Samuel Brace on Castle Rock…
Castle Rock, the new horror anthology series from Hulu, finished up its debut season back in September, bringing to an end the tale of Henry Deaver and his hometown nightmare. All in all, I think it’s fair to say that Castle Rock was a success. It wasn’t perfect, by no means can we call it an all-time great, but this was excellent TV nonetheless, comprised of a base-level quality that never dipped below very good and at times ascended to outstanding. Castle Rock, inspired by the deranged mind of Stephen King and his past works, sought to weave a new King-like tale and I am of the mind that it ultimately succeeded in this task. But let’s get into specifics, what worked and what didn’t?
Let’s start with the good. Castle Rock, given that it’s designed to be an anthology series with each new season telling a different tale set in the wicked town of the show’s title, had to create a world that could sustain such an ambition. It seems to me that this was achieved quite splendidly. The town of Castle Rock has been established as a place of nightmares, where one awful thing after the other happens to its residents. This is achieved by references from characters of past events, spread across the centuries, and now via the atrocities we have witnessed through the prism of Henry Deaver. This town clearly has many disturbing secrets, and the evil here, though it’s somewhat ambiguous, is likely more than of man’s design. As a result, Castle Rock is the perfect venue to return to in seasons to come. The locations already visited, Shawshank prison, in particular, will become truly grim reminders of the nightmare previously experienced. It’s a very exciting prospect.
The other main victory, as I see it, of Castle Rock season one, is its unpredictable nature, and this has hugely positive ramifications for future tales set in this world. The last thing one wants from any show, particularly in the mystery genre, is predictability, and while season one’s ending seemed much of a foregone conclusion for most of its run, its shocking ending was a warning to audiences that these stories aren’t going to end the way you had thought or the way you had hoped.
The ending of Henry’s story (at least, hopefully, on screen), was a surprise to be sure and leaves the town of Castle Rock in a place that is even more disturbing than when we found it. This place does messed-up things to people, and because of the show’s willingness to go in unexpected places, and readiness to present audiences with an ambiguous ending that doesn’t tell them what to think, we can go into season two expecting anything and everything. Season two might very well have a happy ending to whatever story it decides to tell, but at least we now know that there’s every chance it could be formidably morose and far from what we might imagine.
So, those are two points that instantly come to mind when reflecting on what worked with Castle Rock season one, but how about what didn’t? Well, the area I want to touch on here, is to me, its biggest weakness, and the most important area that demands addressing in future seasons – this being that the show just isn’t very scary. Don’t get me wrong, there was the odd occasion (Ruth’s main episode in particular) that reached the required levels of terror, but mainly as a viewer, I was left waiting for scares that never really materialised. And for a show attached to Stephen King, this is incredibly disappointing.
Of course, it shouldn’t be level 10 scary all the time, because then the scares would lose their impact, but going forward a more overt horror that is infused into the show’s DNA would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps this would be easier with a more obviously fantastical monster at its centre (though by no means necessary), something that is evil in a way truly beyond our comprehension as humans. Horror is also always nearly more potent when children, being the most innocent among us, are in peril, so perhaps a younger cast of characters could be a helpful tactic for season two, and certainly a nice shift in perspective.
Overall, as mentioned at the top, Castle Rock is an excellent show, not stop the presses amazing, but well worth watching and with bags of potential for the future. One can see the series becoming something truly special down the road if the right lessons are learned and the right stories are told. Could Castle Rock be scarier? Yep. Could it tell a more engrossing tale from start to finish? Sure it could. But with the building blocks of season one in place and the level of talent it has already proved able to attract, fans of the genre should be very excited about what could potentially come our way. If you are hesitant about jumping in, don’t be, season one is a ride well worth taking. Just don’t expect it to change your life and don’t expect the story to end the way you want it to.
A version of this article was originally posted in September 2018.