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Recap: CASTLE ROCK S2E5 – “The Laughing Place”

Last week, a devastating revelation about the past rocked the foundation of the Merrill family when Nadja uncovered a dark secret about Pop’s past. This week, Castle Rock S2E5 explores the secret history of the Wilkes family.

We open on the ring of a school bell, heralding a flashback to Annie in an elementary school classroom in Bakersfield, California, circa 1994. The students in the class are passing around a picture book and reading aloud from it, but when it comes time for Annie’s turn, she’s unable to read so she makes up her own version. The other students laugh at her and make fun, leaving little Annie feeling isolated.

On the bus, one of the other students singles Annie out to make fun of her inability to read. In response, Annie hits her upside the head with her lunchbox, drawing blood.

Castle Rock S2E5
Young Annie in Castle Rock S2E5.

In the meeting with the school counselor that follows, Annie’s mother and father defend her behavior in spite of the fact that it’s the third incident. Annie’s father, Carl, blames the “politically correct” storybook, Brad Rabbit and the Laughing Place, saying that the sterilized “propaganda” Annie is being force-fed is leaving her starved for intellectual stimulation. Meanwhile, Annie’s mother Crysilda insists that the school is to blame, claiming that Annie is pure while comparing the school to a sewer.

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The counselor suggests that medication may be necessary, which causes the Wilkes to storm out of the office. While Carl and Crysilda fight on the way home, it is eventually decided that Carl will home school Annie, and he sets up space in the attic for lessons. When he unveils it to Annie, she asks him if there’s something wrong with her.

Carl responds by telling her that in the real story of the Laughing Place, Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox aren’t friends, they’re different links in the food chain. Carl says that while the real world may be “killing and eating, running and hiding,” but that Br’er Rabbit figured out that your Laughing Place was where you said it was. He promises her that they’ll have her reading soon.

Then, Carl tells her that he needs her help telling a big story, and pulls out the first page of The Ravening Angel and starts reading her the beginning of the novel. He tells her that he needs his typewriter to write properly, but that the modern publishing world requires that everything be digital, so Annie will copy his manuscript into the computer.

While Annie is doubtful of her ability to transcribe, Carl is tender as he helps her navigate the keyboard, which contrasts with the tension on display in interactions with his wife. As he responds to Crysilda’s summoning scream, he tells Annie that he’ll be back soon with more pages for “his number one fan” before the opening credits roll.

Castle Rock S2E5: “The Laughi g Place”

Castle Rock S2E5
Joy reads the Ravening Angel in Castle Rock S2E5.

After the opening credits, we briefly return to 2019, where Joy is sitting on the back porch of Nadia’s house and reading The Ravening Angel on a laptop. As Joy reads the text aloud, the story flashes back to teenage Annie as she enters the text into the computer. Next, we see her reading pages of the novel-in-progress aloud to Carl as he does chores in the backyard, and in spite of some stumbling, her abilities have improved significantly.

Once Annie has finished reading, Carl asks for her opinions on the new pages and eagerly listens to her opinions. When Annie says she doesn’t like a particular character because he is a cheater, citing her mother’s philosophies as proof that people are either good or bad. Carl explains that people can’t be categorized into a binary of “good” and “bad,” and that everyone contains parts that are good and bad.

Castle Rock S2E5
Carl in Castle Rock S2E5.

Crysilda’s arrival interrupts the conversation and Annie helps her mother with the groceries she’s brought home. A glimpse of the cupboards reveals a stringently organized system (Annie asks her if they’ve “gone back to alphabetical order”). When Crysilda discovers a cigarette butt floating in a half-empty mug of coffee, she chides Carl for smoking in the house before rounding on him about Annie’s homeschooling, asking if she’ll ever be prepared to take the GED.

Crysilda demands that Annie read aloud for her. However, Annie stumbles over the words much more in the presence of her mother. In the fight between Carl and Crysilda that follows, Crysilda berates Carl, intimating he’s a failed writer and underscoring that she’s the breadwinner for the family. As Carl storms out of the house, Annie continues transcribing the novel.

As Crysilda cleans Annie’s teeth in the bathroom, she tells her daughter that Carl will be getting his old job back at the bank and Crysilda will only be taking shifts on the weekends. Crysilda tells Annie that she’s “better than this place,” and that she should forget her father’s novel and focus on getting her GED so she can become a doctor and earn respect.

Searchers and Settlers

In 2019, Joy is still absorbed in The Ravening Angel as dusk falls. Abdi interrupts her reading to tell her he’s going on an errand to the construction site… but when they arrive, Annie appears.

Inside Abdi’s car, Annie tells Joy that she’s better now and will be doing even better when they leave, but Joy wants her to go to a doctor. Annie responds with her distrust for doctors and says she’s better off on her own. When Joy asks who her father is, Annie tells her she’s safer if she knows less, and that her father is a bad man. Since Annie won’t answer her questions, Joy has Abdi throw her out of the car.

This leads into another flashback to teenaged Annie, reading The Ravening Angel in the attic. Crysilda enters with a young woman and introduces her as Rita, who will be tutoring Annie. Rita dismisses Crysilda (who complies in spite of being flustered by the loss of control) and then asks Annie what she likes to read. Soon, they’re discussing The Ravening Angel.

“I’m not very good at reading, but I can understand stories,” says Annie. Rita offers her Pinocchio, and while Annie is initially resistant, Rita wins her over by revealing some of the action that had been sanitized out of the cartoon. Annie gains interest as she realizes that in the original version, Pinocchio still lies, but faces more serious consequences. Annie says that she always tells her dad that when there are no consequences in stories, it’s not a real story it’s “just a bunch of stuff happening.”

