Episode 7: The Queen
Starring: André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Skarsgård, Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn, Chosen
Director: Kevin Hooks
Writers: Marc Bernardin, Vinnie Wilhelm, Based in the works Stephen King
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS SPOILERS. You’ve been advised!
Castle Rock delivers its best episode yet, not only because of the story it tells, but mainly due to Sissy Spacek giving a performance to remember! Admittedly, The Queen is a bit of a puzzle and can be confusing as it jumps through time like a game of hopscotch. Trying to figure out what is happening is a bit challenging as Ruth weaves in and out of her past and present. In terms of the time elapsed in the show, it’s not that much, covering only those few minutes it takes for Alan to look for her in the house (recall that when he returns from reacquiring Lacy’s car, he finds the Kid sitting outside the house, his arm dripping with blood). However, it’s the longest episode so far, though it never feels like it. But what does it all mean?
One possible and more popular explanation is that The Queen is a representation of dementia or Alzheimer’s. The doctor hesitates to give the diagnosis, but the symptoms are there. Ruth’s (Sissy Spacek) inability to connect her memories to their appropriate time is both frightening and sad, even heart-wrenching. Her one solution of using various pieces of a chess board as breadcrumbs to “find her way out of the woods” and discern the past from the present seems to work, though with questionable success. Stephen King is no stranger to highlighting various issues in his stories, whether social or even more personal (e.g., Jack Torrance and alcoholism). And frankly, I’d be fully on board with this explanation, if it wasn’t for a few scenes.
The first scene occurs when Ruth tells Wendell (Chosen Jacobs) her secret, explaining the purpose of the chess pieces, leading him to call her a Timewalker. Why add this in the dialogue? In a show like Castle Rock, where fans will dissect it down to every pixel, those words can’t be coincidental, can they? Isn’t possible that Ruth is stuck in overlapping or even looping timelines/realities? In the last episode, Odin (CJ Jones) made a compelling case that Castle Rock is a focal point for this schisma, that noise which represents the attempted convergence of all the thens and nows. Her situation fits that idea too perfectly to simply be a coincidence.
The second scene involves the Kid (Bill Skarsgård). Admittedly, there’s something supernatural or even otherworldly with him. He knows things that he shouldn’t, like the exact place an old picture of the Deaver family used to hang, or the song that played at Ruth and Matthew’s wedding. The cat and mouse game that’s going on between the two is weird and creepy. But if he simply had wanted to kill her, he easily could have. Yet he doesn’t.
Instead, he prepares her a meal, runs her a bath and in a tense moment, offers her a sedative, saying that “God helps those who help themselves” (words uttered by Matthew…). She doesn’t take it, paranoid he’ll harm her, but what if she had? Would it have put her to sleep? And here’s the real question… If she had fallen asleep, would it have stopped the shooting? Is it not possible then that the Kid was offering her a way to change the future/past?
The third scene which opens the door to an alternate explanation is the end of the episode. (**SPOILER ALERT**) After Ruth’s dive into the river, Alan (Scott Glenn) and Henry (André Holland) are at the hospital together, and keep in mind, this is real, not some memory. There, Alan tells Henry how it was that he and Ruth got back together after all those years. Having returned to Castle Rock and looking for a reason to visit, it was the call from a neighbor saying he’d heard gunshots coming from the Deaver household that brought Alan to her door. When she sees him, there’s a happy, yet haunting look in her eyes. Why? Because the gunshot that the neighbor heard, bringing Alan to Ruth’s doorstep, is the one that killed him! Woah!
It’s possible then, that this is the beginning of the loop she finds herself in. So, because of those scenes, I think an argument can be made supporting the temporal anomaly theory. Alternatively, depending on your perception and understanding of the events, one can be made for the dementia one as well. But Ruth’s mental condition isn’t the only issue she’s had to deal with.
The Queen makes it abundantly clear that Ruth’s husband, Matthew (Adam Rothenberg) was abusive. His obsession with hearing the schisma drove him mad and his behaviours became increasingly erratic, scaring both Ruth and Henry. In one scene, he brings them to a picnic in the forest and while pointing a gun at his head, tells them he once tried to kill himself. But before he could pull the trigger, God spoke to him. Thinking him insane and dangerous, she plans on leaving him with Henry. But she hesitates and endures, until he finally dies. And even that doesn’t stop him from tormenting her.
The Bare Bones
- In a jaw-dropping moment, Ruth tells Molly that she saw her pulling Matthew’s breathing tube. Yup, Ruth knew exactly how her husband died. And said nothing!
- Music continues to play an important part. While Blue Moon plays a few times, it eventually gets stuck on “Without a love of my own.” Nancy Sinatra’s Time also plays which includes the lyrics “The Shadow of your smile, When you are gone.” Great selections to foreshadow upcoming events.
- Speaking of music, of all the possible versions of Blue Moon, this one is by Elvis Presley, the king of rock. A nod to King perhaps?
- Ruth pockets the queen, the most powerful piece on the chessboard. The title of the episode is The Queen. Is this a coincidence or does it point to Ruth’s importance?
- Seeing that German Shepherd in Ruth’s bed made me think of Cujo, or Gerald’s Game, or even Poltergeist. Bringing her a dead, still bleeding squirrel just made it creepier.
- Is Matthew in tune with the voice of God, or is there some neurological issue afflicting him? Is Ruth suffering from dementia or is she a Timewalker? Leaving clues that point to the possibility of either a rational, logical explanation or a more fantastic, supernatural one is brilliant.
- There is a difference of one foot between Sissy Spacek (5’3”) and Bill Skarsgård (6’3”), but the camera work makes him look much taller, much more imposing and much scarier.
Each episode in this series has so far matched, even exceeded the previous one. And The Queen continues this trend. The editing is sharp and clean. The way new scenes are seamlessly tied together to ones we’ve already seen in previous episodes, but with a different camera angle, is pure brilliance. Ruth jumps from past to present to past as naturally as one breathes air, and the ending packs an emotional punch that is bound to leave you gasping. You’ll want to watch it at least a second time not only to admire a masterpiece but also to make heads of the puzzle that is Ruth’s life. The Queen is an absolute gem of an episode, and Sissy Spacek’s performance is phenomenal.