With three years and plenty of time to track and investigate Lee Harvey Oswald, Jake decides to see if he really can make major changes to the past. Tracking down Frank Dunning, father of his janitor friend Harry from 2016, Jake resolves to stop him butchering Harry’s entire family in a drunken rage on Halloween, an event that completely changed the course of Harry’s life. But will the past continue to keep pushing back? And who else wants Frank dead?
In the small town of Holden, Jake finds accommodation with some devout Christians and tracks down Frank Dunning who will kill his whole family with a hammer, save for young son Harry, in a couple of days time. Jake first tries to talk to him in a bar, a decision that leads the suspicious Frank to take Jake to a local slaughterhouse and witness him killing a cow with his lump hammer. With time running out, Jake poses desperately as a company rep, informing Mrs Dunning and her children they’ve won a free holiday out of town for October 31. Jake is convinced he’s saved them, until Frank rumbles the ruse and beats the crap out of our time-travelling, would-be hero. Realising there is no other course of action, Jake buys a gun and on Halloween night heads to the Dunning residence to shoot Frank dead before the tragedy can unfold. However, he himself is confronted by Bill Turcotte, a local who knows Frank killed his sister and nephew several years before but can’t prove it.
For a show centred around the assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald to have nary a mention of either in episode 2 is a strange thing. And to swap a large, exciting part of the original book by Stephen King for a slower, less intense reading of it’s own is stranger still. But there are good reasons. Large parts of the book are Jake Epping’s internal monologue, a storytelling trope that is notoriously difficult to translate from page to screen. 11.22.63 the tv series has flashbacks to Jake’s conversations with Al back in 2016 for exposition, but it’s not enough.
Jake desperately needs someone to talk to, as much for himself and his weight of responsibility as well as us the viewer, and he blurts out to Bill that he’s from the future within seconds of meeting, news which Bill sensibly dismisses. But with Frank dead, the future inexorably changed and Jake heading out of town towards Dallas and his real mission, he is again stopped by Turcotte. But now Bill has somehow got hold of some of Jake’s belongings, notably a newspaper headline from his future of 23 November 1963. It now seems set for the Jake and Bill show to head off to Texas and some Oswald-sleuthing.
Despite the lack of Presidential assassination action, ‘The Kill Floor’ provides a diverting hour, the longer than average runtime of the miniseries format allowing for the luxury of a slow-build up to resolution. The only real bum note this episode is James Franco, who is engaged and dynamic when in motion but stiff as a board during the slower moments. We get no sense as to why he’s doing all this; he keeps telling people he’s a writer and he’s clearly a lover of literature but he doesn’t appear to have a political or conscious-stricken bone in his body. But under pressure he comes alive, most notably when he’s about to be caught out in a lie about having served in Korea. Quizzed on which unit by a ‘fellow’ vet, his inspired answer – “M.A.S.H., 4077th” – is the sort of smart throwaway line and link to his, and our, future that the show could do with more of. Next week things step up a gear with Jake and Bill in Dallas and finally on the trial of Oswald.
11.22.63 is released Mondays on Hulu. Episode 3 is available 02/29/16.