Make your return to Castle Rock with Season 2, now streaming on Hulu. The Stephen King-inspired title town gets a bigger map and an expanded cast in this new season of the horror anthology series. In season two, a feud between warring clans comes to a boil when budding psychopath Annie Wilkes, Stephen King’s nurse from hell, gets waylaid in Castle Rock.
Lizzy Caplan pays homage to Kathy Bates‘ Oscar-winning work in Misery but also makes the character her own in a fantastic performance that anchors this new season. Joining her are Tim Robbins, who trades in his Shawshank Redemption good-guy role for ruthless gangster Reginald “Pop” Merrill. Paul Sparks steps in as his trouble-making son Ace and Matthew Alan stars as Chris Merrill, who attempts to walk the straight and narrow. The Merrill family gets a surprising expansion with Yusra Warsama as local doctor Dr. Nadia Howlwadaag, and Barkhad Abdi as her brother Abdi, while the Wilkes brood gets a welcome addition with Elsie Fisher as Annie’s daughter, Joy.
This cast starts off strong as we get two competing narratives that quickly meld together in ways that only King and Castle Rock can pull off. Annie and Joy have spent their lives road-tripping across America, for better or worse, but a roadside distraction ultimately leads to an unexpected stop in Castle Rock. The title town is recovering from the events of Season 1, which was mostly a series of child disappearances, unexplained murders, and a fire that burned down a good chunk of Shawshank Penitentiary. But over in New Jerusalem, they have their own problems. That’s where the Merrills come in.
If you’re not familiar with King’s infamous Merrill family, they’re some of the worst of the worst, acting like a small-town crime family on the best of days. There are plenty of nods to King’s work for his fans, however, and it won’t be too hard to spot things like the Emporium Galorium. But Castle Rock takes the expectations of these characters and their machinations and twists them ever so slightly. The Merrills, at one point, adopted Nadia and Abdi, making them step-siblings of sorts to Chris and Ace; that doesn’t sit so well with Ace, as you might expect. Making things worse is Abdi’s intention of moving in on Ace’s business and territory by developing a new mall for Somali refugees who have begun flooding into town, looking to start over. There are plenty of racial, class, cultural, and even commercial conflicts here, but the family dynamic adds a whole other dimension. It’s a stack of dry kindling just waiting to be lit, and Annie Wilkes provides the match.
Annie’s arrival in town may have been accidental, but her addiction to pills is part of what’s driven her (literally) on a never-ending quest for her “laughing place.” That addiction sparks the conflict that’s been brewing in the small town and things quickly start to boil over with Annie and Joy caught in the mix. But they bring some baggage with them from their past. It’s teased throughout the early part of the premiere and a good chunk of that mystery is revealed by the episode’s end. Thanks to excellent work on Caplan’s part, and a surprising narrative twist that once again defies expectations early on, we can’t wait to see how her infamous character plays out in the rest of this season.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Here’s the official synopsis:
A psychological-horror series set in the Stephen King multiverse, Castle Rock combines the mythological scale and intimate character storytelling of King’s best-loved works, weaving an epic saga of darkness and light, played out on a few square miles of Maine woodland. The fictional Maine town of Castle Rock has figured prominently in King’s literary career: Cujo, The Dark Half, IT and Needful Things, as well as novella The Body and numerous short stories (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption) are set in there. Castle Rock is an original suspense/thriller — a first-of-its-kind reimagining that unites King’s themes and worlds, and brings together the author’s most iconic and beloved characters.