Monday, February 22, 2016

REVIEW: '11.22.63' - Jake Travels to Kentucky in Order to Save Harry's Family in 'Part 2: The Kill Floor'

Hulu's 11.22.63 - Episode 1.02 "Part 2: The Kill Floor"

Unnerved by the impossibility of his mission, Jake travels to Holden, Kentucky in order to save the family of his friend Harry Dunning, who were all murdered on Halloween by Harry's father, Frank. But does Jake have what it takes to kill a man?

11.22.63 had a very thrilling start last week. It was heavy on the premise but it was very engaging and entertaining to watch. Jake takes over this mission of preventing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy from Al. It was a mission Al spent his entire life working to achieve. He was never successful in the endeavor. Every single time he went back to the past, the timeline pushed back on him. He was so determined to completely change the world. It ruined his life. And now, he needs Jake to pick up the responsibility of this mission and the time portal. But it's not personal to Jake. He tried to follow the mission according to Al's very intricate instructions. He got closer than Al ever got. And yet, he paid for that severely. He had a debilitating loss at the end of the premiere. That sent him spiraling over the pointlessness of this mission.

Jake traveled back to 1960 as a way to honor Al and their friendship. Al gave his life to this mission. Jake figured it was the least he could do to try and see it through to the end for him. But it's not personal to him. Al fully believed that the world would completely change if JFK survived that fateful day in Dallas. Jake doesn't have that conviction. He's doing this for Al. He's not personally connected to it. So, it's not surprising that his first encounter with the timeline pushing back on him sends him running away from the mission. In order for this premise to work, Jake has to be committed to changing the past in order to create a better future. "The Kill Floor" features him on a very personal mission that has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot. It is completely enthralling and tense too. Because of the personal connections, the stakes are so much higher. Jake's adventures in 1960 will eventually take him back to the assassination of JFK. Those mechanics are already at work with the twist at the end of this episode. But so much of this episode works because it's Jake working to change the world for a very personal reason.

In 2016, Jake has a close friendship with Harry Dunning. He likes him and wants him to have a good life despite some difficulties. It's Harry's tragic story about his father coming home to kill his mother and siblings that started the entire series. That story moved Jake into action. It was easy when it just required Jake to give Harry an A+ on the paper. It's much more difficult when it comes to actually changing this horrific tale so that Harry can have a potentially better life. This episode also showcases that the past doesn't like to be changed no matter what the time traveler is trying to do. It was somewhat problematic in the premiere that only the events surrounding the pending assassination of JFK were met with resistance. It shows that the universe understands what the traveler is intending on changing and does whatever is necessary to keep it from happening. Al experienced that with the main mission. But he also felt it when he simply tried to help a young girl avoid a crippling hunting accident. And now that Jake has traveled to Kentucky to stop Frank Dunning from killing his family, the timeline is starting to mess with him again.

Fortunately, Jake has a couple of days to gather intel before the deadly night takes place. He knows exactly what's going to happen because Harry's story still sticks out vividly in his mind. It made such an impression on him. And now, he's doing something to stop it. It's a personal motivation that is easy to understand. Jake wants to help his friend avoid this tragedy. Harry's young life isn't so great. Jake sees that firsthand. Harry has always had it tough. Jake knows just how nice he can be though. That's why he is putting in all this effort even though it could wind up killing him. He's willing to take the risk and deal with the consequences if it means a better future for Harry. So, he inserts himself into the lives of the Dunning family over the course of three days. He tries many different tactics to avoid this deadly outcome. But by the end, he had to do the inevitable and actually kill Frank before he could kill his family. That's a violent and important character shift for Jake. One that will only complicate his persona moving forward.

