A week ago, I criticized the pilot episode of 11.22.63, Hulu’s serialized adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, for spending too much time on explaining a time travel mechanism that is, to be charitable, inexplicable. This week, with episode two, all the problems the pilot suffered from are thankfully gone, and in their place is a fantastic piece of television. The entirety of this episode completely sets aside the show’s central plot—the foiling, through time travel trickery, of Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of JFK—and focuses, instead, on a truly weird little town where James Franco’s Jake takes a little detour from his main mission. On the way to stopping the murder of his future student’s family, Jake meets several colorful, well-drawn characters and finds himself in more than a few uncomfortable situations. The little town of Holden, where this episode takes place, is so well conceived and executed on screen its every day goings on could almost be a series in itself, in the vein of Twin Peaks or, more recently, Wayward Pines. We meet the drug store pharmacist who keeps an extra pair of gym shorts behind the counter, just in case the town runt gets harassed by bullies and loses his. Then there’s the uber-religious woman who runs the boarding house where Jake eventually finds himself, who nervous laughter from the viewer with her constant pointing to the picture of Jesus on her wall, and grave discomfort when she silently regards Jake near the episode’s end, deciding whether or not to believe him—or care—when he begs her not to call the police after she sees his blood caked face, telling her, “Please don’t do that…. I promise, I didn’t do a bad thing tonight.” The aforementioned “bad thing” has a lot to do with Josh Duhamel’s Frank, an alcoholic who’s possibly homicidal, and definitely sadistic, and who chews every bit of scenery he’s in to the point where we don’t want him to go away, despite knowing full well the violence he’s capable of and predisposed toward. He effortlessly swings between easy comic relief—there’s a running gag where he constantly tells his too-eager-to-please butcher shop buddy to shut up whenever the latter opens his mouth, even if it’s just to fully agree with something Frank just said—and pure evil. We see this latter side of him when he takes Jake to the slaughterhouse where he works, hands him a hammer, and tries to coax him into killing a calf. Jake holds the hammer for several moments, looking at the doomed creature—to the point where the viewer is thinking, Jesus…. He’s actually going to do it!,–before finally dropping it to the floor in disgust. Not to worry, though, as Frank is quick to grab the hammer himself and finish the job. Through this incredibly tense scene—which, as violent as it ultimately is, artfully and expertly contains no graphic depictions of said violence—Jake gets all the evidence he needs to know that Frank is a bad, bad dude who is, in fact, going to kill his family on the night of October 31. And that’s a big part of what makes this episode work so well. In the pilot, we got grand, general warnings from Chris Cooper’s Al, cautioning Jake that when he messes with the past it messes right back, and indeed, there is still, in episode two, no lack of characters, main or nameless, willing to point at Jake and say, “You shouldn’t be here.” The implication from those warnings, for the viewer, is that killing Oswald is going to have some big, unconsidered implications. But here, we get to see Al’s words come to fruition. Indeed, in one of the episode’s better and most understated moments, as Jake desperately tries to explain to another character that he has to prevent a murder from occurring at 8 p.m., this other character informs him his prediction’s off, as it’s already five minutes past. And so we see that Jake, just by being here, just by knowing these people, has changed history by a full five minutes. What, we’re left to wonder, is going to happen when he doesn’t just meet someone, but kills them? Extrapolate that little point to the story at large—what’s going to happen to an America is which Jake kills the man who would murder JFK—and we’re set up for one hell of a ride. The other great part of this episode comes at the end, after Jake kills Frank and skips town. When Jake stops alongside the road to do the movie thing of looking into the rain and trying to wash away his sins, a local bartender—the man Jake spoke to earlier about having to kill Frank, and whose own sister Frank murdered years ago—appears seemingly out of nowhere (presumably he just parked his car in the exact same spot thinking that Gee, maybe this strange out-of-towner will happen by?), holds up a newspaper from the future announcing JFK’s assassination, and demands to know what’s going on. And suddenly… a sidekick! Too often, single character-centric shows and movies rely on one of a couple of devices to drive the narrative: the main character will either talk out loud to himself in ways and about things that normal people never do, or—two hundred percent worse and the ultimate sign of lazy storytelling—interior ideas are expressed through voiceover. But now, with another character knowing Jake’s secret, and one who’s sympathetic to his desire to make right the wrongs of the past, Jake has someone he can bounce his ideas off of, and the viewers have someone we can hear Jake explain his thoughts, motivations and actions to. It’s really a great turn of the narrative, and I’m interested to see how far this (presumed) partnership goes. All in all, each and every problem that bogged the pilot down, mainly the clunky attempt to explain the how and why of Al’s time travel closet, is gone, and it seems that the showrunners are glad to have it over with, too: you can almost imagine them wiping their hands on their pants and saying, Glad that god-awful exposition is done with so we can tell a good story. And what a good story it looks to be. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.