'Castle Rock' Forgets To 'Filter' Out The Nonsense

Welcome to our spoiler-filled Castle Rock reviews, in which we explore Hulu's new Stephen King-inspired series. (If you're looking for a spoiler-free review of the show, click here). This week we look at episode six, "Filter".

castle rock episode 6


Hey, what the hell is going on this week in Castle Rock? So far, I've been almost 100% on board with the series, finding myself fully engrossed in its mysteries and greatly enjoying its Stephen King reverence. But this week's episode, "Filter", is pushing it. Primarily because it's the first episode that feels almost nothing like King's work. This is a muddled, confounding episode, and the only thing that keeps me from being too frustrated by all of this is the knowledge that next week's installment is the best episode of the entire series so far.

For now, though, we're stuck with "Filter." There's a lot going on here, and yet in the end it feels like filler. Like the show is just stalling for an entire episode until we get to the good stuff. Henry's son Wendell arrives in Castle Rock, and while father and son haven't seen much of each other over the years, their relationship seems cordial enough – even if Wendell has a hard time getting his nose out of those gosh darn video games the kids play nowadays.

Fatherhood lingers over "Filter." In addition to Henry dealing with his son, he also has to contend with some fresh memories of his dead father. The memories are seemingly triggered when the Kid – who is still stalking around Ruth's house, and now wearing one of Henry's dead dad's suits ("I could've sworn we buried him in that suit," Ruth mutters when she spots the Kid). The Kid finds an old videotape featuring footage of Henry and his dad strolling through the woods. It's not clear to Henry what's going on in the tape, but there's a sense of foreboding to the footage. His father keeps telling Henry to listen for something. But for what?

After dumping the Kid at Juniper Hill Mental Asylum, Henry heads over to chat with Molly, and gets some answers he was not expecting. Henry asks if Molly ever saw him going into the woods at strange times with his father, and Molly replies yes. But more than that: she says that Henry hated his father. Henry can't remember any of this – not the trips to the woods, nor the hatred boiling in him. But Molly, who has a psychic bond of sorts with Henry, felt it. The night Henry disappeared, Molly could sense that he was afraid in the woods with his father. And then he felt relief. Relief because his father had fallen off a cliff, and Henry thought he was gone for good. Molly decides to go for broke here, and confesses that she killed Henry's father by removing his breathing tube. She adds that when she did it, it was as if Henry was inside her, guiding her.

Henry takes this info well. Oh wait, no, I'm sorry. He mutters, "You're fucking crazy!" at Molly and then gets the hell out of there.

As all this is happening, Alan is taking a trip to Syracuse to retrieve Warden Lacy's smashed, crashed car. At the start of the episode, the Kid instructed him to undertake this task, as part of the plan to "help" Ruth. How will a dead man's car help cure a woman's dementia? The Kid is characteristically vague about that, but Alan decides to follow through with the idea anyway.

castle rock filter

Do You Hear It Now? 

Juniper Hill can't hold the Kid for very long. A fire starts, several inmates die, and others – including the Kid – escape. He shuffles back to Ruth's house like a dog sniffing its way home after getting lost. Ruth is home alone with Wendell, and the two of them are bonding over Ruth's ornate chess set. Wendell happens to notice some chess pieces are missing, and Ruth says something surprising: she tells Wendell that she's already had this conversation with him before, and that she'll have it again. Time doesn't move the way it used to for Ruth anymore – like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, she seems to be unstuck in time due to her dementia. The chess pieces are like the totems from Inception – something she uses to find her way back to the real world. Like breadcrumbs – she leaves them around the house to help find her way out of the woods. 

While Ruth is hoping to find her way out of metaphorical woods, Henry is wandering through the real deal. He stumbles around the woodland, trying to retrace the steps he once took with his father. Night descends, and Henry encounters two familiar faces: the older man and his younger companion that popped-up during Alan's bridge naming ceremony in the last episode, and also appeared during the re-internment of Henry's father.