Frank is also a very compelling character and engaging villain for Jake to deal with in this episode as well. The show and Josh Duhamel do a fascinating job peeling back the layers of this man. Jake spends a couple of days with him. He gets to know Frank as a person. He gets to see just how violent and despicable he really is. He inserts himself into the Dunning family lives for these three days because he wants to understand them better. He's hesitant to just show up on that night, kill Frank and then walk away like nothing happened. He needs to be absolutely sure that he is doing the right thing. Jake has never killed a man before. Al believed that he had that resolve in him so that he could carry out this mission. It's a little suspicious on why he thought that though. It still takes a lot out of Jake to eventually go through with this plan and kill Frank. He sees the man from the story. The drunk who is very abusive of his family and who runs around town acting like he owns the place. Frank is determined that he'll be able to continue his picture-perfect family life. But there is still so much violence just lurking beneath the surface of this man.

Jake also needed this time with Frank in order to actually build up the courage to execute him to protect his family. He doesn't have the cold mentality to just pull a trigger and be done with it. As Jake learns in this episode, it takes a lot to actually kill a man. It's an action that will stay with Jake for a long time. No matter what justification he has, it is still going to haunt him for the rest of his life. Jake learns that lesson from the man renting out the room he's staying at in town. Arliss is such a small role for Michael O'Neill. But he truly makes the most of it in his delivery of that haunting speech of his days in World War II coming under fire by Nazis and ultimately killing a German boy due to his proximity to the event. It's a chilling story. Jake simply can't connect with it in the moment. He sits back and listens. War has changed this man. He doesn't feel like a hero. Jake doesn't understand that because he never fought in a war. It's a part of his cover identity but he doesn't know what it actually feels like to kill another man. He's still holding onto the idealistic values of veterans being heroes. He doesn't want to kill when he doesn't have to. That's why he tries luring the Dunning family away for the weekend. That's why he tries to connect with Frank and get him to see the world in a different way. None of it works.

Frank is simply a violent man. The world has rules and he believes everyone should just follow those rules. The rules are how he sees the world. They aren't always right. That's why he is so abusive to his family. But it's also a way for him to have structure in his life. He works as a butcher. It's a simple world that gives him enough order and pleasure in his life. But him also trying to force Jake into needlessly slaughtering a cow shows just how twisted Frank really is. That scene in the kill room is so powerful because of the opposing ideologies between Frank and Jake. This isn't a man Jake can reach out to and change. He's a man who only understands violence. He takes pleasure in it. Jake can't do it. He can't just kill this animal for fun. But Jake eventually gets the courage to kill later on. It's because of his personal connection to the Dunning family. He is willing to do whatever it takes to preserve this family for Harry for as long as possible. Violence and death is the only solution. It's something he willfully embraces for the good of the mission. He kills Frank in order to protect his family. It changes him as a man. Now, he knows what it's like to kill. That feeling will never go away even though he knows that Harry and his family will be safe for a long time. He doesn't know that though. The timeline could still find a way to screw over Harry's life and keep things just like they always have been. But Jake can't think like that. He needs to believe that he has done good in order to continue to live. He may have to answer for it later on. But right now, all he can think about is Harry and his family and the happiness they will have together because of him. That's a victory. It also makes for one very thrilling and satisfying episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part 2: The Kill Floor" was written by Quinton Peeples and directed by Frederick E.O. Toye.
  • At first, Arliss' wife, Edna, felt like a very devout Christian and nothing more than that. She has very strict rules for Jake while he stays in their spare bedroom. And yet, Annette O'Toole also has a very powerful moment in the end. She knows what Jake has done. She doesn't turn him in. But she still makes him think about the judgment that will be coming for him once he is faced with God. Just because he's out of time doesn't mean Jake won't have to deal with the consequences of his actions.
  • Before Al died, he was also very suspicious about his cancer diagnosis. He fully believes the timeline gave him this disease in order to keep him from getting any closer to learning more about the assassination of JFK. That's an interesting theory - which could also spell certain doom for Jake as well.
  • Jake reveals that he is from the future to Bill, the local bartender. He does so in order to get into the Dunning house in time to stop Frank from killing his family. But it's a later complication for him as Bill tags along on his journey out of time and wants to know more about the devastating future coming for President Kennedy.
  • Hopefully, Jake gets to see what killing Frank means for Harry in the future. But it's going to be so tragic when he has to go back to the past and undo all of that hard work once he becomes committed to the JFK mission again.