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Welcome to the Stephen King Universe

Main Cast: Andre Holland, Bill Skarsgard

Creators: Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason

castle rock season 1 posterI have long adored the worlds and characters created by Stephen King. His ability to create places that become characters is unparalleled and I’m glad someone finally decided to build a TV series in his universe (though I recognize that Haven was first, albeit limited to a connection to one story). Castle Rock takes King’s home state of Maine and one of his most reliably unstable towns and uses it as a backdrop for a story King himself could have conjured. It’s a fun ride.

We start out hearing from the Shawshank prison warden. Yes, that Shawshank – and few things have changed since Andy DuFresne’s stint in that institution. Warden Lacy is a conflicted man as he tells us a little about his Castle Rock. It isn’t a terrific place and holds a lot of ugly secrets, another of which Lacy is about to perpetrate. It’s the grossest scene in the series and takes place in the first episode. Don’t let it scare you away.

What we discover is a young man held captive for years. When he is found, he asks for a local man – one who moved away years before – and then speaks not another word. It is the beginning of a very fine mystery. Along the way we do a lot of very Stephen King-esque things like contemplate the nature of evil, the possibility of more than one universe or timeline, the ability of one person to poison an entire town, and overarching everything else – what it means to come home to a town like Castle Rock.

I’m not going to tell you a lot about the plot – that’s just mean. But I can tell you a little about the main characters and the actors who play them.

  • Henry Deaver (played by Andre Holland) is a black man adopted by a white family many years ago. He is our central character. He is now a lawyer in Texas and comes back to Castle Rock when he is called about The Kid. Holland does a great job with Henry – he isn’t entirely likable (just like every good King protagonist) and has a lot of reckoning to do with his complicated past in Castle Rock.
  • The Kid (played by Bill Skarsgard) is the newly discovered captive. He is an enigma through and through and I will tell you no more. Skarsgard (who played Pennywise in the 2018 big screen adaptation of IT) is phenomenal. He’s vulnerable and creepy and I’m convinced that one episode of this season was filmed specifically so that he could maybe find work one day in which he does not portray a character oozing with weirdness.
  • Ruth Deaver (played by Sissy Spacek) is Henry’s mother who is suffering from progressive dementia. Spacek is AMAZING in this role and I wish she could just be in everything. Ruth is pivotal in filling in the blanks in Henry’s past.
  • Molly Strand (played by Melanie Lynskey) was Henry’s next door neighbor when he was a kid. As an adult she has a bit of a drug problem, but not for any of the usual reasons. She would like to revitalize Castle Rock. Lynskey does really well with this wild card character, making her both sympathetic and not quite reliable.
  • Alan Pangborn (played by Scott Glenn) is the former sheriff of Castle Rock who has been in love with Ruth Deaver for decades. He is the institutional memory of Castle Rock for the purposes of this season. I really like Glenn and he doesn’t disappoint. His affection for the increasingly confused Ruth is very touching and his character is one that will keep you guessing about motivations and repercussions. Pangborn is a character from two King novels (The Dark Half and Needful Things).

There are also a lot of peripheral characters that may show up in force in future seasons. Most likely is Jackie Torrance (played by Jane Levy). Her real name is Diane, and she had an uncle once who went out to be the caretaker of an ill-fated inn in Colorado. As an aspiring writer she is interested in everything that goes on in Castle Rock but also has an itch to head west.

I really enjoyed this first season of Castle Rock (it has been renewed for a second). The creators (both Stephen King and J.J. Abrams are Executive Producers) did a very good job capturing the spirit of a King book town and its residents in all their glorious oddness. There are little Easter eggs from various King books scattered throughout the 10 episodes – I’m sure I missed more than I caught. Are some of those going to be launch points for future seasons? Who knows? But the characters and story arc in this particular season are both ominous and interesting; with a finale that is satisfying but leaves plenty of juicy loose ends to be tied up later. That’s a tough trick to pull off and they did it well.

Castle Rock is a Hulu original series (it premiered there in July, 2018, airing one episode a week – now you can binge them all) that is coming out on DVD on January 8th, 2019. There hasn’t been an announcement about the second season premiere date, but the creators have revealed that the show will be an anthology series with new cast members each season. My guess for a release date for season 2 would be summer or fall 2019.