“What’s with all the missing pieces? Grandma?”

The town of Castle Rock is preoccupied with memory—with the memories its community shares, or whispers about, or (mostly) represses. So is the show. For Henry Deaver, the repression common to Castle Rock residents is near-total. In the premiere, he mentions his first memory, “24 Hours From Tulsa.” That places Henry’s first memory in 1991, the day Alan Pangborn found him in on the frozen Castle Lake and brought him home to his newly widowed mother. Eleven is old for a first memory.

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If The Kid (I still dislike that nickname) has a memory of a life before his cage, he’s not sharing it. He has no name, no home, no family, no history, or if he does, he’s not sharing those, either. Whoever or whatever he is, The Kid’s memory is laser-focused on his time in the hole Dale Lacy built for him, and on everyone who helped put him there.

Ruth Deaver’s relationship with memory is more complicated, and openly scrutinized by the people who love her. Henry and Alan believe she’s sinking rapidly into a fog of forgetfulness, that dementia of one form or another is creeping over her, stealing away her memories. But in “Filter,” Ruth tells her grandson Wendell (Chosen Jacobs, It’s Mike Hanlon) what she’s told no one else—maybe simply because he asks. Ruth doesn’t believe she’s losing her memories. Ruth believes that, like Billy Pilgrim, she’s coming unstuck in time.

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Photo: Sissy Spacek (Screenshot/Hulu)

Sissy Spacek delivers her speech, the longest she’s had in the series so far, with an eerie alloy of strength and frailty. Her voice rises and falls, sometimes confident, sometimes tremulous, as she reveals to Wendell that she’s had this conversation with him before, and she’ll have it again. She holds up a chess piece from her dwindling set and reveals that she’s stashing them around the house as landmarks to tell her whether she’s in the past or the present. “These are my breadcrumbs,” she tells Wendell. “If I find a chess piece in the icebox, I know it’s now, not then. And I can find my way out of the woods.” It’s a striking monologue, and one that might distress a grandchild left in her care.

But no matter how powerful the acting or how seamless the metaphors—like the cut from Ruth, talking about the totems that help her “find my way out of the woods,” to a shot of Henry getting lost in the woods around Castle Lake—there are limitations to telling a story about a cipher, and Castle Rock bumps up hard against those limitations in “Filter.”

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It’s too bad, because “Filter” feints toward revealing something profound about the mysteries of Castle Rock. When Odin (Baby Driver’s CJ Jones) and his assistant Willie (Rory Culkin) begins to spill the secrets of “the music of the spheres,” the elusive sound that’s been dogging Henry his whole life, for a moment it looks like those mysteries—and Henry’s hidden history—are about to crack wide open. Instead, they’re as obscure as ever.

Odin, a learned scholar of bio- and psycho-acoustics (and a friend of Henry’s secretly sinister father), describes the sound Matthew tried to track as “the schisma,” the sound of “nano-scale turbulences” caused by “quantum totalities operating in parallel.” It’s a promising notion, and one that explains how Ruth is finding herself walking in and out of different eras of her life. But Odin’s conviction that the universe is straining to reconcile all possible pasts and presents is only valuable if he, or someone, also hints at what that might mean in concrete terms for Henry, for Ruth, for Odin and Willie, for the people of Castle Rock, for the universe, or even for the viewer. But he doesn’t, and CJ Jones’ intense portrayal of a man obsessed can’t make up for the script’s missing pieces.

Henry’s ordeal in Odin’s anechoic chamber, reacting to (and remembering) the schisma, could have been the most harrowing scene of the series to date. Instead, it’s a glib montage of flashing lights and flashbacks, a flickering series of images with little context or connection to the character. Whatever happened to young Henry, it’s the adult that viewers know and care about, and without something to tether the child to the man, it’s hard to muster more than curiosity about the memories that flash over the screen.

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Both Henry and Ruth try to sidestep the blanks in their memories with bluster or misdirection. When Wendell asks his father what his “real parents” were like, Henry’s answer—that Ruth and Matthew are his real parents—is both absolutely true and a lawyer’s hedge. He knows what Wendell is asking, and instead of answering, Henry shuts down a rare opportunity for connecting with his estranged son. Moments later, when Henry asks Ruth a question about Matthew, Ruth hedges, too, blustering and bluffing until she takes refuge in the unanswerable: “Ask your father!”

There could be potent thematic resonance in these lapses, mirroring the characters’ struggles to disguise the empty spaces in their memories (or their unwillingness to tell what they might remember). But “Filter” doesn’t pack the power to convince me that’s intentional. There’s a lingering suspicion—even a fear—that Castle Rock, like Henry and Ruth, dodges questions because it doesn’t have the answers.

Now that The Kid has conversations, however terse, and strikes deals, Castle Rock has to artificially maintain his air of mystery by cutting around the details of those conversations and bargains. He sends Alan Pangborn to Syracuse to recover an unnamed item. (It’s Warden Lacy’s sedan, it was always going to be Lacy’s sedan, the ginned-up mystery around this is silly). He makes a vague promise of “help” for Ruth, and (Alan believes) reneges on that deal before the sedan is even delivered. (Presumably, he hasn’t actually reneged, but he lets Pangborn believe he has.) What does he need that car for? Oh, who knows? Why does he change into, then out of, Matthew Deaver’s funeral suit? Oh, who knows? Why does a crow fall at his feet as he arrives at Juniper Hill? Oh, who knows? Why does he let Henry sign him into Juniper Hill if he’s going to break out before nightfall? Oh, who knows?

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When I first saw this episode, I misread the title as “Filler,” and despite its explanations, that’s what “Filter” feels like. Odin’s revelations will no doubt be world-shaking and mystery-defining. Eventually. The Kid’s plan to create “a monument… to everyone who put me in the cage” will become clearer. Eventually. The horrors of Henry’s missing days, and his missing youth, will be dug up. Eventually. Ruth’s jaunts through time will be explained. Eventually. What happened to Ruth, leaving her house empty and The Kid with blood staining his hand, will be revealed. But until then, “Filter” feels like it’s marking time, bluffing up some plausible distractions and phony cliffhangers.

Stray observations

  • It takes Henry a surprisingly long time to figure out what Odin means when he repeatedly mentions “correcting” those who seek the schisma, especially when he can see those red-hot pokers in the campfire for himself.
  • According to Odin, Matthew Deaver believed his design for the anechoic chamber was a divine instruction. “He compared it to the schematics Noah was dictated from God.” In the secret prison he constructed within Shawshank, Dale Lacy lectured The Kid on God’s decree to Noah.
  • Better buy real estate in Maine’s spookiest town before Molly sells the last house: Castle Rock is settling in for a second season.

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