Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"11.22.63" Episode 6: Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald

I did not like this episode.  I mean, don't get me wrong; I've seen many, many worse things than this in the course of my Stephen King fandom.  For example, it was announced this week that a new Children of the Corn fauxquel was filming, and I'm sure that will be vastly more dookie-ish than this episode of 11.22.63 was.
But still, y'all; I did not like this episode much at all.  In fact, I'm somewhat loath to watch it again for notetaking and screencapping purposes.  I'd feel like a bit of a cheat if I skipped the second viewing, though, so I guess I'd better get to it.  The time it takes me will be imperceptible to your senses; it shall happen between sentences, like magic (or time-travel).
See?  I'm back.  And I guess I liked it a little bit better the second time, but only a little.  There are are a few things here that just don't work for me very well, and they are preventing me from enjoying the aspects that the show handles capably.
First, off, let's talk about Bill Turcotte.  I've enjoyed the way the show has added him as a foil and aide for Jake, but this episode reveals that that has all gone sour in the past four months (which elapse off-screen between episodes).  Bill has now turned into so reckless a guy that he's literally taking part in a surprise birthday party for his new best bud Lee.  He's apparently having an affair of some sort with Marina, too, and if the former plot point weren't a bridge too far then the latter one certainly is.
I can't get with any of this.  I do enjoy aspects of where it goes, though.  I like the mercenary way in which Jake has Bill committed so as to take him off the chess board.  I have to confess, though, that I am a bit befuddled by the fact that the series has taken this turn.  Why go there?  It seems to be a way of getting Bill out of the way of the plot, but is that weird when the only reason Bill was in the way of the plot at all was because the plot needed him there?  
Also, maybe I'm crazy, but it seemed to me that the show was setting up the idea that Bill was the one who was going to get in trouble on account of the gambling.  I fully expected that what would happen was something like this: Jake and Bill are getting ready to go prevent the assassination when Bill is attacked (and maybe killed) by gangsters as retribution for his "stealing" money from them.  Sadie then has to take Bill's place, setting up the rest of the plot.  That would have been a good way to bypass the moderately silly amnesia plotline of the novel, which now seems to fully be back on the table.
To me, a more fleshed-out version of that scenario seems vastly preferable to what they've done here.  My way, you get to keep Bill as a sympathetic figure, one who Jake can feel bad about having led into harm's way.  Bill has been a sympathetic figure for pretty much his entire screen time; having that go in a different direction now not only seems like a poor use of Bill, I think it may retroactively weaken the previous episodes.  I don't want to commit to that idea until the whole series has finished, but for now, I feel like Bill has in one fell swoop gone from secret weapon to crap.
Read in the voice of Eric Cartman.
I also have a major issue with the Yellow Card Man.

I was already worried based on his activities of a couple of episodes ago that the series was doing something with him of which I disapproved.  This episode deepens that worry considerably.  It doesn't flat-out confirm it -- there is still room for doubt, and I've got two more episodes to see before I can render a verdict -- but it feints in that direction, for sure.
The YCM steps out of a hallway in the hospital, taunting Jake with his presence and looking for all the world like some sort of villain in a slasher-movie franchise.  Yellow Card Man 3: Vegas Showdown or somesuch shit.
I have questions:
  • How does a guy dressed like a hobo infiltrate a hospital?
  • How does said guy tamper with the nitrous oxide?
  • Isn't the YCM going to receive a corrective action of some sort for abandoning his post in Lisbon?
  • If the organization the YCM represents is working against Jake, are they utterly incompetent?
I'm reminded of the comic-book adaptation of The Drawing of the Three, in which it is revealed that Eddie Dean's sister dies because some Low Men are trying to kill Eddie.  Apparently, when this doesn't work they more or less give up for years.  That's dumb.  If you represent a villainous group that spans across multiple universes and/or dimensions, you go ahead and try again right there on the fucking spot if your boss has tasked you with killing somebody.  You don't so much do other things; you do THAT.  So if there is something similar going on here with the Yellow Card Man as he attempts to kill Sadie and/or stop Jake, then I declare him to be incompetent.
The only explanation I am currently willing to accept is that the YCM is actually there so as to prevent Sadie from dying.  In other words, the nitrous oxide thing was an accident, and the YCM has steered Jake into rectifying it by way of making Jake think he was there to kill her.  If you think about it, that would further the YCM's goal of stopping Jake from stopping Oswald.
So if -- IF, mind you -- that is what's going on here, then I'm willing to accept it as a not-entirely-successful means of injecting some tension into that part of the episode.  If it's not that, then I'm inclined to say that this aspect of the episode is shit.  And if it IS shit, then it makes me suddenly very worried that that aspect of the entire series is going to turn out to be shit.
And THAT worries me big-time.  I've been very impressed by the way the series -- through its first five episodes, at least -- has economically and thoughtfully made changes to the book's plot so as to retain and cinematically narrativize the tone of the book.  It's been, up until now, very successful in that regard (at least for my tastes).  This shit has me worried, though.
Worried enough that I'm kind of disinterested in much of the rest of the episode.  A few bulletpoints is about all else I can get interested in writing, so here they come:
  • I continue to sometimes dislike Daniel Webber as Lee.  His accent in this episode was atrocious.  So was George MacKay's as Bill, for that matter.
  • It might be that the director of this episode is to blame for some of the performance issues, because it's his first episode.  I found myself not liking Sarah Gadon's performance all that much in a few scenes, too, so less-than-optimal direction might explain that.
  • Speaking of Gadon, I remain enchanted by Sadie, but her character arc suffers mightily this episode.  I don't remember the novel as specifically as I might wish, but I seem to recall that Sadie had some serious problems getting over her attack emotionally.  Am I wrong in thinking that the Cuban Missile Crisis played into this in a major way?  Obviously, that was in '62, so we've vaulted right over it.  But I have to wonder why; that seems like a missed opportunity.  In any case, Sadie in this episode seemed . . . diminished in some way.  She (and Gadon) showed a few signs of her fire and her independence, but a lot of it seems to have have burned out of her by Johnny.  I think we needed to see that process, because here it seems flat.
  • "I wish you'd call me Jake," says Jake to Mimi after she tells him she has cancer.  It's a great line reading by Franco.
  • Another great Franco moment: Jake hears Bill on the recording, and realizes he's upstairs.  "What the fuck?!?" he silently, and excellently, mouths.
  • I think the series might be suggesting that Lee decides to kill Kennedy only because of the fact that he sees the bug that has come out of the lamp.  I can't remember if any aspect of that comes from the novel.
  • I don't know how I feel about Jake having hallucinations of his ex-wife while he's laid up in bed.  Are we being asked to believe that she's important enough to him that he would revert, in this time of extreme physical distress, to seizing upon her as the most important person in his emotional life?  If so, I can't get on board for that.  The series has done a poor job of dealing with that relationship; it's offscreen in the novel, but very important, whereas here it's been briefly onscreen but largely irrelevant.  With that in mind, I'm not going to be able to invbest emotionally in the idea of her at all.  So unless there is something more going on here than meets the eye, I'm calling this a fail on the series' part.

