The Many Layers Of Stephen King In Hulu's 'Castle Rock'
Dustin has already argued in favor of Hulu’s new series, Castle Rock, inspired by all things Stephen King. And as he notes, there are plenty of easter eggs for fans of the horror master’s work (and the films/mini-series based on them) to unearth. So many easter eggs, in fact, that it would be easy to dismiss the series as a game of Stephen King Connect-The-Dots, from the locations and events mentioned in passing, to the actors who have famously performed in King-based movies (including Sissy “Carrie” Spacek). But fortunately the easter eggs aren’t all that the show has to offer — or even strictly necessary to its enjoyment. Sure, hardcore fans will have no shortage of material to breathlessly point out to their friends. Did you catch the fact that Jane Levy’s character, Jackie Torrance, is named after Jack Torrance, the crazypants father in The Shining? Did you notice that Warden Lacy’s picture was hanging next to that of his predecessor, The Shawshank Redemption’s Warden Norton, on the wall of the famous corrections facility? Did you count the years between Henry Deaver’s (André Holland) disappearance in 1991 and now? It’s 27 years, Karen. 27! That’s how long it takes Pennywise to reappear in IT! But even if the fans shut up about all that stuff, their friends would probably still fall into the eerie mystery unfolding in that little Maine town without being clued into every single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it easter egg.
Because, in fact, not all of the Stephen King references in the series even ARE easter eggs. They’re bigger than that. One of the smartest things Castle Rock does is plunder the source material for actual plot points. It isn’t just nodding to King’s stories — it’s remixing them, building a fresh story with whole scenes or themes inspired by the previous books and films. After all, King is a master for a reason. It makes sense that there would be more useful elements to pull from his work than just actors and headlines. Inevitable cycles are themselves one of the biggest Stephen King themes (lookin’ at you, Dark Tower books), and since all his stories are seemingly real in the universe of the series, it’s only natural to see them resurface in new and surprising ways.
So, based on the first 3 episodes, here are some of the larger links to the world of King that I noticed:
A Corrupt Shawshank Warden Commits Suicide
In Castle Rock, Shawshank’s Warden Lacy (Terry O’Quinn) almost immediately kills himself by driving his Lincoln into a lake while he’s got a noose wrapped around his neck (no, really). His death is what sets the whole series in motion, and while he seemed like a really good, God-fearing fellow, it turns out that he was kinda secretly keeping a dude locked in a cage (even if said dude
might be clearly is pure evil). That event mirrors his predecessor, Warden Norton, who also killed himself at the end of The Shawshank Redemption. While Norton put a gun to his head because the truth of his misdeeds was about to come out, it was actually Lacy’s death itself that revealed his own secrets to the world.
Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn), himself a deeply-entrenched figure of Stephen King lore, thinks he may know why Warden Lacy locked that kid (IT’s Bill Skarsgård) in a cage in the bowels of Shawshank: he’s the Devil, and he’s the root of all that’s wrong with Castle Rock. According to Lacy, God told him where to find the dude, and how to build the cage, and that this was his great mission in life. Already Pangborn and Lacy are being set up as a sort of mini-army of Good, defending the town against a very real force of Evil. There are shades of The Stand in that set up, but I wouldn’t go so far as to label this kid the new face of Randall Flagg (if only because The Walkin’ Dude is usually talkier). Pangborn previously encountered a devious and ancient shopkeeper named Leland Gaunt, who traded desires for the souls of the residents of Castle Rock in Needful Things. Flagg, Gaunt, Pennywise — all these figures are in some way evil incarnate, and they all return in cycles. Whether the kid is related to any of these figures, or to Deaver’s disappearance as a child, remains to be seen.
The Kid Is No John Coffey
John Coffey was the mysterious inmate at the center of The Green Mile, who could heal people, even removing tumors — and, in doing so, prolong their lives. The kid from the cage in Castle Rock, however, seems to have inflicted a disease on his new roommate, riddling him with cancer and killing him overnight. Oops?
OK, But Did The Dog Stay Dead?
This could arguably be an easter egg, if it didn’t form the backbone of what became a deliciously twisted scene. Henry comes home to his mom’s house and hears the sound of digging nearby. He investigates, and finds Pangborn digging a hole in the dark. The reason? Pangborn had buried a stray dog that Henry’s mom was partial too there some time ago, but since Henry’s mom can’t remember that the dog had died, he needs to prove it to her again. With a photo. So you know it’s not the real Pet Sematary because this time the pet stayed dead.
Empaths, Psychics, and Special Kids
Melanie Lynskey’s character, Molly Strand, represents a familiar type in a King tale. In the past she’s the spooky kid with gifts, who can seem to feel what others feel, and maybe hear their thoughts, and definitely holds some vital information around the Deaver family mystery. Typically these sorts of kids with
the shine special powers are the central figures of their respective stories, but The Dark Tower’s Jake Chambers always played second fiddle to Roland. In the present, Molly’s a barely-coping adult who turns to Percocet to dull her senses and get through the day — not unlike the addictions that eventually plagued The Shining’s Danny Torrance in his later years (as detailed in the sequel Doctor Sleep).
Creepy Gang Of Kids
It’s a narrative stretch that Molly’s hunt for drugs would take her to a creepy motor court filled entirely with equally creepy kids, who wear animal masks and subject her to their own form of justice. But there’s never a reason not to add a dash of suspiciously organized children with no adult supervision, as Children of the Corn has demonstrated in every iteration.
The Killer Women
When we first meet the adult Henry, he’s a lawyer trying to get a woman named Leanne off of death row. Her crime? Killing her abusive husband. Women protecting themselves from abusive partners is another reoccurring theme in King’s work (Rose Madder, Gerald’s Game), but this specific scenario reminds me the most of Dolores Claiborne.
Another killer is Molly herself, who as a child appears to have wandered into Henry’s home and killed his father while the man was recovering (and while Henry was still missing). The town would eventually blame Henry for the death — which may still be kind of the case, considering Molly seemed to mentally tuned in to Henry (or someone!) when she pulled out Papa Deaver’s oxygen tube. I’m sure there is more to discover about this turn of events, but if it all does come down to a mysterious connection forged between two people… well, Thad Beaumont’s pseudonym/ absorbed twin George Stark also committed some murders in the area around Castle Rock in The Dark Half…
Have you watched Castle Rock yet? Any thematic links you want to talk about? Or hell, any other actors from the King-o-sphere you’d like to see pop up? I vote for Kathy Bates and Clancy Brown, OBVIOUSLY.
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