Wednesday, August 29, 2018

REVIEW: 'Castle Rock' - The Warden's Former Home Is Transformed Into a New Place for Horror in 'Past Perfect'

Hulu's Castle Rock - Episode 1.08 "Past Perfect"

Newcomers set up shop in Castle Rock. Henry follows a clue.

"The Queen" was the best episode of the season by far. It was strong and focused because it centered on a concise story that had immediate and personal consequences for the characters that the audience actually cared about. It signaled that the show was moving into its end game with a sense of purpose and direction. Things were finally happening that meant big changes to the community of Castle Rock. And now, it seems like the show is once again pretty static in "Past Perfect." There was the sense that the remaining episodes of the season could keep that sense of momentum going. And yet, "Past Perfect" really doesn't provide any clarity as to some of the larger mysteries. It's just introducing more teases of information that may become important at some point. But the show is also running out of time to address all of the various plot threads that it has introduced so far. In fact, it seems like the time Henry spent in the chamber void of all sound didn't help him at all. That's a lame resolution to that story. Two weeks ago, the show introduced the idea of a rational explanation for everything that has happened in Castle Rock. The place seems cursed because it's located so closely to where select individuals can hear the voice of God or time shifting depending on who one asks. Henry was placed in this chamber with the promise that it would help him remember everything about his life while also providing him with clarity as to what direction he needs to pursue next. He emerges exactly the same. Sure, he says he's haunted by this traumatic experience where he was locked in this booth by strangers. He was saved by Molly because she could sense that something horrible was happening to him. But he doesn't walk away with any more understanding of his importance in this story. As such, he continues to be positioned as the clueless lead who is just running around this town trying to solve the various mysteries without offering any clarity as to why he's still sticking around as well.

"Past Perfect" doesn't even open on any of the characters the show has spent time developing. Instead, it takes the audience back to the moment where Molly was selling Dale Lacy's house. It's still absolutely ridiculous that she was able to make that sell so quickly. She really isn't a good realtor at all. When Dale's wife told her that she didn't have the key to the basement, she did absolutely nothing. She didn't get bolt cutters or hire a locksmith so that she could show a complete house to prospective buyers. Instead, she didn't do anything and still managed to get a sale. It's only because Gordon and his wife are so eager to open a Bed and Breakfast in Castle Rock that also offers murder tours of this historic place. They are similar to Jackie in that way because they are fascinated by this being such a horrific and violent location in America. Jackie sees the appeal of this kind of business as well. In fact, she is a little envious when she shows up asking if they can help each other out. She knows the history of this community just as well as these newcomers do. In fact, she is able to point out the details that they have wrong with their various displays. By that point though, this couple has already proven themselves to be perfect for the town of Castle Rock. At times, it feels like a pointed statement about the different things that men and women are willing to forgive. Gordon is unable to forgive and forget his wife's infidelity. And yet, she is immediately fine with him killing the first two guests they have. However, they have both been infected by whatever mystery plagues this town in regards to The Kid. Whenever someone interacts with him, they immediately become violent. This couple doesn't meet The Kid. All they see are the warden's paintings of him. But that apparently is enough for them to become monsters. That explains why the warden kept these paintings locked away and out of sight for anyone else in town.

All of this is a very intriguing way to open the episode. It centers on the latest set of newcomers to this community. Much like Molly, they are hoping to start a business in this city. They have been drawn here by the stories. In fact, it's a selling point that this is the house where the former warden lived even though he didn't kill himself here. Even Henry is hoping that the warden is able to provide more clues as to what is currently happening to him. He went into the soundproof chamber hoping to get clarity. Instead, he just returned to a life that was radically changed because Ruth killed Alan. The Kid was left behind to offer some answers. But mostly, he continues to pop up as a mysterious entity with some connection to Henry that is still yet to be fully explained. Right now, The Kid only continues to tease Henry that he has been waiting for him for 27 years. At first, it seemed like The Kid only knew Henry's name because Dale Lacy told it to him. Then, it seemed like The Kid was the second coming of Matthew trying to complete his work in the world. That was the perception that Ruth offered her family and the audience. But now, it seems like The Kid is still a different being altogether. He has been patiently waiting. And now, he's not even sure Henry will ever be ready for whatever they have to do. Henry is still deflecting the truth. He is haunted by his traumatic past. And yet, he doesn't even remember how abusive his father was. He only has vague memories about what a father should be. He wants to honor him in death. But he doesn't actively listen to what actually happened in the past. As Wendell points out, he has learned more in the past day then he has from an entire life with his father. These are simply answers Henry has never sought out before. He has just been wandering through his life.

