So who here has ever wanted to travel back in time, and try to change the past for whatever reason?
*raises hand slowly*
Yes, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I have fantasized about traveling back to the past. Giving past me a warning about her taste in men would be a top priority (geez, you would think my first marriage was right out of a Stephen King book or something). Appreciating the good cartoons that you had to get up really early for on Saturday morning for would also be a top priority.
But even if we have the ability to travel back in time and try to change the past, should we exercise that power? It worked out for Marty McFly in the end, but would it work out for mere mortals like me? As painful as that first marriage was for me, my life may actually not be the awesomeness it is today (my ex still is, and always will be, King Douchey McDoucherson of Doucheville in the state of perpetual douche, however) if I did not have the experience of that marriage. I probably would not have moved to South Carolina, where I happened to find a job in the tax resolution industry, aka my chosen career. I would not have been able to open my home to the true thing of evil, aka a blue heeler puppy whose government name is actually Duncan. Most importantly, I would not have met my husband, the co-parent to the thing of evil, my partner in crime, my lucky 13, the love of my life. So as difficult as the past was, I would be afraid to change it, as I may come back to the present, and find it all jacked up, with the town bully in charge, even (per Back to the Future Part 2 Marty McFly).
Apparently, when The Master is not writing about child-killing clowns, proms gone wrong, rabid dogs and other things to haunt my nightmares, he thinks about time-travel. And he decided to write a book about the subject, possibly because he was bored one afternoon…
Yes, Stephen King has written a book about time travel. Yes, he can take on almost any topic, and write a compelling book about it. No, he is not just a writer of scary stories…oh the horror (see what I did there)?
The name of this book is 11/22/63, and it centers around a school teacher named Jake Epping, who travels back in time to attempt to make a major change in history: prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Jake was born 1976 and, like yours truly, had only an academic sense of a major historical event that shaped a generation (i.e., the generation of King and my own parents). However, Jake learns that the past does not want to be changed, and that nearly everything he does has an effect on those he meets. Try as he may, Jake is unable to keep his distance from the people he meets, and the relationships he forms have an effect on his mission to thwart Oswald.
Many consider this to be the best King book ever written, and rightfully so. So, I heard last year that it would become a Hulu mini series. All of a sudden, I had a reason to reactivate that account. And for the past four months or so, I have been muttering, at random, “Please be good. Please be good. Please be good.” After all, JJ Abrams, Stephen King and James Franco…could that combination ever be bad?
Well, the tentative answer is probably not. In fact, this combination is shaping up to be pretty good. And it’s pretty early still, but this combination may even be great. I don’t want to jinx it, but I am seeing something there. And I really like what I see, although only time will tell.
So, without any further ado, here is my recap and review of 11/22/63, episode 1.
And, as always:
The episode begins with schoolteacher Jake Epping, who resides in Lisbon, Maine, listening to one of the students in his adult education classes read an essay about an event that transpired on Halloween 1960. The student, Harry Dunning, was attacked by his psychotic father. Harry’s father killed his mother, sister and two brothers, while also injuring Harry. This event has been traumatic for Harry, affecting his life in every way imaginable. Jake applauds Harry’s essay, and agrees to write a recommendation for Harry so that he may obtain a promotion at his current job.
After class, Jake heads to Al’s Diner, where he meets with his friend Al, the owner of the diner. Jake’s soon to be ex-wife Christy arrives, and Al excuses himself and heads to the back of the diner. Jake briefly chats with Christy, and signs their divorce papers. Christy leaves the diner, wishing Jake the best. Al reappears a few minutes later, but is literally a changed man. Al tells Jake that he has cancer, and looks to be dying, instead of the picture of health that he appeared to be when Jake first walked into the diner. Jake helps Al home, and Al promises to give Jake an explanation the next day.
The next day, Jake teaches his high school English class, and tries to impart the importance of seemingly small events in history to his students. However, most of his students are not paying attention, and one is distracted by a video of a dancing parrot on his cell phone. The student promises to send Jake the video at the end of class.
Jake meets Al at the diner after class. Al takes Jake back to a closet in the back of his diner, and has Jake walk through it. Jake is skeptical until he is not longer in the closet and appears to have stepped back in time. Al confirms that Jake indeed has stepped back in time to October 21st, 1960. Jake appears to be invisible to most of the people he sees in this particular moment in time, although a strange looking man with a yellow card in his hat repeatedly tells him that he “should not be here.”
