Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Review - '11.22.63', Episode 8 - 'The Day in Question'

The penultimate episode of 11.22.63 had ended on a suitably tense moment. Lee Harvey Oswald was in position, ready to go down in history as the man who assassinated United States President John F. Kennedy. Jake and Sadie found themselves in a desperate race against time to reach the Texas Book Depository – struggling against Time's latest efforts to push back against them (which, admittedly, hadn't really resulted in anything more significant than their car's engine failing to start). The pieces had seemed to be in place for this final episode to be a tense and exciting resolution. As we move into this final episode, though, it all takes an unexpected turn (to anyone who hasn't read the story on which this series is based, at least – from what I understand, everything that happens in this last episode is actually fairly faithful to the novel).

With Jake and Sadie continue their desperate race to the Texas Book Depository, things take a slightly stranger turn as it seems that Time has renewed its efforts to stop them. A road which Jake had good reason, based on his own research, to believe would be open is suddenly closed off – leaving them closed in, and forced to abandon their stolen car. Then, Bonnie Ray Williams (Grantham Coleman), the witness who originally testified against Lee Harvey Oswald, decides to lock up the Book Depository and leave, instead. Strangest of all, though, are the brief glimpses that Jake and Sadie have of the various people who have died throughout Jake's mission – whose presence, clearly, is intended to distract them.

In the end, though, none of this really works – and, Jake and Sadie are able to make their way to Lee Harvey Oswald, undeterred. This would have to be one of the major issues of this final episode, and of the series as a whole, for me. This final episode should have been were we saw the most of Time's efforts to push back against Jake – and, also, possibly even where we received some revelations on what it is, exactly, that is working against him. Time's ability to work against Jake's efforts to change the past had been built up, throughout the season, as the most significant threat he was likely to face. Ultimately, though, Time's efforts, here, were significantly less impressive than what we saw earlier in the series. Perhaps it's not really worth dwelling on – but, in the end, this remained a frustratingly unexplored aspect of the series.

The actual moment in which Jake finally comes face-to-face with Lee Harvey Oswald was great, though. It was tense and dramatic, with James Franco and Daniel Webber each given a great performance, and, most importantly, it ends with Oswald ultimately only able to get off that first shot which, famously, was the one that missed. So, in the end, Jake's mission was a success – but, the episode hasn't even reached the half-way point. Also, there is the fact that the brief, though tense, confrontation resulted in the death of both Lee Harvey Oswald and, more tragically, Sadie – who happens to have been hit by a stray bullet.

As twists go, having Sadie die, here, does feel like fairly obvious, and a little conventional. But, of course, there is also the possibility that this is simply yet another of Time's efforts to push back against Jake.

With the attempted assassination prevented so early in the episode, though, there is still the important matter of exactly hot 11.22.63 will fill out the rest of the episode as it moves toward its final resolution.

The implication that Jake could, ultimately, be held responsible for the attempted assassination (effectively leaving him trapped in the past as he takes his own place in history) is a develop that had seemed both fascinating and bleak. It also resulted in some great scenes, during Jake's interrogation – with Jake skilfully using his knowledge of the events surrounding the assassination against FBI Agent James Hosty (Gil Bellows). Losing the woman he had come to love, and spending the rest of his life in prison with no way of knowing if it was all even worthwhile, would certainly have added a memorably element of tragedy to Jake's success, if this was the ending that the series had gone with. But, with Jake receiving a 'thank you' phone-call from JFK, himself, this was obviously not to be.

The sudden turn things take when Jake is finally able to return to his own time offered up another fascinating possibility – with Jake finding himself suddenly caught up in a surprisingly grim vision of an America devastated by war. This entire sequences, while rather short, still contained more than its fair share of great little moments. The idea that JFK surviving the assassination attempt would lead directly to a war that sees America devastated does feel a little outlandish, admittedly (though, to be fair, the blame for all of this seems to have been laid at the feet of the President who would have followed JFK, George Wallace, rather than JFK, himself). But, bringing Jake face-to-face with Harry Dunning (Leon Rippy), once more, effectively added yet another element of personal tragedy for Jake – as Jake was forced to realise that even the small ways he had tried to change things for the better would have consequences he could not have foreseen. This, too, would have been a very bleak note to end things on – with Jake finding himself trapped in the horrifying future that he had, somehow, created. But, again, this was not to be the case.

Although, as a side-note, there is also the very interesting possibility, in this whole sequence, that Jake being hurled into the worst possible future, as he was, was simply Time's last-ditch effort to push back against him. It did, after all, successfully force him into a position where he had increasingly compelling reasons to use the convenient 'reset' button which had been built in to this show's conception of time travel. Time won, in the end – which was something I found especially interesting.

In the end, though, the ultimate resolution of 11.22.63 shifted its focus to Jake and Sadie, themselves. With Jake briefly considering, though ultimately abandoning (thanks to another appearance by the mysterious 'Yellow Card Man'), the possibility of renewing his relationship with Sadie after the 'reset', the element of tragedy that the series does finally end on becomes much more personal. In the end, this final episode (and, by implication, possibly even the series as a whole) wasn't even really about Lee Harvey Oswald and John F. Kennedy, at all. It was about Jake and Sadie, and Jake's very genuine regret over the life that they would never be able to spend together.

On the one hand, this final development does seem to go out of its way toward undermining everything that had occurred throughout the series – since, after all, none of it had ever really happened. But, at the same time, it is difficult to deny that the episode's final moments, shared between Jake and an older Sadie (here played by Constance Towers), were definitely bittersweet.

In the end, while there were moments where the final episode of 11.22.63 felt a little disjointed (with its sudden shifts in tone), the story that the episode finally settled on was a very satisfying one. Jake and Sadie had always been the most engaging part of the series, to me – and, the relationship that had developed between them had always stood out as feeling very genuine. Because of this, the fact that the final episode of 11.22.63 would place greater importance on their relationship felt very fitting – and, it didn't actually bother me, at all.

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