11/22/63: Episode 4 Recap and Review

So, I think I need to get my eyes checked again…

Seems like they were a little..well…leaky earlier this week…

Yes, Peyton Manning has retired from football.  That’s a good reason for the old eyes to leak.  Especially after that farewell speech…so thanks, Peyton…I needed a cry and didn’t know it!

super bowl 50 1

So, I should have learned my lesson, right?  Go watch something on TV that is light hearted and fun, like say…something based on a Stephen King novel?  Sounds like just the ticket…

Well, apparently my eyes didn’t get the memo, since I suffered more leakage after watching The Eyes of Texas, the fourth episode of the mini series 11/22/63.  Nope, not an easy night for the old eyes the other night…

So, thanks, Peyton!

And thanks, Uncle Stevie!

Stephen King

And just for good measure, let’s thank Obama while we are at it, since I am sure he doesn’t get thanked enough…so thanks, Obama!

In all seriousness, The Eyes of Texas is a pivotal episode in the mini series 11/22/63, especially in terms of character development.  Jake was treated to some character development.  We got to know the Big Bad, aka Lee Harvey Oswald, even better.  Sadie is slowly being drawn out of her shell.  Heck, even Cletus er Bill was treated to some character development.

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The show also dealt with some serious issues, such as domestic abuse, rape and a few others, while still reminding us that we are watching a show where a guy travels back in time to change the past, which does not want to be changed and will let you know in various, non-subtle ways that it does not want to be changed.  Just another typical episode, in other words.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of The Eyes of Texas, the fourth episode of the mini series .

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The episode begins with Jake spying on the Oswalds yet again.  Lee poses for a picture with his rifle, although his wife, Marina, tells him that he looks ridiculous.  Bill also sees Marina and waves at her.  Marina waves back, and seems not to be bothered by the fact that Bill has been stalking her.

Jake and Sadie have begun a relationship, although they try to keep it a secret, so they don’t endanger their jobs at the high school.  Jake sings a Beatles song to Sadie, forgetting that the Beatles have not been discovered yet.  However, they are interrupted when Principal Deke Simmons walks in.  Deke gives Jake a lecture on how he and Sadie are role models and must practice discretion.  Deke also gives Jake a card that has the name and address of a hotel that he and Sadie can use to meet and practice discretion.

That night, Ms. Mimi pays Jake a visit at his home.  She has deduced that Jake is not who he says he is, since she was unable to obtain his immunization records.  Jake concocts a cover story that he is in a FBI witness protection program because he testified against some members of the Mafia.  Mimi is skeptical, but agrees to keep Jake’s secret.  Mimi also hints to Jake that he should tell the truth about himself to Sadie, as their relationship has become more serious.

Sadie meets Jake at the hotel room, and the two consummate their relationship.  Jake realizes that he needs to tell Sadie something, but their time is cut short when Jake realizes that someone has been watching them and taking pictures.  Jake is convinced that the CIA is on to him and attempting to blackmail him, so he will drop his plans of preventing the assassination of Kennedy.

Bill and Jake follow Oswald and George de Mohrenschildt to what they believe is a top secret CIA meeting.  However, the meeting spot is actually a brothel.  They attempt to spy on Oswald and de Mohrenschildt, but the cops raid the place, and Bill and Jake are arrested.

Deke bails out Jake and Bill the next morning, and tells Jake that he still must show up to his teaching job the next day, as he has no substitute lined up.  Mimi reprimands Jake for his disheveled look, but is coughing and appears to be ill.  Jake also catches Sadie talking to her ex husband and confronts her about it.  Sadie becomes upset, and tells Jake about her marriage.  She says that Johnny attached a close pin to his penis on their wedding night.  When Sadie laughed at him, he hit her.  He then hit her again and raped her.  She thought that she had escaped Johnny, but he was able to track her down through her mother and has refused to grant her the divorce.  Sadie is then convinced that Jake is repulsed by her past, and tearfully drives away.

