Wednesday, September 12, 2018

REVIEW: 'Castle Rock' - Henry's Latest Venture to the Woods Remains Just as Lethal in 'Romans'

Hulu's Castle Rock - Episode 1.10 "Romans"

Some birds can be caged.

This is a bloody and brutal finale for Castle Rock. That's what Henry feared the moment that Molly told him about The Kid's true identity and his intentions for the town. He surmised that someone always happens to die when the doorway to an alternate timeline opens. First, it was Matthew out there on the ice before Henry disappeared. Then, it was Molly as she was trying to help Henry get back home. And now, The Kid is making this wild claim that is hard to believe. The audience should understand and accept it completely though. The show spent an entire hour last week devoted to telling the story of this alternate Henry Deaver. He is the son that Matthew and Ruth wanted to have even though the outcome of his life was eerily similar to the one that this Henry has as well. The show explained how he came to this world and why he doesn't age despite being here for 27 years. It connected it all back to the audience's own understanding of the characters in this town and what has happened to them. And yet, Henry still refuses to believe that this stranger is actually himself from another timeline. One where Ruth decided to leave Matthew and everyone basically lived happily ever after. Well, Matthew didn't. But he lived a long life. It was just as a disgruntled and rambling old man who was revealed to be a pervert upon his death. That was a scandal that rocked that community. But Castle Rock was absolutely flourishing. It wasn't long after this kid was discovered that he was taken back to his timeline. He was discovered by Alan and a new version of The Kid was captured and imprisoned. It was the cycle completing itself. And now, the Henrys seem bound to team up together in order to ensure that everyone is restored to their proper timeline and these wicked acts of violence stop happening. And yet, the audience also has to question if that is what's really going on here. It was deceptive before with Ruth as she was just suffering from her disease instead of being able to go back in time and change her life. So, The Kid may actually be the devil who happens to be very good at manipulating people and getting them to turn absolutely murderous.

The season ends with Henry making the claim that the people in this town always say. They take comfort in the idea that it's this town that makes bad people. It's an easy way to wash away any feelings of personal responsibility for one's true actions. This is just a magnet for humanity's worst impulses. There is no profound reason to suspect it is anything different than that. However, it's much easier for Henry to believe in the devil leading people down the path of destruction instead of this man being from an alternate dimension. The Kid wants Henry to just go out into the woods with him. Upon seeing the door opening and letting them through, he will understand that everything he has been saying is true. Molly instinctively believes it. In fact, she is intrigued and wants to know what her life was like in this alternate dimension. The Kid replies that she was happier. That could be comforting. Or it could be a twisting of the knife to say that she is never living her best life - even though she dies in that reality. She wants to step up and do the right thing. It's just much more difficult for Henry to accept it as true because of the amount of murderous things that keep happening around him. He left Castle Rock for a reason. The season ends with him planting down roots in this town. He feels a duty to step up and be the protector that this place clearly deserves. But it's an action he doesn't really do with any true understanding of the situation or some guiding principle motivating his actions. It plays as a big story twist that shocks the audience instead of something that emotionally resonates.

That's probably the most lackluster detail about this finale. It's a lot of shocking moments with the intention of surprising and disturbing the audience even though we aren't especially feeling for any of the characters who are being inflicted with it. The finale spends a lot of time with Theresa Porter, the new and last warden of Shawshank. It's an important detail to know that the prison is shutting down after the tragedy that happened there with Dennis. There needed to be consequences to that action. But then, the story keeps following Theresa. She returns home and immediately believes that The Kid was there and is continuing to taunt her. She blames him for why her career spun out of her control. And now, she fully believes that she dies because of him. She walks in front of the prison transport bus that was taking everyone away to a new life. That's an easy jump scare. But again, does anyone really care what happened to her? She was just a minor character in this story. She remains a huge focus in this finale. It seems to confirm that there is more to The Kid than the audience was led to believe. Bad things may actually be following him around. When Henry went to the another dimension, he too was responsible for chaos and destruction. Molly died and he set fire to a hospital where more innocent souls were killed. Things were far more lethal in this reality. But that could be attributed to The Kid being here for a longer period of time. Everything happened very quickly in the other version of this story because Henry had the tools to know what was going on. Molly was in a healthy place to help him along this journey. And now, Henry calls Molly just in order to look after his son and warn her that she should leave as soon as possible. It shows how difficult it is to trust one's memory and the possibility of the world. But Henry would rather just be a monster believing he's doing the right thing just like his father and the former warden.

