The first season of the Hulu anthology series Castle Rock performed the delicate balance of paying homage to classic Stephen King works while simultaneously blazing its own trail to tell an inventive and thrilling story. The mystery behind Henry Deaver and the man in the cage provided moments on transcendence, especially in Sissy Spacek’s performance, with only the slightest hint that the series might have been trying to bite off more than it could chew. Despite this, the show kept its balance and delivered a season of television that deserved more acclaim than it received. The second season of Castle Rock goes in a bit of a different direction by bringing in one of King’s most iconic female characters and seeing how she meshes with the more paranormal side of the author’s creations. Through this, we see how the show is one of the more thrilling ventures on television.
While the town of Castle Rock as we know it is given time to recover from all manner of misfortune from the first season, we hone in on the pocket known as Jerusalem’s Lot. The famed location is home to the Merrill clan, led by the patriarch Reginald “Pop” Merrill, a powerful, and at time menacing, figure in the community. Pop is played by none other than Tim Robbins, who is dipping his toe into Stephen King lore once more in a role much different than his one from The Shawshank Redemption. Pop plays father figure to two sets of siblings: Abdi Omar (Barkhad Abdi) and his sister, Nadia (Yusra Warsama), who he adopted as teens from Somalia, along with his nephews Ace (Paul Sparks) and Chris Merrill (Matthew Alan). There is immense tension within the family, spearheaded by Ace, which goes back years, but is exacerbated by current business dealings. The feud is more complicated than it appears upon first glance, and the cast are all quite excellent in their roles. Barkhad Abdi has been given a juicy role that has been waiting for him since delivering a powerhouse performance in Captain Philips. Sparks is the one who steals the show, though, as Ace. His character is a real nightmare, but his journey is a fascinating one to see unveiled throughout the season.
As complex as this family drama is, we have not even gotten to our star attraction of the season. Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Caplan) as portrayed in Castle Rock is not necessarily a carbon copy of the one from Misery. Annie is a nurse who travels from town to town with her daughter, Joy (Elsie Fisher), long enough to secure pills to combat her hallucinations while staying one step ahead of her past. Caplan is eerily wonderful in this role as she pays respect to the Kathy Bates performance while giving her defining traits all of her own. While on the road once again, the mother and daughter get stranded in Castle Rock following a car accident. Annie views the town as a cesspool filled with “dirty birds” and other undesirable aspects that offend her good nature. Nevertheless, Annie has to take a temporary job under an assumed name until the pair can get on the road again. For someone who is battling demons in her mind, this is easier said than done. The protective mother will go to great lengths to make sure her family is safe, and, as more backstory is revealed, the more we understand the twisted path that has led us to the women on screen today. When the mentally untethered Annie eventually becomes enmeshed with the supernatural world, the results are unabashedly compelling.
The second season of Castle Rock may lack an iconic episode such as “The Queen” from season one, but this season ratchets up the tension through careful plotting and reveals throughout. The way in which the show tackles fascinating issues such as mental illness and refugees in America is way more considered than you might expect from a horror show. The series mostly avoids turning any of these issues into clichés that would detract from the overall impact. While the preceding paragraphs may have seemed heavy on family drama and light on the thrills, this was intentionally done to avoid giving away some of the crazier places the season winds through. As the season coalesces into a frenetic conclusion, you will have no doubt that you are watching something inspired by the master of horror. In this season, we have a group of actors delivering outstanding, measured performances in a narrative that is primed to subvert your expectations at every turn. Stephen King fans have to enter into this series knowing that they cannot be precious with the material because this is its own thing. There are some interesting interpretations of the source material, but everything works thematically to create a vital narrative. With two strong seasons under its belt, Castle Rock leaves you excited for all of the potential inventive tales we might have in store.
Castle Rock: The Complete Second Season comes to Blu-Ray with an excellent 1080p presentation that marks a subtle improvement over its streaming counterpart. The most improved aspect of the transfer is the deepness of the black levels. Details hold up really well in darker scenes, and blocking is minimal to nonexistent. The show stylistically has a more subdued color palette with greens and blues providing the most impressive showing. Skin tones look natural and facial detail is impressive with discernable individual hairs in stubble and beards. The image remains free of compression artifacts and is appropriately sharp, except when it goes softer for stylistic effect. Textures are nice both in clothing and in the production design. Overall, fans of the series will be very pleased with how great the show looks on Blu-Ray.
This Blu-Ray comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that makes the show extra thrilling. This show has a lot of great atmospheric effects that engage the surround speakers including animal noises and creaking houses. An unexpected jolt from the rear of the room may make you jump more than once. Dialogue comes through clear in the front channel without being overwhelmed by any sound effects of score. The track has a good sense of directionality with sounds always coming from the appropriate channels. This season is not jam packed with action, but when things do get my kinetic the low end provides a nice kick to the proceedings. The Chris Westlake score provides the perfect atmosphere for this sinister town, which fills the speakers well. This audio presentation is just about perfect for this season.
- Annie Wilkes – Mother of Sorrow: A seventeen-minute featurette mostly centered on Annie with some tangents into the Merrill family and the town spookiness. The cast and crew discuss what drives Annie and why they felt comfortable utilizing this character this season. Actress Lizzy Caplan provides some really interesting insights into what went into inhabiting this character that had already been portrayed perfectly by Kathy Bates. If this was going to be the lone special feature, at least it is substantial.
The second season of Castle Rock forges a completely new path filled with very compelling characters and an abundance of twists and turns. Lizzy Caplan’s impressive performance as Annie Wilkes is reason enough to check this one out. As an anthology series, Castle Rock continues to find ways to innovate while thrilling the audience. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has provided a Blu-Ray with a top-notch A/V presentation and an interesting featurette. Established fans and those who have their interest piqued by the concept should not hesitate to check this one out. Highly Recommended
Castle Rock: The Complete Second Season is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.