There was the longest time during the peak years of being an avid reader that my reading list was largely dictated by which Stephen King books I had already read, and which ones were either just going into publication or hitting paperback. There was something about King’s universe that had me absolutely captivated and I just couldn’t get enough. My office is decorated largely with Dark Tower merchandise and I still think there is no greater example of literary storytelling in horror novels than King’s narrative. At some point, however, I left King’s world. It took a while, admittedly, for me to pull up stakes and settle elsewhere. Now, I tend to hang my hat somewhere in the vicinity of Brian Keene and Edward Lee. Home, though, well home, will always be Castle Rock.
I love that Hulu’s “Castle Rock” is able to take the threads of Kings stories and weave them into a new story that still feels so familiar. That is the charm that effortlessly works its way through the first few episodes and has me waiting impatiently for the next batch. J.J. Abrams is no stranger to King and at time even had the distinction of acquiring the Dark Tower rights for film, and undoubtedly a film that would have been significantly better received that the one we got. Abrams influence is definitely felt here as the series is thick with mystery and the promise of answers steeped in the eerie otherworldly fantasy of the town that has served as the epicenter for King’s brand of high strangeness.
The series takes off with a quick start with the suicide of Shawshank prison’s warden (Terry O’Quinn). A new warden quickly discovers that the prison has its own secrets, including a prisoner in an abandoned wing of the sprawling penitentiary. The prisoner (It’s Bill Skarsgard) utters the name of one-time Castle Rock resident Henry Deavers, who comes back to the town he fled to to try and unravel the enigma. Enigma is the key here as it is the secrets that, when unearthed, indeed lead to bigger ones that makes the first three episodes so addictive. Pacing as the mysteries unravel is nothing short of perfect and again, Abrams influence leaves us waiting for the next set of episodes with baited breath.
The tone here is classic cinematic King, mixing the supernatural with the very real villainy in the hearts of the town’s residents. This is the Castle Rock of Needful Things and the two have no trouble occupying the same space, albeit generations apart. That is where the nostalgia behind Castle Rock is so damned effective. If there is any trepidation here it is that the mysteries need to sustain not only this season, but any any that follow. The show’s wheels spin on the promise of its reveals, but once uncovered, the strength of its characters will need to keep us invested. If not, the town could collapse under the weight of its own promises.
The series this far does represent King in his prime when the author was at the very height of his career and the feeling, strangely, is one of warmth and sentiment, even amongst all the insanity. In other words, Castle Rock rolls out the welcome mat, one with plenty of the town’s, and King’s, fantastic dna spun into its threads. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.