Bill arrives at school and tells Jake that de Mohrenschildt will be taking Oswald to what may be an important meeting.  Jake follows Oswald and tries to listen in on the conversation, but is interrupted by a barking dog.  When Jake tries to quiet the dog, he realizes that he is face to face with Johnny Clayton, Sadie’s ex husband.  Clayton tries to intimidate Jake, but Jake turns the tables on him, telling him that he will hurt him if he does not stay away from Sadie.  Jake realizes that Johnny took the pictures of him and Sadie, not the CIA.  Jake also repeats the story of Johnny and Sadie’s wedding night, telling him that he will tell the secret if Johnny does not stay away from Sadie and does not grant Sadie the divorce.  Johnny is afraid and appears to back down.

Jake then pays Sadie a visit, giving her flowers and chocolates.  He tells her that he knows that she is not perfect, but that he still loves her.  They embrace, and someone appears to be watching them.

Back at the house, Jake finds Bill lying on the couch, drunk and angry.  Bill is frustrated because Oswald mistreats his wife, and wants to do something about it.  Jake stops him, telling him he can’t interfere.  Later that night, Bill finds Marina sitting on the steps, beaten and sad.  He offers her a cigarette and a shoulder to cry on.  Jake apologizes to Bill, affirming that he cannot attempt his quest without Bill, and that they are a team.

At school the next day, Mimi is nowhere to be found.  Deke tells Jake that she is out sick, but appears to be angry with him for something.

Later that day, Sadie stops by Jake’s house with baked goods and a nice note.  She cannot find Jake, however, and calls out for him.  A shadowy figure follows her.  Sadie then finds Jake’s surveillance tapes, and listens to Oswald’s conversation in Russian with his friends.  Jake arrives at the house, and a bewildered Sadie wants to know just who he is.


 

My Thoughts

Usually, my feelings about on-screen adaptations of books are mixed, at best.  Some are watchable (It, cough, cough).  Some are instant classics (give one up for Green Mile, yo).  And then there was the abomination otherwise known as Under the Dome that I simply cannot excuse.

pennywise

But, here we have 11/22/63.  And my feelings on this one are not mixed.  Well, maybe they are mixed, but it’s a mixture of love and pride.  Maybe like how a parent feels on his/her kid’s first day of school, where he/she “debuts” to the world?  Or that could be hyperbole.  Well, it’s not far off, though.

Yes, there have been changes from the book.  But remember, the book is told in the first person, so changes are necessary.  Again, a book adapted to the screen will have a different face, so to speak, and there is nothing wrong with that.  In fact, changes are necessary, as television is a visual medium, and the story should be able to reflect that.

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I have not talked much about James Franco in prior posts.  And there is a reason for that:  we were only a few episodes in.  But now, we are halfway through, so let’s start talking about James Franco and what he has done with the character of Jake Epping.

Normally, I am hesitant to make such statements about an actor “being born to play a certain character.”  Different actors can bring different takes to a particular role (Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson, who both played Batsy’s arch-nemesis are great examples) and the finished product can still be good, even if it’s different from the other actor’s interpretation.  And I still believe that.

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But it does seem that Franco fits the role of Jake Epping very well.  Maybe even perfectly, although again, it is early.  Sometimes, low and slow in the way to go (kind of like soul food, actually).  And that’s just what Franco, along with the producers and the writers, are doing with the character of Jake Epping.  Jake comes off as apathetic in the first couple of episodes.  And lost as well, as it seems his life is going nowhere.  But, slowly, that is changing.  Jake is beginning to care about something bigger than himself (stopping the assassination of the leader of the free world).  And he is beginning to care about the people around him.  He stands up against the racism that was accepted in 1961 (and still is in some ways), by helping Ms. Mimi after she has suffered needlessly because some bigot won’t sell her gas.  He helps his present day friend Harry Dunning by preventing the murder of his family.  And he has fallen in love.

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Which brings me to my next point:  the love story.

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While 11/22/63 is a story about time travel, social justice and war written by the master of modern horror, it is also a love story.  The love story between Jake and Sadie is one the main plots of the book, and is one of the greatest in any book I have ever read, let alone a Stephen King book.

And when I watched this episode the other night, I shivered.  Almost uncontrollably, actually.  And no, that’s not because my husband needs to have our house at the temperature of a meat locker in order not to sweat profusely.

