A Promising Sign Of Things To Come
A lot of people were pretty torn over the first season of Castle Rock. With a glacial pacing and unanswered questions at the end, Hulu’s horror series got off to an admittedly rocky start, one that looks set to right those wrongs and quieten the doubters with its second season. With a more cohesive storyline and plenty of Easter Eggs dotted throughout, Castle Rock gets off to a very promising start here, with a tantalizing first episode that leaves things wide open for the season to come.
We begin with a bloodied woman named Annie running through the woods clutching a box. As she stops at the lake, the box suddenly jolts as we jump to some time later as she prepares for her job. This happens to be the main character from Stephen King’s Misery, Annie Wilkes, and here she heads into Pharma storage and collects up several bags of medicine and heads out with her daughter Joy.
Jumping through states and seasons, we see her collecting up medicine as a montage segment sees their relationship begin to strain through the years. After a man snaps a photo of their plates at a petrol station, she asks him to delete what he’s taken before shuffling through the different registrations and changing it over when he’s not looking. As Joy and Annie keep driving, they happen upon a sign for Shawshank and then Castle Rock. Out of lithium, Annie’s car crashes right on the edge of Castle Rock’s borders.
One week later, we cut to Castle Rock itself with John “Ace” collecting money from local businesses before threatening the workers at a construction site. It turns out he was the one who helped Annie back to town but she’s cautious of him, shutting the blinds in a state of paranoia. Joy tells her she can always talk if need be but, down-heartened, Joy reluctantly agrees to go along with Annie’s plan while she bites off more than she can chew at her new job at the hospital. It’s not going to be easy getting the drugs it seems and with a password-protected door and strict surveillance, Annie grits her teeth and starts working, waiting for an opportune time. After her first shift, Annie’s condition starts to deteriorate as she hallucinates, seeing a man in the road.
Meanwhile Joy heads outside against her Mum’s advice and gets talking to a teen musician on the porch called Chance. She invites Joy up to hang with her friends, Vera and Timothy, where she reveals she doesn’t have a phone. While her new friends look at Joy like she’s crazy, Ace figures out Annie actually is crazy, especially given her licence plate doesn’t match the VIN number of the car. This is matched by Annie’s paranoia as she heads home and berates her daughter after she asks whether Castle Rock is the laughing place they’ve been looking for.
As she takes herself away, we learn that Annie is wanted for murder as Jerusalem’s Lot stirs and flies gather as the ground moves. Continuously plagued by typewriter sounds, Annie flashes between the darkened hospital and the strange, bleeding dead man as she begins to lose grip on reality. While she researches the other hospital workers, Joy drops off a drawing for Chance before spying Ace making molotov cocktails in his kitchen, something that later sees him attack Abdi’s house with.
Meanwhile, Annie gets caught stealing drugs and it’s here she tells the truth about what she’s really doing. She’s stealing anti-psychotics and it turns out the box from the start of the episode contained baby Joy inside. The doctor prescribes her the drugs and tells her while she’s working in the hospital, she’ll keep providing this for her. Annie brightens up almost immediately and tells Joy they’re going to stay in Castle Rock after all.
Our Doctor heads home where she speaks to Abdi regarding Ace’s attack on the house. Telling him it needs to stop, we then see Joy receiving a phone from Chance. At the same time, Ace arrives and enters Annie’s house, antagonizing her. He confronts her about the truth and offers her a deal – to shut her daughter up or there will be trouble. She offers him an alternative offer and jams an ice-cream scoop down his throat and kills him.
Losing control, Annie breathes heavily before shutting the blinds and covering up the murder. When Joy returns home, her Mother is nowhere to be found as she’s out, intending to hide Ace’s body. With the foundation about to be laid for the new Somali mall, Annie heads to the site with the intention of burying Ace. Only, she falls down and lands in a hidden chamber below as millions of insects fly away into the air.
Given what we know about Salem’s Lot and the mystery surrounding this area, it’ll be interesting to see how this ties in to the rest of the season. For those unaware, Salem’s Lot happens to be one of King’s early adaptations featuring vampires. Could we see these make an appearance here? Lizzy Caplan deserves some praise here for her performance as Misery’s Annie Wilkes too and her maniacal portrayal of this iconic character is perfectly poised on a knife-edge for large stretches of this hour-long opening episode.
Unlike the first season, there’s more of a cohesion to Castle Rock and an energy that was lacking a little with Henry’s storyline. Of course, the pacing is still pretty slow and methodical, just like before, but so far there’s enough intrigue to keep things moving without noticing the time too much. It’s good stuff so far but quite what Castle Rock has lurking in the shadows in its upcoming episodes remains to be seen.