Wednesday, July 25, 2018

REVIEW: 'Castle Rock' - A Mysterious Inmate Brings Henry Back to His Hometown in 'Severance,' 'Habeas Corpus' & 'Local Color'

Hulu's Castle Rock - Episodes 1.01 "Severance," 1.02 "Habeas Corpus" and 1.03 "Local Color"

An anonymous phone call lures death-row attorney Henry Deaver back to his home town of Castle Rock, Maine. Henry gets a new client at Shawshank Prison. The past catches up with Molly Strand.

101. "Severance"
Written by Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason and Michael Uppendahl

Over the years, there have been many television and film adaptations of Stephen King's work. He is such a prolific author known for his ability to scare the reader. That's an enviable quality for a number of these projects. And yet, he has also proven to be a difficult voice to adapt. Many of the television adaptations over the last few years have had to settle for being okay but not great. Every once in awhile, there is something that comes along and is a truly great adaptation. But most of the time, it has been more lackluster. That appears to be the quality with Castle Rock in its first episode. It is just so agonizingly slow and drawn out with the exposition. This entire episode is just setting up the basic plot for the season. And so, Officer Zalewski finds The Kid locked in a cage in the basement of Shawshank Penitentiary. The only things The Kids says is Henry's name. That leads to Henry coming home to Castle Rock after establishing a life for himself in Texas as a death row lawyer. He doesn't understand any connections he has to this case. Nor is he allowed to meet with his client because the new warden wants to keep everything covered up in order to ensure that no trouble and scandal befalls the private prison company she works for. She wants to impress the board and eventually get a seat there. She wants to prove that she can turn around even the most chaotic businesses that they own. Right now, things are in a state of turmoil because the previous warden killed himself when faced with retirement. That's such an agonizing sight. He kills himself and it leads to the overall sense of mystery and intrigue that looms over this premiere. But again, it's all basic plot setup and not really ensuring that any of the characters are special or worth investing time in.

Of course, a show can get a lot of mileage from featuring a strong cast. That's what Castle Rock has going for it. Even the warden who seems like a one off character is played by Emmy winner Terry O'Quinn. That informs the audience right away that he may not be as dead as everyone in town is led to believe. Yes, we see him wrap the noose around his neck and the blood spatter across the dashboard. But there's still a mystery as to where his head went. Sure, it seems like his future appearances will all be told through flashback as the show peels back the layers of the mystery that come from The Kid. He just seems to randomly appear in this prison. The new warden doesn't want to make a big deal about it. But he kills a number of guards at the end of the hour too. As such, that ensures that he is going to remain trouble for her as she tries to straighten everything together. Of course, it now seems likely that he will need a lawyer. He was denied one when he asked. He may be forcing the administration's hand with this act. It's a very violent way of doing so. Plus, it's going to be so annoying if this is a mostly mute character. Bill Skarsgård can be absolutely terrifying as evidenced here and in last year's It. But he doesn't really help the audience understand what's going on in The Kid's mind or how we should be intrigued by solving the mystery. Meanwhile, Sissy Spacek and Scott Glenn play Henry's demented mother and the retired sheriff of this community. They are some big names that should tease the audience that there is more to their characters than the initial impression. But again, it just seems like the show is meandering around introducing a bunch of topics and stories for the characters even though they aren't all that entertaining to watch in the early going. It's off and hopefully things start coming together shortly.

102. "Habeas Corpus"
Written by Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason and Michael Uppendahl

More clarity on the situation is starting to unfold even though the show is still moving at an absolutely glacial pace. Voiceover is used in order to better understand what was going on in Dale Lacy's mind. It's a way to keep Terry O'Quinn involved in the series. But it also highlights how there may be conflicting agendas with Dale. He is giving separate missions to Alan and Henry. They seem to contradict one another. Right now, it seems like Alan is gifted with the answers and is able to warn the new warden that she should not allow The Kid to ever escape from the prison. Instead, that's mostly just the information given to him by his friend in his suicide note. Dale has given Alan the torch to carry in protecting Castle Rock. Both men did so for very long. In the end though, Dale just broke and made this decision to end his life because he had no idea what the consequences would be for what he did in the prison. He believes he has trapped the devil in human form. And yes, the show is certainly playing into things with strange and mysterious actions going on around The Kid. The tease that he was loose in the prison and killing guards was nothing but an empty tease. Officer Zalewski writes it off as him being delirious. He may not have the sanity to keep doing this job. And yet, he does continue reaching out to Henry in order to ensure that this newly discovered inmate is given the legal representation that he is clearly asking for. Dale told The Kid who to ask for by name. Henry is fighting for his latest client. He wants the state to prove that he has been convicted of a crime and belongs in this prison. But that only comes with the looming threat that all of the chaos in Castle Rock will return the moment that The Kid goes out into direct sunlight once more. That happens here. So things are bound to pick up considerably moving forward.

