Wednesday, August 15, 2018

REVIEW: 'Castle Rock' - Henry Yearns for Answers While Ruth Explains Her Life to Wendell in 'Filter'

Hulu's Castle Rock - Episode 1.06 "Filter"

Henry's son visits from Boston. A funeral stirs up unsettling memories.

"Filter" has the perception of giving answers to both the characters and audience as to what is currently going on in Castle Rock. And yet, it's a very frustrating hour full of empty teases and cheap cliffhangers. It's really annoying because it feels like the show is just marking time until it can actually reveal everything to the audience. It's the kind of writing that may make the audience think that the story of the season would have been better suited to eight episodes instead of ten. Right now, content creators have the freedom to make their shows as long or short as they want. There doesn't need to be some arbitrary number that they needed to hit in order for the show to be profitable for the company. But instead, an episode like "Filter" is produced where it seems like Henry gets a lecture about what makes Castle Rock so special. It's apparently a place where select people are able to hear the voice of God. It's either that or the bending dimensions of past and present converging and reckoning with one another. These are some fascinating ideas especially as they pertain to drawing compelling things out of the characters. Ruth may forever be lost in the timeline of her life while Henry is learning that his father was crazily searching for this voice and desperate to hear it. He died before he was able to build the scientific chamber that would amplify it for him. And now, that project has been completed and that's where Henry finds himself at the end of the hour. It should be the most horrifying and claustrophobic moment of the series so far. And yet, it still mostly just feels like a tease of the answers to come from a character who simply can't remember these important details about his life. The trauma of the past is so crucial to the fabric of this story. But Henry and Ruth keep withholding information from the audience even though it's not always on purpose either.

Henry explained that his first real memory comes from him being found by Sheriff Pangborn out on the ice. As such, he has no real recollection of his relationship with his father. He understands the importance in honoring him by making sure he is buried at the church he loved so much. That has been such a significant story over the course of the season with a new funeral happening here. It's something that Henry is mostly doing for himself though because he's the only one who actually attends the service. Sure, there are some mysterious strangers in the distance as well but Henry chooses not to make a big deal about them right away. He is much more focused on the impending arrival of his teenage son, Wendell. Now, it's strange that Henry was so determined to get out of Castle Rock only to now completely reverse course so that his son can also spend time here and get better acquainted with his grandmother. He is doing this in order to forge a better relationship with Wendell while also keeping more eyes on his mother as she falls further into dementia. She can no longer quite take care of herself but doesn't want to leave her home either. But Henry is also choosing to be very cryptic with his son. He wants to connect. But he also completely shuts down a question when Wendell is curious about Henry's biological parents. Henry has the diplomatic response in saying that Ruth and Matthew are his real parents. But it's also presented as a moment where Henry honestly has no clear who his parents really were.

Of course, he has no real clarity and understanding of Ruth and Matthew either. He is surprised to find The Kid watching home videos about his childhood. He didn't know that these tapes were out there in the shed. He had no clue that these moments of the past were recorded. It just forces more questions for him. He wants to know what he and his father were doing out in the woods all the time. He asks that of his mother the moment after Wendell questions him about his parents. It shows that this conflict extends throughout the generations. Henry and Ruth are both choosing to be elusive with their answers. Henry doesn't want to talk about it because he has no clue about the answer. Ruth is clearly shaken by the things currently happening in Castle Rock. But she can easily deflect by saying that she simply doesn't have those memories any longer. Something more is going on with her though. She articulates it in such a powerful but also frightened way when she is simply hanging out with Wendell. He wants to know what has happened to the many pieces of this chess set. Ruth explains that she may not be losing her memories at all because of this disease. Instead, she may be out of place in time. She may be jumping back and forth through the many decades of her life. She is planting the chess pieces around the house in order to have some connection to the present reality. She sees this as a conversation that she has already had with Wendell many times. She will continue having it as well. She is experiencing so many things at once. It's easy for her to get lost in her memories. But that also explains how she is jolted to life on a number of occasions as well. It's notable that she's open with Wendell too. She may do so simply because he asks while Alan and Henry just want to care for her believing they already know the damage being done to her mind.

