We all have them, no matter who we are. We don’t just wake up one day, and do the things that we do (like write this blog), without some kind of reason. Or maybe several reasons.
And even the worst among us did not become the worst overnight. Usually, there is something (or several somethings) leading up to becoming the worst. Not even The Clown Prince of Crime became Batsy’s arch-nemesis overnight, after all.
And the same goes for actual bad guys. Most serial killers have an “origin story.” Not that there are excuses for committing acts of evil, but most people have something in their pasts that an outside observer can point to, and correlate that to a person becoming “bad.” Even incidents that take place when we may be too young to remember them can end up having a huge impact on our lives later on down the line.
Certainly, most people would consider Lee Harvey Oswald to be one of the most evil people in history. After all, he killed the president! The assassination of JFK shaped an entire generation. In fact, my parents were college students when JFK was killed. I don’t have to talk about it much, but I know that this was a huge part of my parents’ young adulthood, just like the 9/11 tragedy was a huge part of mine.
And obviously, the JFK assassination was a huge part of Stephen King’s young adulthood. So a huge a part, in fact, that he wrote an entire book about it, aka 11/22/63. This book gives a fascinating account of the Kennedy assassination, time travel, the Vietnam War and quite a few other topics.
One of these other topics is Lee Harvey Oswald. Before I read 11/22/63, Oswald was only real to me in an academic sense. Sure, I knew he killed the president. So that made him a bad guy. A really bad guy. You have to be really bad to kill a president, after all.
However, I never had any emotional reaction to Lee Harvey Oswald. He was just another historical figure. My reaction to him was equivalent to my reaction to, oh say, a piece of tissue paper, perhaps? A piece of tissue paper, in other words, really doesn’t elicit any reaction. It is simply there, in much the same way Lee Harvey was there for me. Nothing to get excited about, in other words.
Well, I then read 11/22/63. And one of the things that I loved about 11/22/63 was the amount of detail it provided on Lee Harvey Oswald. Somehow, the guy who writes about scary clowns was able to provide a stunning amount of information on an entire generation’s bad guy and turn him into a fleshed out character. Suddenly, this guy came alive for me, and I could more easily connect with my parents and others over their generation’s boogeyman.
In other words, we were given a origin story on one of history’s most iconic bad guys. And this gave a new dimension to one of the events that shaped our nation, turning it from academic to personal.
Last night, I watched the third episode of the mini series 11/22/63, titled Other Voices, Other Rooms. And I saw the onscreen version of the origin story of Lee Harvey Oswald, one of the most iconic bad guys in history. And again, I found myself lured in, unable to stop watching.
So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of Other Voices, Other Rooms.
And, as always:
Bill joins Jake on his quest to prevent the assassination of Kennedy, after hearing and accepting Jake’s explanation that he is a time traveler from the future. The two men drive to Dallas, where Jake shows Bill exactly where Kennedy will meet his untimely end. Bill tells Jake that he stayed in Holden due to Frank Dunning’s murder of his sister, but has nothing keeping him in Holden and would rather help Jake prevent the murder of a president.
Jake concocts a cover story that he and Bill are brothers, and applies for a teaching job in nearby Jodie, Texas. Somewhat to his surprise, Jake is offered by the job by the principal Deke Simmons, and also meets the school secretary, a black woman referred to as Ms. Mimi. Later that night, Jake and Bill go out to celebrate, and Bill becomes intoxicated. The club the men celebrate at is actually owned by a man named Jack Ruby, and Jake’s plan is nearly put in jeopardy when Bill begins to tell of their plans to the club’s owner. Fortunately, Jake is able to mitigate any damage, but is reminded again that “past pushes back.”
Jake settles into his job as a teacher, and two years pass. His teaching job becomes a permanent position, and he seems to be enjoying it. In 1962, Ms. Mimi introduces him to the new school librarian: Sadie Dunhill. Jake immediately recognizes her from their encounter in Dallas two years earlier, and learns that she is divorced. Ms. Mimi persuades Jake into chaperoning a school dance with Sadie, forcing Jake to reschedule his prior commitment, which happens to be bugging Lee Harvey Oswald’s apartment so that he and Bill can listen to Oswald’s conversations.
