Experimental and emotional are the main words that come to mind when attempting to unravel the newest episode of Hulu’s Castle Rock.
“The Queen” provides a deconstructed journey through the way that Ruth experiences time and space. With the entire focus of the episode on her, we see both events that took place years and decades previously as well as revisit some familiar moments from earlier in the show. Though this episode did little to move the plot forward (compared to the pace we had been going), it was a feat of filmmaking with combined efforts of cinematography, directing, acting, and editing. Sissy Spacek does a phenomenal job as the protagonist working to grapple her constantly shifting environment as we the audience are also piecing together what is happening. While it is clear that the titular queen is referring to the chess piece (which the queen’s power has grown with the history of the game), I can’t help but give a ‘yass queen’ to Spacek on making an otherwise drawn out plot, fascinating to watch.
Ruth’s makeshift (since she is missing a number of pieces stored around the house) chess game with grandson Wendell gives her new optimistic insight to her condition. He calls her a “Timewalker” and introduces her to his AR game. While they kill revenants, Wendell tells Ruth that Timewalkers are the only ones able to kill the enemy and have them stay dead. “You have to stay sharp” he warns her, we then see her emptying out her pills. Ruth later sends Wendell away to the mall, clearly for his own safety as she plans to confront whatever The Kid is. These moments of current reality match with what we have seen in previous episodes.
This through line inches us forward to the point in the plot when we know Alan returns home to find the house a mess. As expected Ruth and The Kid were to blame. After he embodies Matthew Deaver entering the house, the two have a series of awkward interactions. One of which they reenact Ruth’s wedding dance to Blue Moon (this is the track stuck on a warped loop that we heard on the phonograph last episode). Knowing that the events culminate in a confrontation of sorts, the audience along with Ruth must piece together the clues. Believing herself to be responsible for righting the wrongs in her house, armed with her deceased husband’s pistol, she goes on a quest to find the bullets. Despite several memories of Puck, the German Shepherd who Matthew poisoned, it takes Ruth the entire episode to remember that the bullets are with her remains. What is dead does not always stay dead, as we have seen multiple times in this series thus far.
The killing of the family pet is just one of the interspersed flashbacks in which we learn how Matthew Deaver was. His presence is constantly overbearing and creepy, offering no warmth to any of his family. Ruth had tried to shield Henry from his borderline maniacal obsession but ultimately failed in doing so. The pivotal moment is a Deaver family picnic in the woods when the pastor tells of an experience where held a pistol to his ear to threaten God with his own suicide. Before he pulled the trigger he allegedly heard “the voice” (the schism). This alleged divine insight kept him and Henry returning to the woods at all hours.
Creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason have stated that they wanted this episode to feel like a deconstructed Pet Semetary. This gives us great insight that the things that return are probably much more evil than they were, which is bad news considering how terrible Matthew was while alive. It is highly probable that the persistent visions that Molly has of him are only going to lead to something much worse. When she tries to warn Ruth, the seasoned veteran of the unusual is way ahead and even quells Molly’s confession about killing Matthew. Her hasty dismissal of Molly leads me to wonder if Ruth was aware of her “abilities” and purposely didn’t want her to be involved or if she was sending her away to be safe, like she did to her grandson.
The final scene is a heart-wrenchingly romantic moment when Alan and Ruth re-unite after decades of separation. Ending on this note is touching because we know that these two characters do not have a happy ending, yet the creators of the show give them a pseudo one and the audience time to let it marinate. “On The Nature of Daylight” by Max Richter plays over the reunion, a song not unfamiliar to a savvy media audience. This particular composition is intertextually significant. We have previously heard it in Shutter Island (2010) in which the main character has a dream in which he must let go of his dead wife. The most recent use is even more similar to Castle Rock, at the end of Arrival (2016) in which the female protagonist makes a decision about her life knowing what heartache the future is going to hold for her. Amy Adams character asks “If you could see your whole life start to finish, would you change things?” She has been given a “tool” to see future events, in a sense living in a loop. If gunshots heard (the reason Alan ended up on Ruth’s doorstep) is his own death? Getting into some Rust Cohle, time is a flat circle metaphysics. Did Ruth have any agency in the events that happened to her or is that a curse of living in Castle Rock?
This episode failed to illuminate any further on The Kid’s alignment (ie good, bad, or neutral). One thing we do know about King’s work, evil can take many forms; the psychotically misguided, the willfully apathetic, or the abused bully, to the embodiment of all of the worst things imaginable.
All we can do is continue to watch Castle Rock streaming on Hulu on Wednesdays.
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