This Castle Rock review contains spoilers.
Castle Rock Episode 7
Seven episodes in, Castle Rock is the best “adaptation” of Stephen King’s work ever put on the small screen (and it’s much better than most of the movies, too). But even that is selling this show short. Castle Rock has proved itself to be more than just one big easter egg and reference guide to the King universe. This series is more earnest than that, and it’s to the credit of showrunners Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason and all of the writers and directors that Castle Rock transcends the traditional adaptation. With “The Queen,” Castle Rock solidifies its place as a spectacular drama piece worthy of its own examination separate from King’s work.
No one has been better in this series than Sissy Spacek, who plays Ruth Deaver like she’s been waiting all these years to take another stab at a King story. This time, she’s not electrocuting an auditorium full of mean high school kids but fighting to take back her narrative. Ruth travels from scene to scene like someone running away from the end of a story, desperately clinging onto the stage as the curtains close behind her. There are moments of real beauty in many of those scenes — Ruth reading a story to Henry or laughing with Alan — all bittersweet and fleeting as Ruth struggles to hold on to her memory.
Ruth spends the episode unstuck in time, floating through the past, present, and maybe even future with a little help from her chess pieces (“breadcrumbs,” as she calls them). At times, the story is hard to follow, and the episode spends a little too much time retreading scenes we’ve already watched and not always in new ways, but that’s exactly the effect “The Queen” wants to have on you. Ruth establishes the beats of her narrative with her chess pieces, hoping that she can dig herself out from the past, and that means following all of the breadcrumbs.
Along the way, she has the chance to exorcise her demons, both new and old. Castle Rock doesn’t take the obvious path with the episode’s “stranger in the house” storyline. The Kid remains the most ominous aspect of the show but never quite threatens Ruth. Instead, he channels the Reverend, the dead husband and father who has torments Ruth and Henry (and Molly) from the grave. It’s never clear what the Kid means to do to Ruth — or what he means to do to anyone, honestly — and it’s the mystery of his character and the way he’s able to recall intimate moments from Ruth’s past that make their scenes together so frightening. Ruth sneaking around the house, looking for the bullets while the Kid draws her a bath, is the most edge-of-your-seat terrifying and exhilarating this show has been thus far.
Credit to Bill Skarsgard, whose praises I keep singing every episode and must do so again because of his chameleon-like ability to switch between the strange Kid and the menacing Reverend, the villain of the episode in the past and present. He’s the monster chasing Ruth around the house and in her mind, a disturbed man who thinks he can hear God in the woods.
We watch as past Ruth fails to do what she knows she should — leave the Reverend and run away with Henry and Alan — a life-defining moment anchored by the memory of a suitcase and a gun. Ruth is haunted by her inaction. It’s not her fault that the Reverend fucked up her son — she’s as much a victim as Henry is — but she feels that. It’s hard to watch as Ruth tells young Henry that it’s not his job to protect her from the Reverend, but the other way around. That Ruth feels she can’t escape unless she takes up with another man and runs away with him makes the whole situation all the more gut-wrenching.
In one of the episode’s most shocking moments, we learn that Ruth was watching the night Molly killed the Reverend in their room. “It didn’t take,” she tells Molly, who comes looking for Henry (I assume he’s still stuck in the Filter, forced to listen to the schisma). Ruth decides to make things right by shooting the Kid, which she hopes will let her finally be rid of her husband once and for all.
The fact that the climax is predictable doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. It’s Alan who comes looking for Ruth in the shed and takes the bullets to the chest, but because she’s unstuck in time, we get one final moment between the two, a tearjerker that bookends their story. Alan’s come back to Castle Rock for Ruth, hoping that they can pick up where they left off, even though the gunshots that killed him have already happened in the past (it’s what’s brought Alan back to Ruth’s doorsteps). A chess piece by the door is our only clue that Ruth is just remembering what already happened while Alan lies dead in the shed in the present. Ruth is at the beginning again, the end a distant memory.