Under Rita’s tutelage, Annie continues to make progress on her reading. In a sequence that echoes Johnny Smith tutoring teenage Chuck Chatsworth in The Dead Zone, Rita helps Annie find tricks that help her anxieties evaporate, such as reading in her father’s office, where she feels especially comfortable.

While Annie’s reading has improved, she still disagrees with the ending of Pinocchio, saying that the puppet protagonist should have faced the consequences of his behavior by being killed off. She once again returns to the binary philosophy of people being good or evil. Carl overhears the conversation and argues with Rita over the books Annie is reading not being age-appropriate, but Rita calms his concerns and the pair are soon bonding.

A montage shows time passing, and Rita not only helping Annie improve her reading but the pair becoming closer on a personal level. Meanwhile, Annie continues to transcribe the typewritten pages of her father’s novel onto the computer. Eventually, it is revealed that Rita is pregnant. Annie asks Rita who the father is, and Rita replies that it’s complicated, and the father is complicated. Annie disagrees, and once again reinforces the binary of people being either good or bad.

In the Drink

Crysilda has a morose demeanor as she and Annie have a conversation over the kitchen table in the next scene, lamenting that her daughter will be “just getting by” for the rest of her life. Crysilda says that that’s what the “dirty birds” want, so that they can take what they want from her – echoing the language we often hear Annie use in 2019, and closely echoing some of the rants Annie has delivered to Joy in the previous episodes. Then Crysilda pours herself another glass of vodka.

In the next scene, Carl marvels over how well Annie is reading. He tells her that he met a publisher at the bank who’s interested in reading the manuscript, and Annie says that he’s finally found his Laughing Place. Carl responds by telling her that he’s going to be moving out of the house. Annie is heartbroken. 

A brief flash to 2019 shows Annie going to a bar and ordering vodka, “mom’s drink,” before we return to her teenage years. She receives a letter informing her that she passed the GED and calls her father to share the news. While her mother congratulates her, she seems less than pleased. In the next scene, Annie and Crysilda sit beside a river, apparently taking a break from a visit to a community college. While Annie is excited about school, mentioning creative writing classes, Crysilda remains despondent and maintains a flat affect.

Annie responds to her mother’s depressive statements by saying that if the world is dirty, they’ll just have to make it cleaner. Her mother’s attention alights upon the river and she stops talking. Both Annie and Crysilda get back in the car, and Crysilda starts the engine and drives the vehicle directly into the water, killing herself.

Evangeline

While Annie survives the car being driven into the water, she enters a depressive state after her mother’s death. She is barely responsive as Carl apologizes for leaving her with Crysilda and tells her that he’s moving back into the house with Annie.

Time passes and Annie’s near-catatonic state continues unabated. However, when Rita and baby Evangeline arrive to have dinner, Annie finally seems to come alive once again. Over dinner, Carl reveals to Annie that he and Rita are romantically involved, and Annie realizes that he is Evangeline’s father.

Castle Rock S2E5
Annie’s catatonic state on Castle Rock S2E5.

When Annie puts the timetable together and realizes that Rita and Carl became involved before Crysilda’s death, she becomes angry and picks up a knife – but the situation is diffused when she sets the knife back down at the table and storms upstairs.

Soon, Rita is moving into the house with Evangeline, and while Annie has no more outbursts, she still seems to be having difficulty adjusting. Rita suggests they consider medication but Carl counters that he wouldn’t be finished with his novel if he were “still taking lithium,” a conversation overheard by Annie.

Annie’s relationship with Evangeline remains tense. When she tries to hold the baby, she cries, and Crysilda finds Annie standing over the baby’s cradle in the middle of the night.

The Ravening Angel 

Carl finally completes The Ravening Angel and hosts a party where his distributes self-published copies of the book. Carl toasts Rita, beaming.

Later, Annie reads the book in bed late at night, and comes across the dedication on the last page: “For Rita K Green, my Laughing Place.” The dedication enrages her and she begins making so much noise in the attic it rouses her father from sleep. Annie confronts him about the dedication and he tells her that you can have more than Laughing Place and climbs the stairs toward her, but she shoves him and he stumbles down the stairs. He bounces off the wall and falls forward, breaking the staircase railing and then being fatally impaled by the broken wood.

Rita discovers Annie standing over Carl’s corpse and asks what she’s done. Annie picks up a pair of scissors and tells Rita she thought she was good before chasing her to the baby’s room. Rita throws herself in front of the crib, but Annie stabs her in the gut with the scissors and then picks up Evangeline.

Castle Rock S2E5
Annie flees with Evangeline in Castle Rock S2E5.

Once again, we return to the scenes first glimpsed in the pilot, of young Annie stumbling through the woods with the manuscript box that contains baby Evangeline. She approaches the river and enters the water, intending to drown the baby, but when the infant is nearly submerged she starts laughing.

Intercut with the scenes of Annie in the forest are scenes set in 2019: at the bar, Annie finishes her vodka and is approached by the Ace-Thing. Meanwhile, Joy reaches the conclusion of The Ravening Angel and discovers the dedication to Rita, as well. She searches the internet for the name and eventually finds a phone number. It turns out that Rita survived Annie’s attack and, judging by the map covered in thumbtacks and string in behind her, has been searching for her daughter ever since. Nothing stays buried in the Rock or the Lot.

The Beat will be back next Wednesday at 19:00 with a recap of episode six, and Castle Rock S2E5 is currently available for streaming on Hulu along with the previous four episodes.

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