CASTLE ROCK Review: “Romans”
Note: This post contains spoilers for Castle Rock.
"For the wages of sin is death. Romans, 6:23."
Why couldn't Dale Lacy (Terry O'Quinn) just pull the trigger during his last day as warden at Shawshank Prison? Standing there, in the cage he constructed, pointing his pistol at the secret prisoner (Bill Skarsgård) he'd kept under a burnt out ward, his hand shook as he decided whether or not to put a bullet in the Kid's head. In all honesty, he probably asked himself the same question Henry Deaver (André Holland) posed to a jury before they deliberated whether or not to send one of their peers to Death Row. "How much doubt is reasonable in order to take a human life?" For the Civil Rights attorney, the answer is simple: there can be no reservation whatsoever as to the person's guilt. No existence, regardless of how it’s been utilized, should be tossed away without full consideration.
The final chapter of this first season of Castle Rock – named for the book of the Bible Henry's adopted father (Matthew Rothenberg) demands he recite in order to prove his loyalty – answers many of the questions its predecessors raised, while also leaving some desires unrequited (and presenting plenty of possibilities for future installments). Yet the main interrogation regarding the doubts all of the players have due to their current predicaments is what drives each plot line, until we're back in Dale Lacy's cage, with a new defender of the New England town standing sentinel over the same supernatural convict.
Ruth (Sissy Spacek) finds her way back to the bridge she's jumped off of so many times, perhaps being the only character who truly understands what it means to "travel through time" again and again, having the same conversation with her potential savior – shining real estate agent Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey) – before taking the plunge. Though this time Molly says something the old, sad woman’s never heard before: that there's some version of this timeline where she runs away with the love of her life, Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn), and lives out the rest of her days, happy and loved. Sure, Molly knows that this path really only exists in the parallel iteration of their universe, but it's the spark of hope for an altered fate that gets Henry's dementia-riddled mother to step down off that ledge.
Meanwhile, the Kid's last temptation continues, as he convinces Molly to plead with Henry to follow the prisoner out to the woods. Supposedly, a door to his world will open and permit him to return to his own timeline, allowing the world he accidentally stumbled into after letting young Henry (Caleel Harris) out of that cage in his father's basement resume its natural course. "Romans" performs a rather convincing push/pull between the Kid's innocence and guilt, presenting him as an unfortunate victim of circumstance, held hostage by a man who mistook him for the Devil. At the same time, other clues – such as a cryptic statue Warden Porter (Ann Cusack) discovers – point toward the boy truly being the ancient evil Lacy believed he is. But how can Molly or Henry ever truly be sure?
One way would be for the two men – who once found themselves in separate cages – to be locked in the same cell together. After the Castle Rock PD discover the body of Odin (CJ Jones) – the deaf acoustics expert who taught Henry about the "schisma" (or, as his father termed it, "the Voice of God") – his protégé Willie (Kieran Culkin) places the lawyer at the scene, and Henry’s behind bars again. Henry informs the cops as to the Kid's whereabouts (as he's also wanted for questioning regarding the deadly fire at Juniper Hill), and the inter-dimensional traveler is brought in, at which point Henry takes the opportunity to question him about his true identity. That goes nowhere, until a busload of Shawshank prisoners being transferred (following the institution's closure) are seemingly forced to stab one another, the Kid psychically manipulating them to enact violence as a distraction so he and Henry can escape.
As for concrete answers, we do finally discover that Henry did, indeed, help kill his insane father. Where Molly may have pulled the plug on his life support, it was Henry who provided the first push. Buried deep in the dark recesses of the man's memory, which is finally unlocked during his fight with the Kid, is his attempt to save Ruth from the awful man. The Reverend intended to kill Henry's mother for cheating on him with Sheriff Pangborn, and this is more than enough proof for Henry to finally act, shoving Matthew Deaver over the side of a cliff during a struggle. Perhaps this is why he's been so obsessed with "reasonable doubt" for the rest of his life (to the point of making a career out of it), because somewhere deep in his subconscious, he's always been asking himself if he made the right choice out in those woods.
All of this is revealed during a showdown between the Kid and Henry, after they exit the jail and the former Shawshank immate marches his new lawyer out into the woods at gunpoint. This is when the greatest question regarding the alternate timelines presented in the last two episodes is raised: was the Kid’s story true? Or was it all an elaborate ruse, concocted by a monstrous Satan? During the confrontation, we get a glimpse of the boy's true identity, via a flash of his gnarled, hideous visage, which seems to indicate that the latter is true. If so, then it makes the entire flashback episode centered on this new "Henry Deaver" seem like a waste of time (though you could also argue that it was necessary, in order to trick the audience into believing this Devil's lies as well). Also, without this info, Molly may have never been able to rescue Ruth from that bridge or take Henry's advice to abscond from Castle Rock - with his son Wendell (Chosen Jacobs) in tow - believing that a better future for herself is even possible.
Following the Kid's shocking revelation, we flash forward a year, where things have settled down in Castle Rock (despite the apocalyptic, seemingly Needful Things inspired aerial shot we witnessed during Henry and the Kid's escape). The lawyer remains in Castle Rock, happy to help the people of his hometown. Ruth has died, and is buried next to Alan, instead of her husband. Molly is in the Florida Keys, yet doesn't seem that much happier in her current digs (surrounded by old folks). As for the prisoner, he's back in his bear cage, beneath the now-abandoned Shawshank. Henry has taken up the role of being the town's "defender", bequeathed to him by both Warden Lacy and Sheriff Pangborn. It's a thematically fitting end for the Civil Rights champion, unable to kill the beast due to his doubts (which the boy attempts to exploit with his final line), but OK with letting a prison be his final home...at least until this Henry Deaver expires.
So, the book closes on this first season of Castle Rock and, altogether, this viewer found it to be a rather satisfying experience: ambitous, genuinely strange and (especially with "The Queen") incredibly emotional. There were certainly bumps along the way, but it was a literate, intellectual spin-off from King's work that could be fascinatingly expanded upon. Thankfully, Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason leave us with a hell of a mid-credits stinger: Jackie Torrance (Jane Levy), talking about how she’s going to travel “out west for a research trip” to finish a book she’s writing – a book called Overlook. Obviously she's talking about the Overlook Hotel, where her Uncle Jack lost his mind all those years ago. Could we be headed outside of Castle Rock's town limits for Season Two (despite the hotel exploding at the conclusion of King's original novel)?
Stay tuned, Constant Readers. The possibilities for Castle Rock's future seem absolutely fascinating.
Romans is available now on Hulu. Read our ongoing Castle Rock coverage here.