The Tip of the Iceberg
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.
11.22.63 did a lot with 50 minutes this week and did it well. With so many moving pieces and important elements, the show hasn’t strayed far from the narrative path. Of course, when Stephen King is your source material, that isn’t hard.
As viewers are learning now, there are two halves to this story…the mission and love story. 11.22.63 is the ultimate work-life balance struggle, and the seeds were finally planted for Jake’s id to be a central obstacle in the story. Spying on Lee Harvey Oswald is a full-time job, but teaching English is his passion, and with a beautiful woman pulling him further into Jodie High School, Jake is going to have a lot on his plate.
Meanwhile, Bill the Bartender is proving to be quite a handful. He’s quick to judge (although you would be too if someone claimed to be a time traveler) and quick to start a fight. Oh, and for someone who works with alcohol, the kid’s a lightweight. Almost spilling the beans of Jake’s mission in front of Jack Ruby (*rolls eyes*) is certainly foreshadowing that this kid is going to be a problem down the line. Will he and Jake get in a fight? Will he get mad and threaten to go to the press and ruin everything? Will Jake have to make a tough call on getting this kid out of the picture? Your guess is as good as mine because none of this was in the book.
A lot of Jake and Bill’s story seemed strange this episode, as the espionage element is a lot weaker than the Jodie High School element. Between the weird crawlspace spiders and the homophobes with a love of stealing audio equipment, we were asking to accept a lot. Most of that I was okay with, but there was a general lack of tension surrounding the whole thing, though that may have just been a symptom of knowing that there are still five episodes left in the series.
The other half of this story focuses on Jake’s relationship with the people of Jodie High School. Yes, Jake is in his element, but the show reminds us that all is not well. Miss Mimi can’t fill up her car on account of her race and, hell, even offering her a cup of coffee is met with sideways glances. Nearly two years passes with this as the status quo…Jake teaches at a quaint, yet imperfect high school while moonlighting as a spy from the future.
Enter: Sadie. Remember that one girl in episode one who was sitting on the bench and made you say: “She must be important later because why else would this pointless scene be in the episode?” Well, she came back in the form of Jodie’s new librarian. Much like before, Jake and Sadie hit it off and become close friends. They even showcase a hearty dance number in front of the students. It’s at this point we see Jake’s two lives overlap, albeit briefly. Jake has a hot date with Lee Harvey Oswald’s apartment and he leaves Sadie to chaperone the dance by herself.
The next day Jake is very apologetic, and after a few attempts to get back in her good graces, Sadie kisses Jake. I don’t think anyone was surprised by that development, but at the same time it is extremely unearned. The love story, spoiler alert, is the emotional core of this story, so this rushed relationship seems unrealistic. Remember, Sadie wasn’t at the school these two years with Jake; she shows up in ’62. It’d be unrealistic in today’s workplace, let alone in one of yesteryear.
Either way, the pieces are in place for the story. While some of the elements seemed rushed, there are still five episodes left in the story, so a lot can still happen. There’s still a year before the assassination, so we can really see these relationships flourish and have Jake’s worlds truly collide.
Much like last week, a good deal of this is off-book. Only a few similar threads remain, which is fine. It’s just a bit looser of an adaptation than I was hoping for, I guess, but whaddya gonna do?
The biggest issue here, since none of Jake and Bill’s adventures happened in the book, lie in Sadie and Jake’s relationship. First of all, Sadie had never met Jake on a park bench years ago, and even if they did, no one would remember it. Sorry, romantics-at-heart, but it’s true. That was an audience set up, not a realistic story point.
Secondly, and more importantly, was the way in which Jake and Sadie meet in Jodie. At a staff party, Sadie slips and falls, only being stopped because Jake catches her by the boob. That sounds like a slapstick comedy point, but it’s important to who Jodie is as a character. She is not some polished, professional who doesn’t miss a beat. Sadie is a clumsy, damaged person. Her divorce was a nasty bit of business, and while I won’t speak to the details of it (as they might still work that in), it’s incredibly important to the story for Sadie to be a klutz, not just physically, but at her core. She’s goofy, clunky, and insecure.
Finally, I’m not sure about the time frame the book utilized, and I’m not going to look it up because I’m a lazy jerk who is writing this on the train, but Jake does quite a bit of traveling in the book. These elements serve not just his mission, but to establish the “rules” of time travel in this universe. I’ll leave it at that for now, but next time you watch, pay attention to just how little Jake actually moves in this show. The narrative is restricted to Dallas and Jodie, and boy does it have ramifications on the greater story at hand.
Alex Russo likes to talk about television. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.