Justin Kurzel adapts Peter Carey's groundbreaking novel into a stunningly queer deconstruction of masculinity and nationalism.
Episode 7: “Soldier Boy”
Directed by James Kent
Written by Bridget Carpenter
* For a review of the previous episode, “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Day in Question” – click here
The penultimate chapter begins, with Jake Epping (James Franco) having been left in bad shape at the end of last episode, as well as Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) being committed to a mental ward.
Seventeen days before the assassination of JFK, we find Jake coming in and out of consciousness. He sees Anderson Cooper on the television, a man on his iPhone. All these modern things. Then his ex-wife. Even Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) appears as the doctor. “I know this isn‘t real, I just want it to stop,” plead Jake. “Sometimes we don‘t get what we want,” replies Al. He expresses disappoint over the entire mission. The whole thing is nightmarish. Once things settle down, there’s Sadie Dunhil (Sarah Gadon) and Deke Simmons (Nick Searcy). But as Jake puts it: “Everything‘s mixed up.” Will the past take a toll on Jake, or is this simply a bump in the road?
Al: “You‘re not the man I thought you were”
Worst of all, Jake’s memory is troubled. His brains are all jumbled. There’s even a great little joke by the writers, as Jake asks whether the man he worked with was named George; in fact, the name of the actor playing Bill. Love it. But feel terrible for Jake and his poor brain.
Meanwhile, Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) is out to talk with an agent of the FBI. He’s concerned about the bug in his home. But nobody takes him seriously. Likely part of why he gets crazier and crazier.
With Jake and his memory all mashed, he missed the passing of Mimi. So sad, even sadder for Deke. But after a few moments, Jake starts to get bits of memory back. He remembers “where Bill is“, and oh… is it ever a nasty place, the darkened mental ward of a hospital in the early 1960s – a place for “people who can‘t pay“, a proper dungeon. They go to find him. His mind is almost no better off than Jake’s, though, it comes as a result of being subjected to psychiatric treatments that only served to make people worse decades ago.
But before they can take him away from the hospital, Bill slides out a window and plummets to the parking lot below.
For her part, Sadie tries to help Jake remember his mission. She breaks out newspapers touting JFK’s tour of Texas cities coming up soon, she brings up the Russian on those tapes in his basement. He gets a little frustrated, but Sadie’s determined to keep him on track. A good, loyal woman. A loving one.
In other parts of Texas, there’s Lee and his mother Marguerite (Cherry Jones). They have a nice relationship. She clearly loves her son, and doesn’t want him mixed up with anything crazy. Any sane mother would worry about her child, if her child were spouting out the things Lee thinks. Leading up to the assassination, it’s creepy to see them together. Not sure why. Even creepier still is Lee sitting on a park bench, enjoying a Babe Ruth. Almost like seeing some odd, rare, dangerous animal in the midst of the forest. When he spies a newspaper about Kennedy in Texas, even mapping out where the President will be going, an idea dawns in him; a purpose. What a powerful moment. The way it’s filmed is full of weight. Plus, Webber plays Oswald incredibly well.
But still, while the grimness lingers on, life goes on, too. Jake finds his memory slipping back in slices. He remembers living on Madison Street, the old place where he and Bill shacked up. Slowly, they retrace his steps. And then they run into Lee Harvey Oswald himself. What a turn of events! And more memories come back to Jake, all of Oswald, after he spies a newspaper in a pile, a pro-communist paper called The Worker. Excellent scene, especially the editing. But this whole twist, to send Jake back there recovering his memory, it’s a real treat.
Marina (Lucy Fry) and Lee have all but grown completely apart. This does nothing to help his deterioration. With Jake remembering now, is it fast enough to get the job done? Having Sadie alongside, Jake certainly has a leg up on things. They weasel their way into the garage of Marina’s friend, looking for the equipment Lee will use to kill JFK. No such luck in finding anything, though.