Bill and Jake rent an apartment next to the one where Oswald will live. Jake is reminded of what time period he has traveled to when he speaks to the racist, bigot landlord of the building. He is also reminded again of the racism prevalent in the time period when he encounters Ms. Mimi on his way home at a gas station. The attendant refuses to assist Mimi because she is black, and Jake is forced to give Mimi a ride himself, as no nearby gas station will help her.
In the meantime, Lee Harvey Oswald has returned to the United States from Russia. Jake observes Oswald’s reunion with his family at the airport, noting that he has brought his wife Marina and their infant daughter back from Russia as well. Bill and Jake also install the surveillance equipment at the new apartment. Jake’s cover story is that he trying to obtain information on his soon to be ex wife.
That night, Jake and Sadie chaperon the dance. Jake impresses Sadie with his dancing abilities, and explains to her that his ex wife made him take lessons. However, much to the annoyance of Sadie, the night is cut short when Jake realizes that he must return to the apartment to gain information on Oswald.
The apartment is successfully bugged, but Bill and Jake are nearly caught by Oswald. They are able to escape Oswald’s apartment, but barely, as the air vents they use to escape are covered in spiders and Bill’s screams nearly give them away.
At school the next day, Sadie expresses her disappointment in Jake, as his premature exit forced her to chaperon the dance on her own. That night, Bill and Jake attempt to spy on Oswald, as George de Mohrenschildt, who Jake determined earlier to be working for the CIA, pays Oswald a visit. However, the men speak in Russian. Jake becomes frustrated, and hurries back to the school find a Russian-English dictionary.
Upon his return to the apartment, Jake finds Bill to be bloody and unconscious. It turns out that the landlord has tampered with the equipment. Bill and Jake then take back their ruined equipment, again realizing that the past does not want to be changed.
At school the next day, Sadie speaks to Jake in regards to his actions at the dance. Jake apologizes, and Sadie kisses him. Sadie then accepts a dinner date for that weekend.
Jake and Bill follow Oswald to a rally led by General Edwin Walker. Oswald is accompanied by George de Mohrenschildt. After the rally, Oswald becomes angered by Walker’s political views and has a physical confrontation with Walker’s guards, and also threatens the life of General Walker, calling him a fascist.
The previous two episodes of this show were more action oriented. We had the time travel itself, along with the past “pushing back.” And of course, the confrontation with Frank Dunning…how could we forget that?
However, this episode had a different feel to it. This episode was more about character development. And most of that character development was not in regards to the central protagonist, Jake Epping.
A lot of the character development focused on this story’s main villain, Lee Harvey Oswald. As I stated before, in the book King managed to draw a convincing villain out of someone who is mainly known through the history books, and possibly some interviews with surviving family members. However, this is not the same as actually getting into Oswald’s head and actually understanding his motivations. But King’s portrayal of Oswald as the villain in his book is the next best thing, as he is a character in a story. Characters in stories have motivations. They have feelings. We may not always agree with a character’s motivations, but we can paint a picture in our head of that character, and come to an understanding of him or her, since we have the author to guide us to that understanding.
And in this case, we have the mini series to paint a picture of that character. So far, the mini series is doing a fairly decent job of this. I enjoyed the scene at the end of the episode, where Oswald flipped his shit on General Walker and got in his face. That would seem to me to be “textbook Oswald,” if there was such a term. I would like to see more interaction between Oswald and his family, particularly with his wife and mother, as King treated us to in the book. However, Bill did mention that Oswald was hard on Marina in regards to her clothing choices, so at least there was that. And there will be another five episodes where we will (hopefully) get to know Oswald even better, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.
