Saturday, March 12, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 4: The Eyes of Texas

Apologies for the tardiness of this week's episode review, y'all!  I attended a wedding in Orlando, so everything else -- quite rightly -- took a backseat for several days.
  
Here we are now, though, talking about "The Eyes of Texas," the fourth episode the series.  It's another good one, and much of it is focused on deepening the relationship between Jake and Sadie.
  
The first time we see them in this episode, it is during a moment in which Jake walks into a room at school and observes Sadie playing the piano.
  
  
  
  
She's playing:
  
  


I know of only maybe one or two more beautiful and haunting pieces of music in all of human arts; it's a devastatingly lovely composition, and the way Sadie plays Satie -- tentatively, yearningly -- somehow enhances its appeal.  This slayed me, man.  Music is one of the most powerful tools a filmmaker has for building emotion, and if I was not already a believer in the romance between Jake and Sadie, I certainly would have been after this.
  

It may not work on other viewers quite as well, I suppose.  If you don't like Satie's composition as much as I do, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about.  Fair enough, but even without that attachment, I think you probably get a sense of melancholy from the scene.
  
Beware of spoilers from this point forward, by the way; not just for this episode, but for the novel and (possibly) the entire miniseries.




That image of Jake watching Sadie is a lovely composition (courtesy, one presumes, of director Frederick E.O. Toye) in and of itself, but it reinforces the melancholy inherent in the story.  Jake is an outsider, an intruder; depending on how you interpret certain events (in the novel, and possibly the miniseries as it might or might not unfold), he will stay that way, a permanent onlooker whose physical presence in the past does not make him a part of the past.  In the end, the Jake of the novel is merely a bystander, one whose experience of the past is no more substantial than that of us reading the novel.  He loves Sadie in his way; in my way, I love her, too, and is my love really that much more unrealistic?
  
Jake's love is doomed (and again I'm referring to the concrete events of the novel moreso than to the still-in-flux events of the miniseries) to be no more real than a photograph.  Consider that for a moment and then look at the above screencap again.  Jake, as he watches Sadie play the piano, is both real and unreal; Sadie is both real and unreal; their love is both real and unreal.
  
I don't have any idea what Erik Satie had in mind when he wrote that piece of music, but it seems to somehow contain all of those ideas.
  

  
  
Jake kisses Sadie, and is himself observed by Deke, who gives him a lecture on the idea that he has a responsibility to not degrade Sadie's reputation.  He reminds Jake that for every pair of eyes he can see, there are two he can't; watching, always watching.  A great deal of the episode explores this idea in one way or another.  Jake watches Sadie talking to Johnny; Jake watches Deke and Mimi; Mimi has been watching Jake, and informs him of it; Johnny is watching Sadie and Jake; Jake and Bill are watching Lee and George; Johnny watches Jake watching George; Bill watches Marina; Marina watches Bill watching her; the police are watching the Shamrock Hotel; the Yellow Card Man is seemingly watching Jake; and so forth.  Everyone is watching everyone, and every action we take will impact whoever is watching us take it, and vice versa.
  
And we, of course, are watching it all take place on our televisions.  Does "The Eyes of Texas" scale the heights of artistic exploration on the subject of voyeurism that Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window does?  Well, no.  But it's awfully good, and I suspect that once the entire miniseries is complete, its themes will be even more impactful.
  
Constant Readers, THIS is the sort of adaptation we deserve.  Subtle, multi-faceted, emotionally charged.  We'll see where it finishes up, but I'm calling it now: this is going to be considered one of the best King adaptations so far.
  
A few more random thoughts:
  
  • The opening scene involves Lee timing himself assembling and disassembling his rifle.  It's a very good scene, and though I failed to take a screencap illustrating it, it's worth pointing out that as he goes about his business, there is a mirror in which Lee looks up and watches himself.
  • The rifle-assembly scene has phenomenal sound design, and indeed, the sound for this entire episode is strong.  I'm especially fond of the sound that accompanies an edit: Sadie, checking her school mailbox, finds a letter from Jake inviting her to the Hollyhock Bungalows for a romantic getaway.  The soundtrack plays "And Then He Kissed Me" by The Crystals over this scene.  It plays the song not as source music -- i.e., music heard BY the characters via some source in their world (a radio, etc.) -- but as score that only we, the viewers, are privy to.  The scene edits to Sadie's car pulling up outside the Bungalows, and when it does, the song shifts from being score to being source music that actually is coming from Sadie's radio.  This serves not merely as a clever transition, but it also implies that when we were seeing Sadie read Jake's invitation, we were seeing a representation of what Sadie was thinking about as she was driving up to the Bungalows.  This is a very effective way of subtly putting us in Sadie's point of view, so that we understand that when she enters the bungalow where Jake is waiting for her, she is doing so with a great swell of positive emotion helping to move her along.
  • Moments later, a reverse of that happens: Sam Cooke's "Nothing Can Change This Love" is playing as source music (Jake's got it on a record player), but gradually shifts into score.  The effect of this is to bring us from Sadie's point of view to a more outsider-y observer role.  Nicely done, show; nicely done.
  • Another similar moment to that one comes when we see Lee and George approaching the Shamrock Hotel.  They are talking, and the way the scene is filmed implies that (at least for the moment) they are our point-of-view characters.  This lasts right up until the moment they walk inside the hotel, at which point the camera pulls back a bit to reveal that Jake and Bill are watching them from around a corner.  What we thought was one perspective is actually another perspective altogether.  Film is uniquely qualified to pull off tricks of this nature, and I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to see a King adaptation that is actually taking advantage of its medium in this way.
  
