I read recently that the intention for Castle Rock is to build it as an anthology series. It’s a trend I appreciate in episodic television; a finite storyline can be a boon for thrillers and horror that lack the grand, operatic scope of, say, Hannibal. But my god. Four episodes in, and Castle Rock already has so much going on, I can’t imagine how they could possibly wrap up this storyline in one season (there is a potential reality that I won’t dismiss, and that I think would be fruitful, where this storyline is not entirely wrapped, and is popped in on through subsequent seasons, until some sort of culminating meet-up finale clustercuss). And yet, for all of the plot at play in these episodes – and make no mistake, it is A LOT of plot – what I most want to talk about for episode four is the presence of music. It feels deliberate in a way that I can’t entirely put my finger on, so let’s take a look, shall we?
The episode opens with Mystery Guard (his name is Dennis, and if you don’t want spoilers, look away… now. There’s no use in getting too attached to that name.) going into work at Shawshank, looking drawn and detached, and being needled about his unhappy countenance in a way that feels less like friendly ribbing than a “Big Brother demands your smiles” bit of propaganda, while the weird, percussive jangles of “Clap Hands” by Tom Waits plays in the background. Tom Waits, on the surface, seems like a pretty natural fit for this show. He is one of the absolute greatest purveyors of American mythology through songs – like if Bruce Springsteen’s weird uncle were given a bottle of whiskey and a hammer and told to use them however he wants to make percussion to accompany the stories of small town murders, disappointment, and betrayals he’s so keen to tell. But to the best of my recollection, this is the first time that anecdotal music has been used in an episode of Castle Rock – and certainly so featured and prevalent a way. It is immediately disorienting; Tom’s guttural bark crawling through the scenes along with Dennis; there’s a hint of dark humor to the whole situation.
So our friend Dennis is manifesting his displeasure with his current situation in a number of ways. We see, throughout this episode, the repetition of his days, the sameness and the abuse he becomes inured to. And we find out that maybe contacting Henry wasn’t entirely for the benefit of Skarsgard (who does NOT have a name yet, so we will keep referring to him thus), but a result of a desire to shut down Shawshank. He is ready to testify – Henry is not ready to take those kinds of steps. In fact, for reasons that we will come back to (sorta?), Henry ultimately accepts a plea that would allow Skars to walk free, but ultimately releases Shawshank from all culpability. Dennis has pretty clearly been hanging all of his hopes for redemption, for a future, on Henry – and with that hope gone, he becomes hollow. But let’s push pause on him for a moment.
So Henry. Oh man, there’s so much happening with Henry, so I’m going to try to be economic with my words. He is in the process of having his father’s body moved back to Castle Rock (more intimations throughout this episode that dear old dad was probably a dear old dick). He and Alan are butting heads on the trip: Henry wants to move his mother nearer to him, Alan is not ok with it. Henry implies that Alan (who, we learn, is the man who found Henry after his disappearance as a child) was always in pursuit of his mother, and Alan huffs, puffs, sighs, shrugs. Another strange musical moment; Henry bemoans the old timey song on the radio, and Alan mentions that the tape is stuck in the player. When he switches to the radio, it is right wing bullshit propaganda. Anyway, moving on.
Henry looks into his case file and through some dogged research, finds out that there had been a suspect in his disappearance. A fellow named Desjardin, who is just peak weirdo. Like, a real lunatic. He keeps his brother’s fingers in a jar and his house in absolute disrepair. And oh, just for fun, he has a really sturdy cage/box in the backyard, with a shitty looking bowl and spoon in it. He says to Henry, “You know I never touched you”, which could easily mean two things: you know I never touched you, because I never took you, or you know I never touched you because I DID take you, but didn’t actually touch you. Super. Creepy. Dude. Anyway: Henry goes back to Alan and says, “Hey buddy, why the hell did you just let this lead with evil Boo Radley fall through the cracks, as the investigating officer?” and, pushed to his limit, Alan tells Henry that he let it fall to the wayside BECAUSE right before his father died, he had implicated Henry in his fall. Which recasts pretty much everything about Alan: his surly demeanor, his stand offishness… he’s been protecting Henry. Of course, Henry is shell shocked and dubious about this. He goes to see our neighborhood empath Molly (who had previously shown Lacy’s house to a weirdly enthusiastic couple looking to buy), and they spend the night together. While I’m assuming they porked, we do not know for certain. What we do know is that Molly has revealed something that changes Henry’s mind about staying in Castle Rock to raze Shawshank, because that is when he calls Dennis. Pause.
Skars gets a brief synopsis, but we really should visit anyway. In the beginning, a suited jerkface goes to his cell to try and intimidate him out of going to court with Henry. He talks a big game, but when Skars rises to his full height and starts quoting strange scripture, the guy is clearly shook. I tried to catch all the graffiti in his cell: I saw GFBD, which I have no idea what it means, and David Alan Coe. A quick Google search reveals that David Alan Coe is a songwriter who, in addition to being known for inflicting “take this job and shove it” on the world, was incarcerated for 20 years. A man well versed in prison, and also, a uniquely American songwriter. I think you see where I’m going with this. Skars gets sprung, and now let’s push our collective unpause buttons.
Henry goes to Shawshank to pick up his released client. But before he has a chance to, Dennis, now desperate and hopeless, moves through the prison to the dulcet tones of “Crying” by Roy Orbison, systematically mows down his co-workers. It is a remarkable scene. A truly brilliantly executed sequence, caught entirely on the surveillance screens of the prison and escalating to a fevered pitch of violence and crescendoing vocals. Dennis ends his rampage in the waiting room with Henry; he says he wants to testify. Then armed guards shoot him. We don’t know if they shot him because of his murder spree, or if they shot him because he said he wants to testify. I have my suspicions.
There is one final question that I want to pose aloud, so that on the off chance it turns out to be right, I can triumphantly say, “ha! I called it!”, even though I’m not prepared to fully commit to it. When we have previously heard about the devil being a boy and kept in a box, we have assumed it was Skars. But no name was stated and we know that Henry disappeared for several mysterious days. I’m not saying Henry is the devil, but maybe whoever was making weird prophecies thought he was.
We’re inundated with questions right now. And I still feel like the musical selections and references in this episode are pointing us towards something, but I’ll be damned if I know what. But I am jazzed to find out.