SPOILERS AHEAD. Seriously. This is all spoilers. Watch the episode first if you care about that sort of thing.
On the one hand, the first season finale of Castle Rock is almost unbelievably easy to unpack. The plot is largely negligible — just shuffling (Ruth’s?) chess pieces into place for the big climax with an expediency that belies just how rushed this last chapter truly is. But there IS a climax to reach, and doggonit — Castle Rock is gonna get there come fire or flood.
There’s some fire. There’s no flood.
“Romans” takes its title from a Bible passage Matthew Deaver recited to Henry (André Holland) as a child. “The wages of sin is death,” Matthew told his son, while discussing the price Ruth would pay for her affair with Alan Pangborn. Yup, both Henrys are bound by the knowledge that their father would have killed their mother. In Skarsgård’s timeline, Ruth left her husband before that crime could come to pass. And in Holland’s timeline? Henry shoved his father off the cliff onto the icy lake, before he was transported to the other reality.
So we finally know how Matthew found himself injured, and what sentiments Molly was picking up from Henry when she finished him off. Henry recovers his memories while being marched through the woods at gunpoint by The Kid (Skarsgård) — and yes, I know the names of the characters are confusing, but in my defense, it’s the show’s fucking fault. Frankly, I’m not at all certain that “The Kid” IS definitely another Henry Deaver, despite the whole of last week’s episode. Remember how I called out his final line to Molly: “You believe me, don’t you?” Well, that oddly suspicious note was clearly intentional, because this week’s finale manages to confirm that he’s just a man lost in another reality, and also THE DEVIL, before finally settling on the idea that it doesn’t really matter how someone became a monster — whether it’s the place, or a sin, or some other story they’ve made up to explain their circumstances. What matters is where they end up.
And, y’all: Skarsgård is DEFINITELY a fucking monster.
Sure, perhaps the fact that The Kid isn’t supposed to be in this world, that essential unnaturalness of his existence, makes him a magnet for terrible shit, the way Henry seemed to be a magnet when he was trapped in The Kid’s world. But we also witness The Kid actively using that power to manipulate the people around him. For example: In order to get Henry into the woods, The Kid has to engineer their escape from the police station holding cell they’ve both been locked in. The circumstances leading up to their situation, and to the arrival of the crowd of Shawshank prisoners locked up in the cell next to them, is admirably Kingian (i.e. random events that seem to add up to a fated, inevitable culmination). But none of it really matters. What matters is that it gives The Kid an opportunity to use his creepy stare to seemingly will the prisoners to fight each other, then turn on the guards, and eventually shoot up the entire station — while the keys to the cell fall right at The Kid’s feet.
Oh, and there’s also the moment in the woods when Henry surprises and disarms The Kid, knocking him down, and when he picks his head up to look at Henry, his face has transformed into an ancient howling beastie. Skarsgård’s gonna Skarsgård, obvi.
After that, there’s just a tidy little time jump to get through, where the narrative hops a year into the future to find that Henry is now living in his family’s house in Castle Rock for good. Ruth has passed on and is buried with Alan. Molly has gotten away and started her life over somewhere warm. Life seems to be A-OK in town. And The Kid…
… is locked back up in that cage beneath the now-abandoned Shawshank, being tended to by Henry. We’re right back where we started, except for that self-satisfied smile on The Kid’s face just before the credits roll.
So, that’s basically it. The Kid might be misunderstood, evil, or both. He might be an ageless evil. He could be goddamn Pennywise for all I know (I was waiting for his eyes to turn yellow the whole episode, to be honest). Hell, he might be another face of Randall Flagg, or maybe the show is creating their own reoccurring villain in the Flagg mold. Part of me wonders if the season was supposed to have a more concrete resolution, and then when they cast Bill fucking Skarsgård for the part the producers realized they couldn’t just write him out so easily. But since the finale ended with such a vague shrug, I hope it at least means we’ll see more of The Kid next season.
Though I’m not sure if he’ll fit into The Shining riff they’re setting up, because OH YEAH: JACKIE TORRANCE IS WRITING A BOOK ABOUT KILLING THAT DUDE WITH AN AXE. As revealed in a mid-credit coda, Jane Levy’s Jackie is putting the final touches on the oh-so-appropriately titled Overlooked, and is thinking of heading west to explore more of her famous family history in order to finish the story where it all started. So it’s a pretty solid bet we’ll be following her chipper, morbid self all the way to the Overlook Hotel next season!
Honestly, that reveal single-handedly redeemed the entire finale for me. I’m so into it!
— Molly stops Ruth from jumping off the bridge again by saying something she never said in any of the previous iterations Ruth has lived. Basically, Molly asks Ruth about the other timeline, where Ruth left Matthew. “First time you said that,” is Ruth’s reply. But… DOES Ruth also relive experiences from the other timeline?!
— Wendell’s return to town was purely a plot device. He wanders in the woods to follow the schisma sound he’s hearing, which is how he comes across the cops who are investigating the crime scene at the RV where Odin died. When Henry goes to pick up his son, the police detain him as a person of interest… because that damn Culkin said he was involved.
— By the way, Rory Culkin returns! And then he dies. Though it seemed like he was framing Henry for Odin’s murder, he may actually have been trying to protect him by landing him in police custody. Henry finds him bleeding out during the station escape, and Culkin warns him, “Don’t go out there…” Anyway, bye bye, Culkin.
— Also, there is an understated charge to the scene where Henry goes to pick up Wendell at the station. When the cops circle him to detain him, every single one of them is white, and you’re immediately aware of the fact that none of them have ever believed Henry to be innocent of anything. Castle Rock may have other evils to deal with, but it makes room for some very grounded, realistic ones as well.
— There’s a weird scene where The Kid is apprehended by the cops in the local cemetery, and he’s standing in front of a tombstone that reads “Deaver Boy.” It just sort of reminded me of the fake George Stark burial in The Dark Half. Stark’s epitaph read “Not A Very Nice Guy,” which would also be pretty appropriate here.
— So, is the woods around Castle Rock a “thinny”, i.e. a weak spot in reality?
— I know I said there were fires in Castle Rock, but they were from the prisoner riots. To my knowledge, we never got resolution on that whole impending forest fire situation that permeated earlier episodes in the season. Helluva weird plot thread to just… drop.
— That new Shawshank warden, played by Ann Cusack, is the one who called The Kid “The Devil”… just before she’s killed by a State Corrections bus full of Shawshank prisoners. DAAAAMNNNNN.
— Part of me wants to give this finale credit for going the ambiguous route, almost as an inverse take on The Green Mile. Instead of John Coffey, an innocent prisoner who could heal others and grant them seemingly endless life, we have The Kid, who was himself ageless (and destructive). By the end of both stories, we didn’t learn the exact nature of their mysterious powers… but we did know they were genuinely, supernaturally powerful.
— The scenes in the holding cells between Holland and Skarsgård were electric. They talked subtle circles around one another, probing their connection. And The Kid’s answers were intriguingly vague. He claimed to be like Henry… “a victim” (rather than just saying “I’m Henry too!”). He claimed he doesn’t belong, and that time is running out. And as long as he’s stuck here, “things will get worse, people will die.” All true! On the surface, his goal seems to be to use Henry’s special hearing to find the thin spot in the woods and cross back to his own time. But if he’s something more sinister than just a different misplaced Henry Deaver, then does that mean his goal was also something more sinister? We may never know.
— Still no goddamn Tommyknockers. Pshhh.
— Yo, but seriously: where can I buy a Creepy Skarsgård painting?
Image sources (in order of posting): Hulu, Hulu