writing. His novels are epic in length, and the horrific scenes are pay off for lots of character development. By King not being directly involved in this series, I believe it benefited. King can be extravagantly over-indulgent with some of his familiar tropes. A cliche stock King character is the uber-religious zealot that becomes a way for the author to express his own beliefs on the institution of religion. He rarely handles these figures in an exciting way, and they often come off hacky. Reverend Deaver is made a looming horror in the background and when we do get appearances in flashbacks the actor and director use much restraint in how they present him. The Reverend is an evil figure who is responsible for much of Henry’s pain, but the series never turns him into a mustache-twirling villain.
Castle Rock is left at an interesting point. If this were a horror novel, the final moments of the first season would work an ironic endpoint to the tragic story of Henry Deaver. However, there are still enough unanswered questions that the showrunners could continue the saga of Henry and his family. My personal preference always leans towards an anthology format. I would like to see another season focused on a different set of central characters with Henry, Molly, and the others becoming background figures and their own stories being hinted at. However, the creators choose to take the series they have managed to produce a deeply satisfying horror show that is respectful of its source.