Photo: Melanie Lynskey, Jane Levy (Seacia Pavao/Hulu)

“Has it begun?”

Well, I asked for story and one episode later, Castle Rock delivered. One longstanding mystery is solved, for the viewers if for no one else, by the opening scene of young Molly Strand (Cassady McClincy) walking barefoot through the snowy night, creeping into the Deaver home, and disconnecting the breathing apparatus keeping Pastor Deaver (Adam Rothenberg) alive.

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Photo: Adam Rothenberg, Cassady McClincy (Screenshot/Hulu)

There’s the possibility this revelation will get discounted—it’s not a flashback but a dream, it’s Molly’s childhood memory of someone else’s experience, a wizard did it—but it just fits. Molly doesn’t just see Henry’s distress, she feels it as her own. Whatever his father has been taking him out to the bluff to see and hear, she sees and hears it, too… or at least, she sees his fear and his pain. And it fits practically, too, explaining exactly how Molly came into possession of Henry’s flannel jacket, which she still keeps in a box in her cellar.

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This episode belongs to Molly Strand, and to Melanie Lynskey. As “Local Color” unfolds, Molly’s ambitions (outlined in “Habeas Corpus”) get fleshed out. Her lease on the abandoned mill is more than a career plan, it’s a plan to rehabilitate all of Castle Rock. Minutes into the episode, Molly is literally carrying the town’s future in her hands (and pleading with Jackie not to jostle it with too many potholes).

Those plans are threatened by Henry Deaver’s return to Castle Rock. Not by anything he does or says, but by his mere presence. When he walks into her office, his easy smile suggesting fond memories, Molly is awash in his thoughts and memories, the overflow of his experiences flooding over her, washing away any other thoughts in their wake, including her dream of a rejuvenated Castle Rock.

Photo: Melanie Lynskey, Adam Rothenberg (Screenshot/Hulu)

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Molly’s dreams aren’t just of a vibrant future for her town. She’s dogged by dreams of Matthew Deaver, his face bandaged as on his deathbed, roaring to a congregation of the dead about the sounding of the last trumpet: “For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed!”

In search of more opiates to quell what her sister (played with acid perfection by Allison Tolman in “Habeas Corpus”) calls “your undiagnosed psychic affliction,” Molly walks into a scene as baroque as her dreams. Out at the Timberland Motor Court, she finds a congregation of masked children, minded only by the teenage drug dealer she’s looking for, and all intent on a bizarre mock trial. “Our moms are out drunk. But our dads are in Shawshank,” one child explains to Molly.

Photo: Melanie Lynskey (Seacia Pavao/Hulu)

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The grotesque proceeding echoes Molly’s dream of a masked congregation, but when she blurts out, “I don’t care about your… your game!” to the children, she could just as easily be talking to Henry. The baroque details—the tinyness of these children, the jarring artlessness of their masks, their descriptions of imagined murders as they take the stand one after another—don’t disguise the similarities between the parentless children’s hearing and the posturing of the adults in power out at Shawshank.

It’s an absurd scene—American Horror Story levels of absurd. It makes no sense, not even the rough, uncertain sense a person might expect in the treacherous reality of Castle Rock. But Melanie Lynskey grounds the absurdity with her performance, showing the web Molly’s conflicting emotions as they twine together with striking clarity. She’s determined, concerned, confused, irritated, guilty, angry, scared, and businesslike. And she wants her goddamned oxy.

Photo: André Holland (Screenshot/Hulu)

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That’s how Molly and Henry reconnect, with him wrangling with the State Police to get her out of jail with nothing more than a fine and an impound fee. “Local Color” is Lynskey’s show, but after seeing André Holland’s subtle work as a pensive strategist, it’s fun to see him spring into action to get her to her interview on time. It’s doubly fun because she’s just unleashed a torrent of apparent nonsense on him—about “feeling” him in her head like a song, about her obvious infatuation with him, about her need to distance herself from him for her own protection—and he takes it all in, distills it to the crucial next steps, and snaps his fingers to get those steps in motion.

Photo: Melanie Lynskey (Screenshot/Hulu)

Revealing a character’s experience as “just a dream” typically deflates all the tension that the dream—or the vision, or the illusion—churned up, so much so that it’s become a punchline, a hallmark of lousy writing. But Molly’s dreams and visions and walking illusions retain their power even after they’re revealed, only partly thanks to the potent naturalism of Lynskey’s acting. These nightmarish visions, and even her actual nightmares, still have their sting because she doesn’t experience them as imaginary. When she sees the late Pastor Deaver, his head still bandaged and his voice booming, lumbering toward her in her childhood home, she’s living that. She doesn’t know it isn’t real until he vanishes, and if it happens again, she won’t know if the danger is real until (and unless) it proves itself an illusion again. Even if it does, her guilt and her mortal terror are as real as anything in Castle Rock.

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Though much of it is illusory, “Local Color” packs a wallop of reality that’s a little lacking from Castle Rock’s first two episodes—maybe because it follows the all too plausible vicissitudes of one character’s day, maybe because writer Gina Welch tapped into something about Molly (or benefited from Lynskey’s talent), maybe just because the show has established its characters, exhausted its exposition, and started doing something. Back at Shawshank, the unnamed prisoner asks Henry, “Has it begun?” Oh, it’s begun, all right.

Stray observations

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  • I cannot be the only one who saw young Henry’s clenched fist and thought of Arthur.
  • “Local Color” is directed by Dan Attias, whose directorial experience ranges from The Americans to The Wire to New Girl… and also 1985's Silver Bullet, screenplay by Stephen King based on his Cycle Of The Werewolf. And hey, it looks like Silver Bullet is on Hulu in the U.S.!
  • “Fuck you, Dad,” young Henry mutters, burning a videotape on a stump in his yard. I don’t remember ever Arthur saying that.
  • “‘Castle Rock has excellent bones.’ … don’t say bones,” Molly chides herself as she rehearses for her interview. Constant Reader, she said “bones.”
  • Molly’s regular dealer is the anti-Steve Harrington.
  • If the name of the Timberland Motor Court sounds familiar but not quite right, welcome to the club. It took me a minute (and correcting my own notes from “motor lodge” to “motor court”) to realize I was thinking of the Timberline Lodge, which served as the Overlook Hotel’s exterior in Kubrick’s The Shining.
  • When Henry and his mysterious client pick up their receivers to speak, the open line makes an unnerving sound, somewhere between a gurgle and a chitter. It sounds like something scuttling and bubbling in a drain. It sounds like something about to invite us to come down and play, to come down where we all float. It sounds like It.

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