Have you guys seen Henry Deaver around? You know — tall skinny guy, floppy hair, big Gollum eyes, white as the Swedish snow? The renowned Alzheimer’s researcher who fled Castle Rock when his mother escaped his abusive preacher father? The guy who found a little boy locked in a cage in his old man’s basement, where the kid has apparently lived without aging for nearly three decades? The one who realizes that this little boy’s name is also Henry Deaver?
You have now.
Titled “Henry Deaver” after not one but two of its main characters, the penultimate episode of Castle Rock‘s first season takes the biggest storyline swerve the show has seen yet. It relocates us to a different version of the town, one that’s still marked by tragedies like helicopter crashes and schoolbus accidents but noticeably healthier and wealthier overall. (Best gentrification joke: That awful dive bar is now a “gastropub.”) Here, Molly Strand isn’t a pill-popping real-estate agent, but a member of the city council who’s got serious clout with folks like the police department — and their top cop, Dennis Zalewski.
Most importantly, Castle Rock 2.0 is the hometown of Henry Deaver — not the African-American defense attorney played by Andre Holland as an adult and Caleel Harris as a teen, but a white neurologist played by Bill Skarsgård, a.k.a. The Kid. You thought Lost had some wild timeline-shifting tricks up its sleeve? Hold Castle Rock‘s beer.
Because in this world, the Kid is apparently not the Devil incarnate — he’s the “real” Deaver, before 27 years in an extradimensional limbo turned him into the negative creep we’ve come to know and loathe. A successful doctor, he’s returned to town to clean up the house left behind by his late father. (As for his mom, she had relocated happily to Sarasota with Alan Pangborn, where she succumbed to Alzheimer’s years earlier). When he looks through the basement, he finds … Henry, the teenage version of the character from the main storyline.
Before long, a clear picture of what’s been going on emerges. Remember all that business about “the Schisma,” the supposed “Voice of God” that represents the sound of the universe trying to reconcile different versions of itself? On the fateful night long ago in which our Henry disappeared, he somehow warped into this alternate reality, where its version of his own crazy father kidnapped him and kept him imprisoned for 27 years.
In the course of investigating the identity of this strange kid, the Skarsgård version teams up with Molly. They rescue young Henry from getting arrested after one of those suspiciously frequent fires breaks out, killing 17 people. When he makes a break for it into the woods, they all find themselves trapped in an Annihilation-esque warp zone, where glimpses of figures from the town’s awful past — a French settler who ate her own family when their colony starved, a pair of convicts on the run, a young woman attempting suicide — flicker in and out of view. The horror is compounded when Officer Zalewski fires a warning shot to stop the runaways, but the distorting effect sends the bullet straight into Molly, who dies.
The new Henry suddenly warps into a wintry version of the same woody landscape, where he witnesses the rescue of the original Henry from the middle of the local lake by Pangborn … and realizes he’s now stuck in this version of the world himself. According to him, he wandered around aimlessly until Warden Lacy found and abducted him. The rest is history.
But the episode’s biggest revelation isn’t a shift in the spacetime continuum. It’s Bill Skarsgård. After spending the entire season silently skulking around, the actor suddenly gets to try on an entirely different personality and appearance. He’s genial and clean-cut, intelligent and outgoing, caring and talkative. (The man also looks great in a suit.) “Local boy makes good and returns to the tortured small town he grew up in” is the King protagonist archetype, and he inhabits the model to a tee.
The effect is a bit like if an actor who played the Joker wiped off the greasepaint and became Bruce Wayne — or, more to the point in Skarsgård’s case, if Pennywise the Dancing Clown cracked open and one of his opponents in the adult version of It‘s Losers Club stepped out. Indeed, the show cheekily frames this version of “Henry Deaver” with big bunches of balloons when he passes through a town fair during his return, basically daring us not to be impressed with how they’ve taken one of the most iconic monsters in the King-verse and transformed him into a leading man.
Here’s the thing, though: Don’t you kinda miss the monster? Or even just monsters in general? Without Skarsgård’s unearthly portrayal of the embodiment of evil, this episode feels more sci-fi than horror.
What’s more, the plot twist neuters the horror of the character when he does return at the end of the hour. If he’s telling the truth — admittedly a big enough “if” that the episode ends on the question “You believe me, don’t you?” like a cliffhanger — he’s not the devil or anything like that at all. He’s just a refugee from an alternate dimension, whose presence causes chaos and cruelty among the townsfolk simply because he’s a metaphysical anomaly. Not because he’s, y’know, into that kinda thing.
Which returns us to series’ biggest flaw, a bug it only has one more episode to fix: It just isn’t that scary. It certainly has its moments, and in the case of last week’s bed-and-breakfast murders it has at least one bravura slasher sequence to boast about. But on a scale of one to Twin Peaks: The Return, it barely moves the needle. You can lead a horse to the water and to the well, but you can’t make him drink full and descend. Here’s hoping the finale dunks us deep.
Previously: Dead & Breakfast