“Castle Rock” on Hulu both follows a tradition of bringing the work of author Stephen King to viewers while providing its own unique story.
There has been a version of a King tale on both large and small screen every year since the 1980’s. The adaptations started just two years after King’s first major novel Carrie in 1974. Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason’s most recently draw upon several of King’s stories in their new narrative, Castle Rock. The new show is overseen by King himself and JJ Abrams as executive producers and is now available for streaming on Hulu.
Speaking of Carrie, Shaw and Thomason not only incorporate characters from previous works but also several actors have also come along for the ride, like Sissy Spacek, Bill Skarsgard, and Melanie Lynski (but more on that below). The crew also got in on the call-backs, like Thomas Newman, who previously composed the scores for Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile created the theme music. Newcomers Andre Holland, Jane Levy, Scott Glenn, Noel Fisher, and Frances Conroy round out the cast.
With such a heavy text, I will balance out summary and analysis with as many ‘Easter Egg’ identifications as I find. Yes, we know there will be plenty as Shaw & Thomason have stated previously that they are huge fans of the King-verse and will be planting rewards to other fans for paying attention. I will attempt to keep things succinct, but in (what I will call) homage to the master novelist, these recaps may get lengthy.
**Warning, there be spoilers ahead.**
“Severance” begins in a flashback in 1991, of a ski-masked wearing man is loading a gun while the radio announces the freezing temperatures and that the once missing boy search has turned to a recovery effort. The man, whose last name is Pangborn (first callback character) searches the snow-covered woods only to find the missing boy standing in the middle of a frozen lake completely unharmed. The title flashes on screen then we fast forward 27 years (and the eggs begin!) to 2018.
Mr. Lacey makes breakfast for his wife and she sends him off to “his last day” now that he has gotten severance from his job. As he drives through town he listens to the radio, station 100.3 as Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro plays. Where have we heard this operatic composition before? It is the memorable scene from The Shawshank Redemption. The soundtrack is peaceful, even though we don’t know what these Italian women are singing about, as Red told us “It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.” Mr. Lacey’s peace, however, is short-lived as he commits self-decapitation tying a rope to a tree, then his neck and driving off of the bluff above the lake. Before flooring into oblivion, but after tying the noose, a dog emerges in the forest. He makes eye contact with the canine, has a moment of contemplation, then gets a strange knowing look in his eye and hits the gas. The last image of his car before it submerges into the water reinforces the Shawshank tie with a sticker on the bumper that reads “Maine Department of Corrections Shawshank”.
At Shawshank, Mr. Lacey left behind the position of the warden and his replacement is shocked to learn that an entire block has not been in use since a fire consumed everything and one residing there in ‘87. To raise prison numbers she sends down two CO’s to count the beds. While his counterpart uses this adventure as an opportunity to take a nap, Zalewski finds signs that someone else has been in this otherwise abandoned part of the prison. His discovery leads him to a sealed tank in which a man is kept in dark isolation. On the other side of his cage sits a folding chair, a worn bible-resembling book, and a tin full of cigarette butts. Nothing is known about this man, other than the cigarette butts connecting their owner to former warden Lacey. When he is rescued, he provides no answers to his identity or how he got into the prison (since there is no record either). He only mutters a name; “Henry Matthew Deaver,” which we later learn was told to him by Lacey.
We know this is not his real name, however, Henry Deaver is a death-row lawyer in Texas who just lost an appeal for his elderly client. He is the sole witness to her lethal injection, which surreally failed to take and the executioners hurriedly and unconstitutionally attempt to perform to complete their purpose. Disillusioned with his day, Deaver amps up the wire and visits an alligator farm (intended by creators to be called “Jungle Land”). It is here while watching a gator approach a chicken meal, Henry receives a call from Officer Zalewski (though he does so anonymously) at Shawshank about the mysterious prisoner found in a cage there.
Deaver returns home to Castle Rock to a less-than-warm welcome as it seems that his connection is to his father’s death (an event linked with his 11-day disappearance). It seems that his late father can’t catch a break even postmortem, as Henry finds that the town and his home has changed with the sale of the land and subsequent moving of the cemetery by the church as well as the addition of Sheriff Pangborn as a consort of Deaver’s mother. Though the former and later have history, it is not a tenderness that they share.
With little success in finding the prisoner and an unhelpful warden, Henry is forced to make peace with cohabitating with his mother and dealing with her love life during his now quest for answers. It is clear that his departure 2,000 miles away from his home was intentional, and now that he is back in the house/town that shaped his formative years, he will be forced to face his demons.
I’ve already covered the richness of the town of Castle Rock including Shawshank Prison, but let’s talk about the intertextuality of the actors quickly:
Sissy Spacek -Then, as the eponymous Carrie, was a telekinetic teenager who massacres her classmates at prom. Now, she’s Ruth Deaver, the aging dementia riddled mother of our protagonist. Though she seems to be losing it, we have the sense that she is keeping some skeletons.
Bill Skarsgård – Very recently, Bill was Pennywise the clown, the main source of terror in It, transforming into whatever his child-victim feared most and then consuming that energy. Now, he’s the mysterious unknown inmate found in a hole in an abandoned block of Shawshank.
Melanie Lynskey – In the less popular mini-series, Rose Red, she was the older sister/caretaker to a telekinetic girl who was used to reignite the psychic energies of a haunted mansion. Though we don’t know a whole lot about her yet, she is a Castle Rock resident who self-medicates her “condition” with the help of a local teenage dealer.
Episodes 2 and 3, “Habeas Corpus” and “Local Color” are also currently available for streaming-stay tuned for those recaps in the coming days. New episodes will be available on Hulu on Wednesdays.
Feature Image Credit: Photo by Patrick Harbron – © 2018 Hulu