I don’t even know where to start. This episode blew my mind. There’s genius embedded in every shot and phrase.
Once again, the title plays with meaning. Remember, in chess, the queen moves in ALL DIRECTIONS. As the queen of the Castle Rock board, Ruth Deaver’s mind takes her in every direction.
By stepping away from the established style and pacing of the series to this point, it gives us a heaping ton of backstory while, at the same time, immersing us in the mind of Ruth Deaver as she struggles to make sense of the world with a brain that just won’t stick to one time and place.
This an episode that has EMMY written all over it. Pay attention, Hulu.
At the end of “Filter“, Alan Pangborn rushes into the Deaver house looking for Ruth. As an audience, we are also completely in the dark as to what has happened to her (and Wendall) since The Kid escaped Juniper Hill Asylum and returned to the house.
To make the recap easier to follow, I will summarize the three different periods in Ruth’s life that we witness through her eyes:
- There’s the Deep Past which is about thirty years ago when her husband Matthew was still alive and Henry was a boy.
- There’s the Past which is Ruth’s memories of life more recently, in the last few years and including what we’ve already seen in the series but re-framed from Ruth’s perspective.
- Then there’s the Now which is what happened from the moment The Kid re-entered the house.
The Deep Past
We discover through conversations that the Reverand Matthew Deaver had some sort of brain tumor before Henry was adopted. The tumor was removed but the doctor warned that there may be lingering effects.
Matthew, Ruth, and Henry take a picnic into the woods are some point. Ruth packed tuna salad sandwiches. Matthew packed a pistol. He lays the gun on the picnic blanket and explains that he had planned to kill himself with it but that when he put it to his ear, he suddenly heard God’s voice in the woods, in his head.
This is the start of the walks in the woods. He takes Henry out at all hours of the day, in every sort of weather, determined to make Henry hear God’s voice the way he does. Henry tries to get out of it, asking his mother to tell his father he has a fever so he won’t have to go. She advises him to just tell his father he hears God’s voice and maybe his father won’t insist on so many walks.
When Matthew comes in to check on them, she tells him Henry’s running a fever. Matthew seems to accept that story but once Ruth is asleep, he wakes Henry and takes him out into the woods again. When they come back, she’s in the kitchen and censures him for dragging a sick child out in the middle of the night.
She reads Henry the story of “Hansel and Gretel” and quizzes him on Icelandic lore.
At the same time, there is a connection developing between her and Alan Pangborn, Castle Rock’s widowed sheriff. When she goes to him about Matthew’s erratic behavior and his refusal to seek medical help, Alan offers to take her and Henry away.
From the pulpit, Matthew notices glances between Pangborn and Ruth. He keeps the gun despite Ruth’s misgivings about having it in the house because, as he tells his wife, he can’t depend on the sheriff to protect them. Although the gun is accessible, he hides the bullets to keep everyone safe.
When Ruth packs a bag to leave Matthew, she packs the gun. When she unpacks it, the gun is stored on the top shelf of the linen closet.
The Christmas before Henry returns to Castle Rock, Alan gives Ruth the Viking chess set she uses to anchor herself mentally. On New Year’s Day, the local stray, a German Shepherd, she cares for gets hit by a truck and dies. When Alan comes in, she’s brought a suitcase down for him to bury the dog in, although she refers to the dog as “Puck” who was Henry’s dog when he was a child. Alan reminds her that Puck used to bring dead squirrels in and leave them on her pillow.
She tells Alan that Matthew always said that Puck ran away but she found a bag of rat poison and suspected he had killed the dog. By burying the German Shepherd she feels that she can lay Puck to rest as well so Alan humors her and buries the dog in the back (where we’ve already seen him dig her up once) using the suitcase she brought out.
Alan, who had always aspired to be a magician as a young man, shows Ruth a few sleight-of-hand tricks with a coin while they sit together in bed. She gets pretty good at the “French Drop”.
When she explains how her brain has been working to Wendell, he accepts her description of how she’s experiencing everything in a jumbled order. He equates it to a character in his augmented reality video game called a “time-walker” which is the most powerful of the avatars you can play.
“How do you win?” she asks him.Â
“Well, it’s not a game exactly,” he responds. “It never ends.”
Wendall’s tutorial on time-walkers and the spirits of the dead they fight strikes a chord for Ruth. When he mentions how the players need to stay sharp to stay ahead of the enemy, she interprets that to mean she should stop taking the meds that have been sedating her senses to reduce anxiety. He also points out that the enemy can change its skin to look like an ally.
It’s while she’s trying to get rid of her pills that The Kid returns. Looking up from the kitchen floor where she’s spilled her pills, she sees The Kid as Matthew Deaver, returning home again. The news on the TV reports the arson that was set at Juniper Hills and flashes a picture of The Kid as the suspect the authorities are pursuing.
Recognizing the danger The Kid presents, Ruth retrieves the gun from the linen closet but has no bullets. She suspects they’re in the safe but, if she knew the combination, she can’t remember it now.