The two men are Odin Branch, who is deaf, and his interpreter, Willie. And here is where "Filter" starts to lose me. Odin (through Willie) lays out a downright bonkers story about a mysterious sound. The sound that Henry hears ringing in his ears. The sound that Henry's father was instructing him to listen for on that video tape. Odin explains that he knew Henry's father, and that the now-dead man described the sound as "the Voice of God." Odin, however, calls it the "schisma", which he describes as the sound of the universe.

What are we to make of this? This is so strange, and far-out, that it frustrates me. There really isn't anything like this in King's body of work, unless you want to go all into the Dark Tower books. In the Dark Tower, God is called "Gan", and he "speaks" through angels. I suppose it's possible that this is what Castle Rock is going for here, and that the show is set within one of the countless alternate universes that get brought up in the Dark Tower saga. But I find it hard to believe that Castle Rock would dip so heavily into Dark Tower mythology. It's too complex and too strange to fit within the world of the show as we know it. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that's exactly what's happening here. If so, I'm not a fan. It feels forced-in, and doesn't play well with the psychological and supernatural horror that have peppered the rest of the season.

Odin goes on to say that Henry's father came up with a device to better hear the schisma – a device called the Filter. Henry's father never got around to building the Filter, but Odin did. It's a chamber of "total silence" – a place where all noise is cleansed, leaving only the schisma. The Filter is within the camper that Odin and Willie travel around in. It's a spooky looking soundproof box, with foam spikes jutting out, making it all look like the mouth of some great fanged beast. Odin says that ringing Henry hears now is "only a rumor", but if he gets into the Filter, he'll hear "the truth."Henry is understandably against this idea, but he eventually relents. It's a mistake, obviously. Odin reveals that he made himself deaf to better hear the schisma, and then slams the door shut, locking Henry within the chamber. Almost immediately, Henry is overwhelmed with visions and sounds. The camera swirls about in a dreamy, nightmarish state – we're drawn into Henry's headspace through the blurry, confusing cinematography, and I'll admit it's effective. But what does it all mean? 

As Henry screams in terror within the Filter, Alan returns home with Lacy's car, only to discover the Kid sent him on a wild goose chase of sorts. The Kid, sitting outside of Ruth's house, says the car will be a monument to all the people who helped put him in that cage in Shawshank. He questions Alan as to why he left him in that trunk so many years ago. And that's when Alan notices the blood on the Kid's hands.

Alan rushes into the house, which is in total disarray. And Ruth is nowhere to be found. Did the Kid do something terrible to Ruth? Or is she simply somewhere searching for her chess piece breadcrumbs, hoping to find her way out of the woods?

castle rock filter alan

I Understood That Stephen King Reference! 

  • It's not a direct reference, but Odin and Willie traveling around in an RV might be call-back to King's Shining sequel Doctor Sleep. In that book, a group of "psychic vampires" roam the countryside in RVs, feeding on the psychic essence possessed by people who have the shining.
  • Juniper Hill was mentioned in a previous episode, but we get to see it in full this time. The mental hospital originated in King's It. It's where bully Henry Bowers ends up after the town of Derry assumes he – not Pennywise the Clown – was responsible for killing several children.
  • A murder of crows swarm above Juniper Hill when the Kid arrives. The sight of all those birds in the sky could be referencing King's The Dark Half, which has birds as harbingers of death. That said, the birds in The Dark Half are sparrows, not crows.
  • Speaking of crows: as the Kid looks up at all the birds, one of them falls dead. Watching that, I was reminded of the way King described the big bad of his apocalyptic novel The Stand: "He looks like anybody you see on the street. But when he grins, birds fall dead off telephone lines. When he looks at you a certain way, your prostate goes bad and your urine burns. The grass yellows up and dies where he spits. He's always outside. He came out of time. He doesn't know himself. He has the name of a thousand demons...He knows magic. He can call the wolves and live in the crows. He's the king of nowhere."