When I finished with Season 1 of Castle Rock, I really couldn’t see where they could go with the story in the future. I thought that the show writers had written themselves into a corner.
When Season 2 began, and featured none of the characters or apparent storylines from the first season, I thought: “Aha! Now I get it. This is going to be an anthology series, with each season set in Castle Rock, which is the name of the series. Brilliant!”
As it turns out, I was wrong. This season shares more in common with the first than merely the setting, the fictional Stephen King town that shows up in many King stories. Everything that happened in the freshman season happened, and becomes part of the backstory of this season, which features other familiar characters.
In Season 2, we learn that Castle Rock is located right next door to another familiar King locale, a quaint little town named Jerusalem’s Lot (but also known as the more familiar ‘Salem’s Lot). That becomes important when the premise of the season becomes “What if the crazy nurse Annie Wilkes from Misery had to fight the vampires of ‘Salem’s Lot?”
I know, right? This sounds like a pitch I would have made. Not something you’d ever expect to see on television, let alone something you’d be likely to praise.
But I’m here to tell you that this was a good season of television. Perhaps even better than the first season of Castle Rock, which I also enjoyed. The best part wasn’t even the vampires, which, in all honesty, weren’t exactly vampires in the classic-mode like those from ‘Salem’s Lot, but perhaps close cousins. In the same genus maybe.
No, the best part of this season was Annie Wilkes, a younger version played this time around by actress Lizzy Caplan. Kathy Bates is a difficult act to follow, but Ms. Caplan does a masterful job. I’ve seen this actress in several previous television shows, including Freaks and Geeks, but I still failed to recognize her initially in this series because she disappears so utterly in the role. At times, she seems to be channeling Kathy Bates herself.
This younger version of Wilkes is on the run from something—one of the mysteries set up in the first episode—along with her daughter Joy. Yes, that’s right. Annie has a daughter, it seems. Joy is portrayed by Elsie Fisher, a now-16-year-old actress I don’t believe I’ve seen before who also turns in a bravura performance in this supernaturally themed television show.
While the Annie story is the dramatic spine around which the rest of the season is built, and the strongest plotline by far, there’s plenty of other spooky goings-on to keep the viewer interest. Tim Robbins plays Pop Merrill, the owner of a Castle Rock junk shop, who raised his two nephews, Ace Merrill (Paul Sparks)—who King fans will remember was the main antagonist in the short story “The Body” (played by Kiefer Sutherland in the movie Stand By Me)—and Chris Merrill (Matthew Alan), as well as two Somali orphans, Abdi Omar (Barkhad Abdi) and Nadia Omar (Yusra Warsama). Nadia is now a doctor and the medical director of the hospital in Jerusalem’s Lot.
This branch of the story arc is convoluted and contains mysteries of its own that aren’t so difficult to figure out. The real attraction here is an older Tim Robbins in another Stephen King-related story where Shawshank Prison also exists.
It turns out that the “vampires” of this story are actually 400-year-old French settlers, long-dead, who were somehow in league with an “angel,” which turns out to be at least a version of the character played by Bill Skarsgård in the first season, the rather underfed young man who was being held prisoner in Shawshank. Who I thought was the alternate reality version of Henry Deaver, although I could be wrong about that since the ending of the first season was more than a little muddled. None of that matters. I don’t want to confuse myself with the facts.
The Skarsgård Body Snatcher Vampires seem to be reanimated by becoming the hosts for some sort of insects. Since they take up residence in the Marsten House, a familiar setting from the book ‘Salem’s Lot, I feel that it’s safe to refer to them as “vampires.”
Our different story arcs converge and explode in a lot of violent, visually-interesting ways. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I will say that it is horror-movie appropriate, which is to say not entirely happy and feel-good. The ending also manages to segue into further backstory for Annie Wilkes, leading up to her role in Misery as Paul Sheldon’s number-one fan.
Plus, it’s a real ending, which I felt was lacking in the first season.
Firewater’s Misery-Meets-‘Salem’s-Lot Report Card: A
This season of Castle Rock has me already looking forward to another one.