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In other words, the mini series is doing a smoking job (see what I did there) with the love story aspect of 11/22/63.  And one of the things that is helping this part is the chemistry between Franco and Sarah Gadon, the actress who plays Sadie.  Every look, every kiss and the overall way that they interact with each other is just so believable.  And sweet.  And tender.  And sexy.  Very sexy, as a matter of fact.  And when Jake makes that speech about how life isn’t all flowers and chocolates, but how he loves everything about the person standing in front of him…I was no longer shivering, but fanning myself instead…woo!

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I also need to give props to the other part of this love triangle:  Johnny Clayton, Sadie’s ex husband.  In the book, this character is not as big a player as he is in the mini series, and he does not have as much interaction with Jake.  However, this has been modified a bit for the mini series, and it works.  In fact, it works really well.  That interaction between Jake and Clayton was just beautiful.  There are no other words to describe it.  I loved how Jake threatened to hurt that bastard if he didn’t grant Sadie the divorce and stay away from her.  I also loved the fact that Jake used a bit of blackmail as well…

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Remember how I was saying that his episode managed to incorporate some serious themes?  Well, the above would be one of them.  In other words, spousal abuse.  Anyone who has read at least some of King’s work (or seen some of his movies) knows that domestic abuse of all kinds is a theme in many of his stories.  11/22/63 is no different.  We saw in the episode The Kill Floor, with the character of Frank Dunning.  And we have seen again this week, with The Eyes of Texas.  The show does not try to hide the fact that Clayton abused his wife, and is still trying to control her, even though she has left him.  To add further insult to injury, no one will acknowledge the abuse.  Even worse, Sadie is blamed for the troubles (a sign of the times then and still true in some ways today).  The mini series even managed to make Sadie’s story more heart-breaking than it was the book, which makes Sadie to be even more of a sympathetic character and makes us root for her (and Jake) even more.

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The portrayal of domestic violence in the mini series has also provided an opportunity for character development from someone else. This character would happen to be Bill.

Now, I have stated that Bill is well…annoying.  I understand the need for this character, in terms of advancing the story.  But I still find him annoying.  However, I have grown a little more tolerant of him after this week’s episode.  His feelings in regards to Marina Oswald and the treatment she endures from Lee (which are likely related to the feelings he has in regards to what Frank Dunning did to his sister) make him a little bit more sympathetic in my eyes.  His interest in the Oswalds has actually gone from creepy to almost sweet.  I still scratch my head over this guy, but at least I can feel something other than annoyance towards him.  So, props, mini series…keep it up!

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Well, that’s it for The Eyes of Texas.  Join me next week for the recap and dissection of episode 5, titled The Truth.

Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!

batman and robin

 

 

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11/22/63: Episode 3 Recap and Review

Origin stories.

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.

joker and harley

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.

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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.

lee harvey oswald

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:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

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.


 

My Thoughts

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?

11/22/63 EPISODE 103a Photo Credit: Sven Frenzel

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

Justified meme 2

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!

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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!

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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.

Cletus 1

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!

batman and robin

 

11/22/63: Episode 1 Recap and Review

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).

candy bar pie 010

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…

Stephen King

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)?

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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.

card-1963

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:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

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.


 

My Thoughts

Before anything else, let’s talk about the elephant in the room…

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Yes, the dreaded part of any book that is adapted to film…

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The Changes.

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.

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However flexible I may be about adaptations, there are a few things that I am looking for in any adaptation of 11/22/63:

 

  1.  Jake’s effect on the past.
  2. The past’s effect on Jake (i.e. the people he meets, the places he visits, etc).
  3. Jake and Sadie’s relationship, which is one of the sweetest, enduring and heartbreaking relationships in any book.
  4. 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).
  5. How obsessive Jake becomes in his attempt to change the past, no matter what the consequences may be.
  6. 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).

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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.

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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.

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Oh, and as if I didn’t need more reminders that I was watching something based on a Stephen King book…

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Yes, I caught them.  Jake making the innocuous (well, not really) statement that he was Kennedy’s number one fan…uh huh…

Misery

And the mention of Castle Rock made me squee a bit too.  Although I really hope Jake doesn’t get an urge to go shopping there…

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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!

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