Be forewarned, this is more a recap than a review, so I’m just gonna spoil stuff.
I’m a pretty huge Stephen King fan and so a series using his properties like how the Fargo show used the Cohen Brother’s was a pretty easy sell for me. King’s work does weave through itself, with references to places, events, and sometimes even characters showing up again and again. Make no mistake, if somebody in a Stephen King novel takes a detour through a town called Derry they will feel a sense of unplaced dread and think they’ve heard monstrous chuckling from nearby a nearby sewer drain.
So Castle Rock the show. The plot centers on the eponymous town, Castle Rock, itself a reoccurring King locale. The episode opens in 1991 with Sheriff Pangborn (side character in the King novel The Dark Half, and protagonist of Needful Things) discovering young Henry Deaver on a frozen lake. Henry, who was missing for 11 days in a harsh Maine winter, shows no signs of exposure and claims not to remember what happened to him.
The show jumps to the present day, and we watch as Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn) bid farewell to his wife. Lacy is retiring from his position as warden of Shawshank Prison (yes the one from The Shawshank Redemption). Judging by his demeanor, Lacy does not seem thrilled to be retiring. That suspicion is then immediately confirmed when Lacy ties a noose to a tree, puts it over his head, and drives his car off a cliff into a lake.
His suicide prompts his immediate replacement by Porter and Reeves (Ann Cusack, Josh Cooke) operatives of a board of directors who seem intent on turning Shawshank into a for-profit prison, a plot so slimy and evil, even the child-devouring Pennywise would be disgusted. Their attempt to find more bunks for more prisoners results in the discovery of “the Kid” (Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgard). Someone locked the Kid in a cell in a water tank in the abandoned portion of Shawshank. There are no records of the Kid in any of Shawshank’s files. He has no id number. He’s completely mute save for whispering, “Henry Deaver”. Porter and Reeves decide to cover everything up, since having such a scandal literally happen on their first day would probably look bad to their shadowy and nefarious board of directors.
However, despite their best efforts, Henry does hear about the Kid from a well-meaning guard, and he returns to Castle Rock where he is looked at as a pariah, due to his perceived childhood stunt in the woods. Henry stays with his mother (played by Carrie’s Sissy Spacek). He soon discovers that his mother has begun shacking up with Pangborn (Scott Glenn). At the prison, Henry is stone-walled by Porter, but he gets the impression that there is more going on. In town we see a woman buy drugs from the world’s youngest yet somehow still world-weary drug dealer. She sees Henry on his way, but hides from him. Later on, she performs some kind of ritual in her basement with a missing poster, an egg timer, and what is presumably Henry’s childhood sweatshirt.
The episode concludes with Henry visiting the spot where Lacy took his own life, coincidentally (OR IS IT?) the same place where Pangborn pulled him off the frozen lake. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Lacy was the one to instruct the Kid to ask for Henry before he killed himself. The episode ends with the well-meaning guard from earlier watching closed-circuit cameras in horror as the Kid somehow escapes from his cell, leaving a line of dead guards in his wake.
The show feels fairly Stephen King-y. It’s little stuff, like everybody listening to baseball on their radios, or the folksy weirdos who make up the population of Castle Rock (one guard is happy to point out to Porter she could still see the bullet hole in the wall of her new office where one of her predecessors resigned), it all adds up to the kind of tone I’d expect in a Stephen King novel. As for the mysteries that make up what will be the bread and butter of the show, I’m fairly sold. Clearly Lacy knew something, both about who or what the Kid is, and that he is in some way tied to whatever the heck happened to Henry. But it’s only the first chapter, so we’ve only got the very foundations of the mysteries to come.
Performances are good, although nobody really has any heavy lifting to do yet. Bill Skarsgard only has one line, but he does such a good job at being really, really, really creepy that I’m glad to have him in this role.
All in all, I’m excited to see where Castle Rock goes and how it draws from the deep well that is Stephen King’s body of work.