Only twelve hours left. Jake and Sadie do what they can to prepare for what will come next. And then the past starts to come out, pushing back against Jake. All of a sudden the Yellow Card Man (Kevin J. O’Connor) is in the car with him. Everything is eerie, strange now, with the man telling him a story, recounting how he “can‘t stop the past“, and weeping. It’s a sad and tragic exchange, as the man reveals his daughter drowned, and that he keeps repeating it, trying to save her but only watching the past repeat itself. He warns Jake. Then he’s gone again.
While Jake wants to abandon the plan, Sadie urges on, not wanting him to give up. She is his rock. But the past continues to push, not letting Jake start his car in the morning. So it begins. Because at home, Lee is upright, alert, ready to do whatever it is in his mind to do next. He leaves Marina in bed with something long, wrapped in paper under his arm.
We watch the final scene and find Lee setting up, in the window at the Book Depository. He looks chilling, a sentinel on high.
Amazing. Looking forward to the finale of this amazing mini-series, “The Day in Question”, which should hopefully nicely cap off these 8 episodes. Stay with me, folks!
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 4: “The Eyes of Texas”
Directed by Fred Toye
Written by Bridget Carpenter
* For a review of previous episode, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Truth” – click here
Back in the past again! Jake Epping (James Franco) and Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) are hard at work trying to crack into the big mystery of Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) and the enigma that is his life.
We start now watching Oswald with his rifle. He times himself putting it together, piece by piece, screw by screw. He cheers himself on slightly as he works. “You‘re in the Marines now, son,” Lee says to himself: “Let‘s see it.” Clearly, he is preparing himself for something important. Then he begins the entire exercise all over again, starting with taking the thing apart this time. Or is it just Marine behaviour? Either way, he stops what he’s doing to go tend to his crying child. “I‘m going to hunt fascists,” Lee tells his wife Marina (Lucy Fry) and George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne) who take the famous picture of him with his gun in the backyard.
Across the way, Jake and Bill watch closely. They never miss a beat. But Bill has a little more than surveillance on his mind, which catches the gaze of Marina slightly. Could this come to be something more? A problem?
At school, Jake is getting closer to Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon). However, not everyone is too keen on him doing so, which brings up a conversation on “discretion” with the overly-involved principal.
Back at the house, Bill plays Jake a recording – the first in English from Lee and George, suggesting an attempt on General Walker’s life, plus mentions of the CIA, et cetera, all under wraps. Plenty of conspiracy theorizing between Jake and Bill. Nevertheless, they determine a need to follow them both. Not without a little arguing first, though. Out of nowhere, Ms. Mimi Corcoran (Tonya Pinkins) arrives at their door – she claims Jake is not who he says. Seems she’s “investigated” Jake, his degree, past addresses and so on. More wrenches being thrown in the works. At the same time, Ms. Corcoran doesn’t appear to be throwing Jake to the dogs either. He reveals his real name, claiming to have been put in “Witness Proection… in 1959“, then laying out talk of Mafia except he uses The Godfather as his fairytale plot. Hilarious scene, Franco plays it out so perfectly.
Mimi: “For some of us, dignity matters.”
Jake decides on using that discretion mentioned earlier. He invites Sadie out to a little getaway, in order to reveal his true self. Or that’s how it seems. And outside, it also seems someone may be watching Jake.
Meanwhile, Bill is getting a little too close to Marina Oswald. The smile on his face makes clear he’s got a shine for her. Not only are they pushing against the past, they’re slowly getting too involved with people in it. Certainly liable to spell disaster along the road.
Over at the cabin, Sadie has slight suspicions about Jake, that he may not be fully divulging the truth about himself, who he is. “I feel like I‘m an impostor in my own life, everyone thinks I‘m one thing, but I‘m something else,” Jake explains to her: “But I don‘t want to be that way.” Before he can go any further, Jake notices an envelope on the floor by the door. It contains pictures of them through the window, someone spying from outside. Creepy, foreboding moment. This sends Jake into a frenzy, as he and Sadie have to leave. Quick. Jake tells Bill he believes it’s the CIA trying to tell them “back off” – Bill advises leaving Sadie, though, Jake’s not thrilled on that idea.
