Justin Kurzel adapts Peter Carey's groundbreaking novel into a stunningly queer deconstruction of masculinity and nationalism.
Episode 6: “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald”
Directed by John David Coles
Written by Bridget Carpenter
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Truth” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Soldier Boy” – click here
Back in time again for another episode with Jake Epping (James Franco) traipsing around the early 1960s with his sidekick Bill Turcotte (George MacKay), falling in love with Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon).
After the events of “The Truth”, we move forward six months to October of 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) is applying for a job at the Texas School Book Depository, trying his best to charm the boss. And damned if he doesn’t get hired. Outside, a man talks to him, Oswald suspects he’s FBI (Stephen King adaptation-alum Gil Bellows) and starts getting a little squirrely. Even further, it seems Marina (Lucy Fry) and Lee are separated. He goes to see her, trying to impress her in order to get her back at home. But nothing is working. Her friend Ruth (Miranda Calderon) tells Lee, “give her time“, only there may not be a ton of time left for Oswald, not if he’s planning on doing what Jake and Bill think he’s about to do.
The time traveling self-appointed detective Jake doesn’t stick around with Bill a whole lot anymore. He’s busy looking after Sadie. Meanwhile, Bill is getting stir crazy. At the same time, though, George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne) is back to see Lee, piquing the interest of the pair and their recording equipment. But they don’t get much before George leaves. Seems maybe there’s a bit of confusion about. “If we don‘t alter his life, we‘re fine,” says Jake – not knowing about Bill and his interactions with both Marina and Lee himself. Bill lashes out at his friend, but it’s likely he may have altered history slightly enough to fuck it all up. Is that possible? For now, Jake figures if they don’t soon sort it all out, they’ll have to abduct Oswald when President John F. Kennedy is in Dallas during November. Most important, Bill and Jake are at odds quite a bit lately.
At home, Sadie is resting with the company of Deke Simmons (Nick Searcy) who implores Jake to “make an honest woman” of her. Jake’s letting more and more of the future slip to Sadie, as well as his plans to help her with the surgery necessary to heal her face. With her in on his time traveling, the upcoming shooting of JFK, this gives the plot a nice new twist, which takes it forward a bit. I also love that we’ve jumped six months because it skips the whole initial shock of Sadie getting used to the fact her new man is from the future. It allows the storytelling to go on without too many bumps.
In other news, Mimi (Tonya Pinkins) found out she’s got a tumour the “size of a lemon” and that there may not be much hope. Yet she keeps her chin up. For his part, Jake is upset: “I wish you‘d call me Jake. I wish you‘d told me sooner.” Mimi doesn’t weep, instead she instructs him on what to do after she’s gone; a couple favours. A beautiful, emotional, well-written and acted scene. Real full of impact.
Mimi: “Deke and I have spent our lives next to one another, not with one another.”
Trying to rake in the cash, Jake places more bets. He’s stockpiling for Sadie and her surgery, as well as any money he’ll need going forward with his mission. At the little flop house Jake listens in on a party at the Oswald residence, plenty of Russian accents and such. But worst of all? He hears Bill meet with Marina.
Now they’re getting much too closer to Lee and his family. Bill’s up there partying, drinking, laughing with Lee, all the guests. It really has Jake on edge, making him pretty damn (and rightfully) angry. Turcotte thinks he’s somehow making things better, but Jake reassures: “You mess with the past it messes back.” Even Mohrenschildt arrives, too. During a bit of an argument, Jake and Bill knock over a lamp, which reveals the recording device the detective pairing hooked up. Except it all makes Lee go a bit wild, spewing paranoia, before trashing his apartment in front of all the guests. Uh. Oh. Not only that, Bill and Jake have major trouble happening between them, especially after the latter sees his supposed partner in crime kissing Oswald’s wife outside the apartment. This starts a bit of a fight, more blind ignorance from Bill: “I‘m not tryin‘ to save anyone, that‘s over.” He even threatens Jake with outing the whole operation to Oswald.
