Every year since President Kennedy’s assassination in November, there is a resurgence of interest in articles, blogs, films and TV shows dissecting what happened and why.
The film JFK ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ directed by Oliver Stone analyzes the trial of Clay Shaw, the only man ever put on trial for the assassination. He was acquitted, but numerous possibly related conspiracies were discussed. This is my favorite movie on the subject to date and I sort of vacuum up the topic whenever I come across other books, movies and TV shows.
Enter the novel 11/22/63 by Stephen King that I read when it first came out in 2011. That is the best novel I’ve read by King post turn of the century. I’ve read probably 75% of everything he’s ever written to date, so I’m definitely a Constant Reader. This novel belongs with his early works (Carrie, The Shining, The Stand, Pet Semetary It, etc)
I’ve known for awhile that Hulu commissioned and created a mini-series adaptation of 11/22/63 in 2016 and planned to check it out. Finally, I’m starting to get out of the weeds watching a bunch of Disney+ (still more to watch), that I decided to re-subscribe to Hulu and check this out. Helps that they sent me another free month trial, yay(thank you!)
The total run time is around 450 minutes (7.5 hours). The novel was one of King’s longer works, clocking in at 849 pages, but again, it is an outstanding story. I was excited that there wasn’t an attempt to try and sandwich all those pages into a single movie. Mini-series for some of King’s longer works (IE. The Stand) are a better solution.
All 8 episodes are below.
Episode 1 -“The Rabbit Hole”⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½
We are introduced to Jake Epping (James Franco), who is encouraged by a friend at a diner to travel through a discovered time portal inside a closet back to 1960 with the ultimate goal to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Jake is apprehensive, but is encouraged to test out the portal by carving something into a tree. Jake tries a quick test and discovers that indeed the tree has his initials there in the future.
Now Jake’s mission is return and stay inside the past until that fateful day in 1963. Jake’s friend has prepared a list of supplies including a list of sports scores (nice to see King borrowed this money-making idea from Biff Tannen in Back To The Future Part II⭐️⭐️⭐️½)
This is a compelling pilot episode, that compels the viewer into the story. It is fairly faithful to the novel, to my memory anyway, as well. Off to a good start!
Episode 2 – “The Kill Floor” ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
One of Jake’s students in the present had his entire family murdered except him by his father in Kentucky in 1960. Jake contemplates changing the past. This is a very Stephen King subplot about a man who takes a hammer to his family. What caused the man to snap?
This comes off like an episode of Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone TV show. It was good and reminded me how that show blazed this type of territory first.
Episode 3 – “Other Voices, Other Rooms” ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Jake moves to Jodie, Texas and gets a job as a substitute teacher so he can continue with the planned surveillance of Lee Harvey Oswald when he returns from Russia. He has a partner named Bill now helping him from the last episode, the brother of a victim of the hammer killer. He also meets the radiant Sadie Dunhill.
This just seems more like a setup episode than anything else. Was happy to see Jake and Sadie starting to have some romantic connection developing. Nothing too exciting happens in this episode, more setup pieces for later story.
Episode 4 – “The Eyes of Texas” ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Oswald practicing quick assembly of his gun and then captured on film in that historic shot of him with the rifle. This chilling opening scene is a stark premonition of where history is headed. More Jake and Sadie. And then Sadie’s ex comes back to town. Bill develops feelings for Marina Oswald who is being abused by Lee. Sadies stumbles on a secret.
Another entertaining, but not great episode. More drama and setup stuff, mainly. Jake and Bill still trying to decide if Lee Harvey Oswald is the bad guy.
Episode 5 – “The Truth”⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Sadie confronts Jake about the secret life he seems to be living. Jake tells her he can’t tell her because he wants to keep her protected. This is playing out almost like a soap opera. It brings me back to reading the book and remembering that some of my most favorite parts were the Jake and Sadie romance twisting subplot. Meanwhile, there is the whole what is Lee Harvey Oswald up to? Is Oswald going to shoot General Walker? If Oswald does, then that is the proof they needed to ensure he would carry out the assassination of JFK.
There is a nasty twist involving Johnny (played skillfully by T.R Knight from Grey’s Anatomy), who is Sadie’s Ex, that makes Jake reconsider his plans. The tension ratchets back up in this episode considerably. This was my second favorite episode to this point.
Episode 6 – “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Six months later, October 1963, and opens with Oswald getting a job at the Texas School Book Depository. Marina has left Lee and she’s staying with a friend. Lee begs her to come home and live with him again. Marina tells him she’ll think it over. Cut to Jake and Bill still in surveillance mode of Lee. The last six months Jake has been taking care of Sadie. They still don’t know whether or not Lee is a patsy or involved in the assassination.
Heavy tensions between Jake and Bill over Bill’s closeness with Marina. Bill has gone rogue! Good, entertaining episode with a engaging scene during Oswald’s birthday party with Jake and Bill (the upstairs neighbors, how convenient) in attendance.
There is a major twist in this episode that could jeopardize Jake’s mission. This one starts slower, but it finishes strong on a cliffhanger.
Episode 7 – “Soldier Boy” ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
11/5/63: 7 days until the assassination. Oswald shows up at the F.B.I looking to give a report and makes a scene at November 12, 1963 intended for Agent Hosty. Meanwhile, Jake struggles with a convenient amnesia macguffin (not part of the novel) to add tension and increase drama around the closing in on November 22, 1963. Jake has a revealing moment with The Yellow Card Man. Sadie is by Jake’s side as it turns into the fateful day, 11/22/63.
This is the lead-up for the finale and it feels very much like. It ends a mere few hours before the assassination, setting up the last episode. Will Jake complete the mission? What will happen with Sadie and Jake? So much up in the air for the finale.
Lee Harvey Oswald walking, armed with his “curtain rods”, which is really that famous rifle, heading into the Texas School Book Depository, whistling as he walks around the boxes in the sniper’s nest and then unpacks his rifle, sits and stares down out the window, down at the street where in a mere couple hours the presidential motorcade will be passing by.
History is waiting.
Episode 8 – “The Day in Question” ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I’m going to skip summarizing what happens in this episode because that would spoil the fun. If you’ve come this far, then you need to watch this episode and come to your own conclusion, because it’s dynamite in an hour package.
It isn’t predictable.
However, I’ll recount my feeling when I got to the end of the novel. There were tears in my eyes, because I remembered a phrase between Jake and Sadie that King expertly returned to. It seemed at the time in the story like an unimportant event and yet it boiled the entire 800+ pages down into one brief phrase. I’ll never forget those words. You have to read the novel, to get those words, because I’m not going to spoil that here either. Tease, tease, tease, yeah, I know.
This is on Blu-ray. I might pick it up. I think it was an excellent job at capturing the spirit of King’s novel. It doesn’t stay 100% true to the source material — let’s face it, few novel adaptations do — but it is a strong adaptation.
This isn’t better than Oliver Stone’s JFK, but it’s the best alternative history fictional story on JFK that I’ve ever seen. I think once you start mixing in time travel into stories, there are just so many problems with the logic, that it dampens the overall narrative’s credibility. Still, this doesn’t dwell on the technology it just tells a good story.
It says something when you finish watching that you immediately want to go back and watch the ending episode again. Wow. Great stuff!
11/22/63 Overall Series Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️