11.22.63 - The Day in Question

It's the final episode of 11.22.63, so tensions are high from the outset. Jake and Sadie have mere minutes to try and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from executing the president, with Time pushing back hard against them. It takes just 10 minutes of screen-time to get to the inevitable turning point, leaving the rest of the hour-long episode to deal with the consequences. Look away now if you haven't seen the episode yet!
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So, the president survives, history has been changed. And obviously Lee is very very angry at his plans being thwarted. But, not content to just put obstacles in Jake's path, it also seeks to punish his transgression. Shot in the altercation, Sadie won't be around anymore for Jake to stay in the past with. An emotional scene, robbing Jake of any reason to stay in the 1960s. All that remains is to get out of police custody and return to the future. Clearly there he'll return to a Utopia, brought about by his heroic actions and weighty sacrifice, with the blessings of the grateful Kennedy's ringing in his ears?

But no; as horrible as the assassination of JFK was, all Al's theories of a better world if he had survived were proven false. 2016 is a wasteland brought about by Jake's actions and everything he fought and strove for and sacrificed was for nothing. It does feel a bit of a stretch; not because of any idolisation of President Kennedy, but to paint him as a monster to remove anything positive that Jake had fought so hard for? It feels like a step too far. As who takes that step back to 1960 once more, in the hope of undoing his actions, and to maybe see Sadie again.
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But the Yellow Card Man, the mysterious man of exposition tells him the worst news: No matter what he does, whether he leaves Oswald to shoot JFK or not, whether he keeps his interference to a minimum, Sadie always dies, horribly. It's a powerful character moment for Jake, and Franco does it well. But again, it feels like a cheat, a way of leaving him with nothing in a world with the status quo restored. It's an odd message: Don't try to change anything, it's always going to end the same way. Life is unpleasant, but if you try to make it better you'll probably make it worse. I don't know if Stephen King meant for this message to come across, but it feels to downbeat, too cynical for a world that can be cynical enough.

11.22.63 has been a good show, and if it hadn't been for the filler of the penultimate episode and the downbeat ending, I think it could have been great. I've never read the book, so I can't say how true to it this show was. But based on what I've seen, as good as James Franco was, I doubt I'll be seeking it out.

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