And now, it seems like the show is taking a very tangential turn in the narrative just in order to keep Henry busy for the week. All of a sudden he remembers that Dale Lacy's widow told him not to go down into the basement. He recalls that interaction now because he is very worried about the damage The Kid has done to his family. He returns home from his adventure out in the woods to see Alan dead in the shed and Wendell missing. Of course, Wendell isn't gone for too long. He was never in danger. He just spent the night sleeping on one of the pews in his grandfather's old church. That's the only place he knew where to go in town. He is still a stranger in this environment. He is being protected by the dangers that lurk here. But he also seems like a random plot device that has just popped up during the second half of the season to make things more personal for Henry. The father has more personal agency if the son is suddenly in danger. Henry puts Wendell back on a bus to Boston. And yet, Wendell chooses to get off because he hears the schisma for the first time as well. That's certainly ominous. It's clear that father and son are more alike than either would care to admit. But it doesn't really mean anything either because the audience has no firm understanding of what the schisma wants to tell the members of this specific family. It's just important that they all remain in Castle Rock for the time being. But tension has to remain high for audience thrills too. And so, Henry's life is put in danger when he goes seeking answers around the warden's former house. He only finds a room full of paintings that mostly just prove that The Kid is somehow connected to his disappearance all those years ago. The Kid may have saved him then and has been waiting for Henry's help all of these years. Again, these answers aren't coming all too quickly though. The show is mostly getting its thrills out of Gordon and his wife attacking Henry with Jackie needing to save the day.

However, "Past Perfect" does end with one very ominous tease as Molly and The Kid interact once more. It was very creepy and sinister a week ago when The Kid was able to know everything about Ruth's life. It made her fear that he was her husband come back to life. She had to stand up to him and kill him in order to reset her fate. But now, it's clear that he has just been someone always looking over the lives of the people in Castle Rock. He is able to detail everything about who Molly was as a child. It doesn't come with some mind-blowing revelation that she killed him which would thus confirm his identity as Matthew Deaver. Instead, he was simply out there in the woods always watching. For a character who doesn't really talk a whole lot, he has a lot to say when it comes to recruiting her to his cause. He worries that Henry isn't ready for whatever must come next. Molly has no more clarity than Henry about what is going on. They just happen to be bonded because the town has deemed them to be crazy. They don't believe they are that way. And yet, they are always battling against that perception. Henry's fears and visions are experienced by Molly too though. They have become overwhelming to her. So even when she is seen interacting with The Kid at the end, she does so heavily under the influence and after erratically driving all over the place. She spies him in her childhood home. She understands the threat that must be lurking in there. But she still decides to go in. She is greeted by The Kid who has such a firm understanding of Molly's life growing up. And now, he teases her that she is destined to die outside in the woods. That's such a horrifying and ominous note. But it's one delivered with such confidence too that only further increases the questions surrounding The Kid.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Past Perfect" was written by Mark Lafferty and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour.
  • Molly is able to just track down the trailer where Henry is being kept. She can walk in and release him from the chamber. Henry doesn't think to question that at all. He doesn't wonder where Odin and Willie have gone. He just wants to get back home as soon as possible. And yet, the direction points out that Odin has been stabbed in the eye. So, are we to assume that Molly did that? If so, that would make her a killer in the present as well.
  • Ruth doesn't seem to have any clarity regarding who she has just killed. When Henry comes home, she's asleep in bed. When she eventually calls for him, she has to explain that she needed to do what's right now in finally standing up to the man who abused their family for so long. That serves as further prove that she continues to slip further and further into dementia. She doesn't remember killing Alan but she does recall wanting to kill The Kid.
  • There is also the tease about Ruth wandering the streets at night as well. After the entire ordeal at the warden's former house, Henry gets a call from the new preacher who tells him that Ruth came over completely confused about Alan possibly being dead. She left instead of being convinced to stay. As such, Henry is off on a mission to find his mother and bring her back home safely. He can't stay and answer the remaining questions that the police have for him.
  • Jayne Atkinson shows up as the police officer seemingly in charge of Alan's murder investigation. She has a daughter who went to school with Henry. She used to be one of the PTA parents. And yet, she's openly taunting Henry as well about how death follows him around. But again, she seems to pop up here randomly and without any sense that she will suddenly be important to the resolution of the narrative.
  • Henry and Molly are just now starting to become aware that whomever interacts with The Kid suddenly becomes a killer. They are somehow immune to that curse though. And yet, death is swirling all around them. Ruth killed Alan and Jackie killed Gordon. Those are actions both believed they had to do in order to save people. And yet, it could also be read as a symptom of the plague that The Kid is infecting this community with.