And yet, there is just a really lame story going on with The Kid and Alan as it pertains to Ruth. Yes, it should definitely be significant that The Kid puts on Matthew's funeral outfit and then takes it off in front of Ruth. She is clearly traumatized by that sight. But again, the show provides no context for the audience to be as visibly shaken and emotionally affected as Ruth is. It's still just a bunch of cryptic teases. Meanwhile, Alan is sent on a mission to Sarasota to fetch something that The Kid needs. As soon as he breaks into this junkyard, it seems pretty clear that he's going after Dale Lacy's car. He ultimately finds it and is able to intimidate his way into getting it delivered. He is doing all of this to uphold the deal he has now made with The Kid. But then, he returns home to the suspicion that The Kid has betrayed that deal. Alan did all of this work and The Kid may have just been teasing him in order to get Ruth all alone. He is stalking her life at the moment. He's just wandering around the home. It's unnerving. But again, it's just an empty tease when there is blood on The Kid's arm while Alan is so distraught as he searches the house for Ruth. It will be compelling once the audience has some understanding of what happened while everyone was away. Wendell is still theoretically in the house as well. Alan doesn't know that because he hasn't been around. But that should be a plot point everyone should be worried about as well. Of course, it's random that the show introduces Henry's son only to immediately put him into danger so that Henry has a personal reason to search for the truth. It all happens after Henry checks The Kid into a psychiatric facility only for him to break out later that night. That detail feels particularly extraneous and meant to pad the episode. That's time that could have been used to better understand what's going on with all of these characters though.

Meanwhile, a huge stretch of time is also devoted to Henry just sitting down in the woods with Odin and Willie as they explain "the schisma." It's the ringing in Henry's ears that has plagued him for a long time. That's why no doctor has ever been able to diagnosis what was wrong with him. It was strong when he was a teenager in Castle Rock. And now, it is strong again because he is back here. He feels drawn to the woods to better understand who his father was. He is plagued with doubts and fears about what happened out there. That is amplified more so by Molly's confession that she killed Matthew for Henry. She felt him wanting his father dead and she delivered it for him. That's so destructive now because of how close the two have gotten once more. It pushes him away. He goes into the middle of the woods and essentially gets lost. He still runs into these strangers. Odin is a deaf professor who believes in a scientific explanation behind the schisma even though it would still be bending the rules of time and space. Willie is simply his translator and protégé who is explaining everything to Henry. They present all of this as glorious. Only the chosen are able to hear from the agony of time with the knowledge that they are special and needed for some reason. They are able to tempt Henry into entering this specific chamber in order to better understand what the schisma has been asking of him. It's all presented as a way for Henry to unlock his memories of the past. After he goes in, he will be aware of everything that happened during his disappearance. But it's also played as a horror moment when Odin reveals his destructive devotion to the cause to the point that he cut off all other sounds in the world so that he could only hear the schisma. That's not a fate Henry wants for himself. This should still be a revealing moment. But instead, it's just flashing memories and terrifying screams from Henry. It will all make sense with context. But that mostly makes this hour frustrating because it's not being upfront with what's going on.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Filter" was written by Vinnie Wilhelm & Marc Bernardin and directed by Kevin Hooks.
  • The Kid lacks any memories from a time before he was imprisoned by Dale Lacy as well. If he does, he just hasn't been sharing them with the people now trying to help him. But it's also clear his imprisonment is so important for his motivations because he is apparently building something for all of the people who contributed to his two decades locked away by the warden.
  • It's odd and creepy when Willie is referring to himself in the third person. That makes it seem like he is nothing but the voice for Odin. He only talks whenever Odin signs something that needs to be interpreted for those who don't speak American Sign Language. Of course, he has personal agency as well because he is willing to attack Henry after he is sneaking up on him by the fire.
  • The town is still apparently surrounded by a fire that has yet to be extinguished. Molly doesn't see it as a concern. She just wants to show off her properties to a potential developer. It's also not a big deal for the show because it no longer has the orange overtones that it did a week ago. But it's still clear that fire and destruction go hand-in-hand in this community with so much happening because of that combustion.
  • Alan feels the urgency to cure Ruth as soon as possible because her doctors want her sent away to a facility to get more hands-on care. She is evaluated by the same doctor who The Kid saw in the previous episode. She may not be able to remember the five words presented to her in the test. But that's also just a brief moment spent at this facility with The Kid not actually being seen inside and staging his escape either.
  • Earlier this week Hulu renewed Castle Rock for a second season. The show will be established as an anthology series with each season focusing on a new set of characters and story while keeping the same Castle Rock setting. It should be interesting to see how the show continues these connections to the Stephen King world while finding new ways to subvert audience expectations after this first story as well.