This Castle Rock review contains spoilers.
Castle Rock Episode 5
How exciting to finally see the great Sissy Spacek front and center in “Harvest,” but poor Ruth Deaver who is falling deeper into her illness and the darkness that’s spreading through Castle Rock as the Kid takes his first steps as a free man. For the second week in a row, Castle Rock continues to perform as a perfect distillation of Stephen King’s work. While last week’s “The Box” challenged viewers with its shocking climax — the culmination of a string of episodes that effectively commented on the dangers of a privatized prison system (social commentary being a major part of King’s writing) — the show points its lens at two other important facets of the writer’s work in “Harvest”: character drama and horror.
There are hints throughout the episode that, despite her growing dementia, Ruth is more attuned to the evil that’s engulfing the town than most of the other characters. In her first four episodes, it was hard to get much of a read on Spacek’s character, who’d spent most of her time on screen performing chores around the house. Her story had said more about Henry’s sucky family life — growing up black in a town filled with racist undertones and accused of killing his reverend father — than Ruth herself.
But Ruth embodies a different energy this week, one of someone trying to desperately hold on to the light. Spacek delivers her best performance of the series as she shifts from hyper-aware matriarch of the Deaver family to loving partner in that sweet scene with Alan to possessed as she jumps off the newly named Pangborn Bridge. The scene in which Ruth takes a dive off the bridge is an absolute gut punch, a surreal moment of panic that jumps at you during an otherwise mundane scene. It’s almost too clever that Pangborn’s speech begins with an anecdote about a magician’s sleight of hand.
Ruth survives her plunge, which is a relief. To not have Spacek for the rest of the season would be a true disservice to the series. I think she has a bigger part to play in the storm to come than was initially suggested. With Ruth Deaver, Castle Rock is showing that it’s an excellent character drama hiding behind a genre veil.
It’s also a relief to see Castle Rock playing with tone, capturing the wildly funny (Jackie Torrance hotboxing her car with the very confused Kid), dark, dramatic, and scary in stride. While the first two episodes were comprised of two overwhelmingly dreary hours that just didn’t let up, the show has really hit its stride in the three episodes since. “Harvest” introduces some real frights, too.
As if the Kid’s entire situation weren’t scary enough, these last two episodes have shown us the extent of the horrors wrought by his strange influence. While I’m hesitant to say Warden Dale Lacy was right to keep the Kid caged up at Shawshank, the mystery man must at least be somewhat responsible for the violence that has plagued the town throughout its history. I called him a victim last week, and while it’s still really tough to say whether the Kid is willingly making people murder each other in sudden fits of rage, there’s no arguing that he has some sort of evil power.
The sweet birthday party scene that suddenly devolves into screams and murder, accented by the cries of an infant, is visceral, made all the more effective by the fact that we don’t actually see the violence but are simply forced to listen in. We’re made to hear along with the Kid as the happy family is shattered at knifepoint. The shot of the Kid sitting on the roof of the house while blood is spilled inside is chilling. Again, it’s hard to say whether the Kid is in control of his extraordinary power and if he wants these things to happen, but at the very least he’s curious about his effect on people.
Molly senses the danger surrounding the Kid. She can hear what’s going on inside the Kid’s head, an amalgamation of the pain and suffering that has engulfed Castle Rock for decades. Indeed, it seems that the sounds of terror in the Kid’s head are from different points in time, as if he’s been around for every single dark moment in the last 30 years (the ’80s were particularly excellent, according to Jackie), including the events of Cujo, which are referenced several times in “Harvest,” although I suspect they’re playful callbacks as opposed to story threads. Either way, the Kid can still hear the mad barking of the St. Bernard that terrorized the Trentons so many years ago.
There are several fan theories about what exactly is going on with the Kid making the rounds on the internet if you’re interested. I won’t get to bogged down with them in this review, but the one many Constant Readers keep bringing up is the possible connection between the Kid and Pennywise the Clown from It. Forget that Bill Skarsgard portrays both characters on screen for a second. Some fans are pointing to the fact that it’s been 27 years since Henry disappeared on the show, which also seems to be the same amount of time the Kid spent in Lacy’s cage.
As you’ll remember, Pennywise rises from the sewers to haunt Derry every 27 years. It might not be a coincidence that the Kid was found in a tank underneath Shawshank or that terrible things happen when he’s around. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Castle Rock is some kind of modern retelling of It — Pennywise’s creepy birthday balloons make an appearance in the latest trailer for the show but I’m calling that another easter egg — the similarities are uncanny.
Others point to the possibility that the Kid is actually somehow related to recurring King villain Randall Flagg because of the happy faces Zalewski draws while allegedly under the prisoner’s influence. Happy faces are a symbol of Flagg and his master, the demonic Crimson King, which the Kid might have also alluded to earlier in the series. Is the Kid actually Randall Flagg’s son or another one of the Crimson King’s agents? I don’t know, but I need to move on!
The final scene between the Kid and Alan is tense as hell. I loved Scott Glenn in this episode. His stoic former sheriff excels in even the briefest of tender moments with Ruth (Glenn and Spacek have great chemistry as the old and worn couple!) and he brings out a very sharp edge during his face off with the Kid.
We now know for sure that Alan is complicit in the Kid’s kidnapping, but there’s no regret in the lawman’s voice. Pangborn, like Lacy and possibly some of the other old-timers in town, knew what they were keeping buried underneath Shawshank, probably in the hopes that they were stifling a great evil. As Jackie said to the Kid, not much has been going in Castle Rock since. That’s certainly about to change.
John Saavedra is an associate editor at Den of Geek US. Follow him on Twitter.