Castle Rock has always relied on the fact that there are other worlds than these. Throughout the first season of the Stephen King-inspired anthology series, the show relied on the fact that the audience was familiar not only with the places referenced but with the basic character archetypes used time and again in King’s work.
In “Let the River Run,” the first episode of the anthology’s second season, the show foregrounds that idea through a specific character: Annie Wilkes, the ex-nurse antagonist of Misery. Castle Rock knows that as soon as you think of Annie, you picture the villain who kidnapped Paul Sheldon, forced him to become addicted to painkillers, then tortured him until he produced another entry in her favorite series of novels.
If you’re a Constant Reader, you’ll remember her from King’s novel. And whether you have ever opened a King novel or not, as you hear the name Annie Wilkes, you’re likely to picture Cathy Bates, who memorably portrayed the character in Rob Reiner‘s seminal 1990 adaption of the novel. Castle Rock is aware of all this, and frankly, that’s right where it wants you.
Castle Rock S2E1: Let the River Run
The episode opens on a flashback to young Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Caplan), covered in blood and stumbling through a forest, her gasping breath interrupted by the sound of a typewriter key clacking. She’s clutching a manuscript box that is marked “The Ravening Angel.” The show is aware that its audience is likely to take this information and fill in the blanks with their own assumptions of who Annie is running from, and why. We follow Annie as she collapses beside the shore of a lake and places the box on the bank beside her. Just before the cut to the opening credits, the box suddenly moves.
Then, we jump forward in time: in a montage set to “Let the River Run” (from the musical Working Girl), Annie prepares for a day at work as a nurse. She steals a large quantity of Lithium and other anti-psychotics before getting into the car with her daughter and announcing that they’re heading toward the Laughing Place. As the montage continues, time passes, and the license plates show the pair crisscrossing the country (including a shout-out to the state that serves as the setting of Misery, Colorado).
Eight years later, Annie and her daughter Joy (Elsie Fisher) are refueling at a gas station when a stranger takes a photograph of their license place and explains that he is collecting pictures of every state. Annie asks him to delete the photo, saying they have had trouble online, but in the next scene, it’s revealed that she keeps plates for multiple states close at hand. Why is she on the lam, and who is she running from?
Before we find out, an inversion of our expectations for Annie takes place. In Misery, a car accident leads to an author falling prey to Annie’s malicious machinations, but in Castle Rock, Annie is the one who finds herself in a crashed automobile.
After the opening credits, a week has passed, and we’re introduced to Ace Merrill (Paul Sparks). He’s from the wrong side of the tracks (literally), and as he gets into his snow shovel adorned pickup truck and heads to Jerusalem’s Lot, he listens to talk radio. The speaker spouts anti-Somali immigrant propaganda, warning that “they have been sweeping up old property around ‘Salem’s Lot for years.”
Constant readers will immediately recognize ‘Salem’s Lot, King’s second novel, a retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula set in the eponymous New England town (Salem’s Lot has also been adapted as a TV mini-series twice, in 1979 and 2004). The talk radio host alludes to the town being abandoned because of “one old ghost story or another,” but it’s unclear what the exact nature of these stories might be, or how they might align with the novel.
When Ace arrives at the Somali Mall of Jerusalem’s Lot, he and his two surly associates go about brusquely demanding rent payments, accompanied by Ace’s menacing german shepherd. When a tenant tells them that he’s leaving the Somali Mall to move to Abdi’s new mall, Ace tells him that he isn’t going anywhere.
From there, Ace heads to the site where Abdi’s mall is being built, where it is revealed that Abdi (Barkhad Abdi) is Ace’s adopted brother. Ace leaves without incident, but it’s clear that the brothers have very bad blood between them.
Meanwhile, Annie and Joy have survived the car accident unscathed, but Annie has been without her medication for a week. The pair is staying at the Star Gazer Lodge, where Ace is the landlord. When Joy asks about Annie’s medication, Annie assures her that she’ll get her meds later that day at the hospital.
In the next scene, Annie applies for and is hired for a job as a temp RN at the local hospital under a fake name (Ms. Ingalls). As she is shown around the hospital by Jamal (Isayas Theodros), he tells her that the intake of patients from Castle Rock is 80 – 90 percent overdoses: “all NARCAN, all the time,” he says, referring to the anti-opioid overdose medication. Annie isn’t interested in the opioids, but the regulations that have been put in place to combat overdoses mean that there’s increased security on the hospital pharma room, and she’s unable to lift the medication she needs without a doctor’s keycard.
Without her medication, Annie is beginning to see things; namely, a tall man (John Howlwadaag). When he appears in the street, she is nearly hit by a bus. She desperately needs her meds.
Next, we’re introduced to Pop Merrill (Tim Robbins), the patriarch of the Merrill family. It seems that Pop holds a fair amount of power in Castle County, even a few of the police are on the take (and so far under Pop’s thumb that he feels empowered to light up a marijuana pipe right in front of them). When Ace arrives, he accuses Pop of failing to intervene and prevent Abdi from opening his mall, but Pop is unreceptive to his pleas for intervention.
