This Castle Rock review contains spoilers.
Castle Rock Episode 9
Castle Rock played most of its cards this week and I’m a bit disappointed with the big reveal. The problem isn’t that it’s come from left field — Stephen King is a big fan of portals to alternate realities and universes; they’re sprinkled all over his work — but that it’s a bit predictable and an unbearably tidy explanation for the events surrounding the Kid and Henry Deaver. Or should I say, both Henry Deavers…
It doesn’t help that such an important story feels sort of tacked on to the end of the season. For weeks, we’ve followed the Kid through both Shawshank Prison and as he stalked the streets of Castle Rock, and we’ve watched him with seldom a clue as to his origin or true purpose. Is the Kid a victim or a villain?
After weeks of releasing only the smallest trickle of information, the show opens the floodgates in “Henry Deaver,” giving us the entire story — and pretty straight, too. Gone is the grace with which Castle Rock has dished this delicious mystery. In its opening minutes, the episode reveals that the Kid is simply Henry Deaver from another universe. No supernatural origin or weird trip through a cruel cosmos. He’s just a normal guy who got dragged into someone else’s mess.
Most of the episode from that point on is about comparing and contrasting Alternate Henry to the one we’ve gotten to know over the last month. This Henry is a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease in honor of his mother, who lives in Florida with Castle Rock’s former sheriff. (In this universe, Ruth did run away with Alan, allowing Henry to have a much peachier life it seems.) He’s married and hoping to have a child. Alternate Henry is an all-around well-adjusted dude, which is more than we can say about the Henry who returned to his hometown in “Severance.”
Alternate Henry’s life is far from perfect, though. His father, a mentally ill reverend who believed he could hear the voice of God, has killed himself and left behind a ghastly legacy in his basement for his son to find. Here is where we discover where our Henry disappeared to in 1991. That it’s his own “father” who caged him, believing the boy to be some sort of devil, makes little Henry’s journey through time and space all the more horrifying.
Unfortunately, this twist doesn’t really go anywhere interesting and the episode fails to capitalize on the mystery. Why has little Henry traveled to this alternate Castle Rock and who opened the door? Instead, little Henry’s presence gives way for a deeper dive into the reverend’s disturbed mind and his spooky tapes. Adam Rothenberg really sells this tell-tale journey through the mouth of madness in his numerous monologues throughout the episode, his voice so uncertain but also determined. He’ll see his cruel act through in the name of God — at least until he decides to blow his head off.
We also get some other alternate universe fodder in the episode. Dennis Zalewski, the ill-fated Shawshank guard, is a cop in this reality, while the socially awkward Molly becomes an esteemed councilwoman. Interestingly, this version of Castle Rock looks like a much more joyous place than the town plagued with murder we know and love.
The episode doesn’t really get going until the last 15 minutes. After Molly sees the boy’s true origin through the shining, she decides that they need to get him back to his own Castle Rock. This sets in motion the events the Kid described to Molly at the end of last week’s episode, a clever little cliffhanger that I hoped would lead to a much bigger twist than this. Ultimately, Molly is shot and killed while helping little Henry escape into the woods but we’re left to wonder who pulled the trigger. Zalewski seems as surprised as Alternate Henry when poor Molly crumbles to the ground.
And what of the other people in the portal? The girl holding the bloody knife, the prisoners trying to escape the guard dogs, the teenager leaning against a tree, slitting her wrist…where do they fit in? Crows fly over their heads in the light of what looks like two bright suns. Might those be the Deadlights first used by Pennywise the Clown and then the Crimson King? More mysteries with only an hour left to solve them.
What we do know for sure is that Alternate Henry is zapped into little Henry’s universe, left to wander the freezing woods until his fateful run-in with Warden Lacy. The Kid concludes his story and asks our Molly whether she believes him, but he’s really asking us. While you could call his story suspicious, it seems highly unlikely that the show will change course with one episode left to go, especially if this story isn’t getting a second season. There seems to be only one thing left to do: get the Kid back home. I hope the destination justifies the journey.