Titles matter. In this series, we can expect them to have double (even triple) meanings, often with a darkly humorous/deep twist.
For example, “Habeas Corpus” is Latin meaning literally “that you have the body”. Most commonly, we hear it on television as the legal term for reporting unlawful detention or imprisonment.
The legal definition is applicable here as the unnamed prisoner was discovered in the premiere to have been kept in a cage in an uninhabited block of Shawshank Prison by the late Warden Lacy for who knows how long.
But the literal definition works too because the bodies are starting to stack up already. There’s Warden Lacy’s corpse, headless by all accounts, after he committed suicide by lake, Lincoln, and lynching. There’s Matthew Deaver’s body, moved from the cemetery by his church without his son, Henry’s permission. And the premiere episode closed with the alarm being sounded at Shawshank because Officer Zalewsky had just seen his other officers lying dead on all the monitors in the control room.
This episode picks up there as he releases the emergency firearm and leaves the control room to investigate. As he makes his way down the cell block, Boyd startles him from behind and nearly gets shot for it. There’s no slaughter, no bodies anywhere. The other guards confirm it’s a false alarm and Zalewski, relieved but confused, apologizes and takes the razzing in stride.
The Kid, back in his glass cubicle cell likeÂ he never left, sits back and seems to be infinitely patient, waiting for something.
As with anything spawned from the mind of Stephen King, we can depend on creative and engaging storytelling. Where the premiere made use of flashbacks and wordless expressions to convey layered meaning, we get a good, old-fashioned narrator here.
And who would have the time on his hands to spin the tale of Castle Rock but the deceased prison warden, Dale Lacy, last seen in a flashback telling The Kid that he’ll need to ask for Henry Matthew Deaver when they find him in the hole.
“People think we’re just one of those dead towns they’ve heard about. A run of bad luck, worse judgment, broken promises. We know different, don’t we? It’s not luck, it’s a plan. And not God’s either. Remember the Dog? the Strangler? sure you do. How about all the others that didn’t make headlines? 1961. It was the fall after they found that boy’s body out by the train tracks.”
So many Easter Egg references for Stephen King fans! But also a pointed lesson in the many terrible things that have happened in Castle Rock. Lacy goes on to describe his younger brother’s suicide, the murders and violence carried out by townsfolk, and how they all blame the place for making them do it.
The time-lapsed montage in his own home leads right up to him (a noticeably younger him) taking his supplies to the prison to build the cage they eventually found The Kid in. Because,Â as we learn through his monologue, Lacy wanted to save his town from the evil it contained and prayed for a way to do that.
“With all the guile of Hell arrayed against this town, what can one decent man do?”
Build a cage and keep a boy in there apparently.
Having been client-blocked by the new Shawshank warden, Henry Deaver tries to find out more about The Kid by visiting Lacy’s blind widow, Martha. She sits down with him and admits she hates the privatized prison system. When Henry brings up an inmate Dale may have had a special interest in, she grants him access to Dale’s home office and goes to answer the phone.
In the office, Henry finds many indicators of Dale’s religious fervor with holy cards and prayer posters covering most of the surfaces. He also finds a horde of Bible passage-a-day calendars, every one of them showing:
“At that hour of the nightÂ the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.” Acts 16:33
His search ends abruptly when Martha returns, demanding to know if he’s black and identifying him a Henry Deaver. She and Dale belonged to his father’s congregation when Henry disappeared and Rev. Deaver died. She throws him out, refusing to answer when he asks about the GIGANTIC padlock on the basement door.
His next stop is his father’s old church where the current Reverand (Aaron Staton, Mad Men) is taking names of volunteers to visit Shawshank inmates as “prayer partners” where we meet Jackie (Jane Levy, Suburgatory) as she volunteers to buddy up with a flasher/serial killer/corpse molester.
Henry discusses Dale Lacy with the Reverand after the meeting where he also realizes that EVERYONE in Castle Rock knows a version of his story that he may not.
In Shawshank, Zalewski tries to have a conversation with The Kid but ends up sharing about his sympathetic pregnancy which he blames for hallucinating the slaughter he saw on the screens.
Speaking of one-sided conversations, at the Hilton Augusta hotel bar, Alan Pangborn happens to sit down next to Shawshank’s new warden. Glancing down, he sees her Shawshank employee badge (and we FINALLY get her name! “Warden PORTER”) and starts up a conversation.
Of course, he comes across as a doddering ex-lawman and she calls for the check but when he recounts the night he pulled Dale Lacy over for speeding, she sits back down. That night, Lacy told Pangborn that he had caught the Devil in the form of a boy and locked him in a box. Pangborn puts money down for his over-priced beer and advises Porter to keep The Kid locked up.
Porter and Reeves go down to take a look at The Kid’s cage. She finds a box FULL of nail clippings. She can’t imagine anyone surviving this experience and NOT be horribly damaged. She gives Reeves the go-ahead to transfer The Kid into a cell with the understanding he’ll be put with someone who will probably kill him.
The Kid gets moved into a solitary (??) cell with a skinhead covered in White Power and Nazi tattoos (Mickey Gilmore, Guilty Rich) reading The Lord of the Flies.Â Reeves locks them in together and leaves with a “well, that’s done” expression on his face.
