This Castle Rock review contains spoilers.
Castle Rock Season 2 Episode 4
Is Pop a villain? That’s a question I posed to actor Tim Robbins during the Castle Rock season 2 press junket a few weeks back. He played coy and didn’t directly answer the question, but one thing is for sure: Pop is a complicated man with a guilty conscience.
With Castle Rock, showrunners Dustin Thomason and Sam Shaw get to rewrite the story of Pop Merrill, a character who first appeared in Stephen King‘s short story “The Sun Dog.” Here, he isn’t just a crime boss but a loving dad, a tough uncle, a loan shark, and seemingly a beloved member of the Castle Rock community. He even helps Somali immigrants start their own businesses in Jerusalem’s Lot, a town that’s generally unhappy with the arrival of these foreigners. Pop seems, for almost the entire run of “Restore Hope,” as perhaps more of an anti-hero surrounded by people who clearly love him — or at least respect him enough to show up for his “Irish wake.”
But then the other shoe drops for Pop. We learn in a stunning flashback what we already suspected: it was Pop who shot and killed Abdi and Nadia’s mother, leaving them orphans in a wartorn country. It’s this truth that tore Pop and Abdi apart at some point before the start of the season (probably by Ace’s hand), and now his relationship with Nadia seems to be at an end as well.
Pop thinks of himself as a man who pays his debts, which is why he decided to foster (and almost adopt) Abdi and Nadia, but his payment doesn’t seem to be enough for his daughter, who learns the truth while trying to save Pop’s life. Nadia cursing out Pop during his wake seems to be the final nail in the coffin, so to speak.
This isn’t the only tragedy that hits the Merrill family in “Restore Hope,” though. We now know that Castle Rock is really leaning into its ‘Salem’s Lot influences. There aren’t any vampires in sight, but the creepy Invasion of the Body Snatchers-inspired pod people led by Ace are pretty creepy in their own right. When not covered in goo or eating raw eggs — shells and all!!! — they’re out murdering and converting members of Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot to their cause. In just four episodes, the undead Ace gang has turned one of Abdi’s crewmembers, a real estate agent, a cop (played by Greg Grunberg, who often cameos in J.J. Abrams’ productions), Castle Rock’s pastor (Aaron Staton returning from season 1), and now Chris Merrill.
Chris’ demise is shocking. The “dim-witted boob,” the good nephew, meets his end at the hands of his undead brother and the pastor. The symbolism is a little heavy-handed — Cain kills Abel in God’s house — but the scene works for the most part. It’s surprising that Castle Rock took “Good Chris” off the board so quickly after it finally began to flesh him out — his romance with Nadia is a big reveal in the episode — but perhaps the character will become a bit more interesting as an evil pod person.
Meanwhile, the Wilkes family is also in turmoil. After barely dodging Ace at a bus stop, Joy moves into a shelter, which is where Nadia finds her during a medical visit. If Annie felt lost before, she hits rock bottom at the sight of Joy watching her from the window of Nadia’s house, refusing to come down to see her. The anchor that has kept Annie floating in place thus far, despite the raging waters of her madness, is gone. How will this change Annie?
I suspect we might start to see an Annie closer to the one we’re familiar with from Misery. In fact, it may be that Annie who ends up saving Castle Rock from a ‘Salem’s Lot-inspired doom.