I said Castle Rock was going to destroy Dennis Zalewski, but I didn’t think they’d take out his reputation first. If Zalewski acted on his free will, he just massacred the guards at Shawshank Prison. Regardless of whether he acted on his free will, those guards are dead, but while he could’ve been driven to it, by Henry deserting their case against Shawshank, the one prison guard to retain a conscience doesn’t pick up a gun and kill his co-workers, one by one. To continue from room to room, shooting people, takes an apathy Dennis has never displayed. You have to believe there are supernatural forces at work, because otherwise humanity’s acting alone, and the idea of that’s too raw, if not impossible, to believe.
Stephen King’s work has never been tethered to the laws of reality but here’s the problem with the “Castle Rock made me do it” excuse. How do you break the cycle? It’s not just Zalewski, who we watched go on this four-episode journey to committing mass murder. Molly makes a similar remark to Henry, after he spends the day trying to figure out what happened to him thirty years ago. It’s a day that unearths special guest star, David Selby (Dark Shadows) as a possible suspect but brings him no closer to remembering his kidnapping. For all he knows, the town’s right and he murdered his father, but Molly says it wouldn’t be his fault if he did. He was just a kid.
That’s big of her to say — unbeknownst to Henry, she pulled the breathing tube on his dad — but does the fact that she was a kid at the time relieve her of responsibility? What about her psychic abilities, or the fact that she grew up in Castle Rock? Does Molly have autonomy?
What about Dennis? He’s an adult. While previous episodes played up the fact that he’s a father-to-be, no mention is made of his wife or kid this week. Their absence is conspicuous, because his decisions until this point have always been weighted towards supporting them.
At the bar, he talks about working there as a teen, which emphasizes the town’s small job pool and that’s he’s been living in Castle Rock all his life. Henry managed to leave, but is that because the town let him go, and what does it say, that when he decides to leave again (and lamely take the deal he was against), that Dennis reacts like this?
Can a fist bump drive someone to kill?
Here’s another option. If the town didn’t make Dennis kill the guards, what about Skarsgård’s stranger? Back when he shared a cell with a white supremacist (Episode Two), he told him, “Don’t touch me. Don’t want to touch me.” At practically a whisper, it’s hard to hear him and his voice inflects at the end, so you could argue he’s asking a question or taunting the guy, but next thing you know, the white supremacist’s dead of cancer.
What if Skarsgård’s touch incited Dennis to act? Earlier in the episode he taught Skarsgård how to fist bump. Did Skarsgard really not know how to, or was he trying to protect Dennis? If that’s the case, he didn’t put up much of a fight. Then there’s the whole attack being foreshadowed by the end of Episode One, when Dennis thought he saw Skarsgård carry out the killings.
Episode Verdict: While episode four is satisfying, in that you can see how the show has been working up to this point, it’s also disappointing in that they made Dennis’ death inevitable and didn’t subvert the outcome (the violence is also pretty obtuse). Dennis becomes a puppet of Castle Rock, or Skarsgård. Or whoever you want to claim is the Boogeyman on this show, and what’s to stop this from happening to anyone else?
What will be interesting to see is how Henry responds, and if Dennis’ death inflames the conflict between him and Pangborn. It’s tough to rally around a main character who only thinks for himself and while we see how much Pangborn cares about Henry’s mother, Ruth, Henry was willing to let his own discomfort get in the way of his job. We’ve seen how sensitive he is about people acknowledging more than one side to a story, from his personal experience with getting vilified. Will he stick around long enough to clear Dennis’ name and help Skarsgård out, or be more determined than ever to get out of Castle Rock?
Other thoughts on “The Box:”
- This episode gets its name from coffins, both the one Henry’s mom declares she’ll leave Castle Rock in (while wielding a box cutter like she’s Gus Fring on Breaking Bad) and Henry’s father’s, after Henry has it re-buried at Incarnation Church. “Incarnation” brings to mind “reincarnation” and from the look on Ruth’s face, when she somehow recognizes his coffin driving by, her husband’s back from the dead. Later Pangborn accuses Henry of wanting to “dump [Ruth] in a parking lot for half-wits,” on a show where ‘parking lot’ has become synonymous with ‘graveyard.’ There’s also the pun he makes when he tells Henry, “You’re the one who dug up Desjardin,” which is Selby’s character’s name but also French for “the gardens.” Besides drawing a line between Pangborn’s desire to rebuild the town and Henry’s desire to uncover its secrets, could the show be foreshadowing the discovery of some clues buried in Castle Rock, and what about the dog Pangburn dug up in episode two?
- You always hear “why don’t you smile more?” come up as a sexist comment made at women or associated with the Joker. In “The Box,” it’s Dennis who’s being told to smile, with the final sarcastic remark being “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” Earlier, when Dennis entered the prison, Tom Waits’ “Clap Hands” played. During the shooting spree, it’s Roy Orbison’s “Crying.”
- I’m having trouble understanding the relationship between Molly and Henry, mostly because I can’t tell whether he likes her or is turning to her because she’s the only local who doesn’t think he’s a killer. That being said, I prefer Molly’s business dealings, where she’s not under Henry’s influence.
- Castle Rock Product Placement: Expo markers and Looney Tunes (the Tasmanian Devil appears on Henry’s bed sheets)
New episodes of Castle Rock stream every Wednesday on Hulu.