Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Castle Rock has been a great watch so far this season and despite some missteps in the previous episode, “Filter,” this week’s episode became a tribute to all of the things we love about the storytelling of Stephen King. At once poignant and unsettling, the episode focuses on the events of the series so far through the eyes of Ruth Deaver, who is played masterfully by Sissy Spacek. “The Queen” offers both a glimpse into the past events that have fueled the series and into the mind of someone suffering with dementia.
The episode starts with the death of a dog, which should be some indication that we are in for one emotional hour. The stray Ruth’s been feeding is hit by a car and she momentarily confuses it for Puck, her son Henry’s dog that disappeared without a trace. As Alan Pangborn buries the remains of the unlucky stray, Ruth goes to sleep and is woken by Puck leaving a half-eaten squirrel on her pillow.
In the last episode, Ruth explained to her grandson, Wendell, that she moves in and out of the past without realizing it. The chess pieces we’ve been seeing appear randomly around the Deaver home are her way of bringing herself back into the present. Instead of thinking that his grandmother is crazy, Wendell calls her a Timewalker and relates her dementia back to an AR game he’s been playing on his phone.
Before you call Wendell insensitive, it might help to keep in mind that he’s 15 years old. And there’s a chance that his explanation might come into play during the last three episodes of this season’s run. According to the teenager, only a Timewalker can kill someone for good. Otherwise, the dead keep coming back. Which sounds an awful lot like something Sheriff Pangborn said in the first episode, doesn’t it? A Timewalker is also the only one that can kill the nemesis and restore the timeline.
The bulk of the episode is spent watching Ruth weave in and out of time, one moment showing us her side of an event we’ve seen so far in the series, the next showing her reading a story to Henry as a child. While the portrayal of dementia is poignant, the effect is unsettling and the things we see from the past only make it more so. While we’ve gotten hints before that Ruth’s husband, Matthew, was not exactly the greatest guy, in this episode we find out just how unhinged he really was shortly before his death.
The storyline might not have worked with another actress, but Sissy Spacek has an ethereal quality that draws us in and makes us hold our breath as we watch Ruth try to deal with The Kid strolling into her house while at the same time falling back into the past. The interactions between Ruth and The Kid (played by Bill Skarsgard) add another unsettling level to an episode that already feels unreal. He has a differential, almost tender manner with her and a familiarity that makes one wonder if Ruth seeing him in the guise of Matthew when he first comes into the house isn’t so far off after all.
As Ruth continues to dance in and out of the past, the present catches up to her in the most terrifying ways. The bullets she meant to put into The Kid find their way into the person closest to her. And as she washes Alan’s blood from her hands, the pink-tinged water pays its own homage to both King and Spacek, echoing back to the movie where they were first united, Carrie.
The ending of the episode is both beautiful and heartbreaking, with Ruth once again stepping back into the past to greet Alan when he shows up on her doorstep for the first time in years. As they embrace, the shot pans out and we see the queen from the chess set standing beside her fallen king.
Castle Rock is streaming new episodes on Hulu every Wednesday.