Through three episodes, Castle Rock hasn't totally decided what kind of show it wants to be.
Especially in Castle Rock Season 1 Episode 1, character work seemed almost entirely subordinated to mythology -- the tantalizing details of Stephen King's expanded universe and how each of King's iconic stories might interact in this small Maine town.
Andre Holland, the show's ostensible lead, doesn't show up until 20 minutes into the show's pilot, and once he does, the show isn't in any rush to get to the point.
In fact, the first 20 minutes of the show are a great indication of the show's overall pacing. Those first 20 minutes contain two different cold opens featuring auxiliary players in this story, and both are meant to provide a groundwork for what's to come in the episodes ahead.
Whoever you've got ain't my client. My clients are all dead.Henry Deaver
These opening scenes suggest a plan, but it's one that involves a lot of exposition and setup. Through its first three hours, Castle Rock is largely consumed with explaining the various chess pieces that it has placed on the board as if its viewers have never played chess before.
It doles out its various mysteries and backstories gradually, so much so that even through Castle Rock Season 1 Episode 2 and Castle Rock Season 1 Episode 3 that Hulu also released together for the show's premiere, not a whole lot of progress gets made.
It's true that, as these episodes move along, certain mysteries begin to deepen and intensify, and there are also the beginnings of an existential moral conundrum in the form of Lacy's prisoner, who may be the devil incarnate.
At its core, Castle Rock seems to be asking whether you would imprison the devil if you could.
That's an interesting question, but its also one that goes mostly untouched through these first three episodes. The show's cast is largely good, even if the material they are given lets them down.
When they find you, ask for Henry Deaver. Henry Matthew Deaver.Dale Lacy
Bill Skarsgard does a great job playing mysterious and menacing simultaneously, and he's perfectly cast as this weird, repressed devil.
Holland is a remarkably strong screen presence, but Henry Deaver is much less interesting than the show thinks he is. Despite his reputation in the town of Castle Rock -- he went missing when he was a young boy -- Henry is mostly vanilla through the first three episodes.
Melanie Lynskey gets a little more to chew on, delivering a manic performance that seems well suited to her. Lynskey's Molly Strand has some kind of superpower, but it's clear that she views it as an unnecessary burden, one that makes connecting with the world around her hard.
Cool murder basement.Jackie
The show also does a fair bit of work to make itself funny, and that work is especially important given the number of dark, gritty sci-fi shows that make it to the air these days.
Jane Levy's Jackie, star of the wonderful but nixed ABC sit-com Suburgatory, is responsible for a lot of that humor, and she carries off that role with aplomb.
Even though the show has cast wonderful actors across the board, it's much too focused on the goings-on in Castle Rock to spend any meaningful time with any of them.
People say it wasn't me, it was this place. And the thing is, they're right.Dale Lacy
The third episode comes the closest to exploring the characters in depth, which gives me hope that future installments will strike a better balance between the show's genuinely interesting mythology and world-building and the characters that exist inside that world.
There are sequences scattered through these three episodes that work on their own merits, perhaps most notably Molly's journey into a kid-filled mock trial where she's just trying to score some dope.
Few shows would feel comfortable including something that overtly strange so early in the series, and it's those kinds of rabbit holes that may ultimately make this show worth returning to later.
As a horror series, the show also has moments of wonderful tension that make it worthy of a place in King's larger world of stories. There are genuine scares to be had here, even if they aren't rooted in a ton of meaningful character work.
The only thing people contemplate in this town is suicide.Jackie
Castle Rock has potential, and there are reasons to be hopeful. Foregrounding mythology and laying out easter eggs as blatantly as this show has through its first three episodes is unwise, but the mythology they lay out is intriguing and suggests the depths this story could plumb if it wanted to it.
There's an idea buried here -- one about how to fight evil and vanquish it from the world -- that is remarkably compelling.
At their best, Stephen King's stories have always taken advantage of metaphors to tell stories that are relevant in some way despite their fantastical window dressing.
Castle Rock could become a story about the lengths that good men will go to defeat evil, and what it means to keep evil at bay if it also means compromising yourself. Unfortunately, those conflicts are situated inside of Dale Lacy (Terry O'Quinn), a character who killed himself mere minutes into the show's pilot.
If Lacy remains a presence on the show, or those conflicts can be transferred to Holland's character, then the show can prove itself to be worthwhile.
Whether Castle Rock will choose to take advantage of its potential is still unclear. In an era where there are hundreds of shows to choose from, patience is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
What did you think of Castle Rock's first three hours?
Did they test your patience, or are you willing to dive back in next week?