Castle roCk Season One
The Maine event
UK TBC US Hulu, finished Creators Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason Cast André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Skarsgård, Sissy Spacek
As well as being the King of Horror, Stephen King is also the King of Easter eggs. Long before the term became popular, King was inserting lots of low-key crossovers into his books, effectively creating a shared universe. And since a lot of his books are set in or around the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, it was only a matter of time before a TV series was based there.
Any worries that the show might be one long egg hunt, however, are quickly dispelled. While Castle Rock has an added level of spot-the-reference fun for Kingophiles (look, a woman named Torrance who knows an awful lot about axes! Look, yet another actor famous from a King adaptation!) the series successfully stands on its own two feet. It can be stodgy and melodramatic, with an arc plot that’s simpler than its self-consciously complex methods make you believe it is, but it can also be surprisingly innovative and thought-provoking.
It also mutates rapidly, with episodes that shift its premise in a way rarely seen since Fringe. The series begins with success-averse death row attorney Henry Deaver (André Holland) returning to his home town of Castle Rock when a young man (Bill Skarsgård, recently seen as Pennywise in IT) is found in a cell hidden beneath Shawshank prison. He was secretly incarcerated there by former Shawshank warden Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn), who recently killed himself. The hollow-eyed young man will say nothing except Deaver’s name.
De aver also finds his dementia afflicted mother Ruth( Sissy Spacek, Carrie in the 1976 King adaptation) is being “looked after” by former sheriff Alan Pangborn (a character from Needful Things, played with gnarly cynicism by Scott Glenn) and is convinced he’s a gold-digger. But Pangborn knows more about the death of Deaver’s father than he’s letting on...
It starts as a intriguing mystery: unsettling and creepy rather than body-horror gross. Packed with colourful characters, it also unfurls in a worrying leisurely fashion, almost Lost-esque, with flashbacks that confuse rather than reveal, characters who rarely ask the questions you want them to, and pretentious voiceovers about the hidden horrors of Castle Rock. Then in an audacious episode shown from the point of view of Ruth – a woman with dementia, remember – the show reveals its true central themes. Packed with unmotivated leaps in time, this is not easy to watch but is oddly hypnotic, creepingly horrifying, and sets the show on a new path.
Annoyingly, the finale feels like pure Lost, with little sense of conclusion, characters making odd decisions and more questions for season two. But, crucially, you’re left wanting to know what’s going to happen next. Dave Golder
Henry’s “disappearance” happened 27 years before the present-day scenes; Pennywise reappears every 27 years in IT...
This is not easy to watch, but is oddly hypnotic
“Please stop talking about pigs’ blood.”