'We become ourselves through the choices we make'

By Bridget Carpenter
April 04, 2016 at 05:29 PM EDT
Russ Martin/Hulu
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Spoiler alert: This post contains details from 11.22.63 episode “The Day in Question.” 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,

I don’t remember what my first Stephen King book was. Maybe The Dead Zone. All I recall is, my father handed it to me. I was in eighth grade. (Or… seventh?) I stayed up all night reading — and to my parents’ everlasting credit, no one said boo, or, “That book is too old for you.” (Even though it possibly, technically was.) By morning, I was a die-hard fan. Such is the addictive power of story. It’s a great thing, to be a child of readers. Everything in my life has come from that: I’m a reader.

Do you know Daniel Alexander Jones? Maybe you do. He is a gifted writer, director, and performer. He’s a professor at Fordham University. He’s one of my best friends in the world. And he is the person who called me three years ago and said, “11/22/63. You have to read this book.”

Now who’s to say I wouldn’t have read the book anyway? I’m a King fan. I would have gotten to it, surely. Eventually. But the fact is, I hadn’t read 11/22/63, and Daniel is easily the most brilliant and erudite person in my life, so when he says “read something,” I read.

Why do I tell you this? 

Why am I not starting with the MORAL of Jake Epping’s story? Why am I not talking about shooting the scene in Dealey Plaza, or about the production challenges of re-creating a presidential motorcade? Why am I not listing my conspiracy theories? Or writing about how much I love Sarah Gadon and James Franco and Chris Cooper (I do), about the fun we had in the writers’ room (we did), about our genius editors, about the thrill it was to record the music for each episode with composer Alex Heffes, about how sublime it was to become friends with Stephen King (duh). I’ve taken a hard right onto Tangent Avenue — why?

Actions and consequences. 

Daniel Jones told me to read a book. I did. A year later, Kathy Lingg, the head of the TV department at Bad Robot, called me to ask if I knew this particular Stephen King novel. I did. She asked if I would come in and describe to her and JJ Abrams how I might make it a miniseries. I did. And now, thanks to Daniel … thanks to Kathy … thanks to my father … thanks to Stephen King — here I am with you, Constant Viewer. Here we are.

Stephen King titled his novel 11/22/63, which to me is one of the great literary McGuffins. This story isn’t about November 22, 1963 — not really. It isn’t about JFK, or conspiracies, or time travel. This is a story about how we become ourselves through the choices we make. Jake chooses, again and again. Thus unfolds this story, one event after the next: action and consequences.

In short: Jake wins and he loses. He saves the president; he loses his love. But that’s not going to stop him, is it? Despite everything, he intends to reset history, do it all over again, no mistakes! But Harry Dunning shows Jake one terrible way the world turns. And the Yellow Card Man reminds Jake that if he continues to interfere with the Past, he’ll be caught in an eternal loop, like the Yellow Card Man himself. If Jake keeps coming back through the rabbit hole … the only inevitability, it seems, will be Sadie dying.

Jake chooses life. He exits the rabbit hole for a last time. Sadie will live; JFK will die; Harry’s family will be killed. Jake will live with his choices in 2016. Time moves in one direction.

Jake does see Sadie one more time. He asks her to dance. When they dance, the Past doesn’t push back. Instead, it harmonizes. 

Dancing is life, writes the King. I can’t argue with that.

Writing and producing this miniseries has been one of the richest creative experiences of my life. 

Sadie Dunhill says, “We don’t know whose lives we touch, or why or how. I’m just glad you have allowed me to be part of yours.” That goes for me too. 

Thanks, Steve.

Thanks, Daniel.

Thanks, Dad.

Thanks, Constant Viewer.

See you around.


Notes from the set:

James Strong, director of episode 104, returned for the epic journey-within-a-journey that was our finale. (Kevin MacDonald and David Katznelson also returned for two shooting days in Dallas, so there were a couple days where I could almost pretend that we were still at the beginning rather than ending.)

We walked the streets of Dallas and felt the ghosts in the hot air around us. We stood on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository and measured the distance to the street with our eyes. We touched the walls of Lee Harvey Oswald’s Neely Street apartment and stood in the spot where Oswald stood holding his rifle, posing for a photo.  We stared at the auditorium floor where Kennedy stood making his campaign speech over 50 years ago. In Dallas it felt like time had stopped. Maybe it has a little bit.

James Strong is one of the most graceful, skilled, and unflappable directors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. This finale required a recreation of the 11/22/63 JFK motorcade (a motorcade that has been documented on film!), a vision for a dystopic world, a perfect replication of several 1960 events that we have seen before, and a return to 2016. James directed these and dozens of other elements with aplomb and a profound spirit of creative collaboration. 

Our casting department (hi April & Erica!) was incredible in every respect — here is Leon Rippy as Harry Dunning, one of the virtuosic actors they brought on.

When we scouted our Dallas locations, I spied this graffiti on a fence post behind the grassy knoll. This is the photo I took. (I put the graffiti in the finale.)

Director James Strong and me after directing a day of the JFK motorcade in Dealey Plaza. Were were loopy? Look at the photo, people.

This is Lego Jake Epping, a gift from editor Mike.

Oh, on our first day of shooting in Texas, Dallas, we sort of accidentally shut down traffic. (I actually did go to City Hall to, you know, fight … oh never mind.)

A fun Easter Egg.

A fun Stephen King tattoo someone saw on Instagram.

Steve and Kathy Lingg.

I still miss the diner.

For more insight, follow Bridget on Twitter @BridgetCarpen12.

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