One of my main concerns about this mini series was how it would show Jake’s effect on the past, and the past’s effect on Jake. This was a really important part of the original story, and should also be important to the mini series as well.
And so far, the mini series is doing a pretty good job with the past overall. I don’t even need to talk about the visuals (again) but I will say that they are great (again). If I were to mute the TV and pretend that I had no knowledge of what I was watching, I could still tell what time period the story was supposed to cover. The producers have taken care with every single detail, from the cars, to the clothes, to the music, to the dancing and even the store fronts we see on the streets.
Speaking of the past…yeah…
This particular time period (the late 1950’s and early 1960’s) is often seen as something nostalgic, by both the people who actually lived during that time, and by the younger generation who only has the selective memories of the older generation, along with what is seen in film and television. And 11/22/63 does give us a sense of nostalgia, with the music, clothing and so forth.
However, both the book and the mini series remind us that this time period was NOT all it was cracked up to be. One of my concerns was that the mini series would not show this to the degree that the book showed this.
Well, my fears have been put to rest after watching three episodes. In fact, the mini series seems to actually want to remind us of this fact more than the book does.
Jake’s interaction with Ms. Mimi in this episode is a great example of this. The fact that Jake unthinkingly commits a serious social gaffe when he offers to pour Mimi a cup of coffee is one example. The treatment of Mimi by the gas station attendant is another example. If Mimi had not fortuitously run into Jake, who was the only one willing to help her, she may have had to walk many more miles before she ever got any help at all. So yes, racism was (and still is), very real, and can have annoying consequences at the least, or the consequences can go from annoying to tragic at a moment’s notice (for example, if Mimi had been mugged or worse). The past is often something that is not viewed objectively by most, and 11/22/63 serves to remind us of that fact.
Speaking of Jake’s effect on the past…
The show reminds us that Jake does have an effect on the past quite frequently. We have seen what appear to be some consequences of Jake’s presence where he “doesn’t belong”, and none of those consequences are good ones. Jake already lost his surveillance equipment, and Bill got a bit roughed up. And every time Jake does anything, like take away the alcohol from the jocks, help Ms. Mimi or even treat her like a human when no one else will or even when he turns a student on to English, I can’t help but think that someone somewhere will pay for that, and likely in blood.
Jake is also being affected by the past. He is forming relationships. He has become friends with Bill and they are now co-conspirators. He appears to be making friends at his job (I love the casting of Nick Searcy as Deke, since I am still mourning the loss of Justified. Perhaps Deke is Art on the Justified level of the Tower). However, and this is the big one, he is not just making friends…he has also fallen in love.
Not only is this episode an origin story for an iconic villain, it is also the origin stories of one of my favorite love stories in any book, not just a Stephen King book. We have the beginning of Jake and Sadie. And if their dance is any indication of what is to come, then I can’t wait!
Now, I have not said a lot of negative things about this series, because I actually don’t think that there is a lot. There is actually a lot to love, at least so far. However, I do have one bone to pick…
And his name happens to be Bill.
Bill is a minor character in the book, and is only there for a few sentences. I know that movies and TV shows will turn minor characters into major ones when it suits their purposes. For the most part, I don’t have a problem with it.
But I just can’t stand Bill!
There, I said it.
I don’t know if it’s because of his horrible accent. Or because I know so little about him, especially compared to characters that would seem to play less of a role, like Mimi, perhaps. Or Frank Dunning, who is already dead. Or maybe it’s because he seems to be a stereotype, who comes off more like a member of Cletus’ clan, as opposed to an actual human being with feelings, motivations, etc.
I understand the need for this character (see the part about internal Jake not really making for a good movie), but so far, the mini series has not executed very well on this part. Could my feelings change as I see more episodes? Possibly. Could Bill die some kind of horrible death as the past has its way with Jake? Um, no comment on that one…only time will tell (see what I did there?).
So that’s it for Other Voices, Other Rooms. Join me next week for the recap and dissection of episode four, titled The Eyes of Texas.
Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!