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Castle Rock - Severance, Habeas Corpus & Local Color - Triple Review: "Behold, I Will Tell You A Mystery."



Castle Rock has been my most anticipated show of the year so to finally get it on screen is welcome news. As of the time that this review goes live I will actually be abroad in Europe, so I won't be able to answer any comments and questions until I get back on August 3, just for the heads up. But given that all three episodes are airing at once, I thought I'd share my thoughts on them so that I don't have a high backlog of shows to review when I return. As this is a triple review, I'll be covering all the episodes individually, as well as offering a brief overview, and I'm also writing the reviews of the episodes after I watch them. So my review of the first episode will be written without knowledge of what happens in the second or third, and so on.

It's best to go into this show blind though, and this review is heavily spoilery, so don't read this unless you've watched the episode first. I'm also going to get something out of the way fairly early on here, Stephen King is my favourite author of all-time, right up there with Elmore Leonard, so to see this show brought to the screen after months and months of hype gradually building is a real treat. Hulu's shows haven't always clicked with me - I liked The Handmaid's Tale but wasn't blown away by Runaways. But based on what I've seen so far, Castle Rock has me very much in the category where I'm falling in love with it. It's dark. It's atmospheric. It's a slow-burner. And it's the best Stephen King-related media that we've had in years, along with It, so after a string of disappointing content that includes the likes of The Mist and The Dark Tower, this is going some way to make up for that.

Moonlight and The Knick's Andre Holland plays the protagonist, a Lawyer known for tackling death row cases in Texas. We first meet him about halfway through the pilot, defending a woman named Deanne in Texas. There's something unnerving even going on here, meaning that even away from Castle Rock we never lose sense of dread or despair, when the woman Deanne is brought back from the dead after she was killed. His attempts to be a witness, as the only person to watch her execution, fall on deaf ears, and he's hustled away, returning to a backwater environment where a kid dangles a screaming bird in front of an alligator, only to haul it away as it goes for it. It's cruel. But kids can be cruel, and in Stephen King novels, they often are.

Speaking of Stephen King novels, the pilot, entitled Severance, is a treasure trove of references for die-hard King fans. Aside from the obvious choice of reusing actors from the King mythology, Castle Rock is the fictional Maine town that is featured in many of King's novels, most notably The Dead Zone and Cujo, we also return to Shawshank State Prison, from The Shawshank Redemption itself, which is a major setting for the show. Its atmospheric and haunting vibe is darker than the classic film, and although there's no direct mention of Andy Dufresne and his escape attempt, it's still very recognisably the same prison. The look and feel of everything is pitch-perfect, and the show does a really good job at nailing the atmosphere on display, creating an instant feeling of dread and despair that never goes away, even if the pilot itself is rather slow at times.

We learn that Shawshank Prison's Wardens have a high mortality rate, four of them are dead and the latest one, Dale Lacy, played by Lost's Terry O'Quinn (Another sort of King-related connection, Lost is clearly influenced by King's works), has just committed suicide on the day of his retirement by tying a rope to a tree and driving into Castle Lake. It's an ominous opening that shows this series will not be the faint of heart. It's clear right from the start that Lacy has some secrets about him, and that's not just because of the casting of O'Quinn. In a flashback towards the end of the episode, we learn that he is responsible for keeping a nameless kid played by IT's Bill Skarsgard in a cage in a closed off Ward that burnt down in a fire. The kid is discovered when the ward is reopened due to the overcrowding prison, and the new Warden is furious to find out that there are over 60 new potential rooms that could be opened up. She's one of those people who would prefer to keep the anonymous prisoner under wraps too, not quite willing to send him across the border in case he goes on a murdering spree. Because if he wasn't a psychopath before he was caught - and it's clear that he wasn't, as there are no records of him committing any crime on the database, all those years spent locked away will have made him one.

The cinematography and visuals in this show is fantastic. It feels like and looks like a Stephen King story. Writers Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason set the tone and director Michael Uppendahl brings smartly crafted direction to the table. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Thomason has written episodes of WGN America's brilliantly overlooked drama Manhattan in the past, so it was great to see him show up again here - both Manhattan and The Knick were among the earliest shows that I reviewed for SpoilerTV too. Michael Uppendahl is another high profile name, having several episodes of Fargo, Legion, American Horror Story and Mad Men under his belt, and it shows here. Everything looks good. It's clear that this show isn't holding anything back.

