Castle Rock

When I heard this new series wasn’t written by Stephen King or based on one of his stories but was rather a tribute to his work, I was really worried. Remember when they turned Lawnmower Man into an homage instead of using the source material? But I needn’t have been concerned. Castle Rock feels like something King would write.

TL;DR: If you haven’t watched this series already, you’re probably on the verge of murdering all the people who keep telling you to watch it.

Spoilers for Castle Rock follow

I’ve not been this glued to a television set since Breaking Bad rattled to its conclusion shaking and snorting like an out of control freight train. When was the last time you kept checking to see if a new episode was out? Back when there three channels?

This show does so well exactly what King is an expert at: It takes a strong premise, layers in richly detailed characters, and then bends the plot into a pretzel. Every episode ends the way a Stephen King chapter ends, on a cliff so steep you can’t help but plummet over into the next one.

One thing that King is also very good at is the strong opening scene, the hook that gets you to invest right away. The interview at the opening of The Shining is a great example. As is the shower scene in Carrie. In Castle Rock, we watch as a well regarded man ties a noose around his neck, gets into his car, and drives off a cliff.

Too many writers lack the confidence to leave the reader in the dark about what’s going on. I find that approach compelling, personally. I love the process of figuring out who the boy in the cage is and what happened that night black Henry went missing and where white Henry came from. The Castle Rock writers have mastered the knack of  feeding you just enough information so you don’t get frustrated so they can lure you down a trail of breadcrumbs until something jumps out at you.

The Easter egg references to King’s actual works seem unnecessary and a little frivolous, as if they were unsure about crediting him as a producer if they didn’t put some of his stuff in there. Maybe that was an executive ask. God knows they’ve asked for dumber things.

But the thing I love most about this show came in the next to the last episode when we were given white Henry’s alternate universe story and it made everything seem to fit. But then, at the end of the episode, you realize it’s just him telling a story. He could be lying. If he’s really just the alternate version of Henry from the other side, why doesn’t he age? Why does evil follow him wherever he goes? Why did the voice in the woods tell the warden to cage him and never let him go?

And why didn’t caging him work? The idea — at least according to the warden — was that if white Henry was ever let out of that cage all kinds of evil would infect the town. But the town hasn’t been spared at all while he’s been in the basement at Shawshank. One evil after another has piled up over the years with the perpetrators all saying the same thing, “It wasn’t me. It was this town.”

Maybe that sound in the woods isn’t the voice of God, after all. Maybe it’s a different, more sinister voice.

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