Al tells Jake the rules for what he calls “the rabbit hole”: every trip through the closet leads back to exact same moment on October 21st, 1960; no matter how long one stays in 1960, the time in the present will only be 2 minutes later upon return; and going through the door will always erase what was done on previous trips to the past.
Al then proposes a trip to the past for Jake, so that Jake may accomplish what he could not: preventing the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Al believes that the past can be changed, although this is difficult (Al’s sudden cancer diagnosis being an example of the past “pushing back”). Al believes that if Kennedy had lived, the Vietnam War would have been prevented, and fewer lives lost. Al also wants Jake to find out if Oswald also attempted to assassinate Edwin Walker, as the same kind of rifle was used in the assassination attempt on Walker and the killing of John F. Kennedy. Jake is skeptical, and argues with Al. He then leaves to attend the graduation ceremony of his adult education students (Harry Dunning is included in this group). Jake then learns from another school employee that Al will not be getting the promotion, and changes his mind about traveling to the past.
Jake returns to Al’s home the next day, and finds that the man passed away during the night. Jake then gathers all Al’s notes in regards to Kennedy, the money Al left him and some fake identification (his new name is Jake Amberson), and returns to the diner. He steps through Al’s “rabbit-hole”, and returns to 1960.
When Jake enters the past, he immediately gives himself a makeover of sorts, which includes a haircut, a shave and a new suit. Jake also purchases a yellow convertible, and places an improbable bet on a sporting event at the local dive bar. Jake wins the bet, but brings some unwanted attention upon himself. Later that night, a man is sent to the hotel Jake is staying at to rough Jake up and discourage him from placing any more bets. Jake is able to distract the man with his modern cell phone, and flees town. While he is fleeing, Jake catches another glimpse of the mysterious “Yellow Card Man”, who again tells him that he does not belong there. Jake throws his cell phone into the river, permanently cutting off his ties to his own era.
Jake then travels across the country, heading to Dallas, Texas. While he is traveling, he is reminded that life in 1960 was not great for everyone, as he encounters segregated restrooms and is reminded of the deplorable conditions that existed for many.
While scouting Dallas, Jake meets a pretty blonde by the name of Sadie Clayton. Sadie is a fellow book lover, and nearly leaves her pocketbook behind on the bench she was sitting on when she was talking to Jake. However, Sadie is married, so Jake sees her on her way.
Jake rents a room in a boarding house recommended to him by Al. He meets the owner’s son, who tells Jake that he intends on enlisting in the military when he is old enough and serving his country (and will likely die in Vietnam). Jake attempts to contact his father in Chicago, but is again reminded that the past pushes back: he gets nothing but static on the pay phone, along with a car that careens through the phone booth, killing the driver almost instantly. Before she dies, the driver of the car tells Jake that he does not belong there.
Although he is badly shaken after he witnesses the car accident, Jake continues on his mission to prevent the assassination of Kennedy. More specifically, he spies on a man named George de Mohrenschildt, who may have ties to the CIA. Jake follows de Mohrenschildt to a CIA ralley and attempts to sneak into the event. However, Jake is caught by security, and winds up in a room that is literally a dead end, teeming with roaches and red lights, and the space-time continuum appears to be breaking down. Jake is then escorted out of the building by the security guards, and is again reminded that he does not belong there.
That night, Jake follows de Mohrenschildt to an upscale restaurant, and learns that de Mohrenschildt does indeed have ties to the CIA. However, Jake is nearly burned on his arm and barely escapes a collapsing ceiling, reminders of the past “pushing back.” When he returns home, the reminder is even more gruesome, as his boarding house has caught on fire, destroying all of Al’s notes. Even worse, the son of the owner is burned alive and perishes in the fire. Jake feels responsible for the death, and decides to head back to Maine and return to the present, before he causes any more damage to innocent people.
However, Jake makes a stop in Humboldt, KY on his way home, with the intention of preventing Harry Dunning’s crazed father from killing Harry’s family.
Before anything else, let’s talk about the elephant in the room…
Yes, the dreaded part of any book that is adapted to film…
Yes, The Changes. You know, when your character is wearing blue sneakers in the book, and the movie changed them to brown penny loafers…just what was wrong with the sneakers, Hollywood? Sneakers are beautiful too, why do they need to be changed to meet your standards of shoe?
