Castle Rock Season 2 (Hulu)
“Let The River Run”
Written by Dustin Thomason
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by K’naan Warsame
Directed by Phil Abraham
“Ties That Bind”
Written by Scott Brown & Obehi Janice
Directed by Anne Sewitksy
Anne Ingalls is a nurse always on the move, dragging her now teenage daughter Joy with her where ever she goes. Her escape from some unseen force in her past leads Anne to the town of Castle Rock following a car accident. While holed up in the Stargazer Motel, Anne is able to secure a part-time registered nurse position at the hospital in Jerusalem’s Lot, where we learn she is in dire need of antipsychotics. Meanwhile, “Pop” Merrill, the head of a local crime family, is caught in the middle of a fight between his nephew Ace and his adopted son Abdi. Abdi is laying the foundation for a Somali community center set up, especially for the refugees who have settled in Castle Rock. This goes against Ace’s grasp on the Somalis who rent space in his rundown market building.
My favorite thing about the Castle Rock series concept is seeing how familiar elements of author Stephen King’s work get remixed and reinterpreted. This season is particular is showcasing how the series takes place out of any established continuity in the books. There are elements from Misery, Salem’s Lot, and even Pet Semetary woven throughout this season, and the surprising ways they pop up and the new ways they are presented make each episode a lot of fun to watch.
There’s no clear hero, and everyone feels like a villain, at least when it comes to Annie, Pop, and Ace, three of the major characters this season. Annie and Pop are somewhat sympathetic in moments, which is a good thing because it puts in the audience in an uncomfortable spot. We feel for Annie when she sees what appears to be a dead man coming back and is convinced her meds aren’t working anymore. The idea that the dead could rise is so alien to her, but a mental breakdown is something very familiar. Pop is diagnosed with cancer and has a lot of guilt surrounding a tour he did in Somalia during the 1990s. He’s tried to do good, adopting two children from the war-torn country and raising them as his own. But he’s also a criminal who forces people to pay him protection money.
There is some wonderful inversion of scenes and elements from King’s work. In the third episode, it’s Annie who ends up tied to the bed after being drugged, desperately trying to escape, flipping the script on her actions in the novel Misery. The Marsten House from Salem’s Lot becomes a vital element very early on as it looms over the land where the Somali business and community center is being built. There are some nods to the short story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” a story by King in the style of HP Lovecraft with a discussion of devil worshippers who once made their home on the land in the colonial period.
I’m very intrigued by where the story is going regarding the Somali elements. The production team includes Somali writers on staff, and two major characters are from the same country. This is an area where King has always been a bit lacking, providing representation beyond white people in his work. The presence of so many Somali people in Maine is not a fabrication of the writers but based on the fact that more than 10,000 Somali people live in the state, beginning with refugees coming over during their brutal civil war in the 1990s. White supremacist groups failed to gin up support against this at the time, with most residents being polite and accepting of their new neighbors. So far, it’s interesting to see a character like Pop Merrill, who could be boiled down to a gruff, violent crime boss stereotype being given some complexity by seeking out and adopting orphaned refugees. I suspect there is more to the story than what we have seen, but it’s a delightfully unexpected story element.
Things look to be much more overtly supernatural this season, and different pacing and tone have already been established from the first season. I personally loved the slow burn of season one, but when it comes to these anthology series, I always want each season to have a look and a feel that allows it to stand on its own. Be on the lookout for a full season review in December when Castle Rock wraps up this second iteration.