This Castle Rock review contains spoilers.
Castle Rock Season 2 Episode 9
If you felt Tim Robbins was a little underutilized in the second half of Castle Rock season 2, the show more than makes up for it in “Caveat Emptor,” an episode that spends most of its 53-minute runtime saying farewell to the dying patriarch of the Merrill family. Pop makes his last stand at the Emporium Galorium, while Ace and his minions wait outside. What starts as a fight for survival slowly turns into something else for Pop: a chance to pay off his many debts by saving what remains of his family before it’s too late.
Robbins puts in his best performance of the season in “Caveat Emptor,” as he’s allowed to let loose a bit and do away with the tough guy, macho facade of a dead man walking. Here, he gives Pop real vulnerability, as the gangster comes to terms with the fact that he’s not leaving the Emporium alive, and worst of all, he’s checking out without being able to heal his relationship with Nadia and Abdi. But Pop takes his debts seriously, which means a life for a life. He took their mother, so he gives them his life in return so that they can escape the town.
Castle Rock season 2 has been at its best when pointing a magnifying glass at individual characters and exposing every side of them. Pop’s moments in the spotlight do not disappoint, and are largely the highlight of the episode, especially one heartbreaking scene with Nadia, who tells her adoptive father that there’s nothing he can do to fix what’s been broken. She plans to get the hell out of Castle Rock and never think about Pop again. The words cut deep, but they also strangely give Pop a new purpose, as he decides to give his children the only thing he has left.
There’s a bit of nuance to Pop’s death, though. While it’s true that he buys the rest of the survivors time to escape the Emporium and get to the other side of the train tracks, is he also giving into Ace’s offer of immortality? After all, his soul will still be in there, it just won’t be in the driver’s seat.
“Caveat Emptor” is more action-heavy than any other episode of the series thus far, and that’s for good reason: the shootouts, car chases, and explosions feel a bit out of place. Castle Rock‘s strength is its characters and the slowburn drama that ties them all together. In “Caveat Emptor,” everyone gets a gun and a bomb, but the action largely falls flat. The car chase is a bit odd, breaking up what should be a moment driven by Pop and Nadia’s reunion under such impossible circumstances. After all, the last time these two saw each other was at the Mellow Tiger Bar when Nadia confronted Pop about her mother’s death. But the show seemingly loses confidence here and instead throws them into the first of many action scenes.
The climactic shooutout inside the Emporium isn’t great, either. Awkward cuts and camera work sometimes make it hard to follow the action, and it doesn’t help that the shootout feels sort of weightless, as the characters shoot their way through the bad guys without as much as a scratch. Ace’s minions barely shoot back, while Pop, Nadia, and Abdi kill baddies faster than the show can throw them at the screen. The stakes feel low, so the setpiece is pretty unexciting.
As for Annie, she’s barely a player this week, stuck in the background while the Merrills figure their shit out. When she does get a scene to herself, it’s so that the episode can turn her into a syringe-wielding caricature of the deeply complicated character the show has given us otherwise. Annie’s murder-of-the-week serves no real purpose other than shock value. The lives Annie has been forced to take so far have had purpose, and been given real weight by the narrative, but this latest murder diminishes the character a tiny bit. When Annie has taken a life, it’s been out of necessity, but here the show is content with winking at Misery and moving on.
With one episode left and Pop out of the picture, it’s likely that the finale will turn its attention back to Annie, who still needs to save Joy from Ace. And there are other mysteries to solve, too. Who is the Kid/Angel? How will Castle Rock defeat this latest evil? There’s a lot left to resolve and hopefully the season will regain its confidence for the outro.