Lee: “Land of the Free? Home of the Brave? This is such a crock of shit!”
Oswald goes for a bit of target practice while Jake is off frantically trying to determine his next move, and also getting Sadie up to Parkland so she can see a doctor. Cute bit of dialogue here, as Sadie won’t believe Jake when he says people walk around “with their phones in their hands” constantly.
And out of nowhere? The Yellow Card Man (Kevin J. O’Connor). And Jake worries something’s about to go terribly wrong. When he tries to fight against the past, the past fights back. Or is it the doing of the Yellow Card Man? None of the doors will open. The fire alarm won’t set off. Nothing works as it should. He manages to get in and stop the surgery: “She wasn‘t getting any oxygen,” one of the surgeons notes dramatically. Just in time.
Continually, Jake keeps his eye on the buddy-buddy pair of Lee and Bill. And now he worries about the “second shooter” – is this how it happens? Well either way Jake tells Bill about Marina at the hospital, supposedly having the baby alone, calling for her new lover. Rather, there’s no baby coming. Jake is having his old friend committed to the hospital, in order to head off what may possibly happen because of Bill’s relationship with Lee. Of course it helps that, when Bill freaks out, the talk of Jake being “from the future” and such makes the guy seem absolutely batshit crazy. It doesn’t fully sit well with Jake. Although, it must be done; for the greater good(?).
Jake tails Mohrenschildt, almost strangling him in his car. He interrogates George re: Lee Harvey Oswald. Jake poses as some sort of shadowy government official, saying he knows about “Haiti” and other particulars. Sneaky, sneaky, Mr. Epping. Such an excellently savage little scene. Above all, it’s interesting that George seemingly knows nothing of Oswald and the assassination plan on JFK; we get a quick cut back to Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) discussing with Jake how to go about figuring things out. And it is obvious: no way out but to kill Oswald. He’s a lone wolf, or so it appears. Oh, and plus – Jake asks Sadie to marry him, over the telephone from a shitty little booth. It’s the thought that counts.
Sadie: “Tell me one more thing about the future”
Jake: “In the future we‘re married”
Sadie: “I like the sound of that”
Sweet thoughts are cut off quick. Jake finds himself being chased by a crew of men led by the one who took his bet earlier. He ran around making a lot of bets. Turns out, they’re all under the one guy’s belt. Even worse than that, Bill made bets against Jake’s better judgement, and made things pretty damn terrible. Jake takes a rough beating, including a good pistol whip, and then gets left in an alley. He is one hell of a mess.
Waking up, Jake sees flashing lights, he catches glimpses of Sadie’s face, someone else (his former wife Christy; from the future). Is the past taking its toll on him? Is it wrecking his mind as it once did to Al via cancer? We’ll find out more soon.
Stay with me folks. Next episode is the penultimate “Soldier Boy”, and ought to give us more wild, exciting progressions like this one did. Loving this series, such a solid and interesting adaptation of King.
Episode 5: “The Truth”
Directed by James Franco
Written by Joe Henderson
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Eyes of Texas” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” – click here
Back in time once more this week with Jake Epping a.k.a George Amberson (James Franco) and his trusty sidekick Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) in the early 1960s.
Last we left Jake, he’d discovered Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon) snooping around the recording equipment. She even heard some nasty little recordings of all the dirty details – that is, a bit of sex between Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) and his wife Marina (Lucy Fry). What’s about to happen now in this latest episode, properly titled “The Truth”?
Sadie tries to run away, disgusted with Jake. He does his darnedest to explain, saying they were “Russian actors” in a play. But she knows there’s something more. He says it’s about her protection, yet that’s not going to be good enough. This has divided them impossibly for now. The token of her feelings, a dish of food, sits on the table still, reminding Jake of her. So he tosses it.
