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.