In other words, I am aware of some major changes to the details of the book. Do they bother me? Well, my inner book douche is extremely bothered by them, but I will have to keep her busy with noting the kind of shoes each character wells. That should be a project to shut her up for a bit…
I am actually ok with the changes made to the story. 11/22/63 is a novel that consists of a lot of internal Jake dialogue. Internal Jake dialogue makes for a fascinating book, but does not translate very well to the screen. Movies and television consist of interactions between characters, so it is understandable that adjustments need to be made, much to the chagrin of book douches.
However flexible I may be about adaptations, there are a few things that I am looking for in any adaptation of 11/22/63:
- Jake’s effect on the past.
- The past’s effect on Jake (i.e. the people he meets, the places he visits, etc).
- Jake and Sadie’s relationship, which is one of the sweetest, enduring and heartbreaking relationships in any book.
- The character of Jake himself. Jake has built up walls (intentionally or not), and is a man who obviously feels, but has a hard time conveying to others how he feels (we get the feeling that this may be why he is divorced).
- How obsessive Jake becomes in his attempt to change the past, no matter what the consequences may be.
- The time period Jake visits itself. I want to see 1960-1963 in all its splendor, along with its darkness.
It’s still early to make a complete evaluation, but if I were Jake Epping and grading this, I would definitely give this a solid B. In other words, above average, but there is still room for improvement in order for it to reach its full potential (nope, didn’t ever hear that one growing up. not at all).
In regards to the first item on my list, I would say that 11/22/63 is doing fairly well. In fact, it may be doing a little too well, as the phrase “you shouldn’t be here’ is tossed around like it’s going out of style. However, the visual representations of “you shouldn’t be here” are fantastic, in my opinion. For one, there is the Yellow Card Man. The producers and writers did a great job of transferring an enigmatic (on a good day!) character from the book to the screen, and making him a major player in the film. I also loved the scene where Jake gets trapped in what appears to be a sub-sub basement room, and is immediately accosted by cockroaches under a bright red light. This scene in particular (especially with the use of the color red) served to remind us that we are watching a visual representation of a book written by the man who many consider to be the inventor of modern horror.
Like I said before, it is still early. However, I am beginning to see bits and pieces of 2-5, even in the first episode. We may only being seeing glimpses right now, but I enjoyed those glimpses immensely. Jake’s interaction with his ex-wife Christy was brief, and his interaction with Sandy was also brief, but in watching those interactions, the show gave us some insight into who Jake is: he may appear cold on the outside, but inside there is actually feeling and maybe even a little bit of passion. Jake’s applause for his student Harry Dunning (another fine acting job on what I call a “major minor character”) when Harry obtains his GED also demonstrates that Jake is capable of caring, even if he doesn’t always communicate that to those he cares about (see part on why he is divorced). Even in the first episode, we can see that the past is starting to have its effect on Jake, from the way he enjoys a piece of homemade apple pie (nothing can replace real butter. NOTHING!), to his decision to head back to Maine, realizing that his presence is a danger to innocent people, to his decision to make a quick “pit stop” on his way back to Maine so that he may help his friend have a better life. So far, so good.
I will say this much: number 6. As in, the mini series is doing really well in portraying the 1960’s, in both its glory and dark side. The scene where Jake steps through the “rabbit-hole” back into 1960 is simply stunning. There were the cars and the kids playing ball. The milk truck was actually my favorite part of that scene. There is just something about the truck itself and the shattering milk bottles that almost feels like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, but also has an ominous feel to it. Speaking of ominous, I also loved the scene where Jake finds the “colored restroom.” This scene is powerful in the book, and powerful in the mini series as well. It serves to remind that the 1960’s may have appeared idyllic, but were actually anything but that to many people. History is not something that is objective, but something that can be influenced by mere observation.
Oh, and as if I didn’t need more reminders that I was watching something based on a Stephen King book…
Yes, I caught them. Jake making the innocuous (well, not really) statement that he was Kennedy’s number one fan…uh huh…
So that’s it for The Rabbit Hole. Join me next week for the review and dissection of The Kill Floor, where we see Jake take on a formidable foe: Mr. Fergie er Josh Duhamel as Frank Dunning!
Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!