Spoiler alert: This post contains details from 11.22.63 episode “The Truth.” Read at your own risk.
Who better to break down the adventures of Jake Epping than the woman behind it all, right? That’s why Bridget Carpenter, the showrunner of Hulu’s 11.22.63, is writing weekly blogs. Found exclusively on EW, Carpenter’s blogs will take viewers behind the episode they’ve just watched with everything from photographs to stories from set and more.
Dear Constant Viewer,
Our fifth episode of 11.22.63, “The Truth,” was written by Joe Henderson (now showrunner of Lucifer so obviously you should go watch that) and directed by … wait for it … James Franco. This episode was also the one I had to warn my mom about. “You’re not going to be okay watching all of this,” I said. I hope she listened. And you, Constant Viewer? How many times did you cover your eyes?
The truth: I was anxious about this episode. Yes, yes, actors direct episodes of TV often — we did it on Parenthood, we did it on Friday Night Lights — and it works out just fine. But let’s face it, Jake is in almost every scene of our entire series. This made me jumpy. I knew James Franco was an experienced, driven director — I’d seen his independent films and remain wholly impressed by his work — but I was worried that maybe he’d … I don’t know, decide to “wing it.” Or that he’d change his mind about some location and suddenly the shooting day would be lost. Or that he’d take forever. Look, I’m not proud of all the “UH-OH” scenarios that my brain created. I don’t understand how James Franco was doing everything he was doing already — so how was he going to pull off directing AND starring in this show?
Constant Viewer: he pulled it off.
James and I sat with the script for hours, talking through each scene and how we saw the action playing out. We knew we wanted to sustain Hitchcock-level tension. We knew we needed suspense and emotion. I’m here to tell you that the cast and crew LOVED working with James who turned out to be (surprise!) a calm, creative, prepared, and engaged director. And he turned in an incredible performance to boot.
One other thing about Franco’s direction: He knew that I’m a sucker for a oner. (Otherwise known as “one-shot.” The camera moves, the actors move, things happen, the camera keeps shooting. Difficult. Sometimes mannered; sometimes awesome.) Anyway I happen to love the virtuosity of a oner when it serves the story — and we found a place where a oner served our story. I won’t say any more — you’ll see it. It grips you and it doesn’t let go. Very exciting (and upsetting).
“What would you do to change the past?” Jake asks his students in 2016. The answers: variations on a theme. Kill Hitler! Kill Pol Pot! Kill! Kill! Kill! Yikes.
When you title an episode “The Truth,” you’re asking for scrutiny. Sadie speaks her own truth in the first scene: “Everything that you say is a lie.” That’s the thing with living in the past, as it turns out — everything that you say is a lie. Does it matter that Jake is doing what he’s doing for all the right reasons? Not to Sadie. Nor should it. When you’re the one being lied to, the reasons don’t matter. You just feel like a chump.
This episode takes a sharp turn into the heart of classic Stephen King territory — horror and heartache. Yes, it is brutally violent. Yes, it is horrific. But Jake’s mission is to prevent the horrific, violent assassination of a president. He lives in a brutal world. Frank Dunning wasn’t wrong when he told Jake, “there’s a price to be paid.” Jake is SO CLOSE to witnessing who shot at General Walker with a Carcano rifle … and yet …
Actions have consequences. Always.
When faced with the choice of accomplishing his mission versus saving Sadie — Jake chooses Sadie.
In the final moments of this episode, Jake looks Sadie in the eye, and he finds the courage to tell her something impossible. He tells her he’s from the future. And guess what? She believes him.
Actions have consequences. So does love.
Notes from the set:
While shaping Stephen King’s novel to series, I was deeply inspired by Robert Frank’s photographs, and returned to his book The Americans over and over again. Here is one photo from his book that I insisted that we recreate in this episode:
T.R. Knight and I have been friends for a loooong time. When were were babies we did theater together in Minneapolis. Was it amazing to work with him now that he is a Famous Person? Yes, Constant Viewer, yes it was.
We rehearsed the oner for two hours on a closed set, just the actors, me, the camera operator, and the director of photography. Then the crew came in and we shot it.
Sarah Gadon was the calmest, funniest actor I have ever worked with with a slashed face.
When we shot the final scene between Jake and Sadie in the hospital room, our sound guy JT, a grizzled crew member in the business for 30 years, came up to me with tears pouring down his face. “Scenes like this are why I come to work in the morning,” he said in a choked voice. I would have answered him, but I was busy crying into my sleeve.
Me and my director at the end of a long, bloody shooting day.
A very special birthday is coming up, Constant Viewers. I’ll look forward to seeing you next week at the party.
Until next week,
For more insight, follow Bridget on Twitter @BridgetCarpen12.