Last week’s episode of Castle Rock ended with a mass shooting at Shawshank state penitentiary, but this week’s opens in a hospital — several years in the past.
Henry Deaver is getting an examination. He has a problem. He’s hearing things.
“I’m not supposed to tell you this but your scan looks clear to me,” the technician says. “Do you listen to loud music in your ears? Could be tinnitus.”
This calls back to something his father once said to him, and something that the mystery prisoner of Shawshank said: “Can you hear it now?”
But we still don’t know what exactly he’s hearing.
Back in the present, we hear a radio report recounting the mass murder at Shawshank and informing us of another looming disaster, a wildfire burning over the town on Black Mountain.
The local pastor calls Henry while he’s putting up the new church sign, indicating the funerals for some of the Shawshank victims — and shooter Dennis Zalewski.
But the reason the pastor is calling Henry is that his father’s recently unearthed casket is leaking in the church basement.
“It’s called exploding casket syndrome,” the pastor explains. “When there’s no oxygen to dehydrate the contents, the casket becomes a pressure cooker. I wouldn’t expect remains this old to be susceptible.”
Henry’s ear is ringing. We see a flashback to the gunshot that killed Zalewski exploding beside his head, but there is probably more going on here. Can you hear it now?
At Shawshank, Warden Porter is getting ripped by the voice of an administrator over not just the murders, but also the cover-up involving Lacy’s mystery prisoner. He makes it clear she will take the fall for all of it.
At Henry’s house, he’s installing cameras to track his dementia-stricken mother, and at the prison, the mystery kid is watching a different screen: with a video explaining how parole works.
Then, the kid walks free.
Henry is waiting for him with an outstretched hand — which the kid refuses to shake.
We see a flashback to the kid’s incarceration, and Warden Lacy is quoting a Bible verse. “When I brought you down here I was on fire with the holy spirit. Righteous and so strong. You looked so small next to my faith,” he says. “Now, you still look small. But I look old. I am old. After all these years, I still don’t know what you really are, or if I did the right thing. “
He’s wearing the rubber gloves for touching the prisoner. The Warden knows his man possess some malevolent strength that is transferred through touch.
“Remember that crazy story you told me on your first night in here?” the warden asks. But that story will have to wait for another time.
We see the prisoner in the hospital, getting a psychological test that mirrors the brainscan and questions that Henry had in the opening scene.
Pure retrograde amnesia is the diagnosis, the doctor says. She thinks she can get him a bed in the coming week at Juniper Hill, a mental asylum familiar to Stephen King fans from a number of novels, including It, Gerald’s Game, and 11/22/63.
For the time being, the mystery prisoner is staying on an inflatable mattress at Molly’s yarn mill.
Later that night, the kid walks out, ventures down the street. He finds a happy family singing a birthday song to their child. As he enters the home, and settles onto a bed in a darkened room watching them, the cheerful scene turns to bickering, and then the mother and father are violently fighting with each other.
Maybe the evil within the kid doesn’t have to be transferred by touch alone.
The next day is the ceremony naming the bridge in town after Alan Pangborn, but like most things in Castle Rock, it goes bad fast: Ruth stands up in the middle of his speech and walks to the edge of the bridge — then jumps off.
Henry jumps after her, and thankfully it’s not a steep fall. She ends up in the hospital.
In the yarn mill, we see Molly showing up to find the mystery man is missing. He left behind little white flecks of soap in the makeshift cage he built for sleeping.
As Molly leaves, we see a a little white figure carved out of soap. It stands on the bridge in Molly’s model of downtown Castle Rock.
Jackie Torrance is with the mystery man in a parked car, smoking some weed, and talking endlessly while he stares blankly.
She’s recounting some of the local tragedies, which she wouldn’t mind writing about someday, and then she drops the information that she is the niece of Jack Torrance from The Shining.
