[Warning: Castle Rock spoilers ahead!]
Castle Rock ended its mostly very good first season with an unforced error of a finale that aimed for ambiguous but landed at anticlimactic. The final showdown between the two Henry Deavers got skipped over and the central mystery of the season -- "who is The Kid?" -- was left unsolved not because it was a question with an ambiguous answer but because the writers pleaded the Fifth.
But before we talk about what didn't happen, let's talk about what did happen. In Episode 9, the other Henry Deaver a.k.a. The Kid (Bill Skarsgård) got trapped in what I'll call "our Castle Rock" when he passed through a portal between worlds. The young version of the "real" Henry (Andre Holland) also went through the portal and had gone into The Kid's world -- a slightly different version of ours -- and was detained and held in a cage for years by Matthew Deaver (Adam Rothenberg), who thought he was the devil, much like The Kid was caged by Warden Lacy. Or at least that's the story The Kid told Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey).
In the finale, we found out what happened the night young Henry passed through the first time. Henry's father Matthew was going to murder Ruth (Sissy Spacek), so Henry ran away from him while they were doing their nightly prayer/schisma listening session in the woods. After a pursuit, Henry snuck up behind his father and pushed him off the cliff, which was the location of the door between the two worlds (which is known in other parts of Stephen King mythology as a "thinny"), and that act somehow sent him through. I theorize that an act of violence at the threshold opens the door, and Warden Lacy's (Terry O'Quinn) suicide opened it for The Kid in our Castle Rock.
Back in real time, The Kid forced Henry at gunpoint to go with him to the door. As The Kid was momentarily distracted by a helicopter flying over them, Henry tackled him and took his gun, and then The Kid turned into a dead blue demon or whatever the hell that was. But it was just a flash, and then he was The Kid again. The screen blacked out, then it came back "One Year Later." Henry was working as a humble property lawyer in Castle Rock while his philosophical voiceover ideas about whether evil is nature or nurture played over what was on the screen. Molly moved to Florida. Ruth died four months after the events of the show and was buried with Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn). And Henry put The Kid back in his cage underneath Shawshank, where he sat, grinning creepily and waiting for... something.
It's an ambiguous ending, and Castle Rock made it clear early on that it wasn't going to provide easy answers. The finale's "previously on" included Henry's introductory courtroom speech from the premiere with the key line "How much doubt are you comfortable with?" And my answer is "less than Castle Rock gave me."
"Who is The Kid?" is not a question with an ambiguous answer. It's very simple: he's either an alternate universe Henry Deaver or he's a devilish deceiver. The evidence points heavily toward the latter, because that smile was not human, nor was that mummy face. So instead of sweeping away the breadcrumb trail and making it actually ambiguous, the writers just skipped over scenes that would have definitively answered the question. That final showdown between Henry and The Kid would have had to do it, so it just... didn't. The climax was unambiguously bad. The whole season had been building to that climax, and the show didn't deliver.
Stephen King writes big climaxes where good and evil have an epic battle in which Las Vegas gets nuked or Roland reaches the Dark Tower. Take the end of Needful Things, which Castle Rock perhaps most closely resembles. That one ends with a town-wide blowout fight between Alan Pangborn and Leland Gaunt, who is definitely a demon and explains his satanic soul-collecting motivations. Whether a King book has a good ending or not (and a lot of them don't), they all build to the highest point of tension and then blow it up. Castle Rock doesn't do that. It deprives the audience of the signature Stephen King final confrontation. It's bad storytelling to fast-forward through a climax, and especially bad if you're telling a Stephen King-style story. And that's not even getting into how preposterous it is that Henry was able to easily overpower The Kid moments after we had seen The Kid incite a murderous riot with his psychic powers.
All that being said, I didn't hate the finale. I generally like ambiguity in art. Twin Peaks is my favorite show. The Castle Rock finale made me have a strong feeling and think about what I watched, which is all you can really ask for from a show. I watched it twice, which I wouldn't do if I didn't care. And I'll concede that the open ending leaves room for Season 2 to further explore the mystery of whatever The Kid is, which might be the Devil himself. There's plenty for the next chapter of the anthology to pick up, whatever it may be.
I just wish it hadn't left me saying "that's it?"
Castle Rock Season 1 is available to stream on Hulu.