And now, let's halfheartedly look at a few screencaps:

I'm guessing it's evident that my enthusiasm has been somewhat diminished.  Two episodes remain; I hope like hell they turn me back around, and quick.


  1. I had exactly the same two objections to this episode, namely the degree to which it deviated from the book with the Yellow Card Man and Bill/ The Oswalds.

    We'll see if it all comes together, now, in a satisfying way, but I agree - both my enthusiasm and faith in the producers took a hit with this episode.

    1. I'm glad to hear it's not just me.

      We'll see, maybe they have some more tricks up their sleeve.

    2. I'd have to say the same.

      I think I remember reading a promo article (it might have been "Entertainment Weekly) where Abrams said Bill's role was expanded just so Jake would have someone to talk to. The thinking seeming to be that this way the show could avoid having scenes where Jake constantly talks to himself, or else having a lot of quiet spots.

      The thing is, if that's true, it means the Bill character was just a device all along. I have no problem with devices in fiction that help keep the plot going, but somehow, doing it this way just seemed wrong.

      In fact, what this has created in my mind is an alternate version of the show in my head in which it is just Jake by his lonesome. The thing is, you actually can create dramatic tension with just silence. He'll, you can have Jake in his apartment above the Oswalds, and then have every little creak or sound slowly amplify to mind splitting levels as his sanity cracks.

      Or, if you don't like silence, why not have an imaginary version of Al, for Jake to talk to? He can start out normal sounding, then these inner monologues can become more extreme and violent, creating the idea that the mission is really starting to get to Jake.

      Either of those options sound like a good idea to me in light of this episode.


    3. I think you articulate my own concern pretty well, there - I have no problem with an expanded role for Bill as a device. Makes sense, is economical, no harm done. But keep him a device, or at least wield him as one. Or as Bryant wrote: "It seems to be a way of getting Bill out of the way of the plot, but is that weird when the only reason Bill was in the way of the plot at all was because the plot needed him there?"

      Interesting re: imaginary version of Al. I wonder if Al was so-named to reference the hologram-Al from "Quantum Leap." It's possible and certainly makes sense, but it never occurred to me until reading your suggestion, there. That's kind of funny.

    4. Agreed completely that the best way to give Jake someone to talk to would have been a Virtual Al, either in flashback mode (both to return Jake to the present and to keep Chris Cooper in the show as much as possible, it was always elevated by his presence) or as a walk-on the way the dead father would appear on SIX FEET UNDER. Once you got used to the device, it just worked; it would have been much, much better than Bill AND you don't risk the character going off the reservation and threatening the timeline.

      This episode lost me completely. Bill veering out into the LHO timeline completely destroys the careful and precise work Jake tries to do in just observing the actual flow of time and history. When Jake mutters "The second shooter!" to himself after realizing Bill is Lee's new bestie, I checked out entirely.

      I really need to go back and reread the book to see how much of my anger is aimed at the show and how much belongs to the book, I just don't remember enough of the small details right now.

      Love the reviews, thank you for your hard work episode by episode.

    5. Thanks! It's not hard work, it's fun. I never can make enough time to get it done quickly, though.

      That moment when Jake mentions Bill as a possible second shooter made me squint skeptically, too.

      I don't know how I feel about a "virtual Al" device. King has done that sort of thing even in his books, especially "Gerald's Game," so it wouldn't be that far out of bounds. But for me, that's a device that really does feel like a device, unless it's done extremely well. It works best -- and maybe only -- if it's sort of literalized in some way inside the story. For example, if the device represented Jake consciously thinking about things Al had told him, then it might work; but if it's only there for exposition and has no actual implication for Jake's thought process, then it would begin to feel real shaky real quick.

      Personally, I was fine with the way they it here, by expanding/creating Bill. I thought it went sideways in this episode big-time, but even that might be redeemable depending on what happens in the final episodes. Speaknig of which, I'm about to go watch #7.

      Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate you taking time to say hello.