“I had this uncle, he was a writer too. He flipped his lid and tried to murder his wife and kid at a fancy ski resort,” she says. “My folks would never talk to me about it. I took his name just to piss them off. My real name is Diane.”
There’s more news on the radio about the forest blaze, with a group of firefighters dying in a helicopter explosion.
At the hospital, Henry is talking with Pangborn, who confesses he has loved Henry’s mother since 1991. He stayed away because she felt it would be too much to start seeing someone so soon after her husband’s death. Her excuse: It would be “confusing” for Henry.
Pangborn says he moved away, then came back as an old man, and found himself responding to a call about gunfire at her home. He didn’t figure out what the problem was, but she seemed distraught, and she begged him to stay and keep her safe.
That’s all he’s been trying to do — with her, with the town, with everyone.
When Ruth awakens, she explains why she jumped during the ceremony, which dredged up all the old stories of strife from Castle Rock. “It was the town talk,” she says. “Nothing stays dead in this town.”
But she can’t make sense of the stories anymore. “It’s like I open a book and all the pictures are torn out, and rearranged,” she says. Her eyes lock with Henry’s. “You know how it feels, don’t you? To forget your own story.”
Molly is searching town for the mystery man, and she finds him standing on top of the shirt factory, watching the fire. We hear the voices he hears: screams and shouts. An angry dog barking. We hear Zalewski tell him to “make a fist.” And then the words: “Guys, want to see a dead body?” from Stand By Me/”The Body.”
Is it just a coincidence that the boy who was celebrating his birthday in the earlier scene was named “Gordy,” the same as the main character in that King story?
“I didn’t know where you went. I was worried about you,” Molly says.
The kid tells her: “I shouldn’t be here. I should still be in the hole.”
Maybe he’s not evil incarnate. Maybe he’s a vessel that absorbs the evil that pervades the town, and occasionally that malevolence spills out.
Castle Rock has invoked several stories about the devil in its past episodes, but I wonder if there isn’t an element of Usula K. Le Guin’s 1973 short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”
That story tells about a perfect town, where everyone is safe and happy — but that happiness is contingent on a child who sits in a buried cell, wallowing in misery. Sooner or later, everyone in town learns of this child’s existence, and they either choose to stay and live with that — their happiness, dependent on another’s suffering — or they leave the town forever.
“Everyone broadcasts at their own frequency. With him, it’s just like I was listening to the pain of everyone in this town all at once,” Molly tells Henry.
She knows Henry is full of pain, too. “Your right ear is ringing. You feel guilty about clients you couldn’t save. And your mom, and your father, and your son who barely has a father.”
Henry takes the mystery prisoner to a house behind his own, and sets up a bed for him. There’s also a dusty piano, which the stranger eyes with interest. He goes over and begins to play. Beautifully.
My mind went back to the image of that piano that had plunged through the rotted floorboards of the Desjardin house, where Josef all but admitted he once kept Henry inside his strange wooden box.
Back at the bridge, Alan Pangborn unscrews his new plaque and throws it into the river. Then his phone buzzes. The security cameras Henry installed at his property show the mystery prisoner wandering outside.
Pangborn confronts the kid in the woods.
“You remember,” he says. “That’s right. Lacy. I pulled him over in the middle of the night. Wear a badge long enough in this county, and the guy who has the devil in his Lincoln isn’t half batshit crazy. “
The kid says nothing, so Pangborn goes on: “I can’t remember my own dead wife’s face, but I never forgot yours. Not for 27 years. Did I let a monster drive off with a boy in his truck?”
Pangborn stares at him. “Now I’m an old man, and you’ haven’t aged one goddamn day. Are you the devil?”
“No,” the stranger answers.
“What the f— are you?” He draws his gun. “You wait 30 years for the woman you love, and she slips through your fingers. And here you are Rip van Winkle. Where’s the justice in that.”
He aims the gun.
“I can help her,” the stranger says.
The two men face each other in the dark woods. The stranger speaks again: “You have no idea what’s happening here, do you?”