The second season of Castle Rock is past its halfway point and things are starting to get awfully tense in Stephen King’s fabled Maine town, with a big assist from nearby Jerusalem’s Lot. Things are only going to get weirder and wilder from here—so it’s time to make sure you’re all caught up on the story so far.
A little history
In 2018, Castle Rock introduced the idea of a series that took inspiration from King (setting, tone, a few known characters, a sprinkling of Easter eggs) but wasn’t actually an adaptation of a specific book or story. Season one focused on the past and present of a troubled family, the Deavers, whose lives became entangled with Castle Rock’s most mysterious elements—including interdimensional portals and the quietly menacing young man found hidden in the sub-basement of Shawshank Prison.
Was “the Kid” (played by Bill Skarsgård, whose role as Pennywise in the King-adapted It added some meta-context) someone who’d been displaced from his own timeline after taking a wrong turn in the woods, or was he, as one character declared, the Devil himself? Season one left a lot of plot points ambiguous, including the Kid’s true identity, but he was back in his Shawshank hole by the finale.
Castle Rock is billed as an anthology show, and accordingly, season two has so far made only passing references to the events we saw in season one. For instance, a TV playing in the background lets us know that Shawshank, which closed after season one’s many terrible events (including the warden’s suicide, the subsequent discovery of the Kid, the other warden’s suicide, and a mass shooting perpetrated by one of the guards), has recently re-opened. The town landmarks remain the same, like the Mellow Tiger Bar and the big white church. But most of the faces are completely new, and quite a bit of season two takes place in the town next door: Jerusalem’s Lot. King fans will immediately assume that means vampires, but season two of Castle Rock—which is shaping up to be far more overtly supernatural and horror-oriented than season one—looks to be putting its own spin on the monsters in its midst.
Annie Wilkes/Anne Ingalls (Lizzy Caplan): The hook for season two is that it provides an origin story for Misery’s psychotic literary fan, or at least a version of her. Here, she’s in her 30s, a nurse who keeps a handle on her psychotic tendencies, including distressing hallucinations, with a precise combination of self-prescribed drugs. She gets stuck in Castle Rock with her 16-year-old daughter, Joy, after a car accident, and decides to stay when Nadia, a doctor at the local hospital, promises to supply her with the meds she needs to feel sane. Even more of Annie’s backstory—including her lonely childhood and her mother’s suicide by driving into a lake (with Annie in the car)—is revealed in the flashback-driven fifth episode, “The Laughing Place.” As it turns out, Joy is actually Annie’s half-sister. Annie kidnapped her after flying into a rage and accidentally killing their father (a would-be writer who spent years tinkering with his Western romance, The Ravening Angel) and nearly killing Joy’s mother, Annie’s former reading tutor Rita (Sarah Gadon).
In the first episode of Castle Rock, Annie adds another violent crime to her slate, shoving an ice cream scoop down local bully Ace Merrill’s throat after he threatens her little family. That’s an awful lot of bloodshed for one woman, but Annie still remains somewhat sympathetic—thanks in no small part to Caplan’s performance, which draws on intense levels of panic, despair, and the occasional jolt of euphoria. And though she often has an odd way of showing it, Annie’s fierce love for Joy does seem genuine.
Joy Ingalls (Elsie Fisher): Annie’s sheltered “daughter” just wants the chance to be a normal kid. She gets her first taste of that in Castle Rock, where she befriends a flirty neighbour, Chance (played by Abby Corrigan; the character’s full name, later revealed to be Georgia Lachance, is a hat-tip to The Body and Stand By Me). But Joy’s not always as naive as she appears. When Annie starts babbling about murdering Ace, Joy pulls a proto-Misery and ties her to the bed (episode three is appropriately titled “Ties That Bind”). She’s also curious enough to poke into her past, hesitantly reaching out to Rita after she’s removed from Annie’s overprotective care and placed in a group home.
In this week’s episode, “The Mother,” Rita finds her way to Castle Rock and sees her daughter for the first time in 16 years, but it’s an uneasy reunion. Fisher is heartbreaking in this episode, when Joy must choose between the mother she’s always wanted and the mother she’s always known. (She chooses the latter, and the consequences are bloody as hell.)