Of course, it may actually be easy to just take The Kid at face value. He may not be Henry from another dimension. He may just be the devil who is provoking this town into committing vicious acts of violence. He is so charming because he is able to recite details back to the people who need to know if they can trust him. He was able to say so much about Molly's life. And now, he is able to answer Henry's question about what Matthew was planning on doing to Ruth. Henry suddenly remembers that his father was actually getting ready to kill his mother. That's the reason why Matthew sustained those injuries out on the ice. His son really did push him off a cliff. He was responsible. Henry is just now remembering that. It was a trauma that was blocked from his mind for a long time. But now, it comes rushing back just like the doctors said a couple of episodes ago. He uses it to have clarity regarding this situation with The Kid. In fact, it informs his beliefs when it seems like The Kid is responsible for getting a bunch of wild inmates to start killing themselves and the guards at the police station. That is such a brutal moment. It feels like The Kid is staring at these inmates and forcing them to fight each other. It's sinister and so much of it is portrayed through Henry's perspective. He is caught in this jail cell because the new sheriff wants to believe that he's responsible for a ton of violence in this town. He is a criminal. That is still absolutely true because he broke into a house and killed its tenants. But this moment reads as more supernatural with Henry not having the time to actually collect his thoughts and figure out what has just happened. Instead, he's held at gunpoint by The Kid while Willie is telling him not to go to the woods.

That moment with Willie is also very informative. It may proof that there is something else going on that is more than simply returning The Kid to his timeline. There are several characters who can hear the schisma. Henry is horrified after learning that Wendell came back because it was so loud in his ears too. Willie is the only person actually able to interpret it though. Odin had some understanding of it. At least he was researching it and believing that there is some grand purpose to it all. And yet, the show is choosing to live in the ambiguity. It leaves the audience with no sense of closure with The Kid being returned to his reality and the violence dying down in Castle Rock. Instead, it remains a story too unbelievable for Henry to rationalize. Instead, it is simply easier to keep The Kid locked up in the cage within Shawshank. Henry is a more generous and compassionate caretaker than Warden Lacy was. He delivers a hamburger and fries to The Kid at Christmas time. But all of this also reads as the cycle once again repeating itself. That too was a powerful theme throughout this season. No matter how badly the characters want their lives to change they are always incapable of doing so. It may be this place or their lack of determination. That makes all of this a complete tragedy. Henry is now the twisted individual keeping a man locked in a cage for some reason. He doesn't even believe it himself. He just fears that something worse will happen if The Kid is allowed to reign throughout the world. It's more safe for him to be here. That's just a horrifying realization for a lawyer to make though. He is depriving this individual of his rights. But The Kid may also be the devil who smirks as he embarks on a new journey to wear down people until they are ready to let him go free. He will survive no matter what. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Romans" was written by Dustin Thomason & Mark Lafferty and directed by Nicole Kassell.
  • "The Queen" and "Henry Deaver" were really the only great episodes of the season. The rest were comprised of some moments that worked and others that just seemed like they were ambling along not really doing anything. Those two episodes may be a worthy price of admission though. It just feels like there should have been more of an explanation and understanding of what exactly was going on here.
  • Ruth is once again trapped in the cycle of her life. She believes she's continually up on the ledge of the bridge ready to jump off and bring Alan back to life. She believes if she makes a different decision then she can prevent herself from shooting him. And yet, she is destined to remain safe and calm here. She is just someone who needs care in the final months of her life. The jump forward in time reveals that she dies shortly thereafter.
  • Molly actually succeeds in escaping Castle Rock. Henry tells her to leave and never come back. Things will always be haunted and tragic whenever they are together. Of course, Wendell returns. He still has family in the area. Molly could return at some point as well. She does have a sister after all. But she seems to have a much more successful life for herself in the Florida Keys even though she doesn't seem all that happy about it.
  • There is a mid-credits scene where Jackie is writing a book seemingly about her experience killing someone out of self-defense. It was the excitement she always wanted from her life in this town. Of course, she also teases that she will be traveling west soon and that the best way to find the ending to a story is to go back to the beginning. That feels like a cryptic clue. And yet, I really have no desire to start the season over again to see what was missed.
  • Hulu has already renewed Castle Rock for a second season. That wasn't surprising given the Stephen King of it all. Of course, the creative team has already stated that they are taking an anthology approach to the series. So, the next season will focus on new characters and stories. Hopefully, it will know how to better utilize its cast. There were simply too many actors this season that the show didn't know what to do with - Jane Levy, Aaron Staton, Terry O'Quinn, Frances Conroy, Allison Tolman, Jayne Atkinson, Mamie Gummer, etc.