So, that was the final episode of 11.22.63. After seven weeks of building up to the climax of this series, after all was said and done the first thing I thought was, “Well… that happened.” When you can’t make a story about someone traveling back in time to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy very exciting, you’ve got a problem.
To be fair, that’s a problem that also plagued the source material as well. But where the book gives you enough diversions and provides enough insight into Jake’s thinking to keep things moving, truncating this to eight episodes only amplifies the issues. Oh, and the medium itself adds issues, like the fact that James Franco just doesn’t seem emotionally connected to this story.
Anyhow, let’s get back to that story. We rejoin things in progress with Jake and Sadie charging for the Texas School Book Depository in Dealey Plaza, while Lee prepares to make history. The trouble is that when they were ousted from downtown Dallas, Jake decided to park in freaking Arlington. That’s an inside joke for people familiar with the DFW Metroplex. To everyone else it means: he parked really far away. Why? Apparently to heighten the dramatic tension.
Gunning the car through traffic, Jake charges impulsively towards destiny. Except he gets stymied by a closed road and abandons the car. Together with Sadie, they sprint onwards and are confronted with faces from the past: Frank Dunning, Sadie’s ex-husband, Bill. Only when they look a second time, the faces are gone. They are nearly run down by car that t-bones into a bus they’ve taken shelter in, and Jake tells Sadie that it’s the past pushing back. They finally get to the Depository, but Jake has to force an employee to let them in at gunpoint.
After that, they take what appears to be the tallest staircase in the world, running pell-mell for the sixth floor. This is all intercut with shots of Lee controlling his breath and psyching himself up to take the shot. Then, after it feels like they should be coming out on the roof of the Empire State Building, Jake discovers that they’ve chosen a staircase that only goes to the fourth floor. So, they have to cross the building, find another staircase, and resume the stairmastering. All this just as the clock is clicking to 12:30, the time of the first shot.
Luckily, the first shot misses, and Jake bursts into the room yelling Lee’s name. This makes him miss the fateful shot, and he turns his gun on Jake. There’s a scuffle, and it ends with Jake shooting Lee in the heart with his own gun. However, he also discovers that one of Lee’s errant shots has hit Sadie. She dies on the floor next to him while Dallas police officers handcuff him and haul him away.
Jake is taken downtown while the footage snaps to black and white. He’s run through the same gauntlet that Lee Harvey Oswald was, and a triumphant Dallas policeman holds the rifle aloft. They think they’ve captured the man who was gunning for JFK. Jake is taken to an interrogation room and questioned by Dallas Captain Fritz, and Agent Hosty of the FBI. Hosty asks Fritz to leave the two of them alone, and Jake tells Hosty that he has secrets that wouldn’t be good for the FBI if he spouted them during testimony. Hosty doesn’t appear to care and is ready to hang the attempted murder of JFK around Jake’s neck. However, a mysterious man appears and whispers something to Hosty. Soon after Fritz returns, and they are all interrupted by someone telling them that the President is on the phone for Jake.
Jake has a short, one-sided conversation from a thankful JFK and tearful Jackie, who tells Jake she is sorry about Sadie’s death. Jake numbly hangs up the phone, and soon after is deposited at a Dallas bus stop where he purchases a ticket to return to Maine, having accomplished his mission. Once there, he finds the invisible portal home, and zaps back to 2016. Only that world is a war-ridden hellhole, complete with the bombed-out foundation of Al’s diner. It’s clearly not a better place.
Jake saves a man from being attacked, only to discover it is Harry Dunning. Harry takes him to his shelter, then confesses that he knows who Jake is, that he saved their family all those years ago. Only it wasn’t much a salvation. Events related to JFK’s two-term presidency led to the United States bombed, and Harry and his family were herded into refugee camps. His brother was taken away when he was 15, and his mother died from the flu. He tearily tells Jake, “My father… I wish… he was my dad.” It’s one of the most emotional moments in the entire series.
Jake steels himself to return to the portal and make things right, knowing that going back in time again will reset everything he’s done. He stumbles through, only to discover that a car that passed him by twice (this is his third trip to 1960, after all) contains a grinning, ponytailed Sadie in the backseat. Remembering she had cousins in Maine, he chases her down, introduces himself, and is set to remake history. Until he notices the Yellow Card Man staring at him through the window.
Jake excuses himself and confronts the man outside. He mumbles that no matter what Jake does in the past, it always ends with Sadie dying. He doesn’t believe him, and tells him that this time he won’t save JFK. He won’t save Harry and his family from his father. He’ll just be with Sadie. But, it’s not good enough, and the Yellow Card Man walks away. Sadie has come outside to speak with Jake, and after she shows a glimmer of impossible recognition, he removes his hand from hers and says goodbye.
Jake returns to the present, back into his routine as a teacher, and tearfully apologizes to a bewildered Harry for not helping him. Later at home, Jake does everything we’ve all done: looks up a previous significant other on the internet. There he discovers that Sadie is about to be honored as Texas Woman of the Year. He rushes back to Jodie, attends her award ceremony, and they share a tender dance at the after party just before the credits roll.
It’s an imperfect end to an imperfect series, and it’s left me with nothing other than the desire to watch Oliver Stone’s JFK all over again. It also has me wanting to read the book again to go over everything the series omitted. However, despite all of my issues, there is one near-perfect moment in this episode. As Jake and Sadie rush under the overpass that leads them into Dealey Plaza, there’s a rush of slow motion as Jake runs past some of the pillars of this moment in history: the man opening his umbrella, Mary Moorman readying her camera, and of course Abraham Zapruder filming the whole scene. It’s extremely surreal, and unfortunately is just a fleeting moment in an otherwise forgettable series. If only we could reset things through a portal and start over.