Pop Merrill (Tim Robbins): Castle Rock’s version of a mob boss is a pre-existing King character who gets a much more nuanced treatment here, with The Shawshank Redemption star Robbins providing the same kind of meta-context that Skarsgård and Sissy Spacek brought to season one. Pop’s dying of cancer, which hasn’t lessened his fondness for power, though it has made him more reflective when it comes to the big mistakes he’s made in life—like the fact that he gunned down Nadia and her brother Abdi’s mother when he was stationed in Somalia, and subsequently adopted them to alleviate some of his guilt.
Ace Merrill (Paul Sparks): Pop’s nephew, adopted after his mother (Pop’s sister) died at the hands of his father, is a contemporary version of the character Kiefer Sutherland played in Stand By Me. He is a classic King bully, mean for the sake of being mean. He’s racist despite having grown up with Nadia and Abdi, and is fully prepared to start a jealousy-fuelled turf war with Abdi over their competing business interests. Until...Annie kills him...and he returns from the dead...a changed man. (Sharp-eared viewers will note he says he was in “Derry” during his absence.) He’s calmer, much better dressed, has an odd look in his eyes, and takes a strange interest in the long-abandoned Marsten House—the hulking mansion that’s central to the events of ’Salem’s Lot. All very bad signs.
Nadia (Yusra Warsama): After emigrating from Somalia, Nadia and her brother were adopted by Pop without knowing why he chose them in particular. She got her degree at Harvard, and is now the head doctor at Castle Rock’s hospital, where she personally oversees Pop’s cancer treatment. That is, until she figures out the big secret that’s been eating away at him for years—and cuts all ties with Pop and then Abdi, who knew the truth but didn’t want to tell her. She’s no-nonsense, but has compassion enough to help Annie with her meds, and then to help Joy when she needs to escape her home life. She’s also secretly involved with her stepbrother, Chris (Matthew Alan), though their romance seems to be born more from convenience rather than passion.
Abdi (Barkhad Abdi): Nadia’s business-minded brother picks an unfortunate (another way of saying that would be cursed) plot of land to construct a new mall and community centre, though he’s seen so much real-life horror in his life he’s not terribly worried about local legends. His long-standing rivalry with Ace—sparked the moment Pop shows favoritism to his adopted son over his nephew—is on the brink of becoming an all-out war, at least until New Ace appears on the scene and a different dynamic begins to overtake Castle Rock.
Where things stand as of episode six, “The Mother”
Since his return from the dead, New Ace has been lurking around, steadily adding to his supernatural posse. But they’re not exactly vampires, they’re more like...freshly resurrected pod people? His numbers include a police officer, the local preacher, a city councilwoman, a real estate agent, hospital employees, one of Abdi’s closest associates, and even Chris—his own brother. To an uninformed outsider, it looks a lot like some kind of freaky cult based out of the Marsten House. His renewed interest in Annie reeks of malevolence—especially after we see him murmuring (in French) over a coffin labelled “Amity Lambert, 1619,” promising his “prophet” that he’s found the ideal “vessel” for when she “rises.”
Later, he shares a bit more about his plan with New Chris, explaining that they’ve waited 400 years for something big that’s happening in four days. Considering all the hints that Castle Rock has dropped about the town’s history involving witches and/or Satanists, depending on who you believe—and what we already know from season one, of course, about the region’s tendency to facilitate all kinds of unexplainable evil—that doesn’t bode well for anyone who hasn’t already been body-snatched.
But “The Mother” ends by focusing on an entirely different Castle Rock conflict, as Rita marches Annie at gunpoint into the woods, ready to take revenge for her stolen life. It is a messy scene that sees a wild-eyed Joy appear out of the darkness armed with a syringe of Annie’s knock-out drugs, calling out “Mum!”—to which both women tearfully respond. But the needle goes into Rita, who drops the gun and shoots herself in approximately the same place that Annie stabbed her all those years ago. Somehow, the cops show up in the middle of the woods as Annie, who’s spent her entire adult life on the lam, turns and screams “I did it!”
The tease for next week hints at another big flashback, this time going hundreds of years into the past to reveal exactly what makes Castle Rock such a uniquely rotten little town. Also to be seen: Will Annie go to jail for murder, or will she become a pod person first? And just what’s gonna happen at that 400th anniversary celebration?
The first six episodes of Castle Rock season two are now streaming on Hulu in the U.S., with new episodes every Wednesday.