11.22.63: Season 1, Episode 5 – “The Truth”

The journey to the truth takes some interesting, and disturbing, turns this week.

“Everything you say is a lie.”

Poor Sadie (Sarah Gadon). Her “polite” ex-husband, Johnny (T. R. Knight) was severely disturbed, and the nice young man she met in Dallas apparently keeps recorded Russian porn in his basement. She’s smart to run the other way. No wonder, at the end of this week’s episode, Jake’s (James Franco) revelation that he’s from the future barely merits a shrug. Of all the crazy things happening in the episode, time travel starts to sound a bit more sane.

Everybody’s coming clean in this episode, resolving some questions, opening up others; it makes for a fast-paced episode compared to last week’s slower build-up. Jake and Bill (George Mackay) are on the verge of finding an answer as to whether Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) attempted to assassinate Edwin Walker (Gregory North); they just need to observe Walker’s house on the night in question. Jake’s inspiring his students — getting quarterbacks to read poetry and shy kids to try out for the school play — in marked contrast to the clearly bored students in the 2016 flash-forward seen in this episode).

Not all these revelations represent a positive step forward, however; Sadie apparently tells Deke (Nick Searcy) what she found at Jake’s place, and Deke fires Jake for violating his contract’s “morals clause”. (Mimi [Tonya Pickins], who knows some version of the truth, clearly feels terrible for Jake, and tells him she can’t find the resignation form — a small lie for the greater good). Jake’s revelation to Johnny that he knew his secret sexual issues leads to horrifying consequences. Bill keeps pursuing Marina Oswald (Lucy Fry), only to finally be confronted by Oswald himself, who gives him some Marx to read, because Marx, in Oswald’s words, tells the truth.

Bridget Carpenter, who wrote this week’s episode, brilliant underscores this “coming clean” subtext in the scene between Johnny, Jake, and Sadie. While Johnny’s profession is never made clear in the book, in the series, he’s a door-to-door soap salesman. Given his sexual problems (ie, sex is dirty), the choice to make him a cleaning products salesman, as well as Johnny holds a gun to Jake and demanding Jake drink a glass of bleach (as if to somehow “clean” Jake), makes this particular narrative choice even more menacing.

The downside to all the exciting machinations this week is that at times, the episode feels less fast-paced and more rushed. Only three episodes are left to get Jake to that fateful day in Dallas, and thus some of the narrative and characterization texture is getting blurred. We get a flash forward to Jake trying to inspire a class of bored 2016 teenagers to care about Homer’s The Odyssey, but no parallel scene of the far more engaged 1963 teens; Jake’s reduced to telling Deke about the effect he’s had on his students. It makes the pacing in such a vital episode seem a little off.

While cuts always need to be made, it might have made more sense to limit the Bill/Marina storyline in favor of seeing Jake more integrated with Jodie society; it would’ve added extra resonance to his firing, as one of the instances when his purpose in 1963 (saving Kennedy) is undermining the life he’s built. This is an area that the source material accomplishes quite well.

These are quibbles, however; “The Truth” is a fairly strong episode, with most of its elements working in concert (harmonizing, if you will) with one another. T. R. Knight projects menace without (mostly) chewing the scenery, as one of a long, illustrious line of King villains with parental issues (I’m looking at you, Frank Dodd!); he even makes a verbal reference to Misery’s Annie Wilkes when he calls Jake a “dirty birdy”.

Sarah Gadon also imbues Sadie with a strong-will and self-determination without being anarchronistic; not always an easy task. She fights back against Johnny both verbally and physically; this moment’s definitely earned by what we’ve seen of Sadie previously, and gives truth to Deke’s contention in “Other Voices, Other Rooms” that Sadie’s a “new kind of woman”.

The way that time is actively working against Jake and Bill accomplishing their goal continues to be portrayed more subtly than either in the book or in the earlier episodes. No longer car crashes and food poisoning; it’s unfortunate discoveries (the recordings in Jake’s basement) and mistaken identities (Bill thinking he sees his missing sister) that stand in the way of knowing.

Even better is the fact that, although I’m familiar with the novel, this adaptation still finds ways to surprise me. I knew what would happen with Johnny and Sadie, but it played out differently within the episode. Bill, as mentioned before, played quite a different role in the book, but his presence here solves some adaptation-related problems; the biggest, of course, is conveying Jake’s reasoning and thought processes without resorting to voice-overs.

Sometimes, even when you know the destination, the journey can hold interesting surprises.

RATING 7 / 10