September 12, 2018
‘Castle Rock’ Review: ‘Romans’ Makes for an Unsatisfying Conclusion
Welcome to our spoiler-filled Castle Rock reviews, in which we explore Hulu’s new Stephen King-inspired series. (If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review of the show, click here). This week we look at the season finale, “Romans”.
After a season full of mystery, Castle Rock comes to a curious close, leaving questions still up in the air. What are we to make of this ending? Were Castle Rock a normal series, we could assume this conclusion is a set-up for season 2. But it’s already been confirmed that this is going to an anthology show, with each season focusing on a new story and new characters.
Which means this is the end of this story. For now, at least. What makes “Romans” all the more frustrating is that for the most part, this episode works. It’s a bit rushed, and you get the sense that the show is sprinting to wrap everything up quickly. But for the bulk of its runtime, “Romans” remains compelling. And then it ends.
“Romans” throws Castle Rock into chaos. Everyone, and everything, appears to be coming apart at the seams. Birds are flocking and swarming like mad. And after last week’s episode offering some insight into the Kid, the character goes right back to being a total creep.
The Kid wants Molly to convince Henry to come to the woods so he can return back to his own dimension. As the Kid sees it, only Henry being there can help open the door to the other world. Molly agrees to help him, and tracks down Henry to tell him the story. Understandably enough, Henry doesn’t buy it. He even has a pretty good explanation as to how the Kid appears to know so much about everything that’s happened in the past: he spent days rooting around the Deaver garage, which was full of old newspapers hoarded by Henry’s father Matthew.
Henry is in no hurry to go meet the Kid in the woods. Besides, he has other problems to deal with. The police have found the dead body of Odin Branch, the deaf man Henry met in the woods in “Filter”, and they think Henry committed the murder. Henry ends up locked up in the police station, and soon he’s not alone. The Kid told Molly where Henry could find him – Harmony Hill Cemetery, where the Kid is seen gazing thoughtfully at the grave of the baby Ruth lost before the Deavers adopted Henry. The baby that lived in the other dimension, and grew up to be the Kid…if you believe the Kid’s story, that is. Having had enough of all this nonsense, and believing the Kid is to blame for everything, Henry tells the cops just where to find him, and soon the Kid is sharing a cell right next to Henry.
Shawshank is being closed thanks to what happened to the Kid, and as a result, prisoners are being transferred. A bus loaded with convicts ends up running down Warden Theresa Porter, after she happens to find one of those creepy tiny figurines carved by the Kid. After this, the prisoners on the bus end up being brought to the same holding area that Henry and the Kid are locked in. Once again, just the act of being around the Kid causes bad things to happen. The inmates go insane, attacking each other, and then the guards. Soon they’ve escaped, killed everyone in the police station, and are running rampant through town. In an apocalyptic aerial shot we see Castle Rock descending into chaos.
You Still Have Doubts
All of this works. It’s what comes next that does not. Henry and the Kid bust out of their cell, at which point the Kid orders Henry, at gunpoint, into the woods. Here, we finally get an answer as to what happened to Henry’s father in the woods all those years ago. In a flashback, we see Matthew tell Henry he’s planning on murdering Ruth, at which point Henry takes things into his own hands and pushes his adoptive father off the cliff onto the ice.
The Kid keeps swearing up and down that once they get deeper into the woods, Henry will know the story about alternate dimension is true. But Henry manages to get the drop on the Kid and take his gun away.
At which point the Kid turns into…some sort of ghoul monster. It was at this point I groaned inwardly, and wondered: “What the hell is this?” The Kid’s face warps into a rotted monster, giving away his true nature. And then we cut to black.
A year later, things have settled down in Castle Rock. Henry remains in town, working as a lawyer. Ruth has since died (note: how cheap and disappointing it is to have Sissy Spacek die off screen so unceremoniously). Molly has left town for the Florida Keys.
And what of the Kid? Well, Henry has locked the Kid back up in the depths of the now-abandoned Shawshank. Henry pays him a visit with some food, at which point the Kid asks: “How much longer are we going to do this?” and then adds: “I know you still have doubts, Henry.”
Was the Kid’s alternate dimension story true? Or was it all a ruse being concocted by some sort of monster? Obviously, based on the flash of the Kid’s ghoulish monster face, it’s implied that the latter is true. If so, it makes the entire flashback episode – “Henry Deaver” – kind of pointless. It also leaves a bunch of questions up in the air, particularly about what happened to Henry when he disappeared as a child.
Those questions will have to remain unanswered. On some level, I can appreciate this. Not every pressing question needs to be answered, and sometimes, there’s power in mystery. Leaving the ending ambiguous is haunting on one level. On another level, though, this feels like a cheat. Castle Rock seemed to be building towards something, and now, it’s over.
“After a while, you forget which side of the bars you’re on,” the Kid says. “That’s what Warden Lacy said. And look how things turned out for him.” It’s a haunting final line, suggesting Henry is doomed and damned for all time.
After Henry has left, the Kid flashes a creepy smile, seemingly confirming this was all an elaborate trick played by some demonic entity, and now that he’s locked away, maybe Castle Rock can be safe again. For a while.
There’s plenty to like here, and as a whole, Castle Rock was a rewarding season of television. But I keep seeing that terrible CGI ghoul face they placed over Bill Skarsgård in my head, and find myself thinking: “Is that all there is?”
I Understood That Stephen King Reference!
- During the flashback scene involving young Henry being chased by his crazed father, we see the boy walking backwards in his own footprints in the snow to cover his tracks. Danny Torrance does this same exact move when fleeing from his mad father in Stanley Kubrick’s adaption of The Shining.
- Henry mentions Wilma Jerzyck to one of his Castle Rock clients. Wilma Jerzyck is one of the residents of Castle Rock in King’s Needful Things.
- In a post-credit scene, Jacky Torrance talks about how she’s going to travel “out west for a research trip” to finish a book she’s writing – a book called Overlook. The implication here is that she’s traveling the Overlook Hotel, although in King’s novel, the hotel explodes, so perhaps she’s just going to visit the spot where it once stood.
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