11.22.63: Season 1, Episode 3 – “Other Voices, Other Rooms”

The latest episode of 11.22.63 is sadly resonant with the contemporary political and social climate.

“I don’t see any need for us to waste our time, do you?”

In “Other Voices, Other Rooms”, Sadie (Sarah Gadon), the woman Jake Epping (James Franco) meets in Dealey Plaza in “The Rabbit Hole”, reappears in his life; her aforementioned love of books expressed through her job as a school librarian. As surprising as that is, it’s the fact that Sadie, who’s recently divorced and clearly hiding things of her own, takes the initiative in kissing him — a seeming rarity for the time, emphasized early in the episode when a female student lets her boyfriend talk for her — and saying the above. It’s almost as if she senses Jake’s displacement.

This moment ties the previous episode neatly with this one, with one particular difference. If last week’s episode focused on the rigid rules of time fighting back against Jake’s attempts to change it, “Other Voices, Other Rooms”, offers something far more insidious: the rigid social rules of the ’60s-era South. In both big ways and small ones, Jake again finds himself fighting a seemingly immovable force.

The small things: Jake offers the school secretary, Mimi (Tonya Pinkins) a cup of coffee, earning himself gasps and silence from his coworkers at Jodie High School. Why? Because Mimi’s African American, and apparently that’s just not done in 1960. The big things: the overt racism of a gas station attendant, who won’t provide Mimi, who walked a mile from where her car stalled, with a can of gas, driving her away with racial epithets. Jake, who’d remained silent earlier, goes off the weasely gas station attendant, grabbing a gas can and filling it up himself.

The biggest thing: the final scene, in which Jake and Bill follow Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber), newly returned from Russia, to a speech given by General Edwin Walker (Gregory North) to an all-white audience who cheers at his every word, and whom Oswald will attempt to assassinate in April ’63. In the novel, Jake refers to moments or coincidences as “harmonies”, in which the past and the present resonate together. While this term has yet to be used in the series, it’s difficult to not see this scene “harmonize” with the contemporary political moment.

Walker’s speech is delivered in front of a Confederate flag, claims that, “the poll tax preserves Southern culture”, refers to the Civil Rights movement as a “Communist conspiracy”, and asks the audience to “join [him] in Mississippi” (presumably referring to the protest Walker organized against the admittance of James Meredith, the first African American admitted to the University of Mississippi). Change “communist” to “Muslim”, and you can hear the echo of certain presidential candidates. Interestingly, it puts the viewer in a strange sort of sympathy with Lee Harvey Oswald, who attacks Walker outside the speech, calling him a fascist and comparing him to Hitler.

This confrontation, and the sympathy Oswald elicits in the moment, also “harmonizes” within 11.22.63 as well as King’s previous potential assassin protagonist: Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone. In the scene, the positioning of Jake and Bill Turcotte (George Mackay) — the young man who discovered Jake’s secret in the previous episode and now wants in — with nearly identical horrified looks as Oswald melts down, in relation to both Oswald and Walker, suggests the triangle being formed. Oswald is prepared to do violence for his beliefs, as was Bill in the previous episode; Jake already has, in killing Frank Dunning (Josh Duhamel). Each is convinced of the rightness of their cause. The framing of the shot is ambiguous in its intent; does it elevate Oswald, or taint Jake and Bill?

The lighter moments of the episode emphasize rather than undermine this ambiguity. When Jake and Bill, rent an apartment in Dallas across from where Lee and Marina Oswald (Lucy Fry) move in, Jake splits his time between listening in on the Oswalds and teaching high school in the small, nearby town of Jodie, Texas. James Strong offers a nice touch in his direction in this episode, indicating the passage of time as Jake walks down the high school’s hallway through the various banners announcing “Homecoming 1960”, “Prom Night 1961”, and “Congrats Class of 1962”. He chaperones a dance with new librarian Sadie, and finds creative and amusing ways to teach his students literature. It almost looks like a normal life.

Yet pressing against this is both the reason he’s gone back in time — to stop Oswald — and the world in which he finds himself. Shots of Jake are often tightly framed, from a view of him through his office inbox, to Jake and Bill’s crawl through the apartment’s attic to escape Oswald’s place. A glance at the clock in the gym makes Jake abandons the dance, and Sadie, to continue his surveillance on Oswald. Even the aforementioned walk down the hallway, as the students swirl around him, gives the impression not just of time passing, but time pressing down upon him. Franco continues to sell this tension in his performance of a man out of time. The times, on both a metaphysical and social level, keep fighting back, no matter how hard he tries.

RATING 8 / 10