An urban Gothic about Miles (Clark Freeman), a traumatised man searching for a proof of life after death. At any cost.
For all its faults, this adaptation of Stephen King does have teeth; sharp ones.
Episode 2: “The Kill Floor”
Directed by Frederick O.E. Toye
Written by Quinton Peeples
* For a review of the premiere, “The Rabbit Hole” – click here
* For a review of the following episode, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” – click here
After the the big premiere, 11.22.63‘s second episode begins with a young Harry Dunning (Jack Fulton) being bullied by a group of slightly older boys, led by Randy (Percy Hynes White). They treat him terribly, calling him “Harry Fairy” and stripping him of his pants, spitting in his face. Even people on the street seem to not care, as they see a half-naked Harry making his way home.
Meanwhile, Jake Epping (James Franco) is still roaming around in 1960. His plan, as of last episode, was to start small then work up to the big changes. First, Harry Dunning (Leon Rippy) and the murder of his family.
Jake’s hanging out at the store where little Harry takes refuge. Such a sweet kind of moment where Jake watches the young version of the man he teaches in the present. He talks with the owner, having a cup of coffee, and tries to figure out a place to stay. The owner directs Jake to the Price house, of Arliss and Edna (Michael O’Neill & Annette O’Toole). At their home, Jake introduces himself as George ‘Jake’ Amberson of course, and tries to get a room for a while. The Prices are good Christians, charging him in advance, making sure there are “no girls” and other such things. Strict living, but stricter the better; raising no suspicion is Jake’s best course of action. Plus, he’s too busy trying to figure out how to go about helping the Dunning family.
At a local watering hole, Jake inquires about Frank Dunning (Josh Duhamel). Nobody’s too quick to give up any information about the man. Not too long afterwards, Frank appears with a bunch of good ole boys there to tear the place up and get drunk. Even seeing Frank is foreboding, as we know exactly where his future is headed. The bartender lets Frank know about Jake looking for him, so naturally they end up at a table together. Drinks upon drinks have Jake quoting James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men from 1941, then further make Frank think.
Jake’s in the car with Frank and his buddies a short time later. The situation starts to get tense, as Frank inquires how Jake supposedly knows him, questions are asked, and more nervousness seeps from the pores of the scene. In the dark, rainy night they pull up to a meat packing plant. The lights flicker inside; a sure sign of safe times ahead. “You like fun, don‘t you Jakey?” quips Frank. The twisted, sick side of Mr. Dunning comes out for us to see here, explaining the worst job at a meat plant involving old bloody parts, an entire universe of flies. Then he arrives at the titular killing floor, where they put cows to their end. The fellas bring one of them out for Jake to witness a kill. Apparently, it’s how they have fun. Certainly doesn’t say anything about them, now does it? Well they want Jakey to kill the cow, which doesn’t exactly sit well with him. So it’s left to Frank, who puts the cow down quick and easy, yet savage. “I guess some men just don‘t have what it takes,” exclaims Frank: “Do they boys?”
Disturbed by this event, Jake arrives at the Dunning home in the morning. He claims Doris (Joanna Douglas) and her family won a free trip. Obviously, this is part of a plan Jake is trying to enact, in order to save the Dunning family from their tragic fate, if time would have it. At the Price house, Jake hilariously claims to be a Korean War vet, using M*A*S*H as a cover because, y’know, time is on his side for that one. He and Arliss chat of “war heroes” and the atrocities of warfare, specifically World War II; the latter recounts when a friend’s scalp, or part of it, went down his own shirt during battle, fairly fucking grisly. Arliss goes on to talk about a sleeping German kid who he could’ve let live, but instead drowned; “afterwards, you always tell yourself there‘s a good reason,” he tells Jake. This whole story reflects on the earlier mention of Arliss and his Bronze Star, for bravely carrying his wounded comrade out of battle – certainly aren’t too many real heroes in any war, with all that human toll in context.
Jake: “Sometimes fate just steps in and deals you a good hand”
Out of the blue, Frank Dunning shows up at the Price residence. Edna isn’t too thrilled about unexpected callers at the door. Either way, Frank wants to “make it up to” Jake after their initial introduction, all that creepy slaughterhouse stuff.
The pair head down to Frank’s butcher shop. A nice little spot he operates. “It‘s my place, my rules,” says Frank: “It‘s rules that hold the universe together.” On and on he goes to Jake about rules, order. “A price must be paid to set things right,” Frank explains. He calls his wife out from the back with bruises on her face. So now, Frank thinks Jake is trying to have sex with Doris. Things are getting much messier than Jake ever anticipated. The Dunning situation has become incredibly complicated, now that he’s been discovered in this light.
So off Jake heads to find himself a gun. He tries to bribe his way into one at a shop. Although, the shop owner thinks he’s a bit shady. Rightfully so. Only she’s joking: “I’ll sell you five guns,” she laughs. Because it’s Texas. And Texas in 1960. How hard could it have been? And don’t you gun nuts try and sell me anything different. A great scene that adapts especially well for 2016, with all the rampant gun crime in America. Excellent writing on Stephen King’s part, as well as the translation to television in this episode by Quinton Peeples.
More flashing back to Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), frail and rundown. He keeps on explaining about the past pushing back against his travelling through time. The fact he didn’t have any cancer before discovering the rabbit hole speaks for itself, though. This is an ominous warning for Jake. Immediately after this we cut to him waking up and vomiting. Is it already affecting him? Is the past trying to make him sick to put him out of commission?
“Do you have any Gatorade?” asks Jake at a store, where he receives appropriate confusion. Kaopectate is what he gets. The stomach ailment will not stop him. Jake’s determined to change the Dunning past and future.
Appropriate time to say it – the cinematography here is so gorgeous and rich. A quick scene where Jake stands in a field, looking out onto the horizon becomes something beautiful; powerful, as well. Just the framing of Franco onscreen, the colours of the sky, everything looks so impressive. Good job on Hulu for producing this in such grand fashion. The story deserves it.
Spying on the Dunning house, Jake gets a knife pulled on him by Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) from the bar. Turns out that Bill’s siter was killed by Frank, too. He is a terrible man, as it seems. Looking out for Doris and the family, Bill appears fairly vigilant. Then Jake lets slip: “I‘m from the future.” Uh oh.
Bigger things require attention now. The horror inside has already begun. Frank slipped in the back door, as Jake squabbles with Bill outside for a moment. Heading in, Jake tries to re-route history. He fires a shot into Frank, but only catches his shoulder. Thus commences a brawl. Frank appears totally as a monster here, some Frankenstein lurching around and dominating everyone in his presence. Scary as hell, honestly. Duhamel does a good job at coming off brutal and vicious. But what follows? Sure makes a point for Jake being bad ass when he wants/needs to be. He’s able to change the future, but is it for the better? Can he tell what repercussions this event will have?
Jake makes it away, blood all over him. Even Edna Price sees him in a state, as he tries to make his case. But murder is murder, even protecting someone. Mostly, it’d be hard for Jake to explain how he ended up there, everything, being from the future and all, holding unknown knowledge to anyone in the past. Then the future is confirmed for Bill, who finds a clipping about the JFK assassination amongst Jake’s things. Ah ha! Belief. What will this bring?
Next episode, “Other Voices, Other Rooms”, ought to bring us more fun and excitement and foreboding eeriness. Great series up to this point.