11.22.63: Season 1, Episode 4 – “The Eyes of Texas”

There’s no escape from being watched, even in 1963.

“Who are you?”

There’s an interesting element at work in 11.22.63 that this episode really makes manifest. The big question Al (Chris Cooper) and now Jake (James Franco) have been trying to solve is whether Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) acted alone, or whether he was sponsored/manipulated by supposed CIA operative George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne). Three times, when Jake is close to finding an answer, something has interfered. In “The Rabbit Hole”, a sudden fire and loud music kept him from overhearing what de Mohrenschildt said to the CIA, except the name “Lee Harvey Oswald”.

“The Eyes of Texas” offers two more near misses; Jake and Bill (George MacKay) follow de Mohrenschildt and Oswald to a building in which they think de Mohrenschildt is going to introduce Oswald to co-conspirators; it turns out to be a brothel, which ends up being raided by the police. The second time, a barking dog and Sadie’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Johnny Clayton (T. R. Knight) who’d been following Jake and Sadie (Sarah Gadon), prevent him from overhearing.

The Kennedy assassination has been the subject of so many conspiracy theories for so long, that one wonders if anyone would believe the truth. Even Jake and Bill, living right above the Oswalds and recording all their conversations, still don’t know. They don’t know, because no one knows.

Jake may be literally living in the past, but he is, in essence, as much an observer as those of us on the other side of the screen. Rather than create an alternate reality, such as The Man in the High Castle did, where Oswald’s motives and co-conspirators are clear, 11.22.63 makes the choice to stay in this particular reality.

It’s Al’s concept of “time fights back” taken to its logical, if subtle, conclusion. To use the terminology of Doctor Who, the Kennedy assassination is a “fixed point”, like Pompeii. Despite Jake’s anachronistic presence there, the series seems to be indicating that perhaps this is a moment in time that cannot be changed, that Jake will never see the full picture, regardless of how many “eyes” he employs.

It makes sense, and more so than in previous episodes, that “The Eyes of Texas” addresses the ethics of surveillance. There are no iPhones or sophisticated wire taps; it’s more subtle than that. The society Jake finds himself in is tightly controlled by how things look. “Every pair of eyes you see, there are two pairs you can’t see,” Principal Deke Simmons (Nick Searcy) tells Jake, warning him not to compromise Sadie’s reputation, while giving him a card for Hollyhock Bungalows.

Everyone’s watching and being watched; director Fred Toye underscores this visually throughout the episode. Sadie and Jake kiss, seen reflected in a mirror. Jake’s seen going to his car at a distance, clearly being followed (by Sadie’s husband, we discover later). Jake receives photos of himself and Sadie at Hollyhock, and tries to observe what Oswald and de Mohrenschildt are doing at a brothel.

The brothel itself is being watched, as law enforcement conducts an ill-timed raid that leads to Jake being arrested and losing Deke’s respect. Jake observes a tender moment through the office window of Deke and Mimi (Tonya Pickins), which makes Deke’s earlier words about discretion take on a completely different context. (Interracial marriage was illegal until 1967.) Bill comforts Marina Oswald (Lucy Fry) when Lee seemingly isn’t around, but the fight we hear later could indicate they were observed.

Yet, like Jake himself, nobody is getting the full picture. The episode is full of misdirection and misinterpretation, for both characters and viewers. Jake and Bill expect Oswald and de Mohrenschildt to meet with operatives; they meet with a prostitute instead. Jake invites Sadie to Hollyhock, seemingly to tell her the truth about himself; instead, they dance and make love. Jake assumes the photos he received were the CIA telling him to back off; instead, it was Sadie’s jealous husband.

It’s not just Jake, though. Bill assumes that since Jake is interfering in time, it’s OK for him to go to Marina’s rescue when he hears Lee and Marina fighting. Sadie assumes her husband was just polite and old-fashioned when he never was affectionate to her before they married; it turned out he had serious psychosexual issues. Later, she assumes that the look of horror she sees on Jake’s face when she tell him what Clayton made her do is directed at her, rather than his reaction to Clayton’s behavior.

The near jump-scare moment at the end of the episode is the apotheosis of this element. Sadie goes to Jake’s place with a casserole, finds the door unlocked, a classic horror movie moment. A man, who looks like the Yellow Card Man (Kevin J. O’Connor) from the first episode, a sure sign that time is “pushing back”, passes behind her, and tense music seems to indicate that perhaps Clayton has tracked her down.

The man that finds her in the house isn’t Johnny; it’s Jake. Earlier in the episode, Mimi confronts Jake about discrepancies in his records — he covers by claiming he’s in witness protection after witnessing his friend “Fredo” being murdered at Lake Tahoe by Fredo’s brother, Michael. While she seems to believe him, she warns Jake, “It’s wrong to conceal things from those you care for…when you refuse to tell people the truth, you deny them their dignity.” This final bit of misdirection is a clever way to parallel Jake and Johnny; both deny Sadie the dignity of truth and the ability to make her own decisions.

“Who are you?” are the final words of the episode, said to Jake. The beauty of the series so far, is that each character we meet — famous and infamous, known and unknown — remains a mystery.

RATING 8 / 10