Castle Rock Season 2 (Hulu)
Written by Dustin Thomason, K’naan Warsame, Scott Brown, Obehi Janice, Guy Busick, R. Christopher Murray, Vince Calandra, Daria Polatin, Michael Olsen, K. Corrine Van Vliet, and Scott Brown
Directed by Greg Yaitanes, Phil Abraham, Anne Sewitsky, Mark Tonderai-Hodges, Loni Peristere, Craig William Macneill, and Lisa Bruhlmann
This season of Castle Rock has brought me through a series of varied emotions but ultimately ended with a stunning finale that did justice to the character of Annie Wilkes. Along the way went through a middle section that I drifted away from. There was definitely a good story there, but it didn’t always feel like progress was being made in character arcs every episode. Often Annie felt like she was going in circles to fill out the episode order. The evil force at work in the series was kept in the background just a little too long, but when they were revealed, the episodes shined.
Annie Wilkes, going under an assumed last name, has fled to Castle Rock, Maine, with her daughter Joy. They are staying one step ahead of someone Annie believes is chasing them across the country. Their troubles keep going when Annie gets caught stealing meds for herself while working as a nurse at the local hospital. It gets even stranger when Annie kills Ace Merrill, the owner of the motel lodge she’s staying at after he accosts her, and Ace shows back up alive. There are some dark secrets buried under the ground, particularly in the area of Jerusalem’s Lot. Old coffins surrounded by swarming black flies. Something terrible is going down in the Old Marston House, and it appears things are going to get worse before they get better.
There are mostly two plots going in this second outing: Annie’s story and Pop Merrill’s. The second storyline is more grounded until the third act, focusing primarily on cancer eating Pop’s body and the secret he’s kept from his adopted Somali son and daughter. This is an essential element and parallels with the lies Annie has told Joy her whole life. It feels clear that Pop is the better parent, but he should have been honest with his kids much earlier than allowing them to find it out while he’s on his deathbed.
I appreciate that the Jerusalem’s Lot storyline didn’t go with vampires, which is what I expected based on the Salem’s Lot novel. Instead, we get a reference to the short story of the same name from the Night Shift collection. In that story, we get a Lovecraftian epistolary tale about how the town was founded by witches/devil worshippers. I love that the showrunners and writers are willing to deep dive into Stephen King’s work and surprise us with those sorts of references.
There is also a lot of playing with identity as Annie and Joy are both sent down paths that we could see ending with them becoming the Annie Wilkes of the Misery novel. Instead of making Annie obsessed with Paul Sheldon, an episode explores her youth and finds she was her struggling novelist father’s number one fan growing up. That episode is exceptionally good and gives depth to one of King’s best creations. Annie is such an entirely sympathetic villain that I can imagine audiences struggling to parse how they feel about her by the end.
Overall, I still like season one better but definitely enjoyed lots of things about season two. I was expecting that anything from before would be a passing reference, but near the end, they actually manage to tie these episodes into season one in a huge way. It’s no passing connection but a fundamental tie that reshapes how you might view the first run. It’s hard to say what season three will be, there is one element that I expect will be explored further, but we will most certainly get a new cast of characters as these meet a definite ending.