Friday, 4 March 2016

Review - '11.22.63', Episode 3 - 'Other Voices, Other Rooms'

The previous episode of 11.22.63 may have been, essentially, little more than a self-contained side-plot - but, it was obviously still a very important moment for Jake Epping. By stopping the brutal murder of that innocent family, Jake has managed to prove to himself that changing the past actually is possible, despite Time's best efforts to push back against him. It was an important victory for Jake, which goes some way toward countering the feeling of defeat that he was left with at the end of the first episode. Of course, the fact that, in order to save the Dunning family, Jake was also required to kill a man is something that is clearly going to weigh on his conscience, going forward.

Along with this comparatively small (in terms of the scale of what he is trying to do, at least) victory, it seems that Jake has also managed to find himself a new ally, in the form of Bill Turcote (George MacKay) - a young man who believes that his sister had also been killed by Frank Dunning (and who, given the circumstances, is probably right), and who has discovered Jake's notes from the future. Quickly (perhaps a bit too quickly) convinced that Jake is telling the truth, Bill decides that he wants to help. This is, obviously, a troubled young man desperate for something meaningful in his life - and Jake, who clearly sees the value in an having some help and support in his mission, ultimately relents and accepts Bill's offer. Unfortunately, though, what we see of Bill Turcote in this episode seems to suggest that he might end up proving to be more of a liability to Jake, than an asset - though, George MacKay is still able to make him into a somewhat sympathetic figure, in spite of that.

With the two men set to work together, the episode then makes the interesting decision of simply skipping over much of the next few years - moving things forward to 1962 when, we already know, Lee Harvey Oswald is set to finally return from Russia, with his young family. The fact that Jake's mission to save JFK requires a three year commitment, on his part, was one of the most intriguing parts of the whole premise, going in (it also effectively counter-balances the fact that the 'time button' also comes with its own, in-built, reset button). It was another element of the series which effectively conveyed the true scale of what Jake was trying to achieve, as well as the level of his determination - though, it was obvious, from the start, that we wouldn't be required to watch the entire three year period. With two years, in which nothing much of any real importance seems to take place, separating Jake from his next clear lead, it made sense to insert a time jump, here - though, that being said, it did still feel a little two abrupt.

I think my real issue, on this point, is that the episode really didn't do much to convey the sense of time passing for Jake and Bill - or, of the effect that this passage of time might have had on their resolve. One moment, we see Jake applying for a job as a substitute teacher, then we are told that it is two years later, with Jake now working as a teacher full-time - and, the two men are preparing for the eventual arrival of Lee Harvey Oswald as though no time has passed, at all. The episode jumped forward two years - yet, for all the importance it seemed to have, it could have just as easily been a month. It was a little frustrating.

Once we make the jump, though, things begin to get very interesting. Taking up residence in an apartment just across the street from the one that Oswald will soon come to inhabit, the episode is able to inject elements of some fairly classic spy drama, as Jake and Bill set up surveillance. Also, the whole sequence in which the two are almost caught, with Oswald and his young wife arriving just as the two are 'bugging' the apartment (while it is, admittedly, a somewhat contrived bit of timing) was particularly tense. It is also interesting to note, on this point, the way in which any similar bit of contrivance on this series (or, the book on which it is based) can be attributed to Time pushing back against Jake. Is that clever plotting, or lazy plotting? Or, is there even a difference, at this point?

What we saw of Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) was also fascinating. Returning to America as a husband and father, there is no real indication of the man who might one day go on to assassinate a president - but, the final scene of the episode does show us that there is anger, and deeply help beliefs, which could potentially drive him in that direction. Having not read Stephen King's original novel (and, also, being aware that the series might change the resolution, anyway), I have no idea where any of this is going - but, Oswald's presence, here, does make me a little more interested in the series' overarching plot-line than I have been over the past couple of episodes.

Alongside this, we also have Jake's experiences as a teacher, in which his instantly flirtatious relationship with the new librarian, Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gordon), quickly becomes a new focal point for the show. The hints of romance develop between them quickly - but, Sarah Gordon and James Franco have enough natural chemistry, in their scenes together, that it is entirely believable that the two could be so instantly drawn to each other.

It might seem a bit strange that Jake was so willing to let himself become romantically involved with anyone, given the circumstances - though, I assume that is due to the complacency that must have come from spending the past two years with these same people. After so much time, there must be a part of Jake that is content with the life he has built for himself - and, the conflict between that life and his overarching mission is obviously going to become a significant factor in later episodes. If we had actually been shown a little more of that two year period, rather than simply skipping over it, then the episode might have been able to do a better job of getting that point across - which is a bit of a shame.

Worthy of note, also, are those few moments in which Jake finds himself butting heads with classic, 1960s-style, racism on behalf of Miss Mimi (Tonya Pinkins) - with the scene in which Jake angrily confronts the gas station who refused to serve her serving as a great character moment for Jake Epping, in particular, that is well-played by James Franco. Sure, in the great scheme of things, these scenes might serve no other purpose than to show the audience the sort of person that Jake really is - but, in that regard, they get the point across quite well.

The third episode of 11.22.63 was an episode that felt somewhat transitional, in nature. With regard to the show's over-arching plot to prevent the assassination of JFK, there was a strong sense in which the episode was concerned, primarily, with covering important ground as efficiently as possible. That, more than anything, is the likely reason for that frustratingly abrupt time-jump which brought us forward to 1962. Still, though, those early indications of the conflict Jake is sure to feel between the life he is building in the 1960s, and his mission, suggest some fascinating developments for the future. And, the introduction of the figure at the centre of it all, Lee Harvey Oswald, does a wonderful job of giving that series long mission a greater sense of focus.

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