'Castle Rock' Sees The Mystery Deepen With 'The Box'

Welcome to our spoiler-filled Castle Rock reviews, in which we explore Hulu's new Stephen King-inspired series. (If you're looking for a spoiler-free review of the show, click here). This week we look at episode four, "The Box."

Castle Rock Episode 4

The Box

After a strong start with three compelling episodes, Castle Rock stumbles ever-so-slightly with episode 4, "The Box." The episode does conclude with a shocking, brilliantly staged sequence that sets things right, but for the bulk of its runtime, "The Box" is a the very definition of a "mystery box" episode that would make executive producer J.J. Abrams proud. Nearly everything that happens in this episode is in service of setting up more mysteries, and while there's nothing wrong with that, it can get a bit tiresome. A show – even a show like this, which is so dependent on mystery – needs more that set-up to stay engrossing. It needs story.

Henry Deaver (André Holland) is still trying to figure out what to do with the Kid (Bill Skarsgård), the mysterious – and potentially dangerous – prisoner who was found hidden away in Shawshank Prison. The people running Shawshank are trying to figure out what to do as well. Reeves (Josh Cooke), the deputy warden of Shawshank, slithers into the Kid's new cell and attempts to intimidate him with a lot of spooky talk. The way Reeves puts it, Henry's attempts to get the Kid a fair and legal hearing are going to fail, because Shawshank is the biggest employer in the county, and no one is going to want to hurt the prison. Reeves adds that Shawshunk is a subsidiary of a big multinational private security company that handles combat solutions, and proceeds to talk about the time he spent in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was captured.

He tells the kid a rather chilling story about how he and his fellow soldiers tortured a member of the Republican Guard by feeding him his own teeth, one by one. Anyone else hearing this story might be understandably creeped out and intimidated. But the Kid clearly isn't a normal person, and he ends up turning the tables rather easily by quoting the book of Revelation: "He has a name written on him which no one knows except himself; he is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the word of God..." Reeves is so unnerved that he practically runs out of the Kid's cell in fear.

As Henry waits to get the Kid a legal hearing, he also deals with some issues of his own. He keeps having nightmares (and flashbacks) to a memory of being kept in a cage in someone's dirt-floor basement. Clearly, there's a lot of instances of young people being locked in cages in Castle Rock. Henry assumes that if this is a real memory, it must be connected to the 11 days he went missing back in 1991. But he can't remember what happened.

While Henry tries to remember just what the hell happened to him as a kid, he also wants to have his father – you know, the one everyone suspects him of murdering – dug up and reinterred at his old church. The dead man's body was originally buried in the churchyard in Castle Rock, but financial issues lead to the cemetery being relocated closer to the airport. This doesn't sit well with Henry, and he insists on having his father's coffin brought back home. Since Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn), the town's former sheriff who is now shacking up with Henry's mother Ruth, signed the paperwork approving the original re-internment of Henry's father's remains, he has to accompany Henry out to the graveyard by the airport to sign the papers again.

This gives Henry and Alan a chance to bond. And when I say a "chance to bond", what I really mean is a chance for Henry to be incredibly pissy towards Alan, and for Alan to grumble right back. It's clear Henry is not happy about the idea of his mother living with Alan. The way Henry sees it, Alan is taking advantage of his mother and her dementia. But during the trip to the cemetery, Henry has a revelation: Alan and Ruth's romance isn't new. In fact, the two have likely been at it for years, and were likely having an affair back when Henry's father was still alive. For his part, Alan doesn't deny this. Before the journey is over, Henry announces that he plans on taking Ruth back to Texas with him when his business in Castle Rock is done.

After the trip, we get to see more of Alan and Ruth's relationship, and it's clear Henry is all wrong about how he views Ruth and Alan's relationship. The pair clearly care for each other, and Alan is tender, and softer with Ruth than he is with any other character on the show. When Ruth finds out Henry's plans to take her back to Texas, she's furious. She has no intention of leaving Castle Rock – or Alan. I'm thrilled this episode affords Sissy Spacek something to do, as I was worried the series was going to waste her talents the way Netflix's Bloodline did. By Spacek is phenomenal, even in her few scenes. And as the series progresses, she's going to have a lot more to do (trust me).

castle rock episode 4 review

"Henry Did It"

The tender relationship between Alan and Ruth is contrasted with the slightly awkward relationship between Henry and Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey). It's clear the two are growing closer, and Henry doesn't seem at all bothered that Molly more or less stalked him for most of their youth. But Molly has a big secret – she's the one who killed Henry's father after the man was found at the bottom of a bluff and brought home in agony. While Henry and Molly are out at a bar having a beer, Molly comes very close to to confessing the whole "I killed your father" thing. But before she can, they're interrupted by nervous, anxious Shawshank guard Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher).

Zalewski wants to know why Henry isn't doing more about the Kid, and makes it clear he wants to bring all of Shawshank down. As Zalewski tells it, Shawshank – like Castle Rock – is a bad place where people do bad things. In a later scene, we see a guard brutally beating an inmate for seemingly no reason as everyone stands around, indifferent. Indifference is a big theme in Stephen King's work, and not just his Castle Rock stories. One of the major themes in It is how the town the book is set in – Derry – has turned a blind-eye to evil for centuries. That indifference has bled over into Castle Rock, and Zalewski is sick of it.

He's so sick of it, in fact, that it might be driving him insane. Within the walls of Shawshank – where Zalewski realizes he's as much of a prisoner as the inmates – we watch the guard slowly coming unmoored. Is this a mental issue, or is there something more sinister at play here? Zalewski's state of mind begins to deteriorate rapidly after an interaction with the Kid. He visits the mysterious prisoner in his cell, and assures the Kid he's going to do everything he can to get him out of the jail. He then insists on performing a fist-bump with the Kid. The Kid awkwardly compiles, but we're immediately reminded of a previous episode, in which the Kid warned his ex-cellmate to not touch him. The cellmate ignored this, and ended up dead – his body riddled with cancer. Did the skin-to-skin contact between the Kid and Zalewski set off something within the guard? Or is he just slowly going insane?

