11/22/63 – “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” Review

So far the Hulu miniseries has kept its cards pretty close to the vest, rearranging, reinventing, and moving people and events around while still managing to adhere closely to the source material’s themes and story. But in episode 6 they lay their cards on the table and clearly show that they are going to violate the main – and to me the most interesting aspect – priniciple of the book: Do not get directly involved in the timeline.


Let me clarify what I mean here. Yes, we have seen Jake getting involved with the people of Jodie and changing the course of their lives and who knows what ripple effects those will have. But everything in Jodie is like a small tributary off the main branch of Time where what is going on in Dallas are touchstone events that will affect everyone. In the book, Jake maintains a Fringe Observer-like distance from the Oswald/JFK timelines; always a witness never an active participant.


It’s a modus operandi he tries to maintain in the mini-series but with the miniseries invention of bringing Bill Turcotte along for the ride, Bill’s story role is finally revealed and the book and miniseries part ways in terms of interacting with the past. The show jumps ahead six months to Lee Harvey Oswald’s birthday in October. It is now little over a month until 11.22.63. In Jake’s absence in Dallas as he focuses his time in Jodie, nursing Sadie back to health; he has ignored Bill and left him to his own devices. During those six months Bill has looked for connections elsewhere and logically enough of those have come from his upstairs neighbours. Jake gets the shock of his life in the past when he sits down to monitor the Oswalds and hears not only them but lots of other people too, including Bill.


Bill has become friends – and more with Marie – with the Oswalds. This leads to an awkward confrontation in the Oswalds’ apartment where they are celebrating Lee’s birthday. Jake and Bill tussle when Jake tries to take Bill downstairs and they knock over one of the lamps they bugged. Lee finds the bug and goes off on a rant of how the FBI is hounding him – something we saw reinforced in another scene where an FBI agent – played by Shawshank Redemption alumni, Gill Bellows, confronts Lee outside of the Texas Book Depository where Lee now works.


“There was a strong sense of inevitability in the book that now has been lost.”

So the die has been cast and the miniseries is taking the tack that Jake via Billy is now directly influencing Lee in the events leading up to 11.22.63. You may be fine with that as it is a predictable story path treaded by other time travel movies but I find it rather disappointing. I much prefer the book’s handling of the time stream where the historical events occur with out any input from Jake versus the miniseries’ approach of making Jake an active ingredient. There was a strong sense of inevitability in the book that now has been lost.

Another thing I did not like in this episode is how Jake is being written. Franco is portraying him fine but this Jake is a self-absorbed and non-empathic character who only reacts to things if they impact him directly. When Bill calls Jake out as being a hypocrite for getting involved with the Oswalds while carrying on a life with Sadie, you empathize with Bill not Jake. Being put in a position where you are no longer cheering for the protagonist is a tactical story telling mistake from my perspective. Especially this late in the game. Even Lee Oswald is garnering more sympathy at this point which is definitely a weird place to be emotionally with the show.


Empathy for Jake takes another hit when he decides to take Bill out of the game and tricks him into a mental ward under the pretext that Marina Oswald has gone into labour. It is a dirty ploy and taints Jake with an unsavory aspect. There may have been some foreshadowing or red herrings being planted as Jake mutters under his breath about there being a second shooter when he sees Bill and Lee bonding over the rifle that will be used to kill Kennedy. Continuing in reaction mode, Jake sneaks into George de Mohrenschildt’s car and questions him about his relationship with Oswald trying to establish directly if George handled Oswald to assassinate the president and if it was at the behest of the FBI. George professes ignorance and in a Chris Cooper, Al flashback this also means that Oswald acted alone. George pleads ignorance on any JFK plans and Jake believes, or badly wants to believe George is telling the truth because then he can pre-emptively take Oswald out.


Unfortunately for Jake, the Past steps in once again, and he is badly beaten for placing the same bets that Bill has been making. Jake is left in a semi-comatose state, lost in his mind and not sure what time period he is in. This event brings the show back inline but in a far less elegant and satisfactory way.

Fortunately the show has two episodes left to right its course and get back on track. Though given the track record for how the show has been handling Jake and the time interference elements my confidence has been shaken.

Lou Sytsma will review each week’s episode of 11/22/63, so stay tuned right here. Be sure to also check out our recent reviews of The X-Files, The Flash and Arrow!