WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the Castle Rock episode "Past Perfect," now streaming on Hulu.
Castle Rock has had no shortages of references to the massive literary world of Stephen King. The Hulu drama, which is based on some of the characters and setting of the author’s expansive catalog, but not on any particular story, is filled with nods to events and stories from assorted King novels. Rarely, however, does Castle Rock have bold-faced callbacks that are a little too on the nose with the exception of Alan Pangborn’s presence as a huge supporting character and the big role played by Shawshank State Prison.
Yet, there's one character whose introduction must have certainly caused some longtime King fans to roll their eye a bit. Jackie Torrance, played by Jane Levy, has been a bit of an enigmatic character with an all-too-familiar name. For those who aren't familiar, Torrance is the surname of the protagonist of King's 1977 novel The Shining and the 1980 film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick. In both incarnations, the Torrance patriarch, Jack, has his mind poisoned by the dark spirits residing in The Overlook Hotel and terrorizes his family after succumbing to his inner demons.
While the novel depicts Jack as brandishing a roque mallet to inflict some horrific blunt force trauma upon his loved ones, the 1980 film instead inserts an ax into his hands. Some might argue the change removes of the brutality out of Jack’s actions, as there's something horrifically primal about dying from internal bleeding and shock. But the image of Jack chopping through a bathroom door to get to his wife has become iconic and is often what most people immediately call to mind when discussing the film (that, and those creepy twins; yikes!).
With the exception of Jackie’s name and lineage (she's the niece of Jack Torrance), Castle Rock has done a pretty good job of avoiding direct references to The Shining. But when a couple moves to Castle Rock and converts Dale Lacy’s old house into a bed and breakfast (one of the biggest industries in Maine, next to lobsters, blueberries, and of course, Stephen King) with an unorthodox theme, Jackie steps up to the plate to live up to her namesake (and no, we aren’t talking about battling alcoholism).
In “Past Perfect,” Castle Rock takes a bit of a turn into American Horror Story territory with regard to tossing in seemingly random horror tropes for the sake of padding the show. When Gordon and Lilith move into the Lacy homestead and turn it into a murder-themed inn, the whole thing seems a bit out of place in the series. Good ol’ Gordo and Lil take things to the extreme by murdering and dismembering their first guests (that’s not how you get good Yelp reviews, guys). Their crime is nearly discovered by a few Castle Rock residents, including Jackie, who makes a cheeky reference to her family’s cinematic relationship with axes, but it’s not until protagonist Henry Deaver shows up that things really go off the rails.
In the middle of uncovering the creepy shrine to “The Kid” Lacy had been curating, Henry is caught by Gordon, and despite his best efforts he's marked as the couple’s next victim. After a nasty (and bloody) tussle, Henry is rescued from Gordon’s murderous rage by Jackie, who happens to be brandishing an ax from one of the bed and breakfasts’ ghastly exhibits. Seeing another Torrance family member handle an ax in this manner certainly is a fine tribute to the world of King (even if it is a bit too overt), but it does have us questioning how much of Castle Rock is in fact canonical. Is this show simply 10 hours of pastiche?
King famously derides Kubrick’s The Shining, and while the author’s critiques are certainly valid from an adaptation standpoint, they don’t take away from the film’s quality or its cultural impact. Castle Rock wants to have its cake and eat it, too. The creators are wisely pulling for King iconography recognizable to viewers who might have only passing familiarity with the author’s work. We’d hazard a guess that even horror fans who have never read The Shining are familiar with Jack Nicholson’s crazed face shouting, “Here’s Johnny!” through a freshly chopped hole in a door. But with Jackie Torrance plunging an ax into someone’s head instead of whacking it with a giant mallet, the scene became instantly recognizable in a show filled with mystery.