After season 1, a lot of things about Castle Rock became clear. Not anything about the plot, mind you–I’m still not sure what it all meant–but about the town itself. Anything seems possible in the borders of the eponymous town and its neighbors, Jerusalem’s Lot and Derry. After all, these are the settings for some of Stephen King’s iconic works, including Needful Things, Salem’s Lot, and It. While season 2 shares no characters or storylines with season 1, that spirit–that anything can happen–does carry over. So let’s review the Castle Rock season 2 premiere.
What’s the Season 2 Story?
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While season 1 featured mostly new characters (with one major exception), season 2 kicks off with a few familiar names. Most prominently is Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Caplan), who first scared us in Misery. When we meet her, though, she’s a younger version. She has a teenage daughter, Joy (Elsie Fisher), whom she’s taking to an undetermined location she calls “The Laughing Place.” She wrecks their car, though, and they end up stranded in the town of Castle Rock.
Castle Rock, perhaps surprisingly, is home to a vibrant Somali community. This is due, in part, to the machinations of local godfather Pop Merrill (Tim Robbins). He was apparently deployed to Somalia and maybe did something bad there. Perhaps he’s trying to make amends. To that end, he once adopted two Somali teenage siblings. They are now the adults Abdi (Barkhad Abdi), who’s following in Pop’s footsteps as a businessman, and Nadia (Yusra Warsama), a doctor.
Nadia is clearly Pop’s favorite, maybe because she’s the only one of his wards not involved in his business. And by “wards,” I’m also referring to Pop’s nephews Ace (Paul Sparks) and Chris (Matthew Alan). During the first 3 episodes, a conflict arises between Abdi and Ace. With Pop’s mediation, it might have just blown over. But Annie inadvertently becomes involved and then all hell breaks loose. Maybe literally.
What I Thought: The Castle Rock Season 2 Review
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Though it’s too early to tell what the rest of the story will be, there are some tantalizing options. Is this an origin story for Annie Wilkes, for example? Or is the “Tall Man” who haunts her a flashback to her past? Or is it both? After all, last season established that alternate universes existed within the Castle Rock world. So maybe Annie’s seeing flashes of what she’ll do in the future (when she holds author Paul Sheldon captive). That would certainly explain why the Tall Man is often accompanied by the sound of typing.
And while she’s doing her level best to keep it together, the town around her is starting to fall apart. They just don’t know it yet. Something happened to Ace Merrill, whether at Annie’s hand or not. But whatever happened, he came back. And he came back wrong. (Shades of Pet Sematary, yes?) By the end of the first 3 episodes, no one seems to have noticed that yet–that Ace is off–but I’m looking forward to when they do.
Castle Rock Season 2’s Biggest Strengths
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Because one of the main things Castle Rock season 2 has going for it is terror. That is to say, there are some genuinely unsettling moments during these episodes. They often gave me at least 1 creep and sometimes, they gave me multiple creeps. This may seem like a silly thing, but this is a series inspired by Stephen King. It should be scary at the very least.
And one of the basic elements of scariness (for me) is believability. Even if it’s supernatural, I like my scares to be grounded in reality. Luckily, Castle Rock pulls that off. It’s helped along, of course, by strong performances across the board. Tim Robbins is good, no duh, but Lizzy Caplan is the obvious star of the series so far. While not doing a copy of Kathy Bates’s performance, Caplan imbues her own performance with little hints of it. She is on fire.
But again, she’s not the only one. There are standout moments from all of the major cast members, especially Elsie Fisher. After Eighth Grade, we know she has a lock on awkward teenage girls. But there are other shades to Joy, and it’s fascinating to watch them appear. I’m interested to see where her story will go, like I’m interested in the other stories, and that means this pilot (and the other two episodes) worked.
The first 3 episodes of Castle Rock season 2 are now available on Hulu. Subsequent episodes will be available on Wednesdays. Are you watching? Are you scared? Let us know in the comments or come get spooky with us on social media.
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.