Well its been a long time coming, but the day all Stephen King fans around the world had been waiting for, finally arrived. On July 25th 2018, the first 3 episodes of Hulu’s original series dropped on the world.
Co-created by Dustin Thomason, who was the author of The Rule of Four, and Sam Shaw, creator of one of the most underrated shows ever, Manhattan. Castle Rock, for those who don’t know, is a kind of Stephen King fan’s dream come true. The town is a prominent feature in a number of King books, including The Dead Zone, Needful things, Cujo, and the recent Gwendy’s Button Box, to name just a few. The show was touted as being driven by characters and events from Kings various works, but also as a completely new narrative. The show is also co-exec produced by JJ Abrams and King himself, so you can guarantee this will be a balls to the wall, supernatural, twist around every corner thrill ride, and boy, it does not disappoint!
I just sat down and watched all three of the premier episodes back to back to see if it would live up to expectation. As a massive Stephen King fan, I was kind of nervous about what to expect; King’s work after all doesn’t always have the greatest reputation for being converted in to film. However, with recent smash hit revivals in the King universe, such as the fantastic IT movie remake and the brilliant 11.22.63 mini-series, also produced by King and Abrams, I had no reason to be nervous.
So without further ado, lets take a look at episode 1. Beware now, if you haven’t watched, there are spoilers ahead! You have been warned.
The show opens in a snowy forest where an unknown man is evidently searching for something. We are told it is 1991, the man has a gun, and judging by his reaction at finding a lump under the snow, only to discover it is just a deer, it’s pretty clear someone is missing. Cue Henry. The man, who is revealed to be called Pangborn, rests a while by a frozen lake before seeing a young boy out on the ice. That boy is Henry Deaver. For the King fans out there, the first bit of fan service is the reveal of the man to be Pangborn; more accurately, Alan Pangborn. I’ll talk more about him later.
That short sequence alone was enough to keep me seated, though the lesser fans out there may need some more. Did I mention this show doesn’t disappoint? The next scene practically had me begging for answers on all fours with my jaw bouncing off the living room carpet.
My first thought in the next scene, which switches to modern day Castle Rock, was how nice it was to see Terry O’Quinn again working with his LOST pal JJ Abrams. That thought though, held for all of about two minutes. Hold on for the first major spoiler.
In a scene unlike anything I have ever seen before, O’Quinn, who we find out to be Warden Lacy of Shawshank prison, commits suicide by tying one end of a rope around his neck and the other end around a tree. Now you’re probably thinking, why didn’t you just say he hanged himself? Well, because he doesn’t. Rope still around his neck and tied to a tree, the good Warden floors the gas pedal of his Lincoln which sails straight off a cliff where he is promptly, and bloodily decapitated.
No more than five minutes in and we have questions coming out of our ears. This is what a Stephen King story is all about.
I’m not going to recount every scene in this article, I’m just going to touch upon the key points and some of the fan service. I just wanted to give a feel for how I felt during those first few crucial minutes: happy, sad, slightly disgusted, and utterly flabbergasted.
Now, the whole story in this season revolves around Bill Skarsgard’s character, whom we have seen briefly in the trailers. Bill plays ‘The Kid’, a character which, up until at least the end of episode three anyway, has no name and no background. We get our first shots of Shawshank after Warden Lacy’s unexpected suicide along with a dramatic swell in music, making the whole place seem even more menacing than it did all those years ago in the movie. We get to see the new Warden, Warden Porter, who is played by Ann Cusack, and even a little throwback to the 1994 movie when one of the prison officers shows her to her new office and mentions that you can still see the bullet hole where Warden Norton shot himself. That made me smile, being a big fan of The Shawshank Redemption.
It comes to light that an entire block of the prison has been shut down and abandoned for 30 years and when sent to investigate, prison officer Zalewski finds a mysterious hatch inside, which holds the Kid in a cage. Seemingly unable or unwilling to speak after they get him out, the only words he mutters are ‘Henry Matthew Deaver’. Recognise him? That’s the kid that Alan Pangborn found on the frozen lake back in 1991.
Deaver is now a death row lawyer, trying rather unsuccessfully to help clients destined for the needle, when he gets an anonymous call from someone asking him to represent the Kid at Shawshank. He reluctantly agrees and heads back to his hometown of Castle Rock.
Deaver has a troubled past in Castle Rock which is why I presume he no longer resides there. When he was found on the lake by Alan Pangborn, he had been missing for 11 days. His father had been out there with him, but was found at the bottom of a rock face with a broken back. I can’t delve too much in to the circumstances of this just yet as the mystery starts to unfold more throughout episodes 2 and 3. Upon Deaver’s return though, he finds his mother — played by Sissy Spacek, who many will know as Carrie White — is now shacked up with old Alan Pangborn.
What strikes me in these scenes between Henry and Ruth Deaver, is how disconnected Henry is from his mother. We know that his father is dead, and it is evident that Mrs. Deaver is suffering in some sort of mental capacity. Henry makes reference to home help that he pays for and later on a doctor that he had arranged, but it seems neither the home help nor the doctor have been seen for quite some time. It made me wonder just how long Henry had been away and how painful it actually was for him to return to his home town.
This brings me nicely on to Alan Pangborn. Constant readers of King will know him from several novels; Alan being a major character in Needful Things and The Dark Half. He was the sheriff of Castle Rock between 1981 and 1991 and was formerly portrayed by the great Ed Harris in the 1993 Needful Things movie adaptation. Pangborn was always a character that I liked and curiously, he was in to shadow puppets and magic tricks in King’s writings, yet none of that has been shown in this series so far. He is a good man though and I am excited to see how his character develops through the show.
The last major reveal of the show comes right at the very end where we see Warden Lacy sitting in the hole next to the Kid in his cage, smoking a cigarette. He tells the Kid, “when they find you, ask for Henry Matthew Deaver’.”
More of this mystery does come to light through the next two episodes, but there are still more questions than answers. Why did Lacy keep the Kid down there and for how long? Has he been down there the whole 30 years and why did he specifically tell him to ask for Henry? There is some dialogue in the next episode which goes some way to explain why Lacy had him there, but it only opens up more questions when you hear why. Questions that are very distinctly ‘King’ in feel, backed up by the weird and disturbing scene which leads straight in to this last revelation.
On shift in the control room at Shawshank, Officer Zalewski sees the Kid disappear from his makeshift holding cell only to appear elsewhere on the prisons CCTV cameras looking straight at him. After a few dramatic screen flickers, the halls and corridors of the prison look littered with dead bodies, the work of this creepy new inmate.
The first thing I asked myself was, is he a vampire? It is not totally out of the question, given King’s previous history with vampires living amongst civilised society, is it?
Whatever he is, it’s clear he is very powerful and potentially highly dangerous. Henry is somehow mixed up in it based on his past in the town and I couldn’t help but feel after the first episode that Pangborn is somehow connected to it all as well. He was the one that found Henry back in 1991 and he is now the one caring for Henry’s estranged mother. Could it be that he knows much more than he is letting on and he is looking after Mrs. Deaver more out of guilt, either his own or someone else’s? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. One thing is for sure though, I will be eagerly anticipating the new episodes and I can’t wait to come back here to discuss the revelations with you!