Hulu’s Castle Rock was satisfying & more fun to watch than I expected. It never became as bloody (or as silly) as American Horror Story, didn’t get as gloomy & relentless as Taboo or Handmaiden or as soapy as The Dome. Overall I enjoyed the writing, the cast & in particular the music.
Spoiler warning: there may be spoilers in this review but I’ll try not to give too much away either. Based on locations & characters out of the entire Stephen King oeuvre the writers do a great job of referencing without being slavish to King. Episode One started in Shawshank Prison and I was doubtful of enjoying the series.
I have read King extensively but not recently, so this opening made me fearful that I wouldn’t understand this world without an extensive knowledge of his work – but I didn’t. The plot & subplots are quite clear without knowing a word of King. The show is full of ‘Easter eggs’ small references to some of his writing i.e. there is a Claiborne’s Cafe in the background of some shots.
The plot hinges on the discovery of Bill Skarsgård as “The Kid” in an isolated cage deep in an abandoned part Shawshank Prison. Is he evil, good or merely in the wrong dimension? He asks for Henry Deaver (André Holland) who turns out to be a lawyer. In the course of the show we meet Sissy Spacek as Henry’s adoptive mother Ruth Deaver; Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn – a character who appears in King’s novels & some short stories; & Noel Fisher as prison guard Dennis Zalewski.
The atmosphere is eerie as opposed to scary. The story telling is often done in flash-backs. The Dark Tower multiple universes concept is more a distraction than an explanation. The finale wrapped things in a tidy way – Henry gets the Kid released in the beginning & in the end Henry becomes the Kid’s new jailer.
I loved the episode 7 “The Queen” & hated episode 8 “Past Perfect.” Episode 8 was great fun at the Dead & Breakfast in an American Horror Story way but was so deliberately clever I was disappointed. It showed that the only reason there was a Jackie Torrence character was for the punch line of her wielding an axe. One direct King reference that didn’t advance or add to any plot line but merely existed for the witty Shining references.
What I enjoyed as much as the show was the Castle Rock Critical podcast with a fine set of hosts who explored each episode scene by scene, theorized what might be happening, pointed out the many King references & made it all fun. On their scale I’d give the season 4 out of 5 blueberries. It loses a berry for too many unresolved plot threads and for events that were only there for atmosphere i.e. the dog that takes the severed head. I’d give the podcast 5 blueberries.
The performances were all excellent. On line & on the podcast there was a lot of sexual ogling of Bill Skarsgård, who as an actor was excellent, but as a sex object I find to be a tall glass of tepid water. Give me André Holland (please), or even Noel Fisher any day (or night). Then again this Castle Rock takes place in a non-diversity dimension with no LGBTQ people.
‘They found another elbow in the park.’
My mother was doing something to eggs on the stove. The scrape of the spatula dull on the frying pan as if she wasn’t fully playing attention to anything.
‘I said they found … ’
‘I heard you dear. I’m afraid they have to be scrambled.’
I hated scrambled eggs. I could cook my own breakfast, but when I started she would hover, then take over as if she was doing me a favour. Saying something like ‘boys shouldn’t cook’
‘Left or right’ she asked.
‘The elbow, was it left or right?’
‘I didn’t hear.’
The eggs were a yellow clump with browned edges
‘That makes the fifth elbow this month.’
‘Soon they’ll have enough for a whole body’ my mother half laughed. ‘How are the eggs?’
‘Can they tell left from right?’ She stirred her coffee. ‘It’s just an elbow joint.’
‘Yep. The eggs are fine. Severed clean. I suppose there’s enough for them to tell from the way the joint moves.’
‘Yuk.’ My mother shuddered. ‘Gives me the creeps to think of an elbow like that – of some csi guy manipulating it with their hands.’
She manipulated an invisible elbow in the air over her coffee cup.
‘Would it squeak like a rusty door?’ she made a weird squeak with her voice. ‘Creeeeeequee.’
We both laughed till tears ran down our cheeks.
‘Could you pass me that book?’ Mrs. Coude gestured with the stump of her right arm.
‘This one?’ I picked up the English text that had fallen off her desk.
She’d had two complete arms yesterday. In her sleeveless dress the stump was hard to miss. A complete left arm and nothing on the other side. As if it was trick of the light. My eyes were almost seeing what was once there. I didn’t want to stare too obviously. It wasn’t a red raw. The end was smooth, healed. The nub, just before where the elbow would be, was so natural, as if there had never been a limb beyond it. It seemed impossible to me that less that twenty-four hours ago she had a flesh and blood arm there and now her forearm was gone.
She was the first person I had met who had suffered the loss of an elbow. I had so many questions. I had to know how did it happen. Did she feel anything when it happened. Did she wake up in this morning and her elbow was gone.
She went to the board and started to write with her left hand. The letters were childlike, less controlled, as she went along. At one point she rubbed some of it out with her right shoulder. She stopped abruptly, her back to us as she sobbed into her left hand.
A couple of students went to the office to get the vice-principle. It felt like we were telling on her, but something had to be done.
Mr. De Codo took her by the shoulders and gently lead her out of the room.
‘You boys behave. Someone will be with you directly.’
We sat still, silent, looking at the scattered smudge she had put on the blackboard. Then began to copy it as exactly as we could. One never knew what was going to be on the exams.
(Elbow to be continued next week)
October scary poetry every Wednesday & Thursday