Flashback to Jake in the classroom, in present day. He asks his class about “traveling back in time“, what they might do. Suggestions for killing Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, so on.
Switch back to ’63. Jake’s getting let go from his job by Principal Deke Simmons (Nick Searcy), due to a “moral clause” in the contract he signed. The “Russian filth” did him no good. Either way, it’s sad to see him go. Certainly Mimi (Tonya Pinkins) doesn’t like it either.
Back to present. Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) and Jake talk about Oswald more, and whether Al saw him shoot at General Walker. Al never lasted long enough, so now it’s in Jake’s hands.
In ’63, Jake and Bill sit on Oswald more. They need to see if Oswald is alone, or whether something larger is at play. Or someone completely different altogether. “Is it bad I‘m rootin’ for Lee to hit the guy?” Bill asks. The time is set, they’re ready to spy on what happens “according to history“, to see what fate has in store for them. I love the plot because it takes people right through researching a conspiracy theory, or possibly through what may have actually happened.
Jake: “It doesn‘t matter why he shoots. All that matters is if he shoots.”
The investigative duo try to prepare for every possible mishap on the day. Working against the past and its way may prove difficult at important turns. For his part, Bill’s curious about what happens afterwards. None of that is on Jake’s mind; only the job at hand. Nonetheless, Bill isn’t overly thrilled about staying in the past once Jake leaves. He seems to push too hard at times, though, overall is a good man. And he also has nothing keeping him anywhere, such is how he ended up with Jake to begin with, so I can understand his frustration with his life situation when traveling to the future could be accomplished.
With Sadie on her own, it looks like she may have someone following close by. Is it the sadomasochistic ex-husband Johnny Clayton (T.R. Knight)? Very likely.
On the phone, Jake gets a call from none other than Johnny himself. He’s with Sadie, and she looks in rough shape with what looks like a pillowcase on her head, blood seeping through.
Jake leaves Bill to their business. He rushes to Sadie’s place fast as his feet can move.
Inside, Johnny’s been a bad boy. He has Jake sit at the table, Sadie still with her bloody covering. Once Johnny removes it, we see her face, what he’s been busy doing: “She‘s not really pretty anymore,” he whispers to Jake. He taunts them both, calling his ex-wife a “dirty little bird” and such (reminiscent of other psychotic characters from Stephen King such as in Misery). This is one of the creepiest scenes yet. Knight gives it his all as Clayton, making you cringe and squirm a little in the seat. There’s a quiet, subtle madness about him that you feel might erupt at any moment. Johnny eventually serves up a bit of bleach for Jake to drink. And then Sadie enacts a plan for their hopeful escape. With some taunting of her own Sadie keeps Johnny busy. Until a doorbell rings.
Sadie: “All this because I told him your dirty little secret? Well I didn‘t even tell him about your grandmother. She liked to wash you, didn‘t she? She washed you real good. How old were you? Twelve? No, thirteen. They took her away because of you.”
Clever cut to Bill at the door of Marina Oswald. Uh oh. They share more cigarettes together while Lee is sleeping. How far will he risk Lee catching them, or becoming too suspicious of Bill, and in turn Jake? Right now, love is blinding Bill. And Lee wakes up, discovering them on the steps. This brings Bill too close to the situation. “Have you ever read any Karl Marx?” Lee questions: “You read it and then we‘ll talk.” He hands over a copy of Marx on Economics. “It tells the truth,” says Lee. For the time being, the investigation is safe.
Cut back to the Clayton situation. At the door are two students with stuff from a raffle. He tries to get the kids away fast. After that he tosses the bleach in Johnny’s face, blinding him. This sends Clayton, blurry eyed, shooting bullets around the room in a rage before Jake is forced to bury a fire poker in his temple. For good measure, Sadie shoots him. A brutal and tense scene.
