We gain a new perspective on the events of the present by weaving through the mind of someone lost in the past.
For episode 7 of Castle Rock, titled “The Queen,” we see things through the fractured perspective of Sissy Spacek’s Ruth Deaver, a woman ostensibly struggling with dementia, who in the previous installment revealed she is pinballing around between traumatic events of the past.
In an astoundingly powerful performance, Spacek as Ruth is both the hero and the victim in this story. She uses a relatively recent gift of a chess set to help ground herself in the present. As she tells Wendell, her grandson, she scatters the pieces around her home to remind herself that if she sees one, “I know it’s now, not then. And I can find my way out of the woods.”
This presses pause on the other storylines playing out in the show. We left things with the ominous mystery man sitting wounded outside Ruth’s house. Meanwhile, Henry Deaver was locked inside a soundproof room by a demented scientist who insisted the “voice of God” that Henry’s father (and Ruth’s late husband) had pursued in the woods was actually physical evidence of multiple universes.
Other years, other nows. All possible pasts, all possible presents. Schisma is the sound of the universe trying to reconcile that.
Ruth is trying to reconcile the same. Recapping this episode is difficult because it amounts to scattered puzzle pieces. Before this, some of the pieces were missing. Now they’re all face-up, but we have to assemble them to understand the picture they create.
So much of Ruth’s existence is disorientation. Where is she? When is she? But in the midst of it all, we find the answers to some of the other bizarre events of the present.
For one, the thing with the dead dog is explained. In an early episode, Henry finds Alan Pangborn in the woods, digging up a suitcase used as a makeshift coffin for a stray dog who had been struck and killed by a truck several weeks ago. Ruth kept thinking the dog was back, and she wanted evidence that it was truly dead.
Alan excavated it, opened it up, snapped a cell phone picture of the deceased animal, and that was that. Weird, right? But it turns out to have more significance than we knew.
For one, we see the death of this particular animal happen. A clear accident with a tragic outcome, but it loosens a memory in Ruth’s junk-drawer mind that haunts her.
“Did I ever tell you what happened to Puck?” she tells Alan. Puck was the similar-looking dog that the family had when Henry was a boy. The pet just disappeared one day, with no explanation.
Leapfrogging to the end of the episode, we see her discovering an empty package of rat poison tucked deep into her trash. The dog was reacting badly to her husband, who showed extreme domineering if not outright abuse in this episode.
It’s clear the Reverend Deaver murdered the family pet. But apart from showing his cruelty, why does this matter? Ruth has a conflict with the specter of her late husband near the end of the episode, and he taunts her about her failure to muster the courage to leave him and run away with their son to a new life.
But there is something else calling to her from beneath these memories. She’s trying to hear it, just as her husband and Henry strained to hear the Schisma — the “voice of God” — in the woods.
In a way, it is now calling to Ruth.
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Throughout this ordeal, Ruth is playing a slow-motion game of cat-and-mouse with the mystery man who was liberated from a dungeon inside Shawshank and recently liberated himself (by way of arson) from the Juniper Hills mental hospital.
Does he mean her harm? It doesn’t appear so. Although a fist-bump with him led the Shawshank prison guard Zalewski to turn mass-shooter on his co-workers, Ruth seems to be able to touch him without being overwhelmed by whatever power flows through him.
The suicidal prison warden Lacy used rubber kitchen gloves to insulate himself from his captive, but Ruth is able to slow dance with him to the tune of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Moon.” When the record begins to skip, it mimics what’s happening in her own mind.
Throughout the episode, Ruth continues to scramble the specter of her husband with the very real presence of the mystery man. She is afraid of him — of both — and she is hunting for the combination to the safe upstairs where the gun is kept. She also needs to discover the bullets.
During this scavenger hunt, she is repeatedly transported back in time to when Henry was young. We learn that her husband had glioma, a kind of brain tumor that she thinks is to blame for the sounds and visions he is experiencing.
We see them taking a walk through the woods and setting up a picnic blanket. That’s when Reverend Deaver takes out a gun and puts it to his ear. He explains that he came here to commit suicide once, but instead — in the moment before taking his own life — he heard the voice of God.
Ruth does everything she can to talk him into lowering the weapon and going home with her, and we see why she was so desperate to leave him and run off with Sheriff Pangborn.
A chess piece in the leaves draws her back to the present, and we see her with her grandson (played by It’s Chosen Jacobs) who shows her an augmented-reality video game and says she reminds him of one of the characters.
“You’re a time walker,” he says. According to the rules of this game, time walkers are the only ones who can kill the enemy spirits and make them stay dead.
Later, when Molly knocks on the door looking for Henry, Ruth says she is aware that Molly is the one who sneaked into their home as a child years ago and unplugged her wounded husband’s life support breathing tube. We still don’t know how the reverend came to be injured while searching the frozen woods for his missing son, but Ruth now knows why he died.
Molly is aghast, apologetic. But Ruth just closes the door on her. “No, you did the right thing. But it didn’t take. He’s back,” Ruth says. “In the present, not the past. I’m gonna fix it.”
The mystery man in her house seems to know things her husband did. The combination to the safe upstairs is one of them. “Your birthday,” he tells her.
Ruth dispatches her grandson to the mall, and although he is reluctant to leave her with this weirdo, he goes. Ruth, meanwhile, hurries up to unlock the safe.
She finds herself again in the past, meeting with the younger Sheriff Pangborn about her missing dog, Puck. He can’t really help with that, but he can help with the bigger problem — although not as a lawman.
“He’s never raised a hand. There’s no legal avenue. That’s the badge talking. As a friend, I have some other ideas,” he says. He tells her to pack a suitcase and to leave Castle Rock with him and her son. That is the only way to escape her abusive, deranged husband.
As she leaves the sheriff’s office, she ends up in her own kitchen, also in the past. That’s where she pulls the rat poison container out of the trash.
We see her as a young woman, packing up her bags. But we know she never left.
Her late husband grabs her in the kitchen. “You’ve lost touch with reality,” she tells him.
He sneers. “Says the woman arguing with her dead husband.”
This isn’t an incident from the past. This is the shadow of the past playing out new thoughts in her present.
She has the gun, but not the bullets. She has no idea where they are, and her husband can’t tell her because he’s just a manifestation of her own memories.
She sees her younger self packing the gun in her suitcase. And the vision of her husband taunts her about how she lacked the courage to leave him.
The clothes went back in drawers. The gun went back to the linen closet, at least until Alan Pangborn locked it in the safe when he returned and took up residence with her years later.
But the bullets … the bullets. Where did she put those? This is the voice speaking to her from beneath these memories of two deceased dogs.
“I never unpacked them,” she says, the realization dawning.
They are in the suitcase still, buried in the backyard inside the makeshift coffin. Ruth scrabbles in the dirt and digs up the animal, finding the bullets right where she left them ages ago.
She hides in the attic among some old Christmas decorations, and when the figure she thinks is the mystery man walks in to find her, she shoots him. But it’s only Alan Pangborn, who lies mortally wounded on the floor.
The episode ends with another glimpse of the past: Alan returning to Castle Rock after several years away, coming to check on Ruth because a neighbor reported hearing gunshots.
She asks him, “Don’t leave. Please don’t.”
And he tells her: “I’m not going anywhere.”
While we wait to find out what becomes of Henry trapped in the soundproof room, we’ll also wait to see whether Pangborn has finally met his end.