Molly Strand rings the doorbell while Ruth is trying to break into the safe. When Ruth answers the door, Molly asks if Henry is home. Ruth says he isn’t and Molly tells her that she thinks Henry is lost and that something terrible is going to happen. Ruth agrees but says that it has already happened, that she watched Molly kill Matthew all those years ago but now he’s back and she has to take care of it this time. With that, she shuts the door and locks it.
As she heads to the back of the house, she notices a family portrait with a smashed pane hanging in the hall. The Kid is putting a record on the player. She asks him why the song is familiar, phrasing it as a test to see what he knows. He answers that Matthew played “Blue Moon” at their wedding. He pulls her in to dance with her and, as another test, she asks him what the combination to the safe is. He tells her it’s her birthday.
Spotting Wendall coming into the room, she disengages from The Kid’s embrace and tells him she’s feeling light-headed. She asks him to make her something to eat and while he’s in the kitchen, she gives Wendall an envelope of money and tells him to take a taxi to the mall and go shopping. Wendall’s not convinced he should be leaving her alone in the house with The Kid but she insists.
Once Wendall leaves, The Kid comes back to ask where he’s gone. Ruth pretends ignorance which The Kid doesn’t seem to buy. He tells her since she’s feeling light-headed, she should lie down but not upstairs, on the couch where he can keep an eye on her.
He brings her a plate of food with the eggs done over-hard, the way he knows she likes them. While she’s eating, he gives her one of the sedatives that she had tried to throw out and insists she takes one stating,”God helps those who help themselves,” a phrase she and Matthew often said to each other.
She takes the pill with a swig of water even though she had told Henry before that she’s been dry-swallowing her pills for years. It turns out to be a distractor as she palms the pill and hides it from The Kid. She mentions that she’d like to revisit her old habit of having a bath after dinner and he offers to draw it for her.
While he’s in the bathroom, she opens the safe using her birthday as the combination but there are no bullets. She hears The Kid calling for her downstairs and she runs into the bathroom and pulls the shower curtain to hide in the tub with the water overflowing around her legs.
It’s a role-reversed homage to the shower scene from Psycho, with Ruth waiting for The Kid to approach the bathtub with a screwdriver. When he goes to draw open the shower curtain, she stabs him in the side and runs.
Without the meds to mediate her mental leaps, she struggles to maintain a single narrative and the sense of danger grows as she wades through the physical manifestation of crowds in her house. At first, they are attending Matthew’s wake but then they are the attendees of her wedding and then they’re gone and she’s alone in the kitchen with Matthew and she’s declaring her intent to leave him and take Henry with her.
But it never happened in their actual history and the fact that she’s off-script means that this Matthew can too. He taunts her with her inability to protect Henry and her past cowardice. He points out that she really just wants to know where the bullets are but since he’s a figment of her imagination, he doesn’t know either.
She throws the fact that she packed her bag to leave him in his face and he throws back the truth that she unpacked it too, put everything back including the gun. And that twigs her memory that she had backed the bullets all those years ago but never unpacked them.
That poor dog. Realizing the bullets are in the suitcase used to bury the German Shepherd, she rushes to the burial plot and digs out the suitcase with her bare hands, opening it up and then digging around the edge of the decomposing dog to find the bullets.
Seeing The Kid watching from the house, she runs to the garage shed and loads the gun, waiting for The Kid to come after her. When the door opens, she empties the six rounds in quick succession and then takes a breath of relief as the body hits the ground.
And the tragedy meter hits peak levels. Ruth realizes something’s wrong and crawls over to where Alan lies dying on the floor of the shed.
The Past (??? Maybe? At this point, we’re all in shock so just go with it.)
In the early morning light, she walks out of the shed and into her house. She washes the blood off (another Psycho-reference in the bloody water swirling down the tub drain) and dresses in clean clothes. With an eye on the door of the shed from her upstairs window, she does her make-up and, upon hearing the doorbell, goes down to answer it.
Alan is on her doorstep, having moved back from New Hampshire a few months ago. He tells her that someone had called him saying they’d heard gunshots around her place.
“I could be dead in the ground and folks would still ring me when they need a policeman. So I figured I’d check to see if you needed one. A cop. Ruth, it’s ’cause of you. That’s why I came back. “
Truly, it’s the most endearing and painfully sweet confession of love, coming from a haggard and rough-edged man with nothing left to lose. And, within the context of what we’ve just witnessed, it is significant that Ruth looks back into the house for a second before reaching out and holding Alan close, pleading with him,”Please, don’t leave.”
As the camera pans back from their embrace, the focus moves to two chess pieces on the table in the front room, what Ruth would’ve been looking at when she glanced back over her shoulder from the door – the queen standing with the knight fallen at her feet.
That noise you just heard? Yeah, that was my heart breaking just that much.
Castle RockÂ streams on Hulu with new episodes dropping every Wednesday.
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