Wednesday, August 22, 2018

REVIEW: 'Castle Rock' - Ruth Gets Lost in Her Memories While Trying to Reset Her Story in 'The Queen'

Hulu's Castle Rock - Episode 1.07 "The Queen"

Memories haunt Ruth Deaver.

"The Queen" is an absolutely heart-wrenching episode of television. Character development hasn't always been Castle Rock's best quality. In fact, it has been lacking in that regard a little bit with the actors mostly carrying the weight of the material. And yet, this episode proves the meticulous nature of the way the series has been told so far. It gets the audience to invest in Ruth's personal journey. There is the inevitable tragedy that comes from her being lost in her memories and desperately wanting to reset her story but never being able to change a single thing. It's such a powerful motivation for her. But it only leads to more tragedy in her life. Despite the coping mechanism that allows her to grasp at some semblance of control over this disease, she is still too confused and scattered to ultimately complete her mission. And in the end, she loses the love of her life. It's so absolutely horrifying and tragic to watch. But there is also such immense beauty in that final moment as Ruth essentially surrenders herself to the disease and the power of the memories of the life lived even if it was never enough time to enjoy the happiness. The story highlights the difficult choices she had to make and how she didn't always make the right ones. Yes, it does fill in the gaps of many of the personal aspects of the Deaver family. It presents a much more monstrous Matthew who was so abusive to his family in so many ways because of his faith and devotion to God. That was already being hinted at. But now, it's so terrifying to watch as this monster is the one who calls Ruth out for her inability to escape or change her memories while her savior is the one who ultimately suffers from her deadly actions. It's the most moving piece of storytelling the show has delivered so far. It also gives hope that the end of the season will be able to carry on with the strong momentum of "The Queen."

It's also just so important to point out that Sissy Spacek is a tremendous actress. She is a legend in this industry who deserves our continued respect and admiration. There is a reason why she has an Academy Award and been nominated six times. In fact, this is the kind of performance that should easily win her an Emmy. But that's a conversation for a separate piece. Right now, it's just so powerful to watch as Spacek transforms this character and reveals all of the little nuances that have defined her story throughout the entire season so far. This hour forces the audience to re-contextualize our understanding of Ruth. Up until this point, she has just been Henry's mother suffering from dementia. She is slipping more and more. She is sometimes better in the morning but nights have become constantly difficult at home for Alan. He is caring for her. He loves her so much and doesn't like how Henry is just walking into their lives now trying to care about what happens. Of course, Ruth doesn't have a strong opinion about that. She is too lost in her memories to truly understand everything that is going on at the moment. She has the context that her son has come home and her grandson is now visiting. All of the details of her life are still in her head. She has just been removed from linear time. That's the way that she has always experienced her life. It's the way that all of humanity does so. But now, she is disappearing into these memories that present as if she is living them for the first time all over again. It's disorienting to her to see herself living her life. She presents as nothing more than a ghost leaving behind a relic that can be used to climb out of the past. But she starts living in these situations again as well. That's a powerful sense of writing because it's clear that Ruth is fighting to change her story while still inherently sticking to the script of what happened all those years ago.

It's also fascinating how the show spent a lot of time in the previous episode talking about the mystical forces at work in Castle Rock only to spend time here trying to provide a more rational response. There is no clarity given this week as to what's currently going on with Henry as he is trapped in the box trying to listen to the schisma. Sure, Molly is looking for him and understands that something is wrong. But that moment is more powerful because Ruth confirms to her that she knows Molly killed her husband and that it was the right thing to do. In fact, she is grateful for it because she lacked the strength to do it herself. But she has more pressing concerns to worry about than dealing with the young girl who is confessing and asking for forgiveness while also being worried about the son who is removed from this story as far as Ruth understands it. Ruth sees this as her opportunity to kill her enemy and reset her timeline. It represents a chance for her to live a different life. Perhaps one where she could leave Matthew and run away with Alan. Here, Matthew is abusive because he's recovering from a massive surgery on his brain. She can talk about how the doctors had to remove a significant part and that the family should be on constant look out for returning symptoms. That's what Ruth sees when Matthew is confessing that he wanted to kill himself right before hearing the voice of God. She doesn't believe Henry when he claims to have heard it as well. She just sees a family going crazy around her. And yet, she can't abandon them either. She wants to believe it's just a delusion that Matthew is experiencing again while Henry is terrified that if he doesn't abide his father will hurt him. Henry is absolutely terrified of Matthew. That stands in stark contrast to the way Henry remembers his father in the present day. That too is fueled by his lack of tangible memories. Henry can't remember. And now, Ruth is remembering everything from her life in this town.

