Roush Review: ‘Misery’ Visits ‘Castle Rock’ in Season 2

Let The River Run
Dana Starbard/Hulu

Mashups can be fun, but they also imply messiness. Such is the case with anthology series Castle Rock, which borrows characters from the rich world of grand master Stephen King and builds strange new tales around them.

Which is how in Season 2, Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex) gets to take on the juicy role of Misery lunatic Annie Wilkes, a character that helped win a 1991 Oscar for Kathy Bates. Caplan is a fine and intense choice to play this anything-but-nurturing nomad of a nurse, adopting a stiff shuffling walk to suggest Annie’s rigid, emotionally stunted and twisted worldview.

In this scenario, she’s the one who flips her car, the way the writer Paul Sheldon did in the original novel. The accident lands this emotionally unstable addict, given to terrifying mood swings, in King’s infamous Maine burg with overprotected and restless daughter Joy (Elsie Fisher).

“I will do my doggone worst to protect you from the monsters, and I’ll feel just fine about it,” Annie assures Joy, who has no doubts about the dangerously obsessive nature of her mother’s love. But as Castle Rock proceeds on its haphazard path to overkill, it soon becomes clear that Annie’s monsters aren’t entirely metaphorical. Castle Rock, you see, is neighbor to Jerusalem’s Lot, where a jumble of supernatural shenanigans emanate. (Beware the Marsten House, once and forever.)

Without realizing it, Annie has driven her way into a long-standing family feud fueled by anti-immigrant prejudice. At the center is likable and cancer-ridden Pop Merrill (a twangy Tim Robbins), proprietor of the town’s all-purpose junk shop Emporium Galorium (one of too many Easter eggs that don’t so much add to the story as remind you that the producers are King nerds on an epic scale).

(Credit: Dana Starbard/Hulu)

Pop tries without much luck to keep the peace between his irredeemable bigot of a nephew, Ace (Paul Sparks), and his adopted wards from war-torn Somalia: Abdi (Barkhad Abdi), who’s developing a business center and mall for the local Somali population that Ace sees as a threat, and sister Nadia (Yusra Warsama), a doctor who hires Annie as a temp nurse. (Adding to the complications: Odious Ace is Annie’s landlord.)

Annie’s secret history of psychosis, spelled out in the terrific fifth episode (it’s worth the wait), is compelling enough for its own limited series, and when her madness intersects with the violence brewing in the Merrill family conflict, the consequences are truly suspenseful.

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Lizzy Caplan, Elsie Fisher, Paul Sparks, and more of the cast preview a very different looking Season 2 of the Hulu anthology.

But Castle Rock can’t let bad enough alone and inexplicably muddies the already bloody waters with an army of undead, though seemingly alive, ghouls. (This ‘Salem’s Lot doesn’t dabble in vampires, more’s the pity.) Never mind that the fiends in Annie’s imagination would be doubly frightening if they were more ambiguous.

In this misguided series, the clash between grounded psychological horror and bump-in-the-night monster mania delivers fewer shivers than shrugs of confusion.

Castle Rock, Season 2 Premiere, Wednesday, October 23, Hulu