Things are getting a little strange in Castle Rock. Granted, there’s been no shortage of oddness in the show so far: the guy who decapitated himself with his own car; a feral kid convict found kept in a cage; the occasional dog corpse in a suitcase or container filled with fingernail clippings. (Ewww.) And so on. But in “Local Color,” the third and final episode Hulu released in its opening salvo, the real shit — the high uncut, Advanced Weirdness 101 — officially kicks into high gear.
Let’s start where the show does, with young Molly Strand straight-up murdering a guy. Possessing — or possessed by, considering how miserable they make her — psychic powers, she’s obsessed with her neighbor Henry Deaver long before the night he disappeared. The connection runs so deep that when she was interviewed by cops that night, she had to hide her fogged-up breath, courtesy of the freezing temperatures she’s experiencing on her lost friend’s behalf. It’s worth noting that days later, while Henry is still missing and his injured dad is recuperating at home, Molly strolls across the frigid street in nothing but a nightgown, bare feet and all. Wherever her crush has vanished to, it’s someplace warm.
She then calmly and methodically sneaks into the Deavers’ bedroom, walks up to the preacher and disconnects his breathing tube, maintaining eye contact with him as he gasps and dies. The memory haunts her throughout the episode, triggered by her first encounter with Henry since his return. With her mind focused on an impending appearance on local TV to promote her plans for a downtown revitalization project (complete with a gazebo, Dead Zone fans!), she can’t afford to deal with psychic interference.
But there’s more to this connection than just killing his dad. During another flashback, we see her invite young Henry up to her room to hang out. Her neighbor leads a sheltered life, most likely an abusive one. So he’s baffled by her meticulously curated posters for period-appropriate college-rock bands. (“What are ‘Violent Femmes’?”)
He’s even more flustered when Molly drops this bomb on him: “I know what you do in your room. Touching your thing. It feels like fireworks.” The moment is cut short when Daddy Dearest starts hollering for Henry to come home, but this sudden and relatively explicit swerve into adolescent sexuality is a welcome sign that Castle Rock will take that element of Stephen King’s work seriously. (The recent It adaptation excised the book’s infamous orgy scene entirely, but replaced it with a weird scene of a bunch of guys leering at a girl in her underwear instead … as if that’s somehow an improvement.) Carnal knowledge is a huge driver of the author’s character development and horror craftsmanship alike. Kudos to the show for having the courage to even try to tackle what can be a danger zone onscreen.
Back in the present, Molly’s brain is so scrambled by her out-of-control telepathic feedback that she embarks on a quixotic quest to snag more pills to keep her calm. This leads her to the series’ most bizarre scene yet: a gathering of the children of Shawshank prisoners in an abandoned motor court, where they reenact their dad’s murder trials while wearing papier-mâché masks. The effect is like stumbling across a street-theater production of Eyes Wide Shut by the drama club at your local middle school. Despite a musical score that’s constantly broadcasting exactly how scared we should be at any given time (note to horror TV shows: Do not do this), the sequence genuinely gets under your skin.
Indeed, the most unnerving image doesn’t involve the masks or the ritualized trial at all: It’s the little girl that Molly encounters, playing with a tangle of wires in a vacant lot in the middle of the night by herself. There’s something wrong about that — but it’s a primal wrongness we can recognize all around us, in a country where economic dislocation and racist legal policies leave kids to fend for themselves all the time. It ties to another great moment from the previous episode, when Officer Dennis Zalewski tells Henry he won’t testify on behalf of The Kid, not even anonymously; he can’t risk losing his employee health benefits and he’d be working at a Wal-Mart rather than a prison if there were one within driving distance.
From there, however, Molly’s storyline starts getting comedic. The cops show up and arrest her. Henry, who happens to be at the police department HQ chasing a lead on his mystery client, bails her out. He rushes her to the local TV station for her appearance, which she botches spectacularly … then switches gears and calls out Shawshank Prison for hiding Henry’s client. After that, Warden Porter — whose predecessor Warden Norton, he of The Shawshank Redemption, gets a brief shoutout via a portrait on the prison wall — is finally forced to let Deaver see his client. (Dubbed “Nic” by the guards, because he was found in a Cage. Get it?)
Things take one last turn for the weird. Actors Andre Holland and Bill Skarsgård have a great anti-chemistry together; you sense that these guys aren’t so much from different worlds as from different species. Henry is warm, blunt, endearingly foul-mouthed and obviously brilliant; The Kid is a wall-eyed scarecrow who seems spooked and perplexed by things as basic as telephones. Yet he’s still so intimidating that Deaver seems to jump in his chair a bit when he first sees him. When he asks “Has it begun?”, the lawyer thinks he means their legal strategy, but something in his weird eyes suggests otherwise. Then he quotes something Pastor Deaver said on that fateful night in 1991 — “Do you hear it now?” — and lord, does the fear hits hard.
And when the bandaged ghost of said preacher appears in the middle of Molly’s inexplicably ransacked house and warns “Behold! I will tell you a mystery,” it’s hard not to want to hear what he says. That’s a solid place for Castle Rock’s three-in-one intro to exit on. We can’t wait to see what happens next.
Previously: Devil’s Advocate