Heading into a shady building, George and Lee are followed closely, quietly by Jake and Bill. They believe it could be George introducing Oswald to CIA contacts. Inside, the place is a lounge, a whore house, a bar; all in one. Music plays, drinks flow. Jake tries to figure out what’s really going on, as Bill gets jealous and angry because Lee has a woman that isn’t his wife hanging off him. Uh oh. But they continue their little mission, doing the best they can to keep track of Oswald and Mohrenschildt.
Jake goes upstairs with a young lady sporting a wonderfully Southern drawl – “I don‘t do nothin‘ standin‘ up on account of my bad leg,” she explains while they work their way towards a room. Yet Jake’s more interested in spying on his two targets. He ends up causing a commotion after breaking one of the girl’s shoes. That is, before the police bring a raid down, and Jake is caught up then taken to the station. This puts him in a position where the principal at his school has to bail him out; definitely not impressed now.
This brings Jake back to school, without a chance to wash, or change his clothes. He witnesses a quick moment between the principal and Mimi, the latter having some sort of coughing fit. Is there trouble for Ms. Corcoran? I’d hate to think so, she is a wonderful woman. Also, there’s Sadie receiving a visit from her ex-husband Johnny Clayton (T.R. Knight), which doesn’t appear too happy. Jake tries to help comfort Sadie afterwards, but there’s more going on: Johnny won’t give her a divorce, tracking her down in the town of Jodie after she left. A loaded situation, between Jake’s situation and hers, each with their own tricky complexities. Added to that, Johnny is not a normal man; he has strange, unnatural desires, as well as a heavy hand for his wife.
News from Bill, as Lee and George are on the move. They’re preparing to follow the two men separately; Jake on George, Bill on Lee. At the house, Bill is forced to listen in on the Oswalds having sex, which drives him mad. He feels too much for Marina, which is sooner or later going to cause an issue. But as for Jake, he’s trailed George to a loading dock, and tries to pick up on what’s being discussed, as George meets with some suited men near the back.
And then, Johnny Clayton shows up to talk with Jake, surprising him. Turns out, Johnny’s been doing a bit of trailing on his own. It was Clayton who took the photographs of Jake and Sadie: “You‘ve been bad,” he warns Epping. Still, Jake has his own threats and makes his point clear. Unfortunately, Johnny believes Sadie is his property, that he owns her. This Clayton is an eerie character, with the clothespin thing and all; an undercover sadomasochistic man in the early 1960’s. More to come from this awkwardly tense encounter, no doubt.
Immediately after, Jake heads with flowers and chocolates to see Sadie. He talks about how things can get “messy” and “broken“, but that he “loves everything” about her. They’ve connected. Despite Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) warning him, Jake has gone and gotten involved with somebody deeply in the past.
Bill’s at home drinking, clearly upset, and also fed up with the Russian talk. When Jake gets home, upstairs a commotion starts when Lee is obviously beating on his wife. Then suddenly, silence. This situation is brewing into a rocky relationship for Bill and Jake. Making matters worse, Bill continually injects himself into Marina’s life. He tries consoling her outside on the steps, which leads to the two of them becoming closer, even just a little.
Next day at school, Mimi is out sick. Worse, Sadie receives a note claiming Jake is not who he claims; though, she hides it from Jake. The note came along with divorce papers, which Johnny signed and delivered. Will we see more of Clayton disrupting the life of Jake? I’m sure of it.
A renewal of trust comes for Bill, as Jake lets it be known he couldn’t make the journey through the past without him. They’re back on the same page, mostly. And that’s the best thing for them both.
The finale of this episode brings a devastating scene. Sadie heads to see Jake, food in hand. Only Jake’s nowhere to be found. The place is dark and totally quiet. Then, she finds recordings of the Russian chats, the surveillance on Oswald and his wife. Particularly, she hears the moaning and lovemaking. Very suspicious indeed: “Who are you?” she desperately asks Jake, as the credits cut in.
Can’t wait for the next episode, “The Truth”, which promises lots of fun and excitement again. Excellent one again this week. Solid adaptation all around.
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.