Last summer, I was almost unceremoniously felled by a Stephen King adaptation. It was The Mist, and setting aside some personal issues that do not warrant the word count, I had to stop watching it for the sake of my mental well being. It was that bad. And though yes, one could argue with some cogency and, let’s be frank, accuracy that I am a creature prone to hyperbole, I ask you – beg you – to take my word on this. It was stone cold garbage. So it has been a massive exhale, an almost unspeakable release of relief, that I have consumed and enjoyed Castle Rock on a week to week basis. It has been clever, engaging, creepy, and thoughtful, and though I could not with any degree of honesty call it perfect, I would praise both the whole and the sum of its parts.
I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.
This week’s episode was greater. It warrants more space and eloquence than I have been granted, but I will do my damnedest to articulate something reflective of the strange, graceful hour of television that was episode 7. I know I’m a little late; I needed some time to digest, and unfortunately, this is ya girl’s side hustle. So I apologize for that, and promise to be prompter this week. But. Well, let’s just say this first and get it out of the way. Holy Shit. Sissy Spacek. What a fucking actress.
This is truly her episode. Ruth is the focal character – in some ways, the only absolute character – in this episode, and Sissy Spacek imbues here with an almost impenetrable sadness and regret. The episode is structured as a walk through Ruth’s memories; we know that she is suffering dementia. We have known that for awhile, but it has been an abstract to us, as we have been closest to Henry’s perspective throughout. And dementia, Alzheimer’s, these are difficult diseases to represent in a way that is truly meaningful and accurate in any media. It is too disorienting and alienating. This week shifts the perspective fully to Ruth.
I have speculated from relatively early on that there might be some degree of multiple and overlapping timelines at play in this series, and though I wish I could say that I handled the revelation of my (at least partial) correctness with grace and humility, well, I have not yet aged into that virtue. I figure it may come some day yet, around about when hand-eye coordination magically descends. I’m not holding my breath. That said, this episode presented multiple timelines that are happening, seemingly, either concurrently, or just at the boundaries of each other. I understand, of course, the central thesis that Ruth’s dementia is the underlying catalyst for this, but there is some narrative text to support that perhaps it’s all a little realer than just the fevered memory of a diseased mine. Wendell shows Ruth a phone game that functions in a similar capacity to “Pokémon Go”, in that when you hold the screen up, it shows some sorts of pixelated monsters that you have to defeat. He tells Ruth that she has much in common with the timewalkers in this game; and that the timewalkers are the only ones who can truly kill the dead. The dead not remaining dead is a recurring theme on Castle Rock – we saw it all the way back in the pilot episode, when Henry’s client somehow survived her own execution. We see it a bit this week in the return of the dog – it is not actually Henry’s childhood dog, which was poisoned by Matthew (more sinister with every passing week, that guy), but it carries the same emotional weight and impact. If there is validity to the notion that the dead do not stay dead, then there may be more reality to Ruth’s world than we realize.
We walk through a number of her memories; we see that Matthew was volatile at best when Henry was a child – taking Ruth and Henry to the woods and asking them to listen closely, to hear the voice of god, while a gun sits, exposed, on a blanket, making veiled accusations as a young Henry innocently sits talking to his mother while she bathes. We see Alan, repeatedly trying to help her, loving her, protecting her when and where he can. We see the chance she missed, to leave Matthew and take Henry away, and the way that staying haunted her for the rest of her life. And we sense and feel the mounting fear she feels as she moves through past and into present seamlessly; unable to hold onto any one timeline and to ever gain her bearings. All the while, she flits in and out of a strange interaction with Skars, who speaks with the menacing authority we can assume Matthew wielded during his life with Ruth, and summons memories there’s no way he should be able to access. Her hysteria mounts, as she loses track of time and space and most importantly people, with the vague echo of Wendell mentioning dead who can take on the guise of familiar faces. It ends with her shooting Alan, as he comes home to her.
This synopsis does no justice whatsoever to the full hour of Castle Rock that was. I am just hitting on the highlights, so please, if you have not, avail yourself. Since I was accidentally sort of right once before, I’m going to shoot my shot here and speculate again on something that seemed worth noting. We have been assuming the ringing in Henry’s ears is tinnitus. But now Matthew’s gun has been shown repeatedly. And I can’t help but wonder if the ringing in Henry’s ears will somehow be associated with the ringing that might be induced by a gunshot.
Additionally, Castle Rock has focused a great deal on the perils of our good intentions. We see it this week again, when Alan insists on keeping Ruth out of a facility for her dementia. He did it out of love, but it left her able to access a gun, and lead to his own demise. And once again, Henry’s good intentions in getting Skars released have looped around to bite him in the ass. I’m not certain what Skars is at this point – I am not closer to that answer than I have been – but he is clearly an agent of some sort of menace.
We are down to three remaining episodes, with a hell of a lot of questions still unanswered. I am resolved to the notion that some may remain that way. For me to feel this first season was successful, I will need the following answers: 1: What exactly happened to Matthew that night in the woods? 2: How did Henry survive the cold, as a child, that evening? And 3: Generally speaking, what the hell is Skars? I am excited to see where this is going. More soon!