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.
Well, things came to a close this week and, for the most part, I am satisfied. The road was a bit rocky, but they did the ending enough justice for me to say that it was pretty close to perfect.
Contrary to what a lot of people may have been expecting, the assassination attempt on JFK takes up very little of the episode. We get a good sense of the race against the clock, the past fighting back, and the stakes at play. There is even a near-perfect recreation of the motorcade and grassy knoll, complete with Mr. Zapruder himself. Jake successfully makes it into the building and kills Lee Harvey Oswald in a tense stand-off…but not before Sadie is killed in the crossfire.
Yes, Jake’s darling is the collateral damage here and boy, does Jake not take it well. He’s whisked off to the police department pretty quickly, but he couldn’t care much about that…his personal loss is too great. It’s here where the show drags a bit. Jake is too busy fighting against a skeptical FBI and police department for us to really see the loss of Sadie really hit him. There’s too much back and forth here about rights, responsibilities, and warning signs for us to really feel the moment. I can’t speak for the authenticity of the legal proceedings, but the emotional proceedings are lacking just a bit. It’s not until Jake gets his call from JFK that things get back on track.
Jake makes his way back to Lisbon, and to the year 2016, and we see that the future is far worse than it was before. No, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to people, as this trope is pretty much the cornerstone of all time-travel fiction, but it serves the plot regardless. The details on how the world devolved were sparse, but they were enough to convince us that Jake needed to restore the past. So it’s back through the rabbit hole and, again, the show gets a bit muddy.
Upon returning to the Lisbon of 1960, Jake sees the same old staples…as well as something new. Sadie is visiting her cousin; how about that? He meets up with her and the two have an awkward exchange since, well, Sadie has technically never met this man before and Jake is, technically, seeing a ghost. He’s going to try to make the relationship work until the Yellowcard Man tells him not to bother…the past will always fight him and there is no outcome where he and Sadie grow old together. The mechanics of this are hazy at best…we get some amorphous jargon about the past not wanting to be changed and we need to accept it. The novel goes into much more detail on this, but that’s also one of the novel’s few weaknesses, so I’m willing to say the show handled it pretty darn well.
Finally, back in the year 2016, everything is back to normal. Well, except for Jake’s broken heart. After a breakdown in front of Harry, Jake decides to look up and visit Sadie, now in her elder years. She is being honored for her contributions to Jodie High, and after a brief re-introduction, the two dance the night away. It’s a perfect, bittersweet ending about the perils of time travel, the notions of change, and the believe that love can transcend time. It’s not a nice, clean Hollywood ending…and that’s why I love it. Jake sacrifices a lot during this story, makes a lot of tough calls, and, ultimately, doesn’t even win. But he grows, he learns to lose, and he accepts that time, like so much in this world, hangs in the midst by slender threads that no one person has a right to sever.
This was probably the most faithful episode of the bunch, and by no coincidence, is also the best. Sure, I can nitpick and say that certain gunshots occurred at slightly different times, but by and large, this episode was very well done. But do I have gripes? Of course I do, you know better than that.
The first gripe is in response to the legal work surrounding Jake’s involvement. There was a lot of back-and-forth in that detention cell that we lose sight of the emotional blow that was just dealt. The book goes to great lengths to write Jake a hero, allowing the jubilant celebrations to paint a more stark contrast to Jake’s inner sadness. Jake becomes a hero of sorts, and his disappearance (as he heads back to the 21st century) results in him being mythologized in a way.
The biggest changes from the book are probably for the better, as there are pages upon pages of exposition that explain why JFK’s survival were detrimental to the nation. It’s a lot of made-up, faux-political speculation that was all done for the purpose of inventing a more negative future. That’s fine, of course, as the book had the time to do this, but had the show devoted a commensurate amount of time to this explanation, it would have killed the momentum.
Likewise, the explanation of time travel in the book kills the momentum because it absolutely bonkers. It’s something along the lines of: each trip through the rabbit hole creates a new reality and the Yellowcard man needs to keep track of these different realities and he doesn’t want the past to change and he makes the realities harmonize which is why there are similarities and so Jake needs to go through the rabbit hole to 2016 so they can destroy the diner and eliminate the portal and yada yada yada yada yada. It’s a big, giant mess, so I don’t blame the showrunners one bit for simplifying the nature of time travel to something digestible, even if it is simplistic.
So the last issue? When Jake goes on his “reset run” through the rabbit hole in the novel, he does not meet Sadie. Sadie is not in Lisbon falls and he has, in this new timeline, no interaction with her whatsoever. It makes his return to 2016 for the last time more painful, but all the more valiant. When he returns to Lisbon, however, she still has a vague recollection of him. She still feels like she knows him, which makes their love all the more stronger. It speaks to the theme that love is not only timeless, but transcends individual lives. They truly are soul mates. It’s a more spiritual, fluffy ending, but it’s a thematically stronger one.
Unfortunately, the strength of their love is something that is a bit undersold by the show, given the time devoted to whole bunch of other topics. But it reinforces my final point: read the book. It’s really great.
Alex Russo likes to talk about television. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.