Wednesday, August 1, 2018

REVIEW: 'Castle Rock' - Henry Investigates More of His Past While Dennis Hits His Breaking Point in 'The Box'

Hulu's Castle Rock - Episode 1.04 "The Box"

Henry prepares for his day in court. A coffin arrives in Castle Rock.

Throughout the first three episodes of the season, Castle Rock was mostly interested in eery world building. It was setting up this world and the characters. Sure, there were plenty of derivative and lackluster ideas going on throughout the story. But the pace was very deliberate in showing that these characters are just now becoming aware of the true horror of their community. This sense of perpetual bad luck has always existed in Castle Rock though. There is this near constant dread that the community experiences. It's a community where there is only one real source of employment. There are countless mysteries and horrors that have occurred to so many people. And yet, the citizens still choose to see this as a possibly happy place to live. Ruth and Alan are more than content living here. All they have to worry about is cleaning the fish and fixing the fence. Those are their biggest worries. But the show itself is highlighting a number of ominous twists in regards to two central mysteries. The first is whatever is going on with the mysterious individual who was found in the abandoned block of Shawshank. The Kid still isn't forthcoming with answers about his identity or what the warden did to him down there. There was the fear that him seeing sunlight again would expose the pain and chaos back into the town. That was the goal the warden was trying to avoid even though his suicide is the reason why this guy is now close to being loose once again. And the second is the curious case of what happened when Harry went missing for eleven days when he was a child. He is only now starting to ask the obvious questions that he should have had with the people in his life before now. All of this is still very intricate and slow character work. And yet, the final act of "The Box" proves that things are about to intensify very quickly for these characters as the pressure is no longer sustainable for some of them.

Henry only returned to Castle Rock to take on this case because Dennis called him. He now has a hearing scheduled and is trying to release his version of events to the outside world. He doesn't want to take the prison company's money and abide by whatever story they want to tell. Henry and Dennis are united in trying to expose what actually happens in this prison. But Henry has an understanding of the law that Dennis doesn't. Right now, Dennis is constantly worried about getting caught as the leak. He risked his life in order to call Henry when The Kid needed his lawyer. He still sees the value in reaching out to the mysterious inmate to know that he is okay. Right now, the prison system is still trying to intimidate him. He says more in this hour than he has up to this point. And yet, it's still just him quoting Scripture. That could infer that he is the devil in human form like the warden believed. Or it could simply be the only thing that the warden read to him in the brief moments of companionship and light locked away in that cage. Both seem like distinct possibilities. He was down there for awhile. He doesn't even know what a fist bump is. He's a commanding and terrifying presence. He knows that it's better to just close the door then to actually hurt the deputy warden. But all of this only adds to the sense of compassion that Dennis has for The Kid. He sees the horrors of this environment every single day. It's this place that is turning the community into nothing but chaos and destruction. It has a monopoly on employment and the job forces everyone to become vicious creatures with no real sense of morality. That's something that Dennis is really wrestling with at the moment.

With Henry though, there is nothing specifically that he can do with the legal case right now. He just has to wait for the hearing which will be happening soon. He's not going to be spending a lot of time in Castle Rock. He's already making his plans to return to Houston. Right now, his priority is in trying to take care of his mother and return his father's remains to their proper burial place. It's so important to him that his father is at the church. He wasn't involved in the conversation about moving the body. So now, he has to make things right even though that creates more tension with Alan. He also does so not knowing the kind of reaction it will create for his mother. She still just has moments of lucidity where she is able to be a functioning member of this family and community. Henry and Alan both love her. Henry is just now seeing how bad the dementia is while Alan has been living and loving her for a long time. But Ruth can still lash out at the mere thought of moving away from her home. She doesn't plan on leaving this house until she dies. She is angry in that moment. Henry has so many big questions about his life and what happened during his disappearance. That's the priority right now. He felt the need to leave Castle Rock because he was labeled as a killer. He never believed he was responsible for his father's death. But now, he feels drawn to investigate further because he's back in this environment. He sees just how little the community has changed. It's just as chaotic and dark as it always was. His investigation only leads to further questions though. When he's just wandering around the woods by himself, he misses the turn and discovers a locked box outside the house. He is able to get it open but it doesn't provide any clarity on his situation. It just potentially showcases that he found whomever took him all those years ago.

