Monday, February 29, 2016

REVIEW: '11.22.63' - Jake Gets a New Ally in His Main Mission in 'Part 3: Other Voices, Other Rooms'

Hulu's 11.22.63 - Episode 1.03 "Part 3: Other Voices, Other Rooms"

Jake flees Kentucky. He and his new ally Bill build new lives in a small town. By day, Jake teaches. By night, he spies on Lee Harvey Oswald. As he tails Oswald through the dark underbelly of Dallas, he realizes he may not be the only threat to JFK.

11.22.63 had a very thrilling and tense episode last week when Jake ventured off to Kentucky in order to make a change to the past that was very personal to him. It was a very difficult endeavor that pushed him to do things he never could have imagined doing. But it also showed just how much drive and strength he has. Those qualities are crucial to the success of this main mission. It's a little puzzling why he returns to Dallas once again determined to stop the assassination of President John F. Kentucky. He went to Kentucky in the first place because he couldn't handle the consequences of his actions in trying to unravel the conspiracy behind the assassination. And now, he is once again determined to save the President solely because he now has an ally who is willing to help him with this mission.

Bill wasn't much of a character in last week's terrific outing. He was simply a citizen of the local town who didn't have much going on. He presented as a way for the timeline to keep Jake from disrupting what was about to happening in the Dunning household. That didn't keep him distracted for too long though. Jake was successful in killing Frank and preserving Harry's family for him. In doing so, he exposed himself as a time traveler to Bill. Jake is brought back to the main mission because Bill discovers Jake's piles of burnt evidence from the future. It's a reality that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to Bill at first. He wants Jake to prove that he is from the future and can time travel. The mechanics of this plot keep Jake from going back in time to save Bill's sister from Frank Dunning. But this episode also presents a reality where Jake is recommitted to the main mission simply because it gives Bill purpose in his life for the first time.

Jake now has someone in the past who he can openly talk to about what he's doing. It requires less expositional scenes of Al explaining things about the past to Jake and the audience. It also means Jake has to spend a bit of time catching Bill up on what's relevant in this point in history. The two of them travel back to Dallas and are able to spend two years getting ready for Lee Harvey Oswald to return to the United States. And yet, they aren't prepared at all. Jake is able to get a job and maintain a cover story. That's important for the show but not really the plot. Meanwhile, they don't really do anything of value for two years. And then, Lee and his wife Marina return to Texas and Jake and Bill are suddenly thrust into action. It's amusing watching the two of them work with '60s stealth technology in order to learn more about Lee's life leading up to the assassination. But it's still a fact-finding mission that doesn't have a lot of value because neither one of them thought it would be relevant to learn Russian before Lee came home.

The timeline continues to push back with this mission. But it happens in less direct ways in this episode that really aren't as thrilling or engaging as the past two episodes. When Jake and Bill try to bug Lee's new apartment, they are interrupted by Lee and Marina who want to have sex. Spiders prompt Bill to freak out and almost blow their cover. When that fails to really change anything, their recording technology is stolen from them and completely destroyed. Again, it's a contrivance to keep them from learning any relevant information that may allow them to interfere with what history has planned for these people. But it's also somewhat frustrating because these obstacles don't add anything of true substance. It's simply annoying as Jake and Bill only get small clues to go off of. But more importantly, it's all just building up to Lee's potential Russian handler, George de Mohrenschildt, taking him to a rally for General Walker that ends with Lee causing a scene. Now, Lee is an important character in this story. And yet, Daniel Webber's performance doesn't really add a whole lot to the fabric of the show. It's derivative in a way that makes it a valuable part of the mission but not detrimental to the overall series. It's simply something the show needed to have. But it doesn't have a lot of confidence in adding to the mystery of these events. It's just a little too weird and stiff to work all that well.

That can honestly be said about a lot of the actual details of John F. Kennedy's assassination that Jake is investigating in the series. These are important details. They are crucial to Jake's main mission. But they are also very rigid. The past doesn't want to be changed. So, the most interesting parts of the story are how the timeline is going to mess with Jake so that he doesn't learn too much about these events. That makes the key players in these events a little aloof and at a distance from what Jake is trying to do. The main focus is on Jake. It's the human connection to this story. All the other details are a little too formulaic and teasing of just how crazy and connected this story will one day become. It's significant when Jake takes Bill on a walk down that fateful street in Dallas to talk about how complicated and mysterious the assassination is for decades after it happens. That's a very effective scene. But the show is much better when it embraces the personal antics of Jake. His connection to Bill is meaningful in this hour. They form a connection that grows from distrustful to one of true friendship. But it's not really the most engaging part of this episode either.

So, Jake gets a job teaching English at a local high school in Texas. It's a job he is more than qualified for while also providing him a nice low-key cover. He doesn't want to stand out in this world where he doesn't belong. He forms a real connection to the people at this school too. He is there for Miss Mimi, the school secretary, when she is faced with a very racist society. He is friendly towards her in a way that everyone isn't. The show lays it on pretty thick with the racism. But that's also necessary to show just how good of a guy Jake really is. He is more than happy to help Mimi out when she runs out of gas. He has gotten to know the person which is more than most of society is willing to do. Jake also forms a connection with the new school librarian, Sadie Dunhill. She's the same woman he ran into in Dallas in the series premiere. Two years later, she has gotten divorced from her husband and is trying to start over. The two of them have a great rapport that is complicated by his commitment to the main mission. He nearly messes things up because he has to run away to spy on Lee during a very pivotal night. And yet, Sadie still kisses Jake in the end and wants to go out with him. That felt more like the plot needing her to do that in order for Jake to become torn between the mission and this new girl. But again, their solid chemistry is enough to put up with some plot contrivances.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part 3: Other Voices, Other Rooms" was written by Brian Nelson and directed by James Strong.
  • Jake needs a friend like Bill in order to make sense of this ridiculous mission he is on right now. But Bill is also a liability as well. He's very much like a younger brother who is very inexperienced with the world and can crack under pressure so easily. He almost tells the truth about Jake a couple of times and almost gets them caught in this mission.
  • Jake is only haunted about killing Frank for one night. It's the night right after it happened and he later attacks Bill when he's still somewhat dreaming about it. But after that, it just goes away. Two years pass and he doesn't seem to be affected by it in any major way.
  • Jake and Bill also have a run-in with Jack Ruby at the strip club that he runs. He is famous for being the man who eventually kills Lee after JFK's assassination. So, this probably won't be the last time Jake runs into him.
  • Lee Harvey Oswald's mother is played by Cherry Jones, who is really popping up all over the place lately. She did a number of episodes on the second season of Transparent as well as two hours of PBS' new drama Mercy Street in January. It's a very minor role here but she'll probably be important later on.
  • Jake and Sadie bond over both being divorced - a radical idea in 1962. But honestly, it's their big dance together later on that shows just how good they might be together. It was simple but very effective - which will make it so devastating when Jake has to focus on the mission or eventually leave this place and time.