WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Castle Rock Season 2, Episode 6, "The Mother," now streaming on Hulu.
The works of Stephen King has produced no shortage of iconic villains, but few are as deranged and damaged as Annie Wilkes, the obsessive fan who holds author Paul Sheldon hostage in the 1987 novel, Misery. One could argue that villains like Pennywise or Randall Flagg are far worse in terms of putting up unsettlingly high numbers in the body count department, but Annie operates on a micro-scale level of horror. Her transgressions on the page are beyond redemption, but Hulu's Castle Rock has given Annie Wilkes a possible path to salvation, which asks the question: can an updated version of a character shed the sins of their previous iteration?
This question deserves some context. Annie Wilkes, as she is written in the source material, is the worst kind of liar. She lies not only in the reality she crafts for herself and the people around her, but she hides behind an artifice of quirky colloquialisms and motherly intent to disarm people into buying into that narrative.
In Misery, she uses her position of authority to lead Paul down the path of addiction and fealty, which slowly drives him mad. Their relationship isn't so much a case of Stockholm Syndrome; it's somehow even more nefarious. Over time, Annie becomes the terrible center of Paul's world; she becomes his god, which eventually leaves him mentally, emotionally and physically scarred.
If her treatment of Paul Sheldon isn't enough to illustrate the fact Annie Wilkes is an irredeemable character, she also spent a portion of her time as a registered nurse committing infanticide (you know, the last thing you'd want from a nurse...or anyone for that matter). And of course, we'd be remiss to allow the poor local sheriff who Annie turned into mulch go unmentioned. If the crimson imagery weren't so repulsive, one might say it's the cherry atop Annie's murder sundae.
The version of the character in Castle Rock (played by the amazing Lizzy Caplan) is by no means an angel, but compared to her book counterpart, she deserves a a Nobel Peace Prize. Castle Rock's Annie certainly has blood on her hands. She accidentally killed her own father, stabbed Rita (her would-be step-mother), kidnapped Joy (her baby sister), and when she finally landed in the show's titular town after being on the lam for over a decade, she murdered Ace Merrill with an ice cream scoop (no, seriously).
In the episode "The Mother," Annie finally has to face the consequences of her actions when Rita tacks her down and forces Annie to spill the beans about Joy's true lineage. Needless to say, things did not go well. But would it be a King-ian story if they did?
Rita, as a woman who trusted someone only to have them take everything away from her, is conflicted about how to handle the situation. Rita trains a loaded gun on Annie in the woods, but she hesitates to pull the trigger. When they had a student-pupil relationship, Rita loved Annie as if she were family, and when they became a family unit, that love didn't change; it merely shifted. Those feeling come flooding back, and Rita can't bring herself to shoot Annie.
Of course, when Joy makes a sudden Hail Mary play and drugs Rita, the gun does fire one shot...right into the abdomen of the one who was holding it. Rita collapses, leaving Annie horrified and wracked with guilt. As soon as the authorities appear, Annie turns herself in and calls for help, which ostensibly ends the era of running, scamming drugs, and changing identities for Ms. Wilkes. And while her transgressions are nowhere near as horrific as they were in Misery, Annie should know as well as anyone else that in this world there are no clean getaways.
Streaming now on Hulu, Castle Rock Season 2 stars Lizzy Caplan, Tim Robbins, Elsie Fisher, Paul Sparks, Barkhad Abdi, Yusra Warsama and Matthew Alan.