An Old and Familiar Evil

Stephen King’s Castle Rock is moving along at an appropriate pace. We’re halfway through the episodic run and we have somewhat of a clearer view of just what’s going on in that damn town.

During this week’s episode I had a sudden moment of clarity in regards to the deeper meaning behind this show. A potential reading of the relevance. The kind of reading that places the programme within the context of society, and that you could write a three-thousand word media studies essay about.

This is the abridged version of that essay.

Most media is influenced in some way by the society it was made in, particularly television. 24 thrived in a post-9/11 world of fighting terrorism, Breaking Bad reflected the moral ambiguity in each of us as our own lives were shown back to us on social media, and Game of Thrones hides politics and diplomacy behind pure fantastical escapism — it’s much easier to consume politics today, when it’s all one big reality show.

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In a fairly throw-away conversation from episode 5 of Castle Rock, Jane Levy’s character — Dianne “Jackie” Torrance, niece of The Shining‘s Jack Torrance  — discusses how nothing interesting happens in this town anymore. How the older people talk about the tragedies and horrors that happened in the 80s and before, but for her entire life everything has been fairly calm.

She’s an aspiring writer, who is longing for something interesting to happen so that she can “write what she knows”. Of course, she has no idea that she’s having this conversation with an evil entity of some kind (Randall Flagg?) — but the point is that this conversation struck a chord with me. Given that the conversation’s only other purpose is to confirm that she’s Jack Torrance’s niece, I’d say that there’s more to this scene than just a young woman bitching about the mundanity of modern living.

Castle Rock is all about a returned and familiar evil. Small town life was fairly safe and had been since 1991 — since the evil was removed. Now, in 2018 this evil is back and felt immediately by the people of Castle Rock.

Under President Donald J. Trump (star of The Apprentice), American society has returned to a state we haven’t seen it in since the 1980s and Ronald Reagan. By that I mean for the working and lower-middle classes — those who inhabit the fictional Castle Rock.

In the real 2018, the working classes have been stirred up in a tidal-wave of racism — they’re marching in the streets again and are causing extreme acts of violence, such as the driver in Charlottesville last summer. Most members of the working classes oppose the far-right movements or are indifferent, but it’s still a tactic we haven’t seen work from politicians and certain members of the media since the 80s.

Everyone who makes less than $80,000 was duped by the Trump campaign into voting for them, just as Reagan’s team did. They promised prosperity for all by cutting business tax, where the workers assume that they’ll feel the benefit; Which they rarely do. Greedy men use those tax breaks to further line their own pockets, further increasing the wealth gap between rich and poor. The working classes are plunged into poverty and the lower-middle classes become the new working class.

Meanwhile, at the top, in the ivory towers who “suffered” over the last two decades by not making as much money as they could’ve done, celebrations are thrown at the return of the old-way. Bankers who lived through Reagan are rejoicing at the return of that third decimal, while millions can’t afford food or medicine.

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I’m arguing that as well as adapting a multitude of Stephen King novels, Castle Rock also seeks to reflect the times we live in. An evil that had been kept at bay for a long time, the evil of inner-corruption, has now been unleashed. The people are happy to let it happen, or were duped into thinking it’s a good idea, because most are too young to have lived through it last time. And those who remember it fondly are the ones who profited.

To return to the fictional evil, the retired sheriff of Castle Rock — Alan Pangborn — remembers it the first time around, and he’s the only truly anxious character from the get-go. He plays the role of a Baby Boomer who has given up on stopping evil, and has decided that if the world is going to burn, it may as well be now.

Molly Strand, aspiring businesswoman, makes a pitch for a prosperous shopping centre and new real estate in Castle Rock, but is laughed out of the building. She’s on the fringes of the middle-class, and not a member of the community elites, and so it’s not her turn anymore.

In most episodes we get a message from the far-away businessmen who own the private Shawshank Prison, where their affable and disconnected tone serves as a juxtaposition to those who live and suffer in the town — as they take on the role of the 0.1% in modern society.

Episode 4 features a mass-shooting and episode 5 features a family quite literally being torn apart by the returning evil; Sound familiar?

Given that the evil of Castle Rock is potentially Randall Flagg, I wonder if in future seasons we’ll see him stir up far-right political groups, as he is known to have done in the past.

I’m not saying that America was perfect between 1991 and the present day (far from it), but the enemy was typically on the outside. It was gulf wars and foreign invasions, terror attacks and drone strikes; All of which are horrific problems of their own, but they had very little effect on the life of an average town in America. Even the financial crash of 2008 had the biggest impact on the upper middle-classes, and a trickle-down effect on the average American.

Castle Rock is a reflection of working-class communities in modern America, who are seeing and presumably will continue to see an increased amount of suffering at the hands of an old and familiar evil.

In the case of Castle Rock, it’s the return of the devil. In the case of modern America, it’s the return of greedy, corporate and nepotistic capitalism. Which, I must ask; Are they not one and the same?


Today is Friday, August 10th and it’s harder to be kind to people you’ll never meet — but you should do it anyway.

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6 thoughts on “An Old and Familiar Evil

    1. It is, I think it’ll end up on Channel 4 because it’s the same company that produced The Handsmaid’s Tale. He really is, and Castle Rock is so true to his voice. It’s essentially “King expanded universe”

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  1. Another King story shortly to be serialized on TV is The Outsider. A police procedural that segues into a horror story. The script is being written by Richard Price, The Wire, Colour of Money. “It’s really hard to louse up a King Story.” Heard him say.

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    1. Oh brilliant! Yeah, his work has had such a major influence on 21st century media that his stories are almost paint-by-numbers now (In a good way) – except for his unique characterisation and way of making horror appear from the most innocent of places.

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