Back at the Star Gazer Lodge, Joy hears one of her neighbors, Chance (Abby Corrigan) playing guitar and introduces herself. Soon, she’s tossing crushed aluminum cans at the motel’s observatory with the other kids renting rooms, which is where Annie finds her, immediately scolding her for hanging out with the “rats” who live in the motel.
Annie, for her part, is still being menaced by the “Tall Man.” Naturally, the audience can’t help but think of Paul Sheldon, the author who falls victim to Annie in Misery. But with his floppy hat, the bloody vision also recalls another author from King’s oeuvre: Mort Rainey, from “Secret Window, Secret Garden.”
Desperate to rid herself of the vision of the Tall Man, Annie looks up ways to deal with psychosis on the Star Gazer Lodge’s free wifi. Overwhelmed by what she finds, she searches for “Annie Wilkes,” which returns a page that reveals she is wanted for murder. Meanwhile, at the future site of Abdi’s mall, several insects crawl up from the dirt and fly skyward.
Soon, we learn that there’s another member of the Merrill family: Doctor Nadia Howlwadaag, Abdi’s sister, who works at the hospital with Annie (and allows Abdi to sleep at her home). Pop comes by the hospital to receive a check-up on his cancer from his daughter, where he pleads with her to help iron out the conflict between Ace and Abdi, but she says that she doesn’t get involved with the real estate.
Annie’s symptoms continue to grow worse, and she is haunted by the sound of a typewriter and the Tall Man’s voice saying indistinguishable things. Increasingly desperate, she shuts off the power to the hospital in an attempt to break into the pharma room, but to no avail. Jamal highlights the fact that Dr. H has an override key, but mentions that she left it at home, and Annie is soon looking up her address on the hospital computer.
Back at the Star Gazer Lodge, Joy leaves a drawing of monsters for Chance, but on her way back to her room, sees Ace preparing a molotov cocktail, a fact observed by Ace. Ace’s destination? Nadia’s home, where Abdi has been staying. Unbeknownst to the Merrill family, Annie has broken into the house in order to retrieve Nadia’s keycard. When Abdi arrives home, he’s about to confront the intruder in the home… but that’s when Ace tosses the molotov cocktail into the living room.
The ensuing fire allows Annie to escape Nadia’s home undetected, and she immediately proceeds to the hospital, where she uses the key card to access the pharma room. She manages to secure the antipsychotics, but before she can escape, she is caught red-handed by Nadia, who demands an explanation.
Annie comes clean, admitting that she self-medicates using antipsychotics, but says that she’s afraid that she won’t be able to support herself as a nurse if the prescriptions appear on her chart. As she explains it, the flashback that opened the episode returns, revealing that it was actually a baby inside the manuscript box Annie was carrying as she ran through the forest in the opening scenes: a subversion of the audience’s expectation that Annie was absconding with an ill-gotten novel manuscript.
Nadia, relieved that Annie is self-medicating with antipsychotics instead of opioids, agrees to write her a clandestine prescription for as long as she’s able to remain functional as an employee of the hospital – and while Annie has to lie to Nadia about where she found the keycard, she successfully receives her medications and takes them.
Searchers and Settlers
After a few shakey weeks, the relationship between Annie and Joy seems to be on the most solid ground in a while. Thanks to Nadia’s kindness, Annie thinks that she might have found a place where she could make a home for her and her daughter. Meanwhile, Joy’s fledging connection with Chance gives her a reason to consider making Castle Rock home, as well. Chance even leaves her a gift: a cell phone.
Meanwhile, Nadia comes home to discover Abdi, who tells her that Ace “tried to pull some KKK shit” and burn them alive. The police are on to Ace, too, and come by the Star Gazer Lodge to ask where Ace had been when the fire occurred.
Ace, desperate to coverup the arson, appears at Cabin 19 and confronts Annie. He reveals that he knows her actual identity, thanks to the online search she performed using the Star Gazer Lodge WiFi. The scene builds tension by flashing to a nearby knife, knowing the audience expects Annie to pick it up and use it thanks to their previous experiences with the character. But when Ace threatens Joy, Annie takes the dripping ice cream scoop and literally shoves it down Ace’s throat, killing him.
As soon as the audience heard that Annie Wilkes would be appearing in the second season of Castle Rock, we all assumed that she would be a murderer, and the season opener played upon those expectations to completely subvert them. While Annie wasn’t acting within the law, Ace is hardly a sympathetic victim, especially considering the fact that we saw him try to burn his adopted siblings alive and then threatened Annie’s teenage daughter.
In the closing scene, the song from the opening montage plays as Annie looks for a place to abandon Ace’s body. She alights upon the site of Abdi’s future mall, but when she breaks the surface, the ground gives way to a cavern and a swarm of insects swirls upwards as Annie falls in and the closing credits roll.
We’ll be back tomorrow at the same time to recap the next episode of Castle Rock season 2: “New Jerusalem.” The first three episodes of Castle Rock season 2 are available for streaming now on Hulu.
Everything is Nineteen
- If you add the numbers on Annie’s Colorado license plate together, they equal 19.
- Castle Rock is celebrating its 400th anniversary: from 1619 to 2019.
- Annie and Joy stay in number 19 at the Star Gazer Lodge.