Ruth recalls the various dogs that have been a part of her life. She knows that Matthew killed one by poisoning him while another was killed when running out into traffic. One just disappeared and the other was buried in the suitcase in the backyard. Throughout the season, there have been hints that dogs and their barking are a trigger for Ruth. She was worried that the one in the ground was no longer there. Meanwhile, she jumped off a bridge after hearing one during Alan's ceremony. That too is a moment of release as she is trying to leave her husband. He is a despicable man. A legal case can't be presented against him though because he never physically hurts his family. He just abuses them in other ways by demanding things to be done a certain way. He's emotionally abusive. It's so enticing to think that Ruth could just restart her life and family with Alan in a different town somewhere. She packs her bag and believes that she is strong enough to leave her husband. She knows differently this time around. She gets lost in these memories because she doesn't have the strength to be pulled back into reality and her pressing mission. She has to kill the person who has led to all of this agony. But even then, those thoughts are clouded and complicated. Both Matthew and The Kid present as her enemy. Matthew is the face of the unchanging past. He represents all of the torture she endured and the inability to ever escape it. She is living it all over again because of her mind sending her back into the vault of memories. Meanwhile, The Kid is a terrifying presence because he seems to understand everything about Ruth's life and the habits she has. It's almost as if he is Matthew come back to life through another form. He understands the importance of Elvis' "Blue Moon" and that she likes to take baths after dinner. And so, The Kid walking around in Matthew's old clothes only further sends Ruth spiraling. He has been teased as the embodiment of evil in this town. He's the Devil who must be killed. Ruth could ultimately be the savior this town needs. But instead, she kills the only lawman the town has ever trusted.

Throughout this entire hour, Ruth is searching for the bullets to load the gun. She has the weapon and knows that she has to kill The Kid in order to find her sanity again. But she cannot find where Matthew hid the bullets. She simply can't remember. All of these memories are rushing over her. She is struggling to maintain her grip on reality. It takes her actually being confronted by Matthew for her to suddenly remember. It's not her going through the motions that highlight why she decided to stay. Nor does it explain how she never unpacked that suitcase even after Matthew died. But it's an empowering moment because it's her standing up in defiance of him. She is proving that she does remember details about her life without needing to be pushed back to that specific day. She can retrieve the bullets and kill the man who has caused all of this anguish. It's just a complete rush of emotions. She sees The Kid as this looming threat terrorizing her who is creeping ever closer. As such, she fires at the first figure that walks through the door of the shed. As such, it was only inevitable that it would be someone else standing there. The audience already understands that Alan came home confused about whatever has happened to his love. He spent the day doing what The Kid asked of him. And now, he is greeted by chaos and confusion. That is followed by a couple of bullets to the chest. It's so absolutely disorientating and traumatic for Ruth. In the heat of the moment, this is the culmination of everything she has experienced throughout her life. After she fires, everything is suddenly at peace once more. It's only after realizing what she has done that she is destroyed once more. That's what makes it so heartbreaking. But then, it's so uplifting to be transported back to the memory of Alan showing up on her doorstep after years away to say that he wants to be with her. Her hugging him and telling him never to leave is so powerful because it's the way she genuinely felt on the day. It's even more emotional now because of all that she has lost. In fact, it may be a gift because she can still experience life with Alan even though the moments are always going to be incredibly fleeting. That's brutal but comes as the perfect conclusion to this stunning hour.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Queen" was written by Sam Shaw and directed by Greg Yaitanes.
  • It's a fantastic stylistic choice that Sissy Spacek plays Ruth in every era of the character. It helps the audience get into the mindset that this is the current version of the character reliving these events instead of simply experiencing them for the first time to the audience. It helps us better understand her while also fueling Spacek's performance so that it can hit all of those devastating and personal beats in the end.
  • There was also the uncertainty of what happened to Wendell during this apparent confrontation between Ruth and The Kid. Alan didn't even know that there was another guest in the house. He didn't know to look and be worried. But Ruth had already sent Wendell away long before she fired that gun in the shed. It was so simple as well. All she had to do was give him money to take a taxi.
  • Wendell is also able to help Ruth better understand her new perspective on life. He conveniently has a video game where the main character is going through the same thing. In that reality though, it's a battle against zombies who are forever coming back to life. For Ruth, it's more like the ghosts of her past continuing to haunt her. She aspires to take action. But it's all so confusing because not everyone is wearing a disguise like Wendell warns her.
  • Ruth throws away her pills in a grand display to further strengthen herself in this endeavor. She doesn't want to numb herself to the experience. She has to be fully aware of her surroundings. She also has to trick The Kid into believing that she has taken this sedative. With her killing Alan though, will she want to embrace the memories more and put up less of a fight? It's going to be interesting to see what the consequences of his death will be.
  • Does The Kid have some grand connection to the Deaver family? Or is her really the Devil who just instinctively understands everyone and what they have gone through? Right now, it presents as if he is Matthew for a lot of this story. But there is also the moment where he plays the same game with Ruth that Henry did when he was young. She is passing down her wisdom in the form of a guessing game. That allows the show to still talk around the mystery of The Kid's identity.