The mystery behind the identity of the unknown prisoner remains so throughout the episode. Why Lacy kept him there, why Henry is called, is unknown in the pilot. We also see hints through flashbacks of Henry's experiences as a younger child - he spent 11 days missing only to be found by Alan Pangborn, a friend of his father's and a cop, only to find out that Henry's father died in the search and he couldn't remember anything of his time spent away. There are layers upon layers to this plot thread that I can't wait to watch unravel before us.

It's great to see Scott Glenn play Alan in the present, as the retired officer living with Henry's adopted mother from time to time, and after his recent appearance in the awesome Uncharted fan-film he nails the look of a retired cop who's leeching off his father's clothes and money for moving a cemetery nearby the Church. His foster mother isn't in the best shape to challenge him either, as Ruth has lost her nurse long ago and nobody has gotten her a new one. Carrie herself, Sissy Spacek, nails the role of the deranged woman, and I'm looking forward to seeing her character shine in the weeks to come.

Hints are being planted to the mystery that surrounds Henry's character too. Clearly Molly Strand, a drug-addict who keeps a wanted poster of Henry Deaver as a young child in her basement and only looks at it for the length of an hourglass knows more than she's willing to share, refusing to meet eye contact with Henry when he gets off the bus. A strange man calls Henry a killer when he arrives back in town, as many believe he was responsible for his father's murder. It all adds up to that uneasy feeling that you get like a calm before the storm, and when the townspeople's secrets come out, it will change everything.

The scenes at the prison towards the end of the episode are good too. I kept thinking that Noel Fisher's Dennis Zalewski would bite it multiple times in the episode, so the very fact that he's still alive by the end proved that the show is capable of beating expectations. But if Zalewski calling in Deaver against orders from his superiors isn't going to set off alarm bells, the fact that the unnamed prisoner has just gone on an apparent massacre of the prisoners in Cell Block F and has somehow escaped from his cell definitely will, even if it is only a vision from Zalewski. The casting of Bill Skarsgard works really well here, as we've seen from his performance as Pennywise he can play menacing characters expertly and he has the potential to be downright terrifying, especially with those creepy stares that seem to be a regular feature each episode.

Whether or not the boy is somehow connected to Pennywise we don't quite know yet, just as whether or not we don't know that Ruth Deaver is Carrie White - or much about Jane Levy's Jackie Torrance, who plays Jackie. But there's plenty of mysteries for us to ponder over by the time the pilot ends.

Habeas Corpus continued the moody and atmospheric tone of the first episode in an interesting way, as we did end up learning more about Jackie Torrance. We also learn more about the motives of the enigmatic Lacy, who might be involved in some sort of Hot Fuzz-style NWA cult to protect Castle Rock, as the boy is apparently the Devil himself who was locked up behind bars for so long, acting on what he believes to be God's wishes. Alan knows more than what he's letting on too, he's warning the Warden to not let him out whatever she does, and burning a letter from Lacy. But that's going to crash with Henry, who spends much of the episode trying to find out a way to prove that the prisoner exists.

Sombre and melancholic, Castle Rock only serves to get more unsettling by the episode. We learn that pretty much every house in Castle Rock has people in it who have some sort of demons in them, and that when they say it's not them, it's the town. The town itself has been written off the map, so by all official records, it no longer exists. The only place to drink is a sleazy bowling alley with a bar attached. There's no standard shops and malls, getting a job as a prison guard is the only option for Dennis Zalewski, whose wife is pregnant and he needs healthcare. Zalewski is eventually willing to talk to Henry after Henry sees him at the bar, and Zalewski says that he's not willing to go to court about this. He would help Henry, but in turn, he would need an act of God to get into that prison, especially after how tight the prison keep a lockdown on their defences.

And to make matters worse, The Kid (or so we'll call him until he gets a name), has just claimed his first victim. It's a heavily tattooed Nazi, who somehow managed to get cancer to the point where the morticians are shocked he was surprised that he even was able to make it into his cell at all. The Nazi is removed and the kid is let back out of his cell.

One thing that I loved about Habeas Corpus was the subtle Stephen King references that we had here. During the narration from Lacy (because what's the point in having someone as talented as Terry O' Quinn around if you're only going to keep him here for one episode), we learn of the fact that there was a boy's body found by the tracks (a reference to King's novella, The Body, which was later adapted into Stand by Me), and multiple newspaper headlines found in Lacy's house including a Rabid Dog which can only scream Cujo). There's also the Bible Quote "Even at that hour of night, the jailer cared for them, and washed their wounds, then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized" found written multiple times over and over again by Henry in Lacy's home before he's kicked out by Lacy's wife after discovering that he is in fact Henry Deaver. Henry is still harbouring that omen over him everywhere he goes and it's clear that it's going to boil over sometime soon.

