Hulu’s Castle Rock
Season 1, Episode 1: “Severance”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Sam Shaw & Dustin Thomason
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Habeas Corpus” – click here
We start in 1991. A boy named Henry Deaver is missing, and the search is getting desperate. The town of Castle Rock believes they won’t find the kid alive— it’s moved on to become a “recovery” effort rather than a rescue. Out in the woods, one person searches on their own looking through the snow. But still, nothing. This is Alan Pangborn (Jeffrey Pierce), a local police officer. While he stops for a hot cup of coffee he hears a strange sound in the sky. Then, Henry turns up out on the middle of the frozen lake, as if from out of nowhere.
Skip ahead to the current day in 2018. Castle Rock has changed, though not too much. Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn), warden of Shawshank State Penitentiary, makes his wife Martha (Frances Conroy) breakfast, then heads out for his last shift at the infamous prison.
But there’s something not totally right. He doesn’t actually go to work. Instead, he goes out to the woods. He sits in his car and throws a noose around his neck. The noose is tied to a tree. Then he floors it off a nearby cliff, the noose tightens— blood all over the dashboard, and the car goes down into the lake.
Porter (Ann Cusack) is the new warden at Shawshank, already incoming before Mr. Lacy ripped his head off. She starts getting a lay of the land, particularly from a correctional officer named Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher), who seems to know the place fairly well. There was a “Christmas fire” in ’87. The history is pretty nasty, too. Not to mention ever since, Block F’s been closed. Porter’s all for the prison-industrial complex, as she sees potential in about 60 or 70 beds unused for decades. More prisoners, more money, et cetera.
So, Zalewski and fellow guard Boyd (Chris Coy) are sent down to check the place out. When they do, they find a whole lot of decay, as well as evidence that someone’s been down there. They find a feral young man (Bill Skarsgård) locked in a cage, down there for who knows how long. This causes an obvious confusion when no prisoners are unaccounted for, and the kid’s saying nothing to the staff questioning him. For now he remains a mystery. But already Porter suspects it’s tied to her predecessor, after examining cigarettes in his old ashtray and the same ones found in a can down in the hole where they found the kid. When they finally get a name out of the young mystery man he tells them a name: “Henry Matthew Deaver.”
Problem is, Henry (André Holland) is all grown up, living in Texas working as a criminal law attorney. He specialises in capital punishment cases. He hasn’t been back to Castle Rock since back in ’91. Too busy trying to fight the good fight, and of all places, in Texas! Admirable. He sits with a woman, Leanne Chambers (Phyllis Somerville), who’s about to be put to death for murdering her husband. As they talk, memories of Castle Rock come back to him. He’s the only witness to see Leanne die. Except it goes wrong, she comes back to life, and he’s barred from seeing what goes on behind the executioner’s curtain. A brutal end.
“If he wasn’t a psychopath before, he sure as shit is now.”
We discover Henry’s adoptive father, Reverend Matthew Deaver (Adam Rothenberg), wound up out in the woods back in ’91, his back broken and “half froze.” He later died. Afterwards, young Deaver walked out of the forest claiming not to know what happened. The adopted boy only had with him a small figurine, like a piece of carved ivory or something similar.
Porter and her deputy warden Reeves (Josh Cooke) don’t want to call Mr. Deaver in, believing perhaps the mystery kid from the depths of Block F was asking for his lawyer. They’re contemplating gruesome fates for the kid, not wanting to deal with the various potential fallout situations— even so far as putting him with a cellmate who’ll in all likelihood murder him. This prompts Zalewski to make a call to Deaver behind their backs, pleading for help.
At the high school, Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey) buys drugs from a student, Dean Merrill (Charlie Tahan). She says she’s got a medical condition. He hilariously laments Obamacare. When she’s done Molly winds up driving by the bus as it stops, letting none other than Henry off, back in town after 27 years. Definitely going to make life in Castle Rock more interesting with him back.
Back at home, Henry sees his adoptive mother Ruth (Sissy Spacek) for the first time in a while. Only she has issues with dementia. She mistakes him for an “immigrant” there to work on her yard at first. She quickly remembers. Then Henry finds out that ole Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn) has been living there, too. Oh, lord. What a surprise. Doesn’t help Henry finds out his father’s grave was moved, all because the church made a bad gamble. Alan was the one to sign off, given Ruth’s state of mind. Sets up mounds of tension between these two going forward, even more than there was to start.
When Henry shows up at Shawshank he gets no help from Porter. He knows there’s a reason he got a call, he won’t give up that easily. He waves around “the Constitution” trying to make sure they know he’s serious. But it doesn’t do much. Porter’s too concerned with moving up the capitalist ladder of the prison system’s upper echelons to worry about human rights.
Spooky that Dale killed himself at the bluff on Castle Lake. Exactly the spot where Alan found Henry in ’91. Couldn’t just be a coincidence, could it? And what’s Molly up to? She’s kept a missing poster of Henry for so long. What will be her ultimate connection to him/the entire mystery? She’s got a box full of things from back then, including a hoodie. She times herself looking through it all with a tiny hourglass, like a piece from a board game.
That night, Henry goes to the memorial left for Dale. He thinks of when he was found, after being gone “11 days.” He still remembers nothing. Although he’s not alone out there in those woods, someone’s watching. Simultaneously at Shawshank, Zalewski finds the feral young man’s escaped from his cell, leaving a trail of blood and bodies behind him throughout the prison. Carnage everywhere, so he sounds the alarm.
We get a look at Dale some time ago. He talks to the kid. He tells his feral pet to ask for Henry Deaver after he’s found. There’s also something strange behind his eyes, a weird flicker. What exactly is going on in Castle Rock?
Lord, I loved this opening episode! Truly amazing work. It’s also not touching too hard on Stephen King. I was worried they’d go overboard with references and nods too early. A pleasant surprise.
“Habeas Corpus” is next.