Castle Rock has just leveled up.
That’s the big takeaway from this week’s episode (“Filter”). From the start, the show had a baseline level of quality — talented cast, understated writing, a keen eye for everyday American evil and a willingness to aim for “eerie” rather than “over the top” — that’s a step up from most Stephen King adaptations (and also several prestige dramas in their shaky early episodes). Yet it’s never quite gelled into anything more transcendent than the sum of its competent parts. This installment was the first time it felt like you could see the series as something closer to a cohesive whole.
Much of the credit belongs to composer Chris Westlake and supervising sound editor Tim Kimmel. Together, they drape a soundtrack of rattle-and-hum ambiance over the proceedings that drowns out any sense of hope that things are going to be okay in this twisted little town. The tapestry of ominous noise that accompanies virtually every scene feels like it’s communicating something about how the characters feel, rather than telling us what to feel.
And on a story level, that could not be thematically on-point. Most of the episode concerns Henry Deaver‘s attempt to determine what, exactly, his late preacher father was trying to do every time the old man dragged him into the woods as a kid. Then memories begin bubbling up to the surface, and we find out he was “listening” to what he felt was “the Voice of God” — something Henry’s always experienced as an inexplicable ringing in his ear. So as the sad-eyed lawyer wanders around trying to piece together what happened to him all those years ago, the omnipresent tones of the soundtrack give us a taste of what he himself is experiencing.
His son Wendell (played by Chosen Jacobs, who co-starred with fellow cast member Bill Skarsgård in It) comes into town for a visit, but can barely be bothered to look up from his smartphone to talk to him. His friend Molly, to whom he turns for information on what he and his dad might have been doing out in the forest, tells him that her psychic powers showed her that he hated his father. He was relieved to be rid of him on that fateful night. She knows this because she sensed him feeling it.
Molly goes on to reveal that she murdered the old man herself by disconnecting his breathing tube … which, she claims, is exactly what Henry wanted to happen. “We did it together,” she says. “When I looked down at my hand, it was like it was your hand. You did it through me.” “You’re fucking crazy,” Henry replies before getting the hell out of there. But when he says his old friend is crazy, you can see on his face that he’s worried she’s perfectly sane. (As for Molly, though, she fears they might have driven her crazy nonetheless. Having jump-scare visions of a dead preacher, his face all covered in bandages, will do that to you.)
Meanwhile: The Kid is growing increasingly odd. He’s wearing Henry’s father’s clothes, including a suit Ruth Deaver could have sworn he was buried in. He’s digging through the man’s old tapes of his and Henry’s journeys into the woods, like an employee at Insane Preachers ‘R’ Us watching a training video. He’s ordering Sheriff Alan Pangborn to retrieve the car that Warden Lacy killed himself in — which he does, at gunpoint — saying this is the only way he can use his mysterious powers to cure Ruth’s condition. Sometimes he’s just plain standing around and staring off into space like a living statue. At one point, Henry takes the guy to the local mental institution, Juniper Hill, for treatment — and a crow immediately falls out of the sky, dead as Dillinger, right in front of them. Before the hour is out, we learn a fire at the facility has left 14 people dead and set four dangerous inmates free.
It all leads up to a menacing dual climax. After wandering through the woods with a video camera like a Blair Witch refugee, Henry runs into the pair of strangers who’ve been popping up seemingly wherever he goes, silently staring at him. Their names, he learns, are Odin Branch and Willie; the former is a deaf scientific genius and the latter is his mousy interpreter. Branch tells Henry he knew his father well, and that the two men were attempting to listen to something called “the Schisma” — the sound of the spacetime continuum trying to reconcile itself with all possible pasts, presents and futures. This, he says, is the noise Henry experiences as a ringing in the ears, It’s what his dad kept dragging him into the forest to hear.
Then comes the creepy one-two punch. They suddenly lock Henry inside a soundproof chamber called “the Filter,” designed to shutout the noises of the outside world until the Schisma’s cacophony reaches deafening levels. The result for Henry is a psychedelic freakout halfway between a migraine and 2001‘s “Starchild” sequence.
Meanwhile, Pangborn returns home from his successful quest to reclaim Lacy’s Lincoln, only to discover it may have all been a ruse engineered to lure him away from the house — all the better for the Kid to be alone with Ruth. He wants to construct a monument to “everyone who helped put me in that cage,” he mumbles, before asking “Why would you leave me in that trunk, Sheriff?” That’s when Pangborn notices the Kid’s hand is covered in blood. He rushes into the house and finds it trashed, a record on the turntable skipping in an endless loop. His beloved is nowhere to be found. It’s an appropriately menacing ending to an episode that really makes it feel like some rough beast is slouching towards Maine to be born.
Previously: Who Are You?