A Great New Story
Forward: I am a huge fan of the book 11.22.63 on which this series is based. As I review this series, I will be judging the show on it’s own merits, leaving my criticism of the actual adaption to the last paragraph. That being said, you should all read the book because it’s already way better.
That subtitle is laced with snark, non-book readers, because this episode was nearly all original material. There were a handful of familiar elements, but this was pretty much a new story. But more on that at the end.
This episode featured Jake attempting to right a major wrong in the past, since he’s got three years to kill. He’s going to stop Frank Dunning from murdering his wife and two kids/maiming the last. We’re introduced to Frank at the end of the last episode but we don’t really get a sense of his personality until this episode…shocker, he’s not a nice guy.
Jake hangs around the local bar (we know he’s an alcoholic from Harry’s essay at the beginning of last episode). After a brief back and forth with the bartender, the regular crowd shuffles in and it’s clear that Frank is the alpha of the group…it’s a pseudo fear-based respect that he has with the guys at the bar. Jake attempts to get to know Frank and encourages him to start fresh in a new town, since his relationship isn’t doing too well. Frank’s not happy with this newcomer getting involved with his life, so he takes him to the slaughter house. Literally, the house where they slaughter cows and chickens for the butcher shop. Frank is suspicious of Jake from the beginning, even questioning how Jake knew his name (“Oh, an old war buddy”). It’s established here that Frank isn’t just violent, he relishes in violence. It’s a badge of honor that he can murder a cow with one swing of the sledgehammer.
Jake, his plan to get Frank out the picture failing, gives Doris Dunning an all-expense paid trip out of town for three days. She’s excited, but Frank finds out and is none too pleased. He thinks Jake is trying to sleep with Doris, so he beats the crap out of Doris for it (logic!). Jake heads back to the Price house, where he is staying. After a brief back-and-forth regarding their roles in their respective wars (Jake claims he was part of the M*A*S*H 4077, which was a fantastic joke), Arliss Price shares his war story. He recounts his tale of death, something that he was award a bronze star for, even though in his mind it was a merciless and unforgivable act. It provides an extra emotional obstacle for Jake, meaning he has to think long and hard about whether or not he really needs to kill Frank. It wasn’t exactly subtle, but it was certainly effective.
Finally, it’s Halloween night and it’s do or die for everyone involved. Jake (after humorously attempting to get a gun) feels the past fighting against him. He gets a bad case of diarrhea, but that won’t stop him. Armed with incontinence pants, he heads to the Dunnings. The moment of truth is quickly approaching, but he is interrupted by the bartender, who claims he wants Dunning for himself after he killed his sister. He also doesn’t believe that Jake knows Frank is at it again, and Jake has to say he’s from the future just to get him off his back. This really bothered me, but I’ll get to that.
Jake hears Doris scream, and he runs into the house and confronts Frank. It’s a brutal, but well-done, fight. Jake emerges victorious and he leaves, ready to head back to Dallas. This isn’t before, however, the bartender magically stumbles upon one of Jake’s newspapers from the future declaring the death of JFK. And that’s your cliffhanger, folks!
This was a pretty cut and dry episode, and it was well done where it counted, with a few hamfisted ideas thrown in as well. It’s clear that subtlety isn’t really a trait of this show, so that’s a bit frustrating, but on the whole it’s quite well done. Onward to Texas!
This was almost entirely new material here, and one change really hindered the development of Jake. Right off the bat, I’ll mention that in the book, Jake’s attempt to stop Frank wasn’t entirely successful. He saves Doris and two of the kids, but Tugga, the other brother, is still killed by Frank. Jake then heads back through the rabbit hole and tries again. This may seem like filler, but it’s pretty essential to the character. Jake operates under the assumption that do-overs are a valid option and, more importantly, it makes him unable to handle failure. He has the idea that he can try, try again, which contributes to his reckless nature at times. Jake isn’t a careful character, and it comes back to bite him.
The final scene was also incredibly less suspenseful in the show. In the book, it’s a race against the clock to even get into the house, and Jake trips, falls, drops the gun, etc. on his way into the house, but the show gave the whole confrontation a stealthy vibe, as Jake tip-toed around the house. Is this a small gripe? Maybe, but the show’s portrayal of the event made it seem like the past wasn’t pushing back too hard.
The final, major change is the bartender’s discovery of the newspaper. That guy doesn’t show up at all in the boon beyond the Frank encounter, so I have no idea what is in store for that character. There were a few shades of similarities in the episode in other places, but on the whole this was pretty much all new material. So who knows what’s coming in future episodes?
Alex Russo likes to talk about television. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.