The premiere of Hulu’s highly anticipated Castle Rock introduces viewers to a dozen characters of varying degrees of importance and sets several subplots spinning in a way that implies they will likely collide and lead to misery. Inspired by the settings and characters of Stephen King, Castle Rock isn’t directly based on any of the famous author’s writings but has clearly been influenced by it in several ways, including some familiar faces, but more indirectly, it’s thematically inspired by the modern master of horror. It’s an episode about how you can’t come home again, and you may regret it if you do — a theme that runs throughout King’s entire body of work. “Severance” is complex enough in terms of plotting that it feels most helpful to pull apart the various characters we meet and what we know so far instead of just a traditionally chronological recap. Welcome to Castle Rock.
Played by André Holland (of Moonlight and The Knick) as an adult and Caleel Harris as a child, Henry Deaver is a classic Stephen King character in that he’s the protagonist coming home to a small town and rekindling memories of a traumatic past. When Henry was a child, he disappeared off the face of the Earth for 11 panic-stricken days. As the entire town of Castle Rock tried to find him, Henry’s father succumbed to the elements, dying the bitter cold. It was a local lawman named Alan Pangborn who mysteriously found him on a frozen lake, as if he had literally appeared out of nowhere. Instantly, Alan knew something was wrong because Henry showed absolutely no signs of impact from the cold. Where had he been? It couldn’t have been outside in the brutal Maine winter for a week and a half. Theorizing that Henry merely ran away and had been hiding someplace warm, the town blamed him for the death of his father, basically pushing him as far away from Maine as possible, all the way down to Texas.
That’s where the adult Henry Deaver works, mostly unsuccessfully, to get people off death row. As he’s failing in his latest high-profile case, he receives news that someone at Shawshank Penitentiary in Maine recently said his name, possibly even as a means to request his legal counsel. He reluctantly returns home to Castle Rock and into the most unusual case he’ll ever be a part of.
Played by Scott Glenn in the present day, Alan Pangborn is the most familiar face for King fans, having played major roles in Needful Things and The Dark Half, and being referenced in other written works in King’s career. The young Pangborn found Henry Deaver, but the adult Henry is startled to discover the older Pangborn having kind of taken his father’s place in the Weaver home. He even wears the shirts of Henry’s dad and has a “frequent flyer” relationship with his mother Ruth, played by Sissy Spacek. Ruth shows signs of dementia, leading Henry to suspicions that Alan is taking advantage of his mother.
We meet Terry O’Quinn’s Dale Lacy on his last day on the job as the warden of Shawshank. He makes breakfast for his blind wife, but he doesn’t go to work as expected. He parks at the edge of the same bluff near which Henry Deaver was found almost three decades ago, loops a noose around his neck, and floors it, snapping his head off as he goes off the cliff. When the next warden arrives, a closed-off part of the prison is opened to reveal what appears to be the chamber of a monster, holding the body of an emaciated young man. Was the warden a kidnapper? And who is his mysterious prisoner?
He has no name yet — he’s called “The Kid” in some reviews of the show — and has only said the words “Henry Deaver,” but he’s clearly important to the plot of Castle Rock (and not just because he’s portrayed by the man also known as Pennywise the Clown from It, Bill Skarsgard). From the minute he’s found, there’s something disturbing about this silent man. And it even appears he may have supernatural abilities, as the final scenes of “Severance” feature an officer watching him open gates, stare at the security camera, and leave dead bodies of other prisoners in his wake after possibly disappearing entirely. Could this character be the classic King archetype of the mysterious stranger who comes to town with evil powers? The Devil in human form? And why did Warden Lacy not only have him in an abandoned water tank but tell him to say “Henry Deaver” when people found him?
We don’t yet know much about Melanie Lynskey’s Molly Strand but she has a truly bizarre connection to Henry Deaver that will obviously resurface. After a casual scene in which she buys some drugs from a local teen, she spots Henry getting of a bus and looks shaken. Later, she sets a timer before going through a box related to Henry Deaver, including a missing poster from when he was gone and a jacket. It appears almost supernatural, as if she has some sort of special connection to Henry or what happened to him when he was a child. And what’s up with the timer? What would happen if she didn’t get the belongings back in the box before it ran out? We don’t know much about Molly yet but she’s sure to play a major role in future episodes.
• It’s shocking enough to see Lost star Terry O’Quinn killed in the opening scenes — although he’s likely to appear a few times in flashbacks. However, there are other familiar faces on the edge of the show who will likely resurface. There’s Emmy nominee Frances Conroy as Lacy’s now-widow, Ozark co-star Charlie Tahan as Molly’s dealer, Ann Cusack as the new warden, and Shameless star Noel Fisher as the corrections officer who actually calls Henry and really sets the plot in motion. They’re all likely to return to this already complex narrative. Castle Rock is just getting started.
• Michael Uppendahl directed this episode and he’s a Peak TV directorial icon, having helmed episodes of Ray Donovan, Fargo, Legion, American Horror Story, Mad Men, and more.
• Alan Pangborn, played by Scott Glenn, was played by Ed Harris in the film version of Needful Things and by Michael Rooker in the film version of The Dark Half. Impress your friends with the trivia answer to “What do Ed Harris, Michael Rooker, and Scott Glenn have in common?”
• Molly is listening to “Hybrid Moments” by the Misfits. Could it be a nod to how this show is a hybrid of characters and themes throughout King’s career?