The first season of Hulu’s Castle Rock — now available on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD, is a very interesting failure.
Honestly, it’s the best possible outcome Stephen King fans could have hoped for. Produced by J.J. Abrams and marketed as an anthology series based on King’s expansive back catalogue of novels and short stories, Castle Rock was always going to have a difficult time navigating the fine line between accessibility and inside baseball while also establishing a world that was compelling and self-contained enough to warrant a return visit after the initial season’s end. While it succeeds in some areas, it utterly, utterly fails in others.
Season one certainly has an engaging hook, as Bill Skarsgård’s mysterious inmate, called “The Kid,” is discovered deep within the bowels of Shawshank State Penitentiary upon the suicide of the warden who secretly imprisoned him there for decades. André Holland’s Henry Deaver, a criminal attorney, is summoned back to his hometown of Castle Rock to negotiate the Kid’s release — and, in true Stephen King fashion, to confront the mysteries of his own past as it becomes increasingly apparent that those mysteries are intertwined with the Kid’s.
Castle Rock develops its introductory conundrum admirably within the first seven of its 10 episodes and manages to keep the viewer’s interest largely in part to its outstanding ensemble cast, which includes Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn, Melanie Lynskey and Jane Levy. As a whole, the season peaks with its seventh episode, “The Queen,” one of the best TV episodes of the year thanks to its standalone nature, Spacek’s phenomenal performance and the “Constant”-esque emotional gut punch within its last few moments. However, once episode eight hits, you realize Castle Rock got a little too big for its britches and spent a little too much time meandering around the town to satisfactorily resolve its extremely ambitious concept in its remaining three hours. For example: The whole side plot about a murder-themed B&B is entirely unnecessary yet takes up almost an entire episode while all the questions you really want answered barely get any time devoted to them at all.
Needless to say, Castle Rock ends in the most anticlimactic way possible and makes you wonder why you wasted 10 hours watching the show in the first place, despite its considerable strength early on. Which, as far as Abrams goes, is kind of par for the course.
So who, in the end, is going to bother buying the season one Blu-ray / DVD collection? “Inside the Episode” featurettes for each episode are available as companion pieces on Hulu for those curious enough to watch them while the physical collection contains two new featurettes: “Blood on the Page” and “A Clockwork Horror: Merging the Styles of Stephen King and J.J. Abrams.” I cannot even begin to fathom who might be interested in these relatively lean bonus features, except perhaps King diehards or physical media devotees. (Do J.J. Abrams diehards exist? God, I hope not.)
And for those without a Hulu subscription? Maybe just get this one from your local library. Don’t waste your holiday money on something that’s ultimately going to let you down.