Police are on the scene quickly. An ambulance carts Sadie off, leaving Jake to ponder what follows. Trying to get away from police questioning, Jake is saved by Deke, who shows up out of nowhere. Seems he’s as happy as anyone to have Clayton dead. The cops get a statement from Jake later, quite an honest one, too. It’s as if the town is merely hoping for Sadie to pull through, with students and even Deke offering to give blood.
Meanwhile, Bill is on the case by himself. Nine o’clock strikes and there he is, waiting for Lee to appear around General Walker’s office window; somewhere, anywhere. But then coming out of the nearby church, Bill believes he sees his sister Clara. He chases her before realizing it’s, obviously, not her. In his absence, the shot goes off. Who was it?
Flashbacks again to Al, his advice for Jake heading into the past: “If you get too close, you forget what you came for.” A fact Jake’s already realizing, much too heavily. And then Walker shows up with a gunshot wound to his arm. Jake watches on darkly. He calls Bill, who has no good news. He’s got his own demons haunting him, as well.
Goods news? Sadie isn’t dead, she’ll just have a bad scar. After she sees Jake again, he reveals more of himself, giving her the titular truth. Their bond becomes closer now after such a terrifying ordeal.
Looking forward to more next week with “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” – sure to bring more excitement, more revelation, more twists and turns. Stay with me, folks.
Episode 3: “Other Voices, Other Rooms”
Directed by James Strong
Written by Brian Nelson
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Kill Floor” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Eyes of Texas” – click here
Following the events of “The Kill Floor”, 11.22.63 continues with Jake Epping (James Franco) driving Bill Turcotte (George MacKay), trying to explain to him how a newspaper from 1963 showed up in 1960. Jake attempts to tell him about the whole mission with which he was tasked by Al Templeton (Chris Cooper). He reveals being from 2016. That’d blown your mind if you were in ’60, that’s for sure. Poor Bill has got no clue what’s going on, though, I’m willing to bet he’s about to dive in head first.
At a motel, Jake continues explaining the complexities of his time travel situation. Bill tries his best to understand the complicated in-and-outs, but keeps holding a gun to Jake, demanding proof of his being from the future. Then he wants Jake to go back and save his sister. Jake’s got to further explain how he can only get back to October 21st, 1960. That’s the only way back, as far as it goes.
Flashes of the Dunning house, the near massacre, keeps coming back to Jake. He accidentally strangles Bill coming out of a waking nightmare. Things get even more on edge than they were. But despite all odds, Jake has a new travel companion in Bill, who seems unwilling yet simultaneously wanting to believe in the whole story. Now, we move to Dallas, as Jake starts explaining the future situation of JFK’s assassination; the Grassy Knoll, the book depository, all that.
Jake: “What I wouldn‘t give for a mini–bar right now?”
Bill: “A what?”
Jake the writer, like Stephen King, finds himself a teaching position. This gives him a reason for hanging around and awaiting the coming events. Afterwards, Jake and Bill head out to celebrate in Dallas. Of course, Bill gets a bit wild. At the bar, up shows Jack Ruby (Antoni Corone) – “Looks like you‘ve seen a ghost,” Jack laughs when Jake gives him a strange stare. Interesting to watch him in the past coming up against people he knows, himself being from the future and all. There’s this strange reverse sense of deja-vu. Very cool, very weird for Jake.
Engaging with everyone around him, Mr. Amberson takes up his post at school. He doesn’t vibe well with the racial politics, first asking the black secretary if she’d like a cup of coffee; this pauses everyone nearby, not understand why he’d do such a thing. It’s 1960 – duh, Jake. So silly to watch from our perspective, and Jake’s, as those of us not born and living during that time in the Southern U.S. can’t comprehend how people would be so cold. But Jake does get along with his students, something which hasn’t changed from 2016 to 1960. He gets by as best he can, anyways.
Finally, Jake is reunited with Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon) – she’s the new school librarian. She does remember him after awhile. Even better, they get shackled to chaperoning a dance at the school. A natural romance is beginning to brew. But like Al warned: not wise to get close to people, it may get messy.
