Daniel-Webber

Daniel Webber as Lee Oswald

11.22.63 Review
Episode 3, “Other Voices, Other Rooms”
by Adam Sullivan

 I’m not precisely sure what prompted this episode title, a reference to a Truman Capote novel with themes of gender fluidity in a haunting Southern Gothic style. I guess the writers are Capote fans.

The episode begins with Jake (James Franco) offering all the details he is able to give about his origin and purpose to Bill (George MacKay), the frustrated and rash young man who is now his armed captor. Jake’s story about time-travel is tough to swallow, but Bill wants to believe. He even asks if it would be possible to go back again to save his (he believes) murdered sister from Frank Dunning, but of course the rabbit hole doesn’t work that way.

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Partners

Ultimately, Bill agrees to drive Jake to Dallas, and once there he presses himself into Jake’s service as a sidekick—with no family and no prospects, a life spent trying to stop a presidential assassination seems like a step up. Jake gets a job as a substitute teacher in nearby small-town Jodie, Texas, and he and Bill find an apartment.

Then, suddenly, it’s 1962.

Seriously, we skip two full years. I thought I had time-travelled. I suppose it’s fine: there’s not much to do but wait around for Lee Harvey Oswald to return from Russia. But I can’t help but wonder how much of “time pushing back” we missed? How much of Jake and Bill getting to know each other?

(Note: Bill is a very minor character in the book. The expansion of his role is a good device for the show, allowing Jake to discuss his intentions and plans instead of muttering them to himself or, worse, requiring a voice-over narration. But the fact that there is a somewhat unpredictable young person who knows Jake’s origin has major implications for TT, though these are mostly unexplored in “Other Voices, Other Rooms.”)

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Buggin’ and smokin’, like you do…

The absence of pushback is the major time-travel related issue for this episode. Jake and Bill start getting into the weeds of the JFK assassination milieu, and seem to be able to do so mostly unhindered. They meet Jack Ruby in 1960 at his nightclub, but the only worry then is Bill himself—drunk, he begins to blurt out Their plans and announces that his companion is from the future. Ruby is unfazed, and Jake scolds Bill, and that’s about all. Later, in 1962, the pair occupies the apartment above Lee and Marina Oswald. While planting listening devices they are nearly discovered by Lee, but manage to escape unidentified. They commence listening in to conversations from the Oswald residence.

No car crash. No roaches. No secret service agents. Not even a visit from the Yellow Card Man. Time is taking a break from pushback, it seems.

So maybe the show creators are settling down about the pushback device, which I mentioned as a possibility in my episode 2 review. Or maybe this is a mark of the show’s lack of consistency with respect to this device. I’m still trying to decide whether to give the show the benefit of the doubt.

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Miz Mimi, humiliated

What the episode achieves nicely is showing us the cultural divide between 2016 and the early 1960s. Jake becomes a lone crusader for civil rights, more or less accidentally. On two occasions his kindness to Miz Mimi (Tonya Pinkins), the black school librarian, earns him suspicion from the town’s white denizens. It’s enjoyable as hell to see just how alien Jodie is to Jake, and vice-versa, and also to see how important it is for Jake to demand simple civility for a person of color. (Note: maybe we’re setting up some serious pushback for later? Jake’s kindness to Mimi is raising eyebrows for now, but could raise burning crosses later…)

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Sadie and Jake kill it on the dance floor

The episode also introduces Sadie (Sarah Gadon), a new teacher and a love interest for Jake, who remembers her from a brief meeting (episode 1) in Dallas. Sparks fly when they chaperon a dance together—the entire event, including a Jake/Sadie swing dance, seems absurdly well-choreographed—but Jake nearly blows it with her when he has to run off to bug the Oswalds’ apartment. Sadie spends some time cold-shouldering him, but eventually allows his apology and agrees to courtship between them in as businesslike fashion as she can muster. Sadie doesn’t like games. Although some of their romance comes off as hackneyed and predictable, Franco and Gadon have excellent chemistry and the whole thing is very charming.

But perhaps the best thing the episode achieves is an introduction to Lee Oswald. Webber infuses the recently-returned defector with an unnerving volatility. We see him quick to fury twice: once when he suspects intruders in his apartment (Jake and Bill, of course) he assumes are government agents, and once outside a rally for the ultra-conservative General Edwin Walker. (Al’s instructions to Jake included determining whether Oswald is responsible for an eventual assassination attempt against Walker.) But we also see Oswald’s tenderness toward Marina, and his complicated relationship with his own mother. Webber’s performance will surely help to keep us guessing about the nature of Lee’s intentions, whether or not Time begins once again to push back against Jake’s machinations—which it surely will.

Episode 3 ratings:
TT Integrity: 6.5 wormholes out of 10
Narrative use: 8.5 out of 10

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Lee turns on the charm at the Walker rally

Adam Sullivan is a marketing professional and a recovering actor. Find him on Twitter @adamsull. Be nice. He’s sensitive.

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