I'm really liking Jackie Torrance's character so far. Jane Levy makes her clearly stand out among the rest of the cast. She wants to see Henry's feet to know if it's true he got frostbitten on his toes, and is not afraid to talk to an inmate who has been arrested on account of murders. Henry learns more about his reputation in the town and what the official story is. But the more we peel back beyond the curtains, the more we learn about Molly, who had a voyeuristic crush on him when she was younger and apparently has the power to hear people's thoughts. Does she potentially have some variation of The Shine, if not The Shine itself? It wouldn't be surprising. We learn that Molly isn't afraid to forge her sister (played by Allison Tolman)'s signature in order to morgage her family home so she can get the funds for money needed to boost her real estate business on the popular television show, Local Color, where she's due to have an interview. Her sister is reluctant to let her have the interview, and you can see why, given that she's not the most audience-friendly person around, and it's easy to see her imploding and becoming an embarrassment live on TV.

But by the end of Habeas Corpus, Henry has evidence and photographic proof that "The Kid" exists. And now all he needs to do is to get to talk to him. There are also hints that there could be the protector that Castle Rock has that Lacy was talking about, even in the dead of night, and it could potentially end up being Henry, as he is the protagonist. Are we about to get a classic case of good vs evil on our hands? Or something far more sinister? The lingering mystery about Henry's disappearance has certainly made things far more compelling, injecting that extra bit of tension into the show as it progresses.

Local Color opens with Molly letting herself into the Deaver home as a young child where she sees Henry’s father heavily beat up on life support, and it’s revealed that she’s the one who pulled the plug and killed him. He’s shocked and he tries to fight it, but to no avail. This episode was called “Molly Strand has a secret”, and that was clear. In the present, Molly finds herself in a snow-covered Church with a coffin at the end. She’s asked by the father why? They have let a sinner into their house. There are plenty of people wearing bandages. This dream is eerie, unsettling and adds an extra dynamic to Molly’s character that makes her far more unsettling than before. No wonder she was trying to hide from Henry when he returned given that she essentially murdered his father.

At the bar, Henry notices Molly’s Real Estate Advertising, with Local Color on the TV. Molly is building a model of her plans for the town with Jackie, putting the finishing touches on it to show to the press. There’s no job base if you don’t want to work in a prison in the neighborhood so Molly plans to bring jobs to the town in what she views as a Phase 1. With Jackie acting as the Executive Assistant rather than an Intern, despite not being paid full time, she wants her to avoid potholes so she can keep the model intact, and right from the get go, we're not shied away from the prominence of Local Color. Molly of course pretends not to recognise Henry after what happened, wondering what happened. She’s shaking up, nervous, while Molly hears about his previous encounter with the Death Row inmate in the middle of the conversation.

Henry wants to sell his mom’s place and move her into full time care, but Molly can’t help him as she’s apparently so overwhelmed. She brushes it off as a conflict of interest due to living across the street, but Henry not buying it, walks away, admitting defeat. Molly just says it’s good seeing him again, and he returns the gesture. Meanwhile, a younger Henry burns a video tape in a flashback, angry at his father. Molly invites him in to see his room, full of album posters with Ramones and Violent Femmes covers, and it's pretty clear that she's got a good taste in music. Molly knows what he did in his room, and she sees his father looking for him and observes Henry’s curled up fist in anger. The memory’s enough to get her to take her meds in the present.

In solitary, The Kid is alone being watched by the Guards. They’re getting a bonus, which is basically a bribe in different terminology to not talk about The Kid. Zalewski says that he’s got to help himself until Henry shows up, but The Kid is looking at the picture of Lacy with apparent longing for the old man. He’s being watched on CEO and being called “Nic” like “Nic Cage” by the guards, and in a meeting, Henry wants Zalewski to earn his trust, and that he needs more to act on it. Zalewski ends up fancying a career move, and asks Henry to back him if he wants to become a lawyer. Yeah, it's safe to say the odds on Zalewski surviving this series aren't slim, even if he's been lucky enough to make it this far.

Molly arrives home to find her house vandalised and broken into while she was out. She hasn’t checked and doesn’t think that anything is missing. Potential squatters? She didn’t see anyone. A doorbell to the basement is open, and she looks to find out that her box is still there. Jackie spots the Missing Child poster of Henry and asks whether or not he whacked his father. Molly quickly brushes it off, and is left in the basement, practising her speech multiple times in front of a mirror, while all the time, being reminded of flashbacks to the incident. To make matters worse, her pills are all gone, and there’s no supply. Her normal supplier tells her to look at the Timberland Motorport, so you know that something bad’s going down. We learn more about Molly’s past and that when Henry burnt himself on a candle, she was burnt too. She also starts to feel the cold that Henry feels when he’s alone in the woods, so it's a power that's not just limited to human connection.

