I’ve missed my deadline with this recap article for Castle Rock‘s Romans. That’s not the way a distinguished Senior Contributor is supposed to behave, but here I am. I can feel the righteous anger from my editors being turned up to 11 as I sit in front of my computer, woefully trying to figure out what to say about Wednesday’s Season Finale of Castle Rock. The problem is, every time I try to write down what my feelings are about the episode, my brain freezes. Do I think this finale neatly tied up the mystery we were given? Did the supernatural Stephen King elements presented in last week’s episode pay off in any discernible way? Did I even like the episode? Were the last two months of my life wasted on a show that had no idea where it was going so it tried to play off it’s non-resolution as “deep” or “ambiguous”? The answer to all of these questions is: “shrug emoji”.
There are writers online, who are all way more talented and experienced than I am, out there stressing the beauty of Castle Rock’s story and praising its character-driven narrative. They are saying that the show’s lack of resolution is the entire point of the show, and that dismissing the series for that reason is small-minded. I don’t want to be small-minded or anything like that, so I’ve spent the past two days trying to find peace with the finale. I’ve played Devil’s Advocate with myself, trying to find the good in where they went with the story. But things started to get weird in my house and my wife told me to stop screaming at the walls. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I just can’t call this finale anything other than disappointing. “Romans”, to me, was a complete let down and wasted all of the emotional equity the series had earned up until that point.
“Some folks get away. Spend the rest of their lives trying to forget this place. Maybe they do forget, for a while.” – Henry Deaver
The episode gains its title from the Bible verse Henry’s dad repeats to him over and over in the woods. The first half of Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death;”, and the good reverend is using that verse as justification for the murder of his wife, Ruth. You see, he knows that Ruth and Alan have been together, and he is slowly starting to lose his mind over it. He tells Henry that he is going to kill his mother and that they will be able to live in peace out in the woods where the “Voice of God” resides. That is what forces Henry to push his father off the ledge at the lake. He does it to save his mother’s (and most likely his own) life.
The problem is that this revelation is treated as way more groundbreaking than it actually is. We are shown that it definitely was Henry that pushed his dad off the cliff. So what? We, as an audience, have been comfortable with that fact and have all accepted it as truth for weeks now. We were told by Alan, by Matthew and by Molly that it was Henry, and we have been totally fine with it. I guarantee that it didn’t break anyone’s mind when we finally saw it happen. Not only was this a disappointing “revelation” from the show, but it was the only attempt they made at answering any questions we have or progressing the characters forward in any way.
The episode ended where it all began, with the Kid being trapped in a cage underneath Shawshank. This time, it is Henry who is his caretaker, and the cycle begins all over again. Was the Kid actually evil? A small smile at the end of the episode and a brief flash of a grotesque face in the woods is supposed to make us doubt his story from the week before. It’s this doubt that we are being told is the point of the season. “How much doubt is reasonable?” asks Henry at the beginning of the episode. It seems like, to him, doubt flows only one way. Just as he was beginning to believe the Kid’s story about being the other Henry Deaver, he watched as a jail full of inmates lost their minds, seemingly at the Kid’s direction.
Henry was appalled at the violence that the Kid created to escape their temporary confinement, but as an audience, we have seen this before. Even if you stir last night’s meal and put it on a different plate, it’s still leftovers. The same trick, given to us three separate times in a 10-episode arc is a little tiresome. Henry watched this same thing happen at Shawshank, he knows that they same thing happened at Juniper Hill, so how is this the act that makes him doubt the honesty behind there Kid’s story?
“Some never leave, no matter how hard they try. Most of us are trapped here for a reason. Everyone in this town has some sin or regret. Some cage of his own making. And a story. A sad one. About how we got this way.” – Henry Deaver
Throughout the first season of Castle Rock, we have seen television in its highest form. “The Queen” was a moving piece of fiction that hit everyone who watched it right in the gut. Last week’s “Henry Deaver” was a world-building slugfest that threw us right into the mind of Stephen King and promised us a confrontation only the Master of Horror could conjure. This week’s finale, however, was the lowest point of the entire 10-episode run.
We went back into the woods only to see a tackle and half-of-a-second of an old face. “The Thinny” was never seen, the murderous ghosts that reside in the in-betweens were never seen, the role that Wendell plays in this and why he could hear the noise was never brought up, we got an unsatisfactory and unemotional off-screen death for Ruth, and the true nature of the Kid was never examined. The exciting world that they built in the last few episodes was taken away and never seen again. Instead, we were told that it is up to us to decide. If we need to have all our questions answered, then we don’t understand the point of the show, apparently.
I can handle mysteries being left unsolved. I don’t mind an ambiguous ending. My favorite television program of all time is Lost, and we all know how that ended. It was ambiguous, it was open-ended, it left us with more questions than answers, but I cannot imagine a better finale. The difference is, with Lost, we had spent 6 seasons and over 120 hours of time with those characters. There was emotional investment, and we had witnessed the complete evolution and arc of those characters. Castle Rock didn’t give us that. They half-built a world where mystery and the supernatural rule the day, then left us in that world with nothing to show for it. I’m sorry, Hulu, but we did not spend enough time in your world to make this conclusion satisfying at all. You can’t deliver a show with this much talent behind it, give us nothing of substance, and tell us that it’s because we are small-minded if we wanted more. Lost could do it because they earned it. You, Castle Rock, did not.
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