No matter what the real answer is, Zalewski deteriorates rapidly throughout the episode, and begins indulging in bizarre behavior, like doodling smiley faces on the security monitors he's in charge of watching. The one thing Zalewski is counting on to set things right is Henry. Unfortunately, putting his faith in Henry isn't going to pay off.

While doing some digging into Shawshank and his own disappearance, Henry stumbles upon the name of a suspect who was questioned in connection to the vanishing. A man named Vincent Desjardins. Henry heads out to Desjardins house, which resembles a nightmare factory. It's a run-down, dilapidated building in the middle of the woods. One room has a piano that clearly crashed through the ceiling into the floor below. And out in the yard is a large, locked crate. Big enough to keep a dog in. Or a small boy.

Vince Desjardins isn't there, but his extremely weird brother Joseph is. Joseph just happens to have Henry's police file, which he scrounged from the dump after a flood at the county clerk's office. He also creepily tells Henry, "You know I never touched you", implying that he definitely had something to do with Henry and his disappearance so many years ago.

This is a huge lead, and Henry storms home to ask why Alan never investigated the Desjardins more closely. The way Henry sees it, Alan was a pretty shitty cop for not finding all this out for himself. Alan, in turn, has a pretty good answer for why he didn't do a better job investigating Henry's disappearance: he is dead-certain Henry murdered his own father. Alan says that as Henry's dad lay dying on his bed, he scribbled out a note that read HENRY DID IT – as in, Henry was the person who pushed his father off the bluff, severely injuring him. The day after writing the note, Henry's father was dead (of course, Alan doesn't know that Molly is the one who actually killed the man). Rather than turn Henry in, Alan essentially covered a bunch of things up to protect Henry – and Ruth, the woman he loved.

castle rock Zalewski

Crying

Henry is, understandably, upset by all this. He doesn't remember pushing his father off that cliff, but if his father said he did...maybe he did. Distraught, Henry turns to the only friend he has in town – Molly. "Whatever happened, it wasn't your fault," she tells him "You were just a kid." She's a good person, that Molly Strand. Except for the whole "killing Henry's father" thing...

Molly and Henry spend the night together, and in the morning, Henry decides enough is enough. He wants out of town, and he certainly doesn't want to confront the fact that he might be responsible for his father's death. It's time to get the hell out of Castle Rock, which means it's time to wrap up the Kid business. Rather than wait for a hearing, Henry decides to advise the Kid to take Warden Porter's original settlement offer, and get out of jail immediately. First, though, Henry calls up Zalewski to give him the news that he's leaving town, and that he won't be helping Zalewski bring down Shawshank anytime soon.

Zalewski gets the voicemail message from Henry just as Henry is showing up at the prison to meet with warden. Weary, beaten down, and clearly out of his mind, Zalewski gets a gun and proceeds to stalk around Shawshank, shooting down guards. This is a brilliantly constructed scene – we witness nearly the entire massacre via the security monitors Zalewski has spent so much time staring at. Rather than be bogged down in the blasts gunfire, the entire scene is scored only to the sound of Roy Orbison's "Crying." It's haunting and hypnotic. And it ends very badly. Zalewski eventually makes his way to the warden's office, where he tells Henry, "I want to testify!" Immediately after uttering those words, a flash grenade is thrown into the room, sending out a blast of light. As this happens, more guards come rushing in – one of whom fires off a shotgun right next to Henry's ear, immediately causing a painful ringing within Henry's head.

When the smoke clears, Zalewski is dead. And Henry is left understandably shocked. It's clear that any plans he had about leaving town immediately are going to be put on hold. There are just too many damn mysteries in Castle Rock to leave now.

Castle Rock Molly Strand balloons

I Understood That Stephen King Reference! 

  • Henry and Molly grab a drink at The Mellow Tiger, which is a bar mentioned in King's Castle Rock-set novel Needful Things.
  • In looking into his own disappearance, Henry comes upon the name "Vincent Desjardin" in the newspaper. Vince Desjardins (spelled with an s at the end) is a character in King's The Body, which inspired the movie Stand By Me. He's one of the members of the greaser gang run by Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland in the movie). In King's first novel Carrie, there's a character named Miss Desjardin – she's the school's P.E. teacher, and she's one of the few people to survive when Carrie goes nuclear at the prom. (A side-note: the newspaper headline Henry first sees spells the name as "DESJARDIN", but later, we see it written as "DESJARDINS", which might be the show's clever way of acknowledging King himself spelled the surname two different ways in The Body and Carrie. Or it might just be a goof.)
  • In one scene, Molly is attempting to sell a house to some out-of-towners who are understandably disturbed by Castle Rock's dark history. In a feeble attempt to assuage their fears, Molly comments that a "serial strangler" died in her house, and her house is perfectly normal. That strangler is no doubt Frank Dodd, a serial killer character from King's novel The Dead Zone. After psychic Johnny Smith identifies Dodd as the strangler, Dodd commits suicide. In what is now Molly's house.
  • This is a bit of stretch, but I'll include it anyway. The disturbing, brilliantly staged conclusion to the episode is set to Roy Orbison's "Crying." In King's short story You Know They Got a Hell of a Band, a couple finds themselves in a town with the curious name of Rock and Roll Heaven. Once there, they find the town is populated with dead musicians, all of whom are inexplicably evil and murderous in their afterlife forms. Orbison is one of the undead musicians the couple spots.