That's what makes it surprising when the owner of this property actually comes home. When Henry is looking through the house, it seems completely abandoned. It is partially destroyed and the rest looks like it hasn't been touched in awhile. It may just be a relic like so much of this town. And yet, it's not abandoned. In fact, it is still so full of life and holds many of the secrets from the town. Vince Desjardins returns home and immediately establishes himself as a strange and unnerving personality as well. The details he reveals about his life are much more eery and sinister than the cryptic teasings the show produced of Henry just looking around this property. Of course, there's immense value in the mystery and chaos of the unknown. When Vince is leading Henry through his house, Henry and the audience witness all of the clutter that comprises every room of this place. It seems like such a mess that can't be functional for anyone to live. And yet, Vince knows exactly where things are. More surprisingly, he is able to pull out the file on Henry and his disappearance. These records have long been missing. And now, they are shown in the hands of the one person Alan questioned in connection with the case all of those years ago. This is also a guy who kept the two fingers his brother cut off in an insurance fraud scheme for years too. He is a strange presence for Henry to be interacting with. Henry immediately sees him as guilty. He wants to blame him because he doesn't have an alibi while also stealing crucial evidence. And yet, Alan wishes to cut all of that down by telling Henry that his father wrote a note telling him what happened. For all of these years, Alan has believed Henry was responsible for killing his father. He still chose to protect him. He stayed out of prison even though he couldn't avoid the scorn of the community. Henry just doesn't believe that to be true. He wants answers but is digging up all of this ugliness. Alan just wants to fix a fence and Henry isn't letting him live in peace with Ruth.

All of the plot threads then come together in the damaging final act. It's because Henry is hit with this massive revelation from Alan that he wants to just settle this case and get out of town as quickly as possible. Sure, he had a comforting night with Molly. But he no longer sees the need to keep investigating further. He leaves Dennis a voicemail. Dennis doesn't even listen to it fully before being absolutely devastated and changed by the news. He goes to work in a place where his co-workers are constantly abusing people. He sees himself as being trapped in the system as well. He doesn't see a way to get out. Instead, he decides to force change into happening by shooting up the prison. It's such a dark and alarming sequence for the show to produce. It proves that there are immediate and deadly consequences in this story. After a whole lot of buildup, the release is absolutely mesmerizing and stark. The show even keeps the audience removed from it slightly. It's such a fascinating creative decision to showcase Dennis committing this heinous act through the monitors in the control room. He leaves his post but the audience is left behind to witness his actions while still not being fully present for them. It allows Dennis to seem almost mystical. He saw carnage on these screens before. But now, he's the one who is quickly making his way through the rooms and the hallways. One screen shifts and he is then suddenly in another room waiting to kill even more of his colleagues. He allows everyone to believe that he too is on their side. Then, he shoots them in the back. It's all building to the moment where he and Henry are reunited just outside the warden's office. Dennis is doing all of this because he wants to testify. Henry is a witness to that nuance and compassion in his reasoning behind all of this. But the rest of the world just sees a man who broke. It's so absolutely devastating. The desperation felt by Dennis is palpable while also being so painful to see him shot down just like so many at the prison. It's a moment that should really get the season moving.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Box" was written by Scott Brown and directed by Michael Uppendahl.
  • Is the audience suppose to see Molly as a good or bad realtor? The warden and his wife are clients of hers. That's impressive. Or it could show how desperate she is because she will take any property that needs to hit the market. Meanwhile, she sets an open house without doing anything to the property. She doesn't even check to see if the ashes are out of sight. Moreover, the only people who would attend are those who knew the tragedy and are gawking at the life lived by the warden or the complete uncertainty of total strangers to this world. So, she may not be that great at this job.
  • Of course, Molly is also completely distracted by Henry. The two of them are forming a friendship once more. They are working together and have compassion for one another. He supports her work and she does the same. But she is also keeping the massive secret about her role in the reverend's death from him. She clearly wants to share it. And yet, that truth is going to be so completely destructive as well.
  • Will this massacre at the prison actually change Henry's opinion of the case? Or will it only make him want to get out of town faster? It could force him to realize that he is changing people's lives. People who will have to keep on living. They aren't suppose to die on him with this case. And yet, Dennis does because he just wants to testify. He wants the opportunity to expose the injustices. And now, he never will which could really shake Henry to his core.
  • It seems so incredible that Henry and Ruth never talked about his disappearance. He's only just now starting to see that as strange. She is still capable of talking him down about it too. There is distance between them. But again, it's clear that Henry wants his rational mind to prevail even in the face of damning evidence. He hopes that the box in the yard is for a dog even though he finds a bowl and spoon in there.
  • It's also very ominous to watch Ruth have a reaction upon seeing her husband's casket being moved back to the church. There's always the ongoing question of just how aware she is of her surroundings. She is able to have meaningful interactions with Henry and Alan. But she also seems completely thrown by this new development. Plus, she can sense its importance despite not expecting it at all.