My love of reading and addiction to Stephen King started at a young age thanks to my Uncle Vern. King’s short story “The Raft” was given to me one Christmas and I was never the same since. Spending many nights locked in the bathroom while reading It was to follow. I have enjoyed almost every movie and series adaptation of King’s novels so as soon as I learned about Castle Rock, I was intrigued. On the other hand, the new series is a collaboration with J.J. Abrams who, while having created some of my favorite television shows of all time with Felicity, Alias, Lost, and Fringe, can also cause massive frustration with unanswered questions, illogical storylines, and an overall lack of satisfaction. My love of King outweighed my concerns with Abrams to give Castle Rock a try. After finishing the first season, I am not completely sure it was the right decision or if I will tune in for Season Two.
The small dilapidated and foreboding town of Castle Rock has a disturbing history of violence. In 1991, a young boy goes missing and is discovered days later standing on a frozen lake by the sheriff. Twenty-seven years later, warden Lacy (Terry O'Quinn) from Shawshank Prison commits suicide on his last day in office. Lacy’s successor, warden Porter (Ann Cusack), discovers an abandoned cell block and sends guards to investigate. Within the bowls of the abandoned area, guard Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher) find a young man, “The Kid” (Bill Skarsgård), imprisoned in a cage by Lacy. The Kid refuses to speak other than whispering the name of the long-ago-missing boy Henry Deaver (André Holland). Deaver is now a criminal law attorney living in Texas specializing in death row cases. Warden Porter refuses to contact Deaver and hopes to keep the matter secret. However, Zalewski believes that the conditions in the prison need to be revealed and anonymously contacts Deaver leading him to head back home.
Along with trying to unravel the mystery of The Kid, Deaver learns that his adoptive mother (Sissy Spacek) is struggling with dementia and is living with sheriff Pangborn (Scott Glenn) who had rescued him so long ago. This leads him to turn to childhood friend Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey) while she is battling her own demons from childhood along with being a drug addict.
In addition to all 10 episodes, the Blu-ray release includes the behind-the-scenes featurettes on each episode. There are also two new featurettes “Blood on the Page” and “A Clockwork of Horror: Merging the Styles of Stephen King & J.J. Abrams”.
There are many aspects of the series worth praising. The performances of Spacek and Glenn are as phenomenal as you would expect but they are completely underutilized and they barely scratch the surface of the depth of their characters. It is beautifully shot and the feeling of horror and poverty that surrounds the town is extremely successful. It perfectly feels like a world created by King with a focus on the degradation of smalltown America. There are characters and elements that will resonate with super fans but that will not alienate new ones.
The issues that I have are related to the manner of storytelling where the goal is to trick the viewer with a big reveal that there was no way to figure out ahead of time and that never really gets completely explained. I blame this aspect on Abrams. There are so many questions left at the end of the season that it results in a unsatisfying feeling and wipes away everything that was so great. It felt they were trying to do too much at times with multiple side stories that detracted from the main vision and never came together.
For example, there is a mini storyline with Diane "Jackie" Torrance (Jane Levy), who is the niece of Jack Torrance with several hints to the happenings in The Shining. Initially, this works as a great nod to longtime fans and creates some excitement on where it is headed. Perhaps, this will lead to something more elaborate in Season Two but with what was done in Season One, it just felt like a waste of time. I would have preferred more time on the background of warden Lacy especially since there is an extremely brief appearance by the amazing Frances Conroy as Lacy’s widow.
There are some supernatural parts to the series as well, some work and some don’t. Lynskey is the most believable aspect with her ability to read minds and feel others' emotions. She does a great job at relaying how this works and how it impacts her. Characters Willie (Rory Culkin) and Odin Branch (Charles Jones) fit into the unbelievable category and could have been cut out altogether.
There is so much overall potential that is wasted in Castle Rock. For fans of King, I would give a slight recommendation to try it particularly if you don’t mind lots of unanswered questions.