Author’s note: SPOILERS for the tenth episode of Castle Rock, “Romans”.
The town of Castle Rock has become Hell on Earth in the season finale, “Romans”: with birds dive-bombing cars, people walking into oncoming prison buses, cop cars zipping through the streets… Castle Rock isn’t doing so great. At the heart of it is Henry Deaver (André Holland) and the Kid (Bill Skarsgård), intertwined and ready to come to a head. It doesn’t happen in the way we expect, but it helps frame the show for us, depending on which side you fall on.
Ruth (Sissy Spacek) and Molly’s (Melanie Lynskey) chat on the edge of the bridge appears to show Ruth not quite suffering from dementia or a scattered mind, but a mind fragmented between worlds. The schisma has left Ruth bouncing from one world to another, as well as through time, as she explains to Molly that their conversation on the bridge has happened and will happen again. Is this what she knows, or what she thinks?
Molly plays matchmaker, trying to set Henry and the Kid on the path to finality at the cemetery. But the police have different plans, eventually taking both in and locking them together for their alleged crimes. Their conversation is about trust and lies, Henry beyond trusting the Kid. The Kid is convincing with his narrative and innocent gaze, but the madness we’ve seen up to this point says otherwise. Henry knows just as well as we do that The Kid is not what he seems, alternate universe Henry Deaver or not. The Kid uses his power (or is it merely his presence?) to turn the inmates and the officers against one another to escape with Henry. Henry’s absolute horror at the carnage while The Kid simply watches is a really haunting juxtaposition.
At the end, we get a big question mark. In the woods, approaching the roaring noise only Henry can hear, he attacks The Kid at gunpoint. The Kid changes suddenly, only for a brief moment, into something of a creature, or perhaps shows all his caged years at once, aged and frail features yelling out at Henry. But he turns back, Henry seeing what Lacy (Terry O’Quinn) likely saw all those years before: what they think is the devil.
It always comes down to what you believe. Was the whole previous episode, “Henry Deaver”, an attempt to convince us, as an audience, to The Kid’s plight? Or was it all a sham, the work of the devil trying to convince us of his innocence? The little smile ending the season, barely noticeable through the bars and the darkness, seems to suggest a clear conclusion. Or maybe the smile was over the planting of an idea into Henry that the constricting bars, even in the open free air, will always find their way around us in their own way.
Very few come out of Castle Rock’s first season truly better off than they started. Molly escaped to the Keys, enjoying her commercial on TV before heading off to work. Wendell (Chosen Jacobs) gets to spend more time with his father in a more stable situation. And Jackie (Jane Levy) is writing about the experience of taking an axe to a man’s head in “Past Perfect”, considering a trip off to Overlook Hotel to unlock the ending to her book. (Overlooked is a pretty good book title, given her character’s spotty placement throughout the season and the family lineage. If this was a hint for the second season, I’d be all for that!)
I greatly enjoyed the first season, though this episode does falter in setting things up and not knocking it down. Ambiguous can be a nice touch, and the final shot is a perfect ending to the season, but it does leave me wanting more, wishing it’d given me a little more not in total finality, but in madness. The show pulled back a little in its final hour, as though it did not want to go completely nuts and give us something crazy. Perhaps it’s because some of these actors and characters could return, and it’s leaving the option open in its anthology nature. It does keep all of the important characters around (outside of Ruth, whom Spacek portrayed wonderfully), but the episode lacks cohesion in presenting the town going to hell beyond what our characters see in two instances. I would have been completely open to no answers, but only if it offered a few questions to offer mystery. The ending feels like a cut-off point, especially with the wording of anthology ahead of launch. If it does not pick up any of the threads moving forward, it would be disappointing.
But this first season was still quite strong, despite a weaker end. “Romans” was about reaching an apex and turning back before it consumed these characters whole. This may not be the best way to end ten episodes, but it made sense for these characters. It ended as it began, The Kid returned to the cage and order restored. But with a smile, the chaos is only sustained, not defeated. With a second season of Castle Rock on the way, the chaos will find its way back, one way or another.