Bill and Jake follow Oswald around via a timeline of where he was in those periods. They wind up in a rundown, “mixed race neighbourhood” where the word “niggers” gets tossed around easily, without a thought. The pair get themselves an apartment across from where Oswald will be moving in.
Running into the secretary from school, Miss Corcoran (Tonya Pinkins), Jake finds her unable to buy gas from a station. She walked miles to get there and is refused service by the attendant. He claims she can buy gas in her own neighbourhood. “Why don‘t you shut your fucking mouth?” Jake yells at the man loudly, grabbing a can for some gas, then tossing bills at him walking away. Definitely bought him some points with her, which may prove to be helpful down the road in some way. For now, it’s just a moral gesture.
At the airport, Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) arrives home from Russia after supposedly defecting. His disdain for the U.S.A is clear already. Jake is following nearby, too, as expected. He and Bill continue their mission, ordering up surveillance equipment. This is like a period piece throwback, with a technician (who incidentally served with Gen. Walker) explaining all sorts of different pieces they can use to spy from afar; all under the guise of being for Jake’s hopeful divorce.
The school dance is full swing. Jake and Sadie try policing things, including all the booze being sneaked in. They decide to “inspect” the punch that the jocks clearly spiked. A nice little romantic segue for these two characters, getting closer, learning more of one another. Only Jake is playing with fire. Will he realize that before it’s too late? Doubtful.
Skipping out on the dance, Jake heads back with Bill to start setting up the Oswald apartment for broadcast, so they can hear everything going on inside the house. They find themselves interrupted when Oswald returns. On their sneaky escape through the attic, Bill puts his hand in a nest of spiders and freaks out. This causes Oswald to go on alert. But they make it out luckily.
Inside Oswald’s place, the surveillance bugs start working. Success for the fumbling team. Their Oswald mission is officially underway with everything up and running. And this is the beginning of Jake living a double life; he forgot to go back to the school dance, as he promised Sadie before running off to attend to the Oswald project. Sadie isn’t too pleased the next day, nor is Ms. Corcoran. Such is the price of trying to change the course of history.
One of the following days, George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne) arrives at Oswald’s place. “This could be the start of the whole thing,” Jake tells Bill. Only problem is they’re speaking Russian almost constantly. This does nothing for them, and throws a wrench into Jake’s plans. Great addition, both to the book and the series. Makes things much more interesting. I guess at least they’ll hear the name Walker if it’s thrown out there. Everything else is out the window, unless Jake can track down a Russian-English dictionary, which he does soon as possible. When he comes back, Bill is knocked out on the floor, bloody nose and all. Some of the junkie-type guys from outside the building downstairs stole everything. Jake and Bill pose as FBI to get their machinery back, but the tapes are all done for pretty much.
Things are looking up for Jake on the romance end of things – Sadie wants to move fast, she kisses him and pretty much sets up their date. Again, Jake doesn’t realize these are things which will be hard when the time comes to either leave, or possibly worse. Who knows.
At a Sisters of Southern Heritage meeting, Jake and Bill attend, spying Oswald with de Mohrenschildt. Curiouser and curiouser. Particularly seeing as how General Edwin Walker (Gregory North) is speaking at the podium. Things are getting more murky by the minute. Outside, Oswald causes a commotion and then gets beat on by a few officers. Lee makes a massive scene, calling Walker a “fascist” and claiming: “I have something to say! Wake up! Wake up, you fucking fascist. Or I will kill you. I will fucking kill you.” Wow. Strong evidence towards the theory of Oswald, but is it what we’re meant to see? What the higher-ups want us to be seeing, as in the way history’s been shaped for us? We’ll have to dig deeper together. Let’s find out more.
Next episode is titled “The Eyes of Texas” and I cannot wait to see it. Stay tuned with me, fellow fans.