Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Review - '11.22.63', Episode 7 - 'Soldier Boy'

The one concern I had, going in to this episode of 11.22.63, was exactly how much emphasis the series intended on placing on Jake's injuries – and, in particular, on the implications of his potential memory loss. It had just struck me as too obvious of a delaying tactic, intended to add some extra tension to the series, as a whole – and, it had come across as a little contrived.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, Jake's memory loss did go on to become a significant feature of the penultimate episode of 11.22.63 – leaving him struggling to recall even the most basic details of his mission, and of the life he had managed to build for himself in the 1960s. He had even managed to forget his long-time partner, Bill Turcote, entirely – who, thanks to this own machinations, was currently locked away in a mental institution.

Bill's fate, in this episode, struck me as especially tragic, given the fact that he had always struck me as such a genuinely sympathetic character. With the series skipping over as much time as it had, it can be easy to forget that these two men had been working together, and supporting each other, for a couple of years before they had their sudden, and not entirely convincing, falling out. The fact that, in all of that time, we were never really given the opportunity to see Bill as a genuine asset to Jake, and his mission, feels like much more the fault of the show's basic structure, and the writers, than it does either character, himself, or George MacKay's performance. This is, after all, a young man who was willing to devote a fairly significant portion of his life to Jake's mission.

Bill's brief reappearance in this episode, only to leave the series once more in a much more permanent manner, was tragic – but, it also felt pointless, and more than a little unfair. The fact that Jake could not even remember him well enough to be genuinely apologetic about what he had done just felt like an added insult, in the end. At the same time, though, I do have to admit that George MacKay managed to give an especially great performance in this brief scene – so, I suppose that must count as a 'win' for the actor, at least, if not the character.

I am, also, prepared to admit that the basic structure of this episode, with its constant and rapid jumps forward through the last few weeks leading up to the assassination as Jake with his failing memory, was an effective way of adding a bit of genuine tension and urgency. I may not have cared for the creative decision that placed Jake in this situation so close to the end of the series, but it's still somewhat impressive to see the series commit to it, entirely.

Ultimately, and unfortunately, there is actually very little to say about this episode, though – because, in the end, very little actually happens. There are high-lights, of course. Sadie having the opportunity to take the lead, as the main driving force behind Jake's mission, was a very interesting development – as was her willingness to believe in, and support, Jake when he needed her. Their relationship has been one of the continuous high-lights of the series, so far. It is definitely something of a relief to see that remain the case, here.

Jake, also, had a very interesting encounter with the mysterious figure who has been appearing throughout the season. The 'Yellow Card Man' (Kevin J. O'Connor) appeared to Jake, here, to reveal what appears to be his own tragic experiences with time travel, seemingly in order to convince Jake to give up on his own mission. It was a fantastic scene, built around a very emotional story – and, Kevin J. O'Connor gave a great performance. Most interesting, though, is the fact that it almost seemed to work – with Jake momentarily allowing himself to consider the possibility of simply abandoning his mission in favour of starting a new life with Sadie. But, of course, we still know almost nothing about this mysterious figure. So, hopefully, there will be room for more developments, on that front, in the final episode.

Also, and perhaps most importantly at this point in the series, Lee Harvey Oswald continues to be a fascinating figure whenever he is on-screen. Daniel Webber has done a very impressive job of bringing this complex character to life over the season – giving a performance that suggest an anger barely contained beneath the surface, and a strong desire to be seen as someone important.

Principle Deke (Nick Searcy) had a few good moments in his supporting role in this episode, as well, with his willingness to help and support Jake alongside Sadie – but, I was very disappointed that Miss Mimi had died off-camera, after only having revealed both her cancer and her relationship with Deke in the previous episode. That felt like a wasted opportunity.

Overall, this was a somewhat frustrating episode, for me. It had its good points, sure – but, it was a little too obvious that everything that had happened really amounted to little more than a delaying tactic to ensure that we actually reached the day of the assassination. Because of that, this would have to be the weakest episode of 11.22.63, so far. Hopefully, though, the final episode can still manage to bring the series to a satisfying conclusion.

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