This Castle Rock review contains spoilers.
Castle Rock Episode 4
There’s something going on with Henry but we’re still not sure what. While “Local Color” gave us the rub on Molly Strand and her ability to hear and feel what others feel (no one’s referring to it as the shining just yet), Henry remains an impenetrable enigma. He doesn’t open up to the other characters or show any vulnerability, and part of the problem is that no one in Castle Rock seems to want him around. Except for Molly, who lets him into her home after he finally breaks down to her with the episode’s most shocking line: “Maybe I did it.”
We know that’s not exactly true since it’s young Molly who killed Henry’s father, the reverend, one night in the Deaver house, but we don’t know much about what happened in the lead up to the murder. But how did Henry remain unscathed during his time missing in the fierce Maine winter while father returned so broken? Henry’s subconscious begins to piece images together in this episode. In true Stephen King fashion, the past comes back to haunt the protagonist.
I appreciate the way the show has approached each main character differently: slow and methodical when it comes to Henry, while crazy shit seems to happen to Molly all the time. The Kid’s story hasn’t really coalesced with the rest of the show–I’m starting to wonder if he’s just the MacGuffin meant to bring Henry and Molly back together–although he does have a deliciously creepy scene this week. We’ll get to all that. But let’s stick with Henry for a moment.
I got some real True Detective vibes from “The Box,” as Henry went to visit the Desjardins house, a grotesque property on the outskirts of Castle Rock that turns out to be a creepy barber shop owned by Vince Desjardins, the bully from “The Body” and “Stand by Me.” But beyond the barbershop where Vince offers “high and tights” to his patrons is the mysterious cage with the bowl of rotten food and the spoon. As if he doesn’t already know that this cage was built for a child, Henry asks if Vince’s brother, the original owner of the house, had a dog.
Dogs don’t use spoons, but Henry is looking for any sort of deflection from the truth. The cage could have belonged to him or it could belong to the Kid, who’s been locked up in one his whole life. Henry goes through the case file Desjardins keeps in a dusty box in his attic but doesn’t find the answers he’s looking for, so the old man offers him one. His gleeful declaration that he never “touched” Henry still makes my skin crawl. It’s more obvious than ever that Henry suffered some seriously fucked up shit as a kid that he’s buried deep down.
His confrontation with Alan Pangborn offers him an answer but it’s not the one he wants to hear. The former sheriff of Castle Rock remains a dubious player in these dark proceedings. It’s so enjoyable to watch Scott Glenn play the worn down Pangborn, who isn’t exactly the kind of old-time hero you’d sympathize with but more like the sardonic jackass you hate despite the fact that he’s still trying to protect people and his town. Pangborn’s confession that he knows Henry crippled his father, based on a note written to him by the reverend on his deathbed, also reveals that the retired officer has been protecting Henry all of these years later.
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Henry wisely points out that anything Pangborn has ever done for him was really for his mother, whom the sheriff had an affair with even before the reverend was out of the picture, but that doesn’t erase the fact that Pangborn hid what he thinks is the truth. He’s gone through some lengths to do it too, going as far as to try and disappear the case files entirely. I can get with the idea that Pangborn risked several felony charges out of love, but I think there’s a bit more to it than that. He also knows about the Kid, which means that the reverend’s death is only a portion of the web of lies he’s been spinning for years.
Speaking of the Kid, his story is the ultimate slow burn, stuck between menacing stares at the camera and leisurely scaring the shit out of the deputy warden. We finally get to hear Bill Skarsgard deliver several lines of dialogue as the freakishly tall Kid (he’s not THAT tall in real life, but the camera has a way of making his height and broad shoulders look absolutely monstrous in that cell) and he doesn’t disappoint. After deputy warden doucheface (an insult to the character Reeves and not to Josh Cooke) threatens to feed the Kid his teeth, the prisoner hits him with a twisted Bible passage from the Book of Revelation.
“He has a name written on Him that only He Himself knows,” the Kid says to Reeves as he stands and leads the deputy warden out of the cell. “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is The Word of God.”
The lines are from Revelation 19:13 and they describe the Rider of the White Horse, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Depending on the interpretation, the first horse of the apocalypse is said to represent conquest, pestilence and disease, war, and/or…the Antichrist. I’m not going to go into Bible study in this review, so read up on the subject if you want to have trouble sleeping tonight, but the passage might be a clue as to the Kid’s true identity.
I’m not all that convinced about the Kid being the Devil or the Antichrist, especially since the show’s been trying so hard to make his origin sound disturbingly Biblical. This is a red herring. I find it more likely that the Kid spent his early life in the Desjardins cage before being transferred to the prison by Dale Lacy. I think he’s a victim, not a villain.
Before we move on to the most horrifying and brutal scene of the episode, I just want to mention one last thing about the Kid’s words in this episode. “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood” will undoubtedly set Constant Readers on the search for similar lines in King’s The Dark Tower series and his massive tome of a novel Insomnia. As first pointed out to me by my friend Maya Prohovnik, host of the excellent King podcast The Derry Connection (listen to her Castle Rock episode here), those lines might be in reference to the Crimson King, the most demonic of King villains and the true force of evil within the writer’s universe. I won’t dwell on this, but it’d really be something if Castle Rock were to incorporate this vision of cosmic horror into a 10-part television series. Time will tell.
But for prison guard Dennis Zalewski, time is up. With one of the most heinous acts of violence ever put on television, Castle Rock establishes itself as a work of social commentary of the highest order–and as a result, an excellent adaptation of King’s work. While the show’s moments of conventional supernatural horror have been few and far between, and have left a bit to be desired, Castle Rock absolutely shines in its long thread of man-made terror. So often in King’s work, man is the true villain hiding behind the veil of a cruel universe. Sure, there’s a bloodthirsty clown from another dimension eating children in the sewers of Derry, but that threat pales in comparison to the sexual abuse Beverly Marsh suffers at the hands of her father. People are the real monsters, and Castle Rock never forgets that.
It’s hard to sympathize with Zalewski after what he’s done, although there will surely be a subconscious attempt to rationalize his crime. Some will say it was his declining mental state after witnessing so much cruelty from the other guards. Others will theorize that the guard was under the Kid’s spell–the ending of the first episode, which foretold the mass shooting down to where Zalewski would shoot each officer. Certainly Constant Readers will point out that Zalewski’s actions fit the Crimson King’s M.O. of compelling disturbed minds to commit acts of evil. (The show even goes out of its way to introduce the smiley face symbol that can be traced back to the Crimson King and his shape-shifting minion Randall Flagg–a fact again pointed out to me by Maya!)
But here’s where the show is really challenging its viewers. How do we, the viewers, reconcile Zalewski, the worn-down guard who wanted to help expose a corrupt and morally defunct institution, with his inexcusable actions? So often, when it comes to domestic terrorism, we inadvertently try to humanize the murderers (especially when they happen to be white and male). We ask ourselves questions like “What pushed them to commit such a heinous act?” or “What were they doing in the lead up to the murders?”
Showrunners Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason seem to say at the end of this episode, “You’ve spent time with Zalewski, we’ve pled his case.” It’s up to you to draw your conclusion. You might be conflicted or angry or disgusted and completely sure now that Zalewski is a villain. I don’t have an answer for you. Some things defy explanation. What’s left for most is a man and his actions. Unfortunately, the viewers carry the weight of Zalewski’s past, moments in which he seemed to be a good man, and we’re left to pick up the pieces.
John Saavedra is an associate editor at Den of Geek US. Follow him on Twitter.