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Summering in Castle Rock Episode 1-10: Romans

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I’ve been putting this off.  I’ve had a couple of really, truly great opportunities to just sit down and pound this out, and both times I’ve avoided it by listening to podcasts or watching those videos where someone makes food super fast.  Because this feels hard.  Hard in the sense that there is a lot to discuss, but also hard in that it feels like I’ve developed a bit of a relationship with Castle Rock, and now we have to have a talk about whether or not we should stay together; it might work out, we might end up married and having beautiful, strange, half-human, half-television show babies, or we might waste each others time for 3 more seasons.  Who knows?  But either way, it’s time to look the gaping flaws and shortcomings square in the damn face and call them by their names.  Castle Rock, what have you done?

Well, for starters, and to isolate the general narrative thrust of the episode:  Henry, having escaped the Lacy house incident of two episodes ago, heads home and finds two things out relatively quickly.  One, Wendell did not leave town and is back and two, Molly has had a very strange conversation with Skaars, who wants to meet with him at the ol’ cemetery.  Henry shows the appropriate amount of suspicion for the bizarre, parallel universe telling of events, and is then promptly arrested by the police.  It turns out that the one of the two weirdos who locked him in the soundproof room was stone cold murdered, and Henry was spotted going into the woods with him.  Combined with how horny the cops have been from word go to arrest and neutralize Henry, this provides all the ammunition they need, and Henry is taken into custody.  Molly talks to him and he asks her for a favor; take Wendell back to Boston and then keep driving, anywhere but to Castle Rock.  Henry is put into a cell near (and eventually with) Skaars, and they tensely kibbutz about where they are and who they are.  Skaars answers cryptically: this is not a show that is invested in giving concrete answers, and while I respect that to a certain extent, there are points where it feels take to an extreme.  In college, I had a professor who told me that sometimes my writing was almost too dreamy and mysterious, and I think I finally understand what she meant by that.

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Ultimately, Skaars uses his chaos powers (?) to cause literally everyone else in the prison to massacre each other, and in his first overt act of anything betraying personal control, takes Henry hostage with him to the woods, towards the sound that has been alluded to all season, and potentially, towards a gateway to a parallel world, depending on what we choose to believe.  It would have been entirely possible for Skaars to kill Henry here.  If we are to accept him as a being of evil and malice, why didn’t he?  Why would he care enough about Henry to keep him alive?  He also could have just left him there: he had a gun, he could have, I don’t know, tied Henry to a chair or something.  Or just said, “Hey, bro, I’m out, byeeee.”  But he didn’t.  He took him with him, and that is either a really odd plot hole or something I just can’t comprehend right now.  Skaars takes Henry to the woods, and Henry is able to wrestle the gun away from Skaars.  He has a vision of Skaars’ lovely mug turn into some sort of demon or other and ultimately, we find, returns Skaars to his old holding cell, under Shawshank.  Our jump forward cut reveals that Henry has taken up some minor real estate law in Castle Rock, and now fancies himself the keeper of Skaars.

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Ok, so, there are obviously a lot of questions here, and I want to get into them, but my first one, my loudest one, and the one I keep going back to whenever I try to parse this nonsense is “what the hell?”  Not in the same way I thought “What the hell?” when I saw First United (unsolicited recommendation, kids, this one’s on me… great movie, check it out!), where I am sort of weirdly satisfied by how strange what I’ve just experienced is.  More of a genuine “what the hell were you trying to do?”  Castle Rock had a top notch cast, and if I’ve been sleeping on how brilliant Andre Holland has been all season, I apologize for that now.  He was the thing – his performance, his gravity, his commitment to seeming like someone backed into a corner and trying to do their best to get out without hurting anyone – that almost made this finale work.  Simply the force of his charm and charisma.  But what was the objective of this season?  We learn in this episode that young Henry did indeed push his father off the cliffs, and that it was for a good and compelling reason – his father clearly intended to kill his mother, and Henry wanted to save her – and ok, I’m here for that.  Good job, show, this pleases me.  But we still don’t really know where young Henry spent those freezing days while people were searching for him.  What about the creepy barber from earlier in the season? He had a person cage in his backyard – is that just a red herring?  How many people cages ARE there in Castle Rock?  What was Skaars purpose and intention in “The Queen”?  Why was he so horrible to Ruth?  What’s the deal with the goddamn dogs?  I have at least a half a dozen more questions of greater or lesser importance, but to me the greatest impact comes from my inability to come up with a reasonable answer to this: knowing that Skaars never actually hurt anyone himself, and knowing too, that Henry is fundamentally pragmatic (he doesn’t believe in a portal in the woods), why doesn’t he just let Skaars go?  Either there IS a portal in the woods, and Skaars gets to go home (and obviously we are to believe there is SOMETHING in the woods, otherwise why would Skaars want to get there so badly) or he goes off to live in some weird Jason Vorhees cabin, minding his own business.  There’s no reason to even assume his chaotic influence has any impact beyond Castle Rock.  Or that he has any ill intentions.  Just let him go.  And the problem is, I can’t honestly think of one good answer to that question.  I suppose it’s supposed to be some sort of “Henry is a good, ethical man, and is worried about what mayhem Skaars might harvest, should he be left unattended”, but there isn’t evidence to support that.  And it would seem that Henry – having been accused himself earlier in the finale of being someone who brings bad luck with them everywhere they go – would be more empathetic.  What makes him feel comfortable imprisoning someone, in solitary confinement, in a cold, dark basement indefinitely?  We are supposed to believe, I guess, that Henry feels forced to choose between killing Skaars and imprisoning him, as the finale specifically referenced his speech about the death penalty from the pilot, and that to Henry, this is the kinder option – he can’t bear the weight of having executed a man.  But he can keep him caged?  In conditions that I think most would agree is tantamount to torture, for years?  I don’t buy it, guys, that’s the thing.  I don’t think it’s consistent with who Henry is, and who we’ve come to see and feel we know over the course of these ten episodes.   The motivation doesn’t make sense.  And maybe that is partially because the serialization of this show was a bit sloppy.  There was, perhaps, a surplus of interesting ideas, and not enough time or space to connect them in a meaningful way.  And you know what?  That would be fine, if this weren’t slated to be an anthology series.  I would be dissatisfied, probably, with this finale, but open to the idea that ok, these questions remain, maybe they will be addressed in a rich and fulfilling way next season.  But this seems improbable.  There is the possibility that certain things will be further explored, and I would like to see that – Henry is a great character and frankly deserves better service than the show provided – but the mid-credits sequence suggests strongly that season 2 will be following Jackie Torrance to the Overlook Hotel, and look, my horror loving heart practically explodes at the thought of returning to those hallowed halls, but it kind of shuts the door on the actual Castle Rock part of Castle Rock.

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But.  Maybe there is a grander design here than I can see.  Maybe there is a notion of a way to bring these stories, these disparate timelines and worlds together, in a way that I have not comprehended yet.  I will stick around for season 2.  Crossing my fingers I’ll see you all there.

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Kelly Mintzer hates dolls but loves movies about evil ventriloquist dummies. She is working her way through the “Sandman” series slowly but surely, and has been compared more than once to that iteration of Death. Holding down South Philly with a creative writing degree and the full series of “Hannibal”, she hasn’t seen her natural hair color in years.