Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Review - '11.22.63', Episode 5 - 'The Truth'

11.22.63 is a series only set to last for eight episodes - so, it would be fair to go in assuming that the creator's would have a vested interest in keeping things moving forward at a fairly steady pace. At the same time, though, the basic structure of its central plot-line seems to have been deliberately set-up in such a way that there is plenty of room left to explore its various side-plots.

Overall, the series has done a fairly good job of maintaining a proper sense of balance between its various elements. Jake's blossoming romance with Sadie has managed to add a very genuine emotional core to the series that it may have lacked, otherwise - largely due to the natural chemistry that James Franco and Sarah Gadon have been able to display whenever they are on screen, together. At the same time, there has also been enough attention paid to the mission to prevent JFK's assassination that the series has never actually lost sight of its intended end-point.

But, the series has also gone out of its way to keep those elements separate - to such an extent that it has often felt as though they could easily be scenes from two entirely different sorts of shows. The fifth episode of 11.22.63, though, is clearly intent on changing that.

Picking up only moments after the previous episode ended, Sadie has just discovered a recording of a couple (Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife, Marina) speaking in Russian. Convinced that this recording is evidence that Jake has been keeping secrets from her, she is obviously suspicious of him - and, she is very eager to leave (why did it seems as though the recording had been set up specifically for her to find? And, was that actually the mysterious figure from the first episode moving about in Jake's house when she arrived? Those are both interesting questions which remain unanswered).

So, the episode began with an abrupt end to Jake's relationship with Sadie. But, while it was a suitably tense opening scene, I'm not entirely convinced by the way that it played out. It's not even really a matter of not being convinced by Sadie's reasoning, here - since, I'm not even entirely sure I understand what her issue really was. She found a recording of people speaking Russian - but, since she clearly doesn't speak Russian, she obviously has no idea what it actually is. Despite this, though, she seemed willing to assume that the recording's existence was proof that Jake was keeping secrets from her (he actually is, of course - but, that's beside the point). From there, Sadie puts an abrupt end to their relationship and runs off - and, none of it really makes sense. Maybe if Sadie had actually been given more time to express herself, and to explain what it is that she assumed Jake was up to, the scene might have worked a little better. Unfortunately, we weren't - so, it came across more as a moment of obviously contrived drama.

It's not only that, though - but, the very next day, Jake also learns that he has been fired from his teaching job. Whatever rumours Sadie had been spreading about Jake (we never really find out) is, apparently, the last straw for Principle Deke (Nick Searcy) and, since his contract included a 'morals' clause, he felt forced to make the decision to let Jake go. Is all of this more evidence of Time pushing back against Jake? Honestly, I don't know - though, I suppose that we are free to assume that, if we want to.

Jake doesn't have time to worry about the drastic fashion in which the life he has built himself is falling apart, though - as, the night of the attempted assassination of General Edwin Walker (Gregory North) is rapidly approaching. Since the beginning of the series, this moment has been held up as something of all of the theories that Al shared with Jake. Being a failed assassination attempt preformed with the same model of gun that would, later, be used to kill President John F. Kennedy, obviously learning who it was that actually pulled the trigger was very important. If it could be proven that it was Lee Harvey Oswald pulling the trigger, than that could be taken as proof that he was also the one responsible for JFK's assassination - or, at least, Jake seems is convinced that that is the case (Bill does raise some valid issues with Jake's theories).

Another complexity emerges, though, when Sadie's ex-husband, Johnny Clayton (T. R. Knight), makes a sudden return - and, Jake is required to abandon is carefully prepared plans in order to rush to Sadie's aid. This entire sequence was tense, sure - yet, at the same time, it came across as a little too outlandish for comfort. It was obvious that Johnny was going to return, and that he would be a source of more trouble when he did - but, having him reappear as a man willing to murder two people felt like a bit much. It also didn't help that T. R. Knight's performance went from being off-putting in a very genuine way, in the previous episode, to over-the-top scenery chewing, here.

With Jake occupied, it falls to Bill to be the one present at the assassination attempt, in order to uncover who it actually is pulling the trigger - and, here, unfortunately, we encounter another difficulty. The real issue, for me, is that things just became a little too predictable, at this point. From the moment that the audience learns that Bill is, essentially, going to have to take up Jake's mission alone, it becomes very obvious that something is going to go wrong - and, that he wouldn't actually be where he needed to be. The only detail to be revealed would be how things were going to go wrong, rather than if they would. Would Bill, for example, become so obsessed with Lee Harvey Oswald's wife that he, much like Jake, would be inspired to abandon their mission entirely? Or, would Bill's brief face-to-face encounter with Oswald somehow alter things enough that the attempted assassination never actually takes place (with the two of them, perhaps, becoming so heavily involved in a heated discussion of the work of Karl Marx that they manage to forget that they each had plans that night)?

The end result of all of this is an episode that feels very disjointed - one which, on the surface, should be focused primarily on Jake and Bill's efforts to stop the assassination, yet somehow isn't. Regarding the show's central plot-line, the very deliberate lack of any actual revelation may have been expected - but, it still bugged me. In the end, it became a frustrating reminded of exactly how little progress had been made on that front since the series began - and, it's a shame that Bill Turcote, a genuinely sympathetic character, is really only being used to create problems for Jake. Regarding Jake and Sadie, things were a little more successful, at least. Johnny Clayton's sudden reappearance as a cold-blooded murderer might have felt like too abrupt a shift in tone - but, there was a very real sense of danger in those scenes, in spite of T. R. Knight's occasionally over-the-top performance.

Unfortunately, though, the only truly interesting detail about this episode was the fact that Jake, ultimately, decided to reveal the truth to Sadie, after all - something which is sure to add further complications in future episodes, as she finds herself drawn in to their desperate mission. I am, at least, still very interested in seeing how that plays out.

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