Of course, the show is still introducing a number of stories and topics in the second episode as well. Jane Levy makes her debut for the season here. She appears as Jackie, a member of the church group that Henry joins in order to get inside the prison. He needs their help in order to actually get proof that his client exists. Right now, it's just a crazy story that is being told to him. It's nothing more than that. But this town is used to crazy stories as well. Jackie just approaches Henry asking him how many toes he has because of the legend of his disappearance in the years since. The tale has only gotten more fantastical and brutal. But Henry actually talking about his past shows that there are still some discrepancies with his memory and the story that is being told. He insists that he has no memory of the events. As such, he doesn't know how he survived out in the cold and what happened to his father. But he does say with certainty that his father died at home. That means the narrative being fed to the town is false. And yet, the audience also sees the moment where his father is calling out to Henry in the middle of the night to ensure that they are able to do whatever they have planned. It's a moment seen through a young Molly who remains such a curious piece of the grand puzzle so far. She once had a close connection with Henry. And now, she's actually avoiding him and choosing to keep quiet about what she potentially saw that night. That's fascinating. But again, it still needs to build to something exciting quickly because the cheap thrills are so short-lived.

103. "Local Color"
Written by Gina Welch and directed by Dan Attias

All it took was a little more specificity in the storytelling for Castle Rock to make the jump in quality. "Local Color" is a considerable step up after the first two episodes. That's largely because the story hands things over Melanie Lynskey for a fair amount of the running time. Episodes of television that largely focus on one specific character have always been so insightful and helpful in getting the audience into the head of that particular character. Of course, this episode isn't entirely about Molly Strand. There are still plenty of scenes with Henry as he attempts to figure out his legal case with The Kid. But Molly is given new importance in the narrative here. The hour starts off right away in saying that she's the reason why Reverend Matthew Deaver died from his injuries suffered in the woods. He died because Molly took him off of life support in the middle of the night. It was a decision she thought she was compelled to do. But now that Henry is back in town, she is haunted by that decision. It's a disorientating time for her. She wants to prove to the world that she has her life together. She has a vision for Castle Rock that is much better than the murky and depressing past and present the town currently has. She wants to revitalize this community and create jobs so that the citizens have more to aspire to than working at Shawshank. But all of that is possibly interrupted by Henry's surprising return. Instead of focusing on her work, she is haunted by the feelings and thoughts surrounding the Deaver family. She explains throughout this hour that she has a psychic link with certain individuals. That's why she's always looking for drugs. She wants to muddle those voices a little bit so that she can do her work. But with Henry, it's impossible for her to cut out all of the noise. His impact on her life is more profound than anyone else she has encountered. They were bonded together in childhood. And now, Henry is the one who bails Molly out of jail and ensures that she gets to her local television appearance on time to sell her business ideas.

Of course, Molly is still distracted during her big moment of promoting her business. She is running on fumes after spending a night in jail and without getting any more pills to feed her habit. She does find support from Henry. But instead, she finds herself championing his cause instead of hers. She uses this opportunity to talk about how Castle Rock is failing as a community by pointing out the injustices currently happening at Shawshank. It's a moment that allows Henry to actually have a conversation with his client. It's an outburst that means so much in moving the story forward and ensuring that things remain tense with Henry and The Kid. But it's also important to note that it's Molly essentially surrendering herself and her priorities in order to lift Henry up once more. She is proving to be an important character in his life. She has always been there to add some additional complications. In the past, they've gone unnoticed. Henry doesn't know that Molly killed his father. He's gotten used to being known as the killer amongst the town. The truth coming out would completely destroy Molly's career. That may be the direction all of this is heading in. But it's also just fascinating to see the psychological ramifications for Molly as she's desperately holding onto the past even though she's also afraid of it. She's terrorized by the ghost of the Reverend who is proclaiming her as a sinner who deserves to be punished. That's absolutely haunting. She has a fixation on these events. She does try to put some distance between herself and Henry. He may have more important things to deal with now that he is actually fighting a legal battle for The Kid. But no matter what happens next, Molly is going to remain a very crucial part of the season.