Castle Rock: “Let The River Run”, “New Jerusalem”, “Ties That Bind” Review (Spoilers)

After a mysterious, compelling, and even trippy first season, Hulu brought us back into the Stephen King shared universe this week with another season premiere of Castle Rock.  While the first season had a few characters and references from King’s novels, the bulk of the main characters were original to the series.

However this time, it seems that our main character is one of King’s most infamous: Annie Wilkes.  Will focusing on a character this well-known work to the series’ benefit or detriment?  Let’s find out as we delve into the first three episodes of Castle Rock Season 2!

Spoilers Ahead – You’ve Been Warned!!!

An Equally Traumatic Town
We open in what must be an alternate timeline to the original “Misery” since the year is 2019 and Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Caplan) is alive with a daughter (as well as younger than she would have been in “Misery”).

However, she’s still perpetually on the run, after committing a murder that we’re still hazy on the details about.  A brief montage shows her moving from state to state, finally ending up in Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine (right next to Castle Rock).

It’s really cool to see the expansion of King’s world into this famous town. Perhaps with enough seasons we’ll even end up in Derry too!

While Annie has her fair share of secrets and trauma, it’s nothing compared to what the town is experiencing.  Between ethnic tensions and economic uncertainty, ‘Salem’s Lot is a powder keg waiting to explode.  Local crime boss Pop Merill (Tim Robbins) attempts to keep the peace between his nephew Ace (of Stand by Me fame) and his adopted Somali children Abdi and Nadia.

Things get tricky when Ace (who is also Annie’s landlord) discovers who she really is and threatens her.  Responding in typical Annie Wilkes fashion, she lashes out violently and kills him with an ice cream scoop (a truly disturbingly awesome scene), and leaves his body in the infamous Marsten House.

Throughout the episodes, many claim that ‘Salem’s Lot was known for its witches, to which Pop Merill often corrects them, saying, “They were Satanists”.  But true Stephen King fans will remember who took up residence in the Marsten House.

And after the dead Ace Merill mysteriously returns, we can assume that’s what he is.  This is especially confirmed after we see him luring people to the house, most likely to “turn” them.

Next time you kill someone on impulse, don’t leave the body in a known vampire spot!

Capturing the Right Spirit
Without a doubt, Lizzy Caplan has the most challenging role rom either season, as her character is one that’s extremely well known in both literature and film.  In fact it’s a performance so iconic that Kathy Bates even won an Oscar for it!  However, Caplan does an excellent job at nailing the accent, and portraying an Annie Wilkes that’s barely keeping it together.

We’re honestly not sure if this is the same Annie Wilkes that murdered countless infants in the hospital, or since this is a different timeline was her murder accusation the result of something more justified?  This is the most sympathetic we’ve ever seen the character as she’s legitimately trying to suppress her psychiatric issues and do what’s best for her teenage daughter Joy.

Which makes it all the more tragic when Joy finds out that her mother has been keeping these unsavory things from her.  After losing trust and faith in her own mother, Joy ties her up for her own good, in a feat of disturbing desperation.

Having Annie tied to the bed makes for an interesting turning of the tables!

Strong Ensemble
One of the greatest strengths of the first season was the ensemble cast and the second season is no different.  Tim Robbins is always brilliant, and here he brings a great duality to a character who’s clearly capable of ruthlessness, but who also has a big heart, and cares deeply for his family.

Tim Robbins is another King veteran, though his character better stay clear of Shawshank Prison over in Castle Rock!

Fans of Captain Phillips will recognize Barkhad Abdi as Pop’s adopted son Abdi, who constantly feuds with his “brother” Ace.  While Annie may be the most well-known character, her screen time is shared equally with these other characters who are just as interesting.  We also should mention her daughter Joy, played by Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher.

We really feel for her as it can’t be easy to be sheltered that badly, while also be forced to move from state to state constantly.  When she and her new friends go searching for Ace’s body, we get strong Stand by Me vibes, which is fitting considering that’s the source material that Ace was originally from.

Three episodes in, and we’re off to a strong start!  It would be amazing to see this season commit fully to vampire horror, as that looks like the current direction.  Between all of King’s novels and lore, there’s no shortage of references and material.  If Hulu plays their cards right, they may very well have their own American Horror Story on their hands!

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