Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 12, 2020)
Season One of Castle Rock introduced the title location as the fictional Maine town in which a number of Stephen King’s stories take place. With Season Two, we remain in Castle Rock but meet a new group of characters.
This two-disc set provides all 10 episodes from the series’ second season. The plot synopses come from the package’s insert.
Let the River Run: “Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Kaplan) gets waylaid in Castle Rock.”
Yes, that’s the same Annie Wilkes that fans know from King’s novel and popular 1990 movie Misery. Here we find a younger version, though it’s unclear how much younger, at least based on the actors’ ages.
Caplan was 37 during the shoot of Castle Rock, and Bates was 42 for Misery. I suspect Caplan plays younger than her actual age and Bates went older for Misery, though it’s possible Annie changed enough over five years for them to be formally connected in that way.
Age considerations aside, I like this look at pre-Misery Annie, as that theme sets up interesting “origin story” possibilities. Throw out a few new characters with potential and “Run” opens S2 well.
New Jerusalem: “The Merrills search for answers.”
Headed by “Pop” (Tim Robbins), “the Merrills” are a clan who lead much of the town’s business interests. The presence of Robbins offers a winking twist, given the town’s proximity to Shawshank Prison and the actor’s role in that much-loved 1994 movie.
Despite that potential sense of gimmickry, Robbins does fine, and “New” offers much-needed backstory, especially in the way it shows us how Castle Rock developed such a large Somali community. The “de-aging” work done on Robbins fails, though, as “1990s Pop” looks smeared and odd.
Ties That Bind: “Annie Wilkes gets a taste of her own medicine.”
This episode clearly foreshadows elements of Misery, a fun teaser. Along with the return of a seemingly-dead character, those moments become the episode’s most intriguing, but they don’t make it especially impactful overall. “Bind” advances matters a bit less well than I’d like.
Restore Hope: “Dr. Nadia Howlwadaag (Yusra Warsama) learns a dark truth about her past.”
Although “pre-Misery Annie” offers the carrot to intrigue the audience, she doesn’t dominate S2 as one might expect – not so far, at least. This leaves a lot of time with the extended Merrill clan, a choice that works intermittently.
While I like the time we spend with Robbins, the Merrill theme hasn’t developed quite as well as I’d like – so far, at least. “Hope” becomes a decent episode but the more we veer from Annie, the less involving S2 becomes.
The Laughing Place: “A look back at Annie’s past… in the beginning.”
Apparently the series’ producers predicted my comments about “Restore Hope” and plotted “Place” to satisfy me. Okay, that’s a load of hooey, but I do feel happy that we revert to a greater emphasis on Annie.
Of course, a lot of this feels like fanboy retrofitting, as “Place” takes what we know about Annie from Misery and forces these elements into a legend, but it’s still a fun exploration. Throw in some modern-day material in Castle Rock as well and this becomes a solid episode.
The Mother: “A familiar face arrives in Castle Rock.”
That’d be a recently familiar face in S2 story terms, as the face in question belongs to a character just introduced during the last episode. That may seem like a disappointment if we expected a more prominent character from the King universe, but it makes sense in the context of the series. While not as intriguing as “Place”, “Mother” nonetheless moves along the overall plot pretty well.
The Word: “An Angel watches over this place.”
The package’s plot synopses usually veer terse, but this one seems more cryptic than most. “Word” offers backstory for the supernatural story arc that has slowly developed during S2, and it fleshes out those elements in an effective manner.
Dirty: “Annie sees things for what they are.”
An unusually brief episode, “Dirty” clocks in at less than 36 minutes. Some important developments occur, but “Dirty” mainly feels like a plot-thickener show, one that exists to push along events more than to present anything substantial.
Caveat Emptor: “Pop confronts his old demons.”
With S2’s penultimate episode, we go back to a more standard running time, and we build toward the finale. “Caveat” ramps up the tension and creates a good lead-in to the season’s climax.
Clean: “Annie meets the opposite of Joy.”
As anticipated, “Clean” delivers the season’s literally explosive conclusion, but in an interesting move, it doesn’t end with the resolution of the overall plot. Instead, the show continues past that point to bring an epilogue that more firmly points Annie toward Misery. “Clean” offers a compelling final program for an engaging season.