This week’s episode of Hulu’s Castle Rock did not scare me like the previous weeks had. Episodes one-through-six were filled with some of creepiest scenes on television. The psychotic prison shooting, the creepy kid-court and the family massacre all filled us with horror and hinted at the darkness rotting away the bedrock beneath Castle Rock like an abscess. This week’s episode showed us a lot of what we have already seen, but it didn’t try to scare us at all. There were no boogeymen in the woods, no more head-wrapped ghosts in the hallways. Instead, it tried to tear us apart and leave us alone as we try to reassemble the pieces.
As you can probably tell by the title, “The Queen” focuses solely on Ruth and what it is like living in her brain. The doctors can’t say definitively that it is Alzheimer’s disease that Ruth is suffering from, but that’s how it is manifesting itself to those around her. Inside her mind, she truly is living out her past and present concurrently, floating seamlessly from reading a story to Henry as a child, to Matthew’s funeral, to our present where she is playing a game of chess with Wendell. As we have seen before, she leaves chess pieces around the house as anchors, one in each room. Whenever she gets lost in the past, she is able to look for that piece and it will bring her back to the current timeline as we are experiencing it.
It’s difficult to talk about what happens in this episode without going over the ending, so I am going to slap a gigantic SPOILER WARNING right here. If you plan on seeing the episode, but haven’t yet, then stop reading now. This article will still exist on the internet when you’re done, I promise.
As we travel through her past, we are shown scenes that we have experienced before, only from Ruth’s fragmented reality. We see her walk through her own history, experiencing both the good and the bad every time as if it is the first time. We see a few flashes of a younger Ruth, but the majority of the past sequences are played by Spacek, highlighting her masterful artistry as an actor and giving us a clue as to the source of her curse. In the current timeline, or the linear point in time that everyone else is experiencing, Ruth is in grave danger. The Kid has killed at least 14 people at Juniper Hill, escaped, and is acting as if he were, in fact, Matthew Deaver. He knows the combination to Matthew’s safe (Ruth’s birthday), their wedding song (the absolute #banger “Blue Moon”), even how she likes her eggs (over-hard, like a real American). He dances with her, worries for her, and is seemingly taking over Matthew’s every idiosyncrasy. The whole time this scene is playing out, Ruth is trying to remember where the bullets are to Matthew’s old gun.
“Kill your nemesis, fix your timeline.” -Wendell Deaver
It’s this gun that gives us the moment we all kind of knew was coming, but dreaded like the first day of school. As Ruth sorts through her demons and remembers where she left the bullets to the gun, she barricades herself into the barn to escape the Kid. She sits, loads the weapon and waits for her stalker to come through the large sliding doors. We sit behind her shoulder and see the door swing wide. Ruth closes her eyes and unloads the pistol into the intruder. After the smoke clears, Ruth crawls over to the body and holds her beloved Alan Pangborn as he bleeds to death. He brushes away her hair one last time, as if he is just as happy to see her then as he was when he returned to Maine all those years ago.
As a Game of Thrones super-fan, I am rarely affected by the death of a beloved character, and I wasn’t really thrown off here. Alan was on a crash-course with the business end of Ruth’s gun ever since he left her alone to go do the bidding of the Kid in Syracuse. We expect a show like Castle Rock to end in the deaths of a character or two that we grow to love. What followed his death is different. What happened after Ruth killed her true love, her savior, her rock, is what broke me apart and left me wondering what I have left for the remaining three episodes of the series.
“You did right, but you didn’t fix it. It’s back. Not in the past, in the present.” -Ruth Deaver
Ruth slowly got up and left the barn. She walks into the house and methodically begins to wash Alan’s blood from her hands and arms. She gets into the shower and cleans herself up just like it was any other day. Her hair done, her makeup on, she walks down the stairs to open the door. Ruth stands in the doorway and greets former Sheriff Alan Pangborn as he re-introduces himself and finally tells her that he came back to Castle Rock because he loves her. She throws her arms around his neck and tells him not to leave, not to ever leave. He didn’t, and now she must go through this cycle all over again. Like a desperate Roland Deshain as he finally reaches the top of the Dark Tower, she is sent right back to the beginning to experience all of the pain, the love, the hurt, again and again.
Oh yeah, Spoiler Warning, I guess? I mean, the book came out in 2004, so get over it. Anyway, its the cycle of love and loss that makes Ruth’s journey so gorgeous and tragic. It isn’t a younger her in the scenes of her past, it is actually her reliving those lives. Therefore, you can’t really claim that she has Alzheimer’s or dementia. She isn’t getting mixed up in her memories, she is literally slipping back and forth from one timeline to another. She cannot change what happened, like when she begs her former self to “Leave him… Do It!” as she watches herself pack a bog to leave her husband. She can’t leave because she didn’t. It’s almost certain that the “schisma” from last week’s episode is the source of this cycle of hell that she is forever locked into, and it will be interesting to see how they will resolve it. How can Henry help her restart her mind? Can he? If he can, will she want him to?
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia runs in my family. It hits hard, and it hits fast. It’s not necessarily something that I am looking forward to as I grow older and experience life with my wife and son. Watching this episode of Castle Rock was very difficult for me and all of those that have cared for a loved one who suffered from those despicable diseases. It was very difficult, but it was also the most rewarding hour of television I have watched in a long time. As Ruth opened the door to see her Alan standing there, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Love and pain are parts of life, no matter what timeline we currently live on. The goal should be to fill our life with as much love and good as we can, so that when the pieces start to become jumbled and we find ourselves lost in the woods, we know that our chess piece will bring us home to that place of love. So, the critics are right, this week’s episode of Castle Rock was definitely not scary. It didn’t frighten us like the previous episodes have, but it was an experience that I hope I will always remember, even when the other things begin to slip away.
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