  


  • One of the elements of the novel I enjoyed was how sympathetic Marina Oswald was.  Is this true to life?  Well, who knows?  but it worked in the novel, and you almost got the feeling that Jake fell a tiny bit in love with her, if only out of sympathy.  In the miniseries, this element is brought to the foreground in a brilliant way: by having Jake's sidekick, Bill, fall in love with Marina.  Taken in the wrong direction, this could be a disaster, but so far the miniseries has done it expertly.  George MacKay and Lucy Fry as Bill and Marina have a strong chemistry, and you get the feeling that whatever attraction they share is doomed to go nowhere.  In this sense, their relationship mirrors that of Jake and Sadie.  It also works as a deepening of Bill's character arc, since his feelings for the abused Marina serve as a callback of sorts to the feelings he must have had for his sister, who was abused and killed by Frank Dunning.  I'm impressed by the way Bill has been handled by Bridget Carpenter and her fellow screenwriters so far.
  
  

It doesn't screencap all that well, but the emotional release Bill feels in this moment of tenderness with Marina is heartbreaking.  It could not be more evident that all Bill wants in the world is to make up for his sister having been killed.  He's been filling this hole by helping Jake try to save the future; now, he's found an unexpected potential love in the bargain.  When he closes his eyes here, you can practically feel him realizing that his yearnings might actually have a shot at being fulfilled.  That's a heck of a feeling.  My experience of it has always been that it never actually works out; it's always been an illusion for me, and I suspect it's going to end up being a mere illusion for Bill, as well.  We'll see where it goes, but I think there's a strong chance that the entire history of the love affair between Bill and Marina takes place here, on this sad little set of stairs, a love affair that lasted the length of a single cigarette and yet was perhaps no less significant for its brevity.

  • Episode 2 included a scene in which Jake referred to his time in a M*A*S*H unit in Korea.  This episode involves him co-opting the events of The Godfather Part II for a lie to Mimi about being in witness protection.  Pretty funny stuff.
  • Dark Tower fans may feel a chill run up their spine when they see the belt Mimi gives Jake:

    
  

  
  • T.R. Knight -- who is probably best known from Grey's Anatomy -- is very good as Johnny Clayton.  He's obviously nuts, but in a way that you can imagine rarely coming out around most people.  He's repellent, but in a completely different sort of way than Josh Duhamel was as Frank Dunning.  I continue to be very impressed by the casting for this series.

  


  • Bill seems to be having a good amount of success gambling.  I'm sure that won't be a problem for him at any point...
  • At the end of the episode, Sadie visits Jake's house and finds what seems to be a staged recreation of his recording equipment.  I wonder if some viewers will think that Johnny somehow did all of this.  The cinematography is fantastic: it gives you just enough of a view of the Yellow Card Man that you can see it's him, but I betcha that a good number of viewers will miss this and assume Johnny has done it.  The great thing is, it works either way.  That said, I had two problems with this, which I will cover in separate bulletpoints.
  • Problem the first: I'm not immediately on-board with the idea that the Yellow Card Man is actively working to oppose Jake.  This might not end up being a major issue for me, depending on where the series goes in its final four episodes; but then again, it might.  Let's raise a cautiously-concerned skeptical eyebrow and move on for now.
  • Problem the second: I believe, but do not know for certain, that this scene takes place in Jake's home in Jodie.  We've not been to this house before now, have we?  I spent a few moments of dislocation in which I had to think about where we actually were -- Dallas? Jodie? Jake's house? Sadie's? -- and that's never a good thing.  Not a major problem; just a hurdle to clear.
  • Both James Franco and Sarah Gadon are terrific in this episode.  They are good throughout, but their best scenes, respectively, are probably Jake's front-porch apology and Sadie's story to Jake about her marriage to Johnny.  And now, screencaps of Sadie being adorable:




  
  
I'll have you know: I could have taken about eighty more of those.  And don't think I wasn't tempted.  You are welcome for my restraint.  Or, depending on your viewpoint, I apologize for it.
  
A couple of other screencaps I didn't end up actually using:
  
  
I liked Daniel Webber more this week than last week.


More fun with reflections.


Somebody needs to buy me a Plymouth Fury.

  
  
See y'all in a few days with a look at episode five!

