'Castle Rock' Season 2: Nurse Annie Wilkes and Pop Merrill help take the show's horror quotient a notch higher from Season 1

'Castle Rock' Season 2: Nurse Annie Wilkes and Pop Merrill help take the show's horror quotient a notch higher from Season 1

The first season of ‘Castle Rock’ did not adapt any Stephen King novel directly, yet it was a treasure trove for lovers of the books. Much of the action took place in the sinister Shawshank Penitentiary. The prison had first appeared in King’s story ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’, and was later adapted to the big screen with the famous film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.

There were several elements and references to various Stephen King’s stories, which were sprinkled through the show.  In short, season one was for the fans of the books. You needed to pay attention to the references, that would be carefully slipped in dialogues, or just maybe eerie signboards.  For fans of the subtle, the feeling of looming disaster seeps in like slow poison, yet never engulfing you fully. There was a sense of constant edgy nervousness prevailing through the season. After carefully increasing the tension, the ambiguous ending was met with much disappointment as it left numerous questions unanswered and left for interpretation, to the point of frustration.  


This left fans of the books and the adaptations on different sides of the chasm. What might work in books, might generally not have the same effect on the TV screen. That or the writers didn’t utilize King's full potential and package it well enough for television.

A still from Castle Season 1 (Hulu)

The creators have been careful with the second season, or so it seems, going by the first three episodes. The horror elements keep you on your toes, and the casting of Lizzy Caplan as the psychotic nurse Annie Wilkes, based on King’s infamous character, along with Tim Robbins as grimy Pop Merrill amps up the murderous dread. Every episode till now is feverishly paced and you cannot catch your breath, and this reworking of King's elements into the main story is working in its favor.


The frontrunners of the season are Caplan as Annie Wilkes, or rather Annie Ingals in the show and the grimy Merrill family. This Annie is a disturbed nurse as well with many of her mannerisms from the book character in place. Lizzy's terror shows in each movement and her unblinking eyes. You can hear the craven desperation in her voice, and yet you can't help but feel pity for this woman, who is being tormented by her own demons. 

She is on the run from her past and has a daughter named Joy, who she is determined to protect from the world at all cost.  Yet, Joy has been starved of human company throughout her life owing to her mother's paranoid nature and so she begins to enjoy the company of the locals in her new home. Giving Annie nightmares during the day is Ace Merrill (Paul Sparks), a character from ‘The Body’,  which was adapted as ‘Stand By Me’.

There are heavy King references this time around, including the sinister Marsten House from ‘Salem’s Lot’ as well as Pop Merrill’s ‘Emporium Galorium’.  Castle Rock season 2 also brings out the strife between the Somalian refugees living in ‘Jerusalem’s Lot.’  The characters from here are crucial for the plot as well.


The season-long suspense is a thing of the past and now you’re faced with brutal murders, deception at every corner, along with the typical horror that you would expect from King's film adaptations.  Apart from this, the last episode had moments that actually managed to tug at your heartstrings.

Lizzy Caplan plays the role of Annie Wilkes (Hulu)

You can't forget that scene of Annie lying tied to the bed trying to cut herself free with glass, writhing in pain as she causes more injury to herself.  She’s bloodied and exhausted and keeps calling out to her daughter to free her. Her daughter Joy is terrified as she believes that her mother is hallucinating and is not taking her medicines. She refuses to cut her free. 


These familial scenes placed in a horrific setting, be it Joy and Annie or the Merrills, do give the season a distinct flavor as well.

It remains to be seen whether the second season can keep up with its pace and storytelling. ‘Castle Rock’ airs on Hulu.

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