“I've waited 27 years. I rescued you from that basement, and I never asked for any of this.”
Note: This post contains spoilers for Castle Rock (and Twin Peaks: The Return).
In Stephen King's fantastical collaboration with Peter Straub, The Talisman, young Jack Sawyer heads off on a quest to save his dying mother Lily Sawyer (an actress known as "the Queen of B-Movies") which leads him to "The Territories", a strange universe that runs parallel to Jack's United States. Much like The Dark Tower series – which introduces the realm of Mid-World – the massive book indulges King's long-running fascination with alternate dimensions, where slightly (or, in most cases, radically) warped elements of our reality exist alongside horrific, phantasmagorical fundamentals.
In The Talisman, individuals in the Territories possess "Twinners," or parallel selves, on Earth. Twinners' births, deaths, and happenings in-between are usually duplicated, with minor augmentation. Twinners can also "flip" – or move to the alternate world – but can only inhabit/share the form of their parallel universe's analogue. It's an interesting twist on the notion of doppelgängers and fate, where someone is living our very same life, just in another realm. Jack's goal is to heal his mother in the Territories (who is represented by the also ailing Queen Laura DeLoessian) so tha the fading actress may live in his home-world.
While not quite the same concept, "Past Perfect" and "Henry Deaver" (episodes eight and nine of Castle Rock) explore a similar set of storytelling notions. If we're putting it into television terms – which would probably be a wiser approach – the series is now venturing into Twin Peaks territory. After teasing us for the past few episodes – and even leading this author to weave his own theory that the series may be attempting one giant Tower connection (which I still haven't given up on) – Castle Rock finally leans into the theory of parallel existences.
The finale of the horror-heavy "Past Perfect" – where the Kid (Bill Skarsgård) cryptically informs Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey) that she "died" out in the forest surrounding the town – gives way to almost an entire installment set in an alternate iteration of the haunted town that hasn't been glimpsed until now. Like the Territories, it's similar to the Castle Rock we know, but skewed ever so slightly as to cause disorientation. Fans of Twin Peaks: The Return – which sees an Alternate Agent Cooper and Laura Palmer solemnly driving back to the small Washington town where their lives changed forever – will feel a rather undeniable pang of déjà vu. We've been to this place before, but don't know what year it is, or how we got here.
But first, let's get the grisly proceedings of "Past Perfect" out of the way. The majority of episode eight zeroes in on two characters we’ve only briefly met in the past: retired college professor Gordon (Mark Harelick) and his wife Lilith (Lauren Bowles). Last we visited them, Molly was showing the relocating couple recently deceased Shawshank Warden Lacy’s (Terry O'Quinn) house, which we now learn they went ahead and bought, in order to convert it into a true crime bed and breakfast (which, to be honest, is an insanely cool concept). Like Castle Rock itself, they're trying to artistically cash in on the hamlet’s haunted history, by recreating the municipality’s most infamous murders via a series of gruesomely detailed mannequins. Only after Gordon finds a stash of Lacy's old paintings of the Kid, he goes sort of nuts and butchers their first (and last) customers after listening to them fuck all night (seems Mrs. Lacy had a problem with fidelity that the teacher was never quite ready to let go).
Though this is all staged with bloody aplomb by director Ana Lily Amirpour (The Bad Batch), it amounts to nothing more than a tangent side-plot King has routinely been known for clogging up his primary narratives with. If this is an act of homage: well done. However, it more resembles a half-formed story that series creators Dustin Thomason and Sam Shaw somewhat shoehorned into the runtime, distracting us from the fact that their show keeps raising a ton of questions, yet not offering a whole lot of answers. To wit, I like this Tales From the Crypt-esque contained splattery campfire tale, but it only seemed to delay the proverbial "good stuff". Namely, just what in the hell is going on with the Kid, his attorney Henry Deaver (André Holland), and the flashes of a dirt-floored cage (with a little Henry trapped inside) that we keep getting throughout "Past Perfect"?
Thankfully, "Henry Deaver" spends 44 of its 45 minutes in the "second" Castle Rock, where the Kid is actually the episode’s titular character: a successful experimental doctor, studying Alzheimer’s disease. In an act of artistic graciousness, this installment finally gifts Skarsgård – who we've only really known as Pennywise from IT and the seemingly ancient evil in Castle Rock – an opportunity to finally play a normal dude (which, all things considered, is still sort of weird). On this timeline, he's the son of Ruth (Sissy Spacek) and preacher Matthew Deaver (Adam Rothenberg), though his mother actually ran off with Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn). The clandestine lovers absconded to Pasadena, and have been living the good life...but Ruth still has Alzheimer’s (leading to her son’s R&D career). Reverend Deaver is still a possible crazy person – this one also listens to the "Voice of God" – yet Molly never killed him like in the other Castle Rock. Now, he just lives in Dr. Deaver's childhood home like a deranged shut-in. So far, it seems like the theory of The Talisman's "Twinners" existing on this show could still come true.
Then Rev. Deaver kills himself out at Dark Score Lake, just as Warden Lacy did. The suicide prompts Dr. Deaver to return home and find a lively Castle Rock, not the dilapidated New England hole we've known for the past eight hours (and multiple print stories). Molly still has a bit of the "shine", but has learned to live with her abilities comfortably. All in all, everything seems great; as if we've stumbled into a dimension where goodness and prosperity actually prevail in Stephen King's most perverted town. But that feeling doesn't last long, as this Henry finds a little black boy (Caleel Harris) caged in his father's basement. Of course, this is the "Henry Deaver" we know, who was lost in the woods and discovered by Sheriff Pangborn, standing on a frozen Dark Score, ostensibly seconds from the ice caving in.
Turns out, when Henry vanished as a child, the basement of his adopted father's "second" home is where he ended up. The cops – led by former doomed Shawshank prison guard Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher) – take the boy away and try to piece together the happenings (that probably make far less sense to the characters than they do to the viewers at home). At the station, little Henry tells the story of how he ended up in this universe, and became trapped by the preacher, who thought the kid's ramblings about the "Voice of God" revealed him to be the Devil Himself, sent to lure Matthew Deaver to Hell. This all leads to an insane showdown in the woods, where we glimpse parallel dimension converging (though sadly no Tower at their middle), and this “good” version of Molly is accidentally shot by the police and left to die. Cut back to the Kid and our more familiar version of the real estate queen, standing right by the window where we left them at the end of "Past Perfect", and suddenly, it all sort of makes sense.
Nevertheless, the question still remains: where the fuck does this all go from here? It's still not 100% clear how the Kid ended up in Warden Lacy's cage. Nor do we know why Lacy killed himself, as it's pretty clear now that the Kid is not "evil" in the least bit. So, Constant Readers, I put it to you: how does this season of Castle Rock end up? Clearly, the "Twinner" theory doesn't 100% hold water (because Molly would be stone dead if it did), so another shoe has to drop in order for this to all make narrative sense. There's only one more hour left, and a lot to clear up. Can they pull it off?
Past Perfect and Henry Deaver are available now on Hulu. Read our ongoing Castle Rock coverage here.