There's been an escape at Shawshank.
On Castle Rock Season 1 Episode 4, things got shaken up after Dennis decided to take matters into his own hands when it seemed like nothing was going to change at Shawshank.
In an episode like this, it's almost impossible not to start at the end, with the bravado sequence where we see Dennis taking out the entire security staff at Shawshank through the cameras that he so often watched.
Dennis's decision to take this drastic action was fueled in part by Henry's decision to leave town suddenly, but it also likely had something to do with his interaction with the mysterious prisoner earlier on in the episode.
Bad shit happens here because people know they're safe here.Dennis
During that encounter, Dennis touched the supposed embodiment of evil, and he seemed to be a little off from then on. His death at the episode's end suggests that Castle Rock isn't afraid to shake things up, and promises a season that will be about more than Henry's battle to get his client out of Shawshank.
The rest of the episode featured a slow, methodical build-up of mythology that has become commonplace on Castle Rock. The only sequence that inspired Stephen King levels of terror was one in which Henry entered the home of Joseph Desjardin.
That sequence built tension effectively, slowly making Joseph seem less and less normal and more and more sinister.
We don't have any definitive answers yet as to what happened to Henry when he disappeared as a child, but Henry's own reckoning with his past seems inevitable now.
You know I never touched you.Joseph
As much as the mythology of the show works, it's often let down by its characters who, with the exception of Bill Skarsgard's enigmatic prisoner, are largely wooden and one-dimensional.
Even Henry, who is at the center of many of the show's mysteries, finds himself largely forced to react to the many sinister things he sees as he goes about trying to uncover Castle Rock's many mysteries.
In building the show around the town of Castle Rock, more than any of its individual players, Castle Rock has made it difficult to find anything to latch onto initially, even though its cast is stacked.
It also means that many of the show's developments feel like treading water. Much of the drama between Henry and his mother feels like a stall, a way to withhold information without really telling us anything about how Henry and his mother feel about one another.
The best Stephen King adaptations recognize that the fear at the core of his stories is balanced by other tones. Horror works less effectively when it doesn't have control of the other emotions its audience is feeling.
Castle Rock is not a humorless show, exactly, but it is a fairly dreary affair a lot of the time, and that makes it even more difficult to find anyone to care about.
Do you think that's why you came back? Because it reminded you?Molly
Still, this episode suggests that, even if Castle Rock is not yet as tonally varied as it could be, it's a show that also has enormous potential to tap into the sinister and strange side of King's work.
The best example of this is the ridiculous way that Dennis ends his killing spree, by showing up in front of Henry and telling him that he wants to testify.
Delivered in that kind of deadpan style, the line is in stark contrast to the darkness of what Dennis has just done, and seems to be a suggestion that he's not fully aware of its severity.
I want to testify.Dennis
There's a spark of life in moments like that that proves that Castle Rock has a beating heart underneath its insistence on withholding key bits of information from its audiences.
There have been plenty of great shows that used mystery as a key plot motivator, but the lesson that Lost's many imitators taught us was that shows cannot function on mystery box storytelling alone. The sooner Castle Rock learns that, the better.
I'm a prisoner in there too.Dennis
Speaking of concealing, Melanie Lynskey's Molly continues to be the show's standout, even though she's not given a ton to do in this episode. The sequence focused on her attempts to hide Lacy's suicide worked brilliantly, in part because of the life Lynskey brings to the role.
It's unlikely that that scene will prove essential to this story's overall plot, and that kind of storytelling is exactly what Castle Rock needs more of. What are these people like when they aren't advancing the narrative of the season forward? How do ordinary people interact with and live in a town this deranged?
"The Box" was an interesting case study in what the show still needs to improve on, and what it could be.
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