At the abandoned lot, Molly runs into a small child who points her in the direction of a home where Derek apparently lives, as we hear voiceovers which start off sounding like it's her being interviewed by the court, only to turn out that it is a mock court of children. The children are wearing masks, not unlike the ones from the visions that Molly has been having, and they turn to look at her when she enters and is ordered to sit down and watch the Court unfold as though it is real. The leader explains that all the kids' mothers are out drunk and their dads are all at Shawshank. A kid points at Molly, being labelled as a murderer, in what has to go down as one of the creepiest courtroom trials of the year so far. It turns out that the leader is Derek and he essentially orders her to pretend to play the game that the kids are wrapped up in so he can give her the drugs, and after some haggling, she asks for 100 for 10, but the police show up before the transaction can take place, meaning that she's going to be more unhinged than ever. This episode simply could have been called "Molly's Bad Day", and it would have seemed like a perfectly natural fit.

Henry is asking more about the suicide and wants to try and find the client’s DNA on the victim. He goes to try and get a Court Order, which is going to make him more unpopular by the second as everyone in tow Castle Rock has got a family member either working or at the prison, and it will become all the more hostile for him especially given his past. Henry intervenes to get Molly out once he learns that she’s behind bars, but Molly doesn’t want to keep doing this with him. She’s more than happy to compensate him but she tells him about her experiences that are closer when he’s around and cannot afford to be near him any second longer. Despite this, Henry rushes Molly to the interview, which goes about as well as you would expect it to from what we’ve seen from Molly so far, and she swears on television. It’s time to wake the fuck up, she says. The crowd at Local Color are absolutely shocked. Henry appreciates Molly’s efforts trying to help him. They eventually part ways outside Henry’s home, and she says that it was good to see him. Just as she drives off, Henry gets a call from a number which may be Shawshank State Prison. He’s going back, this time to meet Porter.

Porter it turns out, is quick to have a different tune, saying that they got off on the wrong foot. And now that he’s in the press, she’s quick to get back on his good books. Porter wants to give him the maximum settlement for a wrongful conviction, but Henry argues that it’s kidnapping. The actions of one rogue ex-employee being thrown under the bus doesn’t represent the prison’s values, and if he signs a NDA he’ll walk away with more than he’ll make in his lifetime. It’s time for Henry to finally meet The Kid, and this is as the tension builds to its climax. The Kid recognises him and mimics his actions with the telephone call. Asking the usual questions, The Kid says that nobody’s threatened him. He’s the Kid’s lawyer now, and they have a brand-new strategy from this moment. If he’s got no name, he’s got no crime and he’s got no story. The Kid is told about the offer, he wants to go for a better deal and go for Civil Damages that would earn him the whole damn county. He perks up when Henry mentions the word “Boats” – again, another potential Stephen King connection, albeit a minor one, given that Pennywise lured Georgie in with the promise of returning a toy boat, and guess who's playing The Kid, and asks Henry how many years old he is. Henry says 39, and The Kid asks if he hears it now, seconds before the time runs out and he is led away by the guards. What it is, we don’t know, but it’s shocked him. Do you hear it now?

Molly returns home to find the place ransacked, and she calls out asking to see if anyone’s there. Getting a knife, she advances, checking the rooms one by one, standing on broken glass. Eventually, after reaching the end of the hallway and a bedroom, she checks under the bed, only to find nothing. And then it’s the masked man again, who says “Behold, I will tell you a Mystery” only to vanish. It’s another vision, and we can breathe. The line itself seems very appropriate for the show so far. It's mystery upon mystery, and three episodes in, we're getting more questions than answers. Thankfully Hulu have decided to air all three episodes at once making it easier for audiences to consume them all, and given the calibre involved in this show, it's shaping up to have some ambitious payoff even if we're not entirely sure what form that will come in. There's certainly a lot to unpack here and I'm pretty much certain that I've missed multiple Stephen King references beyond those that I've covered here, so if anyone wants to point them out in the comments below I would be more than grateful.

Even though I am away, don't stop the comments from from coming in, and in fact, they're actively encouraged. I'm eager to hear your take on Castle Rock. For my money, it has all the ingredients put in place to emerge as a contender for one of the best new shows of the year so far, right up there with Counterpart and I can't wait to continue to see it unfold. It has all the ingredients to emerge as must-watch TV, and Hulu have another winner.



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