Major spoilers ahead for Season 2 of Castle Rock, which just ended earlier this week.
Hulu’s Stephen King-inspired horror anthology series Castle Rock took audiences back to the title town–and its sister setting Salem’s Lot–for a slow-burn season of spooky storytelling. Season 2 started off strong with the introduction of both Lizzy Caplan‘s Annie Wilkes, in an origin story that predates her infamous caretaking in King’s Misery, and her daughter, Joy (Elsie Fisher). This core family and generational story was paralleled with that of adopted siblings Dr. Nadia Howlwadaag (Yusra Warsama) and Abdi (Barkhad Abdi) who had to find their place in not only Salem’s Lot but within the local crime family the Merrills as well. Those solid dramatic explorations of modern families and all their many and varied difficulties formed a great core of the storytelling this season, a good thing, too, because it took a while for Castle Rock‘s more macabre elements to start getting creepy and compelling.
The spooky factor in this season was less about Annie’s own struggle with mental illness, delusions, hearing voices, and attempting to function in reality while grappling with the demons of her past and present (though Caplan certainly brought a disturbing performance to the role), and more about the centuries-old evil lurking beneath Salem’s Lot and Castle Rock. This is where the spoilers start. In the first episode alone, Annie ends up killing Ace Merrill, a shocking turn of events that made things even creepier in town once Ace popped up again a short while later. How? Because Ace isn’t exactly Ace but rather an reawoken priest from the town’s 17th century original settlers who was revived in a new body by a mysterious and powerful entity; he just happens to be wearing Ace’s skin.
This new Ace’s job is to off more locals and revive them through a very creepy ceremony involving coffins, disturbing bugs used as vectors, and a strong distaste for mind-altering drugs and pharmaceuticals. He’s bringing back his 400-year-old pals in an effort to eventually revive his lady love / prophet Amity and carry out a mass sacrifice on the town’s 400th anniversary. And they almost succeed! So while this version of the tale skews away from the familiar vampiric lore (but not that far from it) in favor of an ancient cult with a penchant for child sacrifice and immortality, it also offers a continuation from Season 1 of Castle Rock. That’s right, The Kid (Bill Skarsgard) is back!
Turns out that “The Ravening Angel” that Amity met in a vision hundreds of years ago is the same Kid that the late Warden Lacy happened upon in the depths of Shawshank Penitentiary. We get a lore drop that reveals that The Kid / The Angel can travel freely through various universes, appearing whenever and wherever it wants; they stop short of mentioning anything about a Dark Tower though … The Kid gets pretty close to sending the town into full blown sacrifice mode thanks to a demonic statue erected in Castle Rock’s town center that sends all the citizens into a dead-eyed state reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But thanks to some well-placed explosives and teamwork on behalf of the greater Merrill Family members, that sacrifice came up short.
So what part did the Wilkes have to play in all of this? Well, first of all, Joy isn’t Annie’s daughter, and she’s not named Joy at all. She’s actually Evangeline and she’s Annie’s half-sister, having the same father. This was all explored in the excellent episode and standout hour of the season “The Laughing Place”, and it explains a bit of Annie’s backstory, difficulty with reading comprehension, and obsession with authors and the written word. It also revealed her early murderous inclinations; Baby Evangeline was only saved from being drowned in the river by a teenage Annie because she chose that moment to laugh, snapping Annie out of her bloodlust.
Cut to 16 years later. Both Annie and Joy/Evangeline now know the truth. That doesn’t do much good for Evangeline’s birth mother, who died via a gunshot to the stomach (much like how young Annie stabbed her in the stomach years earlier). It also doesn’t do Joy any good since she’s been marked as the vessel in which Amity is meant to be resurrected by the cult. Though the Wilkes manage to escape this madness and run off to parts unknown, resuming their road trip lifestyle, Joy apparently remembers none of it. Annie, taking a caretaker position for an elderly homebound man (and disregarding the “Missing: Henry Deaver” posters), is happy to assume the role of mother for Joy once more.
Except Annie has her doubts. When she hears Joy talking to a mysterious man on the phone, she opts to drug her daughter/sister rather than risk losing her again, or worse, having Amity come back by using Joy as a vessel. Totally normal behavior. But the bigger twist comes when a struggle between the two ensues and Annie ends up drowning Joy in the lake in her rage.
All’s well that ends well though, right? Annie learns that Joy was just talking with a lawyer in order to get legally emancipated as an adult so she could go her own way. So when Annie rushes to revive her daughter/sister, it’s with a sigh of relief that she manages to do just that, along with a lie to Joy that she simply “fell in the water.” The two resume their dysfunctional relationship as they attend an author’s signing by acclaimed mystery writer Paul Sheldon. Joy, who has no memory of pretty much anything over the last few weeks, expresses an interest in illustrating book covers but doesn’t even blink when a stranger comes up to ask if the chair she’s sitting in is taken …
The biggest twist comes soon after. As Sheldon takes the stage, Annie remarks that she’s going to get him to do what her father would not: Dedicate a book to her. After all, she’s his number-one fan. The camera pulls back to reveal that Annie is on her own and Joy isn’t there at all, she’s only there in Annie’s mind. So we’re left with the revelation that Annie killed Joy and moved on as if everything between the two of them was normal. Yikes.
This marks the real shift into the Annie Wilkes we know and love to hate from Misery, when her full-blown obsession becomes a deadly one for both Sheldon and Wilkes herself. And it explains why Joy/Evangeline never makes an appearance in Misery, even if she’s lurking somewhere in Annie’s hallucinations.
Season 2 of Castle Rock took a little while to get going, but once it did, it was a helluva ride right to the end. There’s a lot to talk about regarding Annie’s mindset: Prescription drugs as a coping mechanism and not a solution, her obsession with people in her life (her father, Joy, Paul Sheldon) as stand-ins for real relationships, and how audiences may find some empathy for Annie now having seen her entire lifetime of struggles and setbacks. That’s not to say her behavior is justified, but knowing that she only gets worse and more isolated in the years to come is absolutely heartbreaking and harrowing.
The same might be said for Castle Rock and the surrounding towns, but we don’t know if/when a Season 3 might be in the cards let alone what stories it may tackle. Here’s hoping it comes back, if only for the show’s #1 fans.