Anyone who has worked for a huge corporation has seen staggering corruption and abuses of power. They may cover it up through “Strategic Restructuring” or “Cost Driving Measures”, but lying and greed runs rampant in the business world. So what do you expect to happen when you monetize and privatize our prison system? Add to that a town that has something rotten festering in its bedrock, and you have a disastrous powder keg ready to blow at the slightest provocation. In the fourth episode of Hulu’s Castle Rock, “The Box”, the carnage that has been boiling under the surface is finally let loose upon the world.
Dennis Zalewski, the expectant father-slash-prison guard hell-bent on exposing the injustices that go on within the Shawshank State Prison, snapped and murdered dozens of his fellow guards in a scene that will go down as one of the finest Hulu has ever produced. In a chilling recreation of the carnage he witnessed at the end of Episode One, we watch the CCTV screens as Dennis methodically guns down his coworkers and paints the hallways red with his madness. Alarms sound, guards run, and Henry Deaver stands to see Dennis looking right at him. A veil seems to lift from Dennis’ eyes, almost like he’s waking up from a dream, and he tells Henry, “I want to testify”. As soon as these words leave his lips, a flash-grenade rolls into the room and a squadron of riot-gear clad guards end Dennis’ life.
We’ve all been there, brother, but thankfully we haven’t been pushed quite so far over the edge. Dennis lost his mind, that much is easy to see. What is harder to determine, and what is essentially the central mystery of this episode, is what made him snap. I want to examine three potential culprits to try and find an answer in this sea of questions and mysteries.
1. Henry Deaver
Henry Deaver, for all his grandstanding about the work that he does with death row inmates, displays a great deal of inexcusable cowardice in this episode. After doing some sleuth work (complete with microfilm montage) he questions a man that was a suspect in his disappearance back in 1991. In a chilling scene reminiscent of Robert Graysmith being led through the theater owner’s labyrinthine basement in David Fincher’s Zodiac, Henry is cornered in a bedroom where the old man has his case file that the police claimed was destroyed.
After some further digging, Henry sees that Sheriff Pangborn’s investigation into this man was perfunctory, at best. It was almost like he didn’t want to dig too deeply into the man’s demons. After confronting Alan with this news, we get our first glimpse of Pangborn’s motivations. You see, the night before the Reverend Deaver died, he wrote a note to the Sheriff that said, simply, “HENRY DID IT”.
“There is definitely something evil eating away at the town of Castle Rock, Maine”
Upon hearing this, What does Henry do? He decides to run. He calls Dennis, tells him that there has been a “change of plans”, and goes back to the prison to accept their deal for The Kid before he skips town. This is the last thing Dennis hears before starting his shift at the prison, and what looks to be the central motivation for his murder spree. All of this death and destruction looks to have happened because Henry can’t face the thought that he pushed his father over the edge of a cliff back in 1991. Instead of acting in his client’s best interest and making sure that Shawshank is exposed for their crimes against their inmates, he tucks tail and decides to run back to Texas.
Henry decides to flee his mother, his town, and his client without really knowing what his father meant by his note. What was it, exactly, that Henry did? Did he cause his father’s fall, like Pangborn believes, or did he have something to do with the capture of The Kid?
2. The Kid
At the end of Castle Rock’s first episode, Dennis hallucinates that The Kid escaped his cell and killed all the guards. At the time, we didn’t know that it would be Dennis himself that would be the one to kill these men. Why did he see this vision back in Episode One? Was it really the psychic projection of The Kid, or was it yet another symptom of Dennis’ deteriorating mental state? Was he just fantasizing about exacting righteous revenge upon the guards and displacing the blame onto the mysterious person they found locked away in a bear cage? Either way, it’s hard to watch his rampage without thinking that The Kid must be involved and influencing Dennis in some way.
Then there’s the fist-bump. As guards are brutalizing inmates in the yard, Dennis takes a trip down to the solitary cells to talk with The Kid. He tells him that Henry is going to make things right, that he is going to be alright. He then reaches through the bars to give The Kid a playful fist-bump to signal their solidarity. Earlier in the season, we saw The Kid tell the nazi punk shacking up with him “You don’t want to touch me”, right before the man fell dead. Does physical contact with The Kid rot your mind and body? Is that why he was locked away in a cage deep below the prison? As Dennis gives him the fist-bump, a strange look passes over his face. Was it the evil powers of The Kid entering his body, or was he just unnerved by how weird this young man is? Whatever the case may be, this interaction is presented to us as a potential catalyst that drives Dennis to kill.
3. Castle Rock
There is definitely something evil eating away at the town of Castle Rock, Maine. Dale Lacy, the suicidal former Warden of Shawshank, told us all about it in his second-episode voiceover. The town is being eaten away from the inside, causing all matter of evil to run loose upon the town. He mentions “the dog” (Cujo), “the strangler” (The Dead Zone), “the boy’s body by the tracks” (The Body/Stand By Me), and countless other examples of terror coming to this small northeastern town. We see his younger brother wave to a little girl then take a dive from the top of the school building. People kill themselves, they kill their partners, and they lock kids in cages. It’s almost like the river of evil from Ghostbusters II is coursing its way through the sewers of Castle Rock, only they don’t have a Louis Tully to save the day.
Seeing as this is a Stephen King-inspired story, we assume that there are spaceships in the woods and Walter o’Dims breaking beams in the sky. What if that isn’t the case, though? What if the evil Castle Rock has experienced is of their own making? What if the greed, lust, and violence is due to just that; greed, lust and violence? They say that Shawshank has been the county’s largest employer for generations, so maybe the evil starts there.
“The only thing we know for certain, is that Castle Rock is one helluva television show…”
It’s a cycle that we see everyday in America. You institutionalize men, who then leave families behind to rot in poverty, who then resort to drug use and sex work to live, who then have their children taken away from them, who then get raised in homes where they are not loved or cared for, who then grow up to be institutionalized in the same cell blocks as their fathers. This cycle of incarceration is bad enough, but what happens when you begin to incentivize it? When money and greed become involved, men will do whatever they can to keep the cycle flowing, to keep beds filled, to keep towns broken.
So which of these three are the real culprits behind Dennis’ breakdown? Was it Henry’s cowardice, The Kid’s supernatural evil, or the systematic eating away of his soul by the cancer of Castle Rock? Only time will tell the truth of it, but it looks to me like it was a combination of all three. Henry’s decision to run, Dennis’ believed influence of The Kid and his disgust and revulsion toward Castle Rock broke his mind and caused the deaths of dozens of men. As you can tell, this article and this show are filled with question marks that have no answers. The show runners have us questioning everything we see and hear. The only thing we know for certain, is that Castle Rock is one helluva television show and we can’t wait to see what happens next.
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