To be perfectly honest, I approached the new Hulu series Castle Rock (set in the afflicted fictional town that Stephen King put on the American Gothic map) with no shortage of trepidation. I had to wonder if the show would prove another loosely-based deviation deep into left field (such as CBS’s Under the Dome), moving from the canonical to the ridiculous. Also, there was the natural concern that Easter eggs could be dropped like hand grenades (cf. the intrusive, illogical insertions in the The Dark Tower film), jolting the audience out of the story. Having just watched the first three episodes of the season’s ten-part arc, I can now happily write that my fears have been allayed.
Rather than merely (or wildly) riffing on familiar King hits, Castle Rock incorporates them as the backbeat for an original track. Thus far the show plays less as outright horror (the screen is not splashed with the same graphic grotesquerie as in American Horror Story) than as a weird mystery. Intriguing questions abound: why does Warden Dale Lacy kill himself via a fiendish garroting in the opening scene? And why has he kept a young man secretly caged in a subbasement of Shawshank State Prison? Does this strange figure’s victim status mask an ultimate supernatural menace? Why does the prisoner ask for former town resident Henry Deaver, the hardly-favorite son of Castle Rock who was implicated as an 11-year-old adopted child in the death of his (white) pastor father?
Castle Rock assembles a stellar cast: Andre Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Jane Levy, Frances Conroy, Scott Glenn, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Skarsgard (uncannily understated here, coming off his antics as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in last year’s It). The title town itself arguably forms the drama’s main character, and it is brought here to impressive (half-)life–economically depressed, with countless burnt-out and boarded-up buildings, and neighborhood streets lined with decrepit, looming Gothic homes.
The show does a fine job of unspooling its plotlines, as it flashes back and forth between 1991 and 2018 (a 27-year period whose numerological significance won’t be lost on Constant Readers of King). Looking ahead, I hope the series’ mysteries don’t end with the trite explanation that the town (much like Derry, Maine) is historically bedeviled by a resident evil. Three episodes in, though, I am thoroughly hooked, and can’t wait to revisit Castle Rock next Wednesday.