8 comments:

  1. Another fine episode (and overview). When I saw that Jake watches Sadie play piano in the mirror scene, I knew I'd be seeing it here. It's too lovely a composition to ignore.

    I totally missed the "Char" reference. Had to look it up just now!

    I liked the quick, creepy flash of the Yellow Card Man, as well. I was concerned that Bill was going to hook up with Marina or something, which might be a mistake. Not for the character, but as an adaptation. We'll see, though. I've got nothing but kudos for these first 4 eps, so they've earned my benefit of the doubt.

    I was less enthused about the Godfather 2 story with Ms. Mimi. I liked it, and I think his appropriating tv and movie plots as cover stories is not only fun but makes sense, but I'm just not sure it needed to happen.

    I'm also coming up against what I've discovered is remembering less of the book than I thought I did. I should probably re-read it. I keep thinking "Oh, that's a change," then looking it up and realizing oh, now it isn't/ wasn't. If my brain wasn't so frazzled right now I'd have an example at the ready, but it is and I do not, alas.

    Hope the Orlando wedding-cation was a good time. You should have Garry Shandling or the ghost of Joan Rivers guest-blog when you go out of town, like Johnny Carson did when he'd go on safari for a month. (Can you imagine such a thing nowadays? I don't think Conan O'Brien's had a vacation in, like, 20 years.)

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    1. Garry Shandling! I don't think I've got that sort of pull.

      I think we're probably in the same boat as regards remembering the novel. I've got a shit memory, though, so in my case it's no surprise.

      Orlando was indeed fun. Not without its downsides, but fun overall.

      Cool thing about being late with this episode and review is, now I've only got to wait a few hours to see a new one.

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    2. I wish they premiered the new ones on Sunday nights insteada of Mondays.

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    3. I think they put them up at midnight, so it's kind of on Sunday if you're a night-owl.

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    4. I should have added "for those of us who only see the other side of midnight on super-special occasions. (Or when the kids are sick/ teething, etc.)"

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  2. So far, I'll admit, I can't find anything to complain about. This is one of the quieter episodes in the series, yet most shows have one waiting in the wings, and they're from deal breakers of any kind (heh, Char, Breakers).

    "Jake is an outsider, an intruder; depending on how you interpret certain events (in the novel, and possibly the miniseries as it might or might not unfold), he will stay that way, a permanent onlooker whose physical presence in the past does not make him a part of the past. In the end, the Jake of the novel is merely a bystander, one whose experience of the past is no more substantial than that of us reading the novel. He loves Sadie in his way; in my way, I love her, too, and is my love really that much more unrealistic?

    Jake's love is doomed (and again I'm referring to the concrete events of the novel moreso than to the still-in-flux events of the miniseries) to be no more real than a photograph. Consider that for a moment and then look at the above screencap again. Jake, as he watches Sadie play the piano, is both real and unreal; Sadie is both real and unreal; their love is both real and unreal."

    I have a kind of odd theory about the alternate timeline in the novel. Without spoilers (though at this late date, why worry), for whatever reason, based on the way King presents it, as a place that's a coming apart at the seams, along with a Tower reference and various other detail, like the alternate Harry and the items in his house, I just got the funny idea that I wasn't supposed to take all of it as entirely real. In fact, the vibe I got was that Jake hadn't changed the past at all, but had simply created an alternate space totally outside any and all possible timelines. In other words, Jake merely created an unstable simulacrum space that, in a perverse way, was tailored especially for himself.

    On this view, the past, and present America he came from is still intact, and yet he's managed to remove himself from the timeline and, bearing in mind the instability of the space he's in, he might have been removed from the normal timeline altogether had he stayed there and essentially vanished or fallen apart (eaten by Langoliers?) with the simulacrum (Inscape?).

    I'll go take my meds now.

    Still, that's just an idea I got from reading the novel again. We'll see how that part plays out (if at all) in this series. Right now, the show puts me in mind of a domino set, or a house of cards, about to fall.

    ChrisC

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    1. I guess you could look at this from a sort of string-theory/multiverse standpoint if you wanted. Just the other day, I found myself thinking a bit about that (not from an "11/22/63" standpoint, though; from a "Dark Tower" one, specifically as concerns the end of the series).

      I'm curious to see how the series addresses that idea, if at all.

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  3. "Constant Readers, THIS is the sort of adaptation we deserve. Subtle, multi-faceted, emotionally charged. We'll see where it finishes up, but I'm calling it now: this is going to be considered one of the best King adaptations so far."

    Was I high when I wrote that? Had Hulu paid me off to be that positive? I've been rewatching this series with some friends, and I'll say this about that: viewing it through the prism of how thoroughly the final few episodes drop the ball doesn't do the first few episodes any favors. I still like stray moments -- the Sadie/Satie scene, the sound design of the drive to the bungalows, etc. -- but overall, no, this certainly does NOT go down as one of the all-time best King adaptations. It's nice to have a record of those days when I thought it might get there, though.

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