Warden Lacy’s voiceover kicks in again, hinting that a select few were privy to the sins committed for the greater good and ending with his prayer that they’ll forget somehow. This segues directly into a scene with Henry and Ruth – the son who can’t remember his childhood and the woman who’s losing her memories.
They celebrate Henry’s birthday and he points out that he’s now older than his father ever lived to be. Ruth reminisces about Henry’s seventh birthday when she made a cake covered in buttercream frosting, no one knowing he was lactose-intolerant. From Henry’s expression when she recounts his vomiting up the cake, she realizes that he has no memory of it.
Across the street, Molly Strand stands at her childhood bedroom window wearing dark sunglasses and we get flashbacks of her (slightly one-sided) relationship with young Henry. Pre-teen Molly (Cassady McClincy, Daytime Divas) was so attuned to his activities that she witnessed him leaving his house with his father the night he disappeared.
Still wearing her sunglasses and reinforced with another pill, she meets with her sister (Allison Tolman, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) at the local pub/bowling alley. Their relationship is strained as her sister doesn’t believe in Molly’s “condition” wherein she is more sensitive to other people’s thoughts and energies.
Once the niceties are observed, Molly proposes remortgaging their childhood home in order to finance her plan to revitalize Castle Rock’s downtown core. Her sister refuses and Molly has to break the news that she’s already forged her signature on the papers. Then she leaves, sticking her sister with the bill.
The Kid’s bunkmate starts to get curious about his new space sharer and gets right up in his personal space for a sniff. The Prisoner is visibly distressed by his proximity and is pushed into vocalizing words of advice. “Don’t want to touch me,” he warns Nazi-Dude who doesn’t look like he’s taking it to heart.
After dark, Henry also makes his way down to the Mellow Tiger Pub (another Stephen King-related Easter Egg) where Molly and her sister (sort of) had lunch to see if the guards from Shawshank still drink there. He’s informed it’s the only place to get a drink anymore, so yeah.
Jackie strolls over and fills him in on all the town gossip including the fact that Castle Rock voted to unincorporate a few years ago. It’s literally no longer on the map. When she expresses her interest in him as a town novelty, he gets her to recount the town’s version of his story that points the finger at him murdering his adopted father and faking amnesia.
Stunned for a moment, Henry notices the Shawshank guards, including Zalewski, come in the doors. Writing his number on a napkin to pass down to Zalewski, he responds to Jackie by pointing out that his father died at home, not at the lake. He makes meaningful eye contact with Zalewski and leaves.
Hearing an odd noise as he approaches the front door of his mother’s house, Henry goes around back to find Pangborn digging a hole in the backyard. Ruth thinks their dead dog is wandering around and wants Pangborn to check that it’s still dead. He uncovers the suitcase they buried the dog in, opens it up, and takes a picture for proof.
Henry and Pangborn discuss Ruth’s condition and Henry’s role in her life. Henry asserts his rights and points out that he could insist that Pangborn leave the house for good.
From her old bedroom window, Molly flashes back to the night the searchers found Rev. Deaver at the lake. The police came to question her and she insisted that she knew nothing. When they leave her to get back to sleep in her nice, warm room, she emerges from her blankets and exhales visible steam as if she were out in the winter woods.
Henry finds a chess piece in the fridge just as he receives a call from Zalewski who is sitting out in his car. Zalewski fills him in on The Kid’s movements but freaks out when Henry mentions whistleblower protections. He says that he’s done everything he can do. He needs his job and its healthcare benefits for the baby he and his wife are expecting in a month.
Henry says he still needs proof that The Kid exists. Zalewski scoffs that Henry can’t even get into Shawshank since every guard has been put on the look-out for him. Needing an “Act of God”, Henry joins up with the church Prayer Partner group and gets bussed right up to the prison chapel.
Meanwhile, The Kid’s bunkmate is found dead in their cell. His body is removed and The Kid gets put back in alone. The autopsy reveals that Nazi-Dude was riddled with metastatic cancer.
As the prayer partner group is heading back to the bus from the chapel, Zalewski shoves The Kid out the side door of the prison into plain sight of Henry and his group. And we get another ominous Warden Lacy voiceover:
“‘Never again let him see the light of day.’ That’s what God told me. He told me where to find him, how his prison should be built, how to put an end to all the horrors we’ve seen in this town.”
Henry gets pictures of The Kid before the guards drag him back inside. Out in the woods, the sheepdog from the bluff makes another appearance and digs up Lacy’s head. And in his car, Alan Pangborn finishes reading the letter from Dale Lacy.
“What he didn’t tell me was how full of doubt I would be about what we did or where I’d end up in the end. I fear for this place. I fear what’s to come, Alan. But I know that Castle Rock still has a defender even in the dead of night.”
Gotta assume he was naming Alan was that defender and, as the defender lights the letter on fire and burns its prophetic words, we discover he’s been parked outside the prison the whole time.
As the show is only just putting the pieces into play here, I’m loathÂ to read too much into the details I’ve noticed. However, I’m curious just what the chess figurines we’ve seen so far will signify.
Castle Rock streams on Hulu starting July 25.
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