Jake gets a new sidekick and a new target as Lee Harvey Oswald finally returns from Russia
After a brief Kentucky detour, it’s time for Jake to get back to his regularly scheduled time-travel task: preventing the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This is no longer a solo mission, however. Bill the bartender is now along for the ride after finding one of Jake’s newspaper clippings on the Kennedy assassination. Bill had been in Holden to pursue Frank Dunning for the murder of his sister 12 years earlier; now that Frank’s taken care of, he really has nothing better to do than join up with Jake. He accepts the whole “I’m from the future” thing with relatively little fuss, and now Jake has someone to watch his back.
Also someone to watch him suffer PTSD, apparently. When Jake and Bill stop at a motel on their way to Dallas, Jake suffers a nightmarish dream sequence of a Kennedy speech set to images of Frank murdering the Dunning family. In a sleep-walk rage, Jake tackles the sleeping Bill, screaming “I killed you!” After waking up and cooling off, Jake muses, “what I wouldn’t give for a mini-bar right now.” Bill is as perplexed as the store owner Jake asked for Gatorade in the last episode.
Eventually they get to Dallas, where Jake walks Bill through the scene of the future crime, explaining different theories about what will happen on the show’s title date. After all, as Jake says, “There’s been 2,000 books written about it, and no one knows what happened.” Here he matches the various conspiracies to their physical loci: There’s the book depository where Oswald (or someone with Oswald’s rifle) will hole up, and over there’s the grassy knoll where a Russian shooter might be planted.
Cue another short Al flashback. Al had told Jake that he never really cared about the nostalgic “Camelot” imagery associated with the Kennedy administration, but the assassination still made him feel like the world was broken. Perhaps in 30 years, we’ll see the millennial version of this story, in which someone tries to time travel in order to stop the 9/11 attacks; the way Al speaks of the Kennedy assassination’s impact makes it seem like a similar generational trauma.
But back in Dallas, Jake is having some trouble explaining the conspiracy to Bill. The first step of Jake’s mission is still seeing whether Lee Harvey Oswald was involved in the assassination attempt on Gen. Walker. If so, that would suggest a wider conspiracy. When Bill asks, reasonably, who would mastermind such a conspiracy, Jake can’t muster up much more than “the people who really run things.” Just then, Jake and Bill turn around and catch storefront TVs playing video of a Kennedy speech. To the tune of bright music, Jake determines that this is, in fact, time for a team-up. “Let’s go save JFK, partner.”
It’s still two years out from the attempted Walker assassination, so Jake and Bill need to find a way to kill time. Jake tries out for a teaching position at Jodie High School, a little outside Dallas. After Jake explains his slightly fictional resume (he didn’t go to school on the G.I. Bill but he does have English teaching experience), the principal’s main question is, “Why come to a little place like Jodie?” Funny that, like the Holden pharmacist from last week, this guy’s first inclination is to denigrate his hometown. Before the rise of things like the Internet, it seems, the American divide between small towns and big cities was much larger, and inhabitants of the former had no illusions about that.
The main question of this job interview, however, is when this Principal Simmons asks Jake whether The Catcher in the Rye should be in the school library. Although Jake is initially unsure exactly how to respond, his love for literature shines through. When the principal notes that J.D. Salinger’s classic novel contains “prostitution, among other things,” Jake responds, “We’re the land of the free, home of the brave. I think we can handle it.” This eloquent response convinces Principal Simmons to hire Jake, though he still refuses to allow The Catcher in the Rye in school. Ms. Mimi, his black secretary who came up with the question, is visibly disappointed but still helps Jake get settled in his new position.
Walking outside, Jake picks up Bill, who’s loitering outside the school James Dean-style, complete with cigarette and slacker posture. The two decide to celebrate the new job by going to a strip club in Dallas, where Bill promptly gets loud and drunk. The club owner comes over and introduces himself. Bill drunkenly asks if he plans on voting for Kennedy. To Jake’s surprise, the owner responds in the affirmative, expressing confidence that Kennedy will “turn this country around.” He then gives his name: Jack Ruby.
NEXT: Two years later
Jake is understandably taken aback to randomly encounter the man who will one day shoot Oswald. Ruby notes that he looks like he’s “seen a ghost.” Bill then proceeds to nearly spill the beans on their time-travel story, forcing a retreat.
The next day, Jake wakes up a hungover Bill in their car and makes sure he’s got their cover story down: They’re brothers, born in Maine but later moved to Kentucky. Jake went to college up North, where he lost his accent. After their parents died, they sold the family farm and moved to Texas. “Never, ever change the story,” Jake reminds his sidekick.
The first day of school gets off to an unexpectedly weird start when Jake casually offers to get Ms. Mimi a cup of coffee. The resounding silence from an office full of fellow teachers and students reminds Jake, once again, that he’s landed in a past America still deep in the thrall of racial segregation. (It’s scenes like these where one can’t help but remember, even if Jake doesn’t, that many historians theorize Kennedy’s death may have actually helped the fight for racial equality. Successor Lyndon Johnson made Kennedy into a martyr figure in his all-out attempt to pass the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964). Ms. Mimi defuses the situation by refusing his offer. Jake walks down the hallway to his first class…and suddenly, it’s two years later.
1962 opens with Jake teaching his students Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” about a man getting entombed alive by a rival, as a metaphor for how many books they’ll have to read in his class. Two years in, Jake seems to have developed a natural rapport with his students. They’re not the only ones he forms an instant connection with; when Ms. Mimi summons him to the gymnasium, he finds her in the company of Sadie Dunhill, the same woman he met all the way back in 1960, on his first trip to Dallas. She had a husband then, but that’s over and done with now. As a result, Principal Simmons’ offer for Jake and Sadie to co-chaperone the upcoming school dance becomes appealing enough for Jake to reschedule his prior commitment.
That commitment turns out to be bugging Lee Harvey Oswald’s house. The supposed Kennedy killer isn’t home from Russia quite yet, but Jake and Bill know exactly where he’s going to stay in Fort Worth, and they set up shop at the building next door, even if it means dealing with a racist landlord. Speaking of racism, Jake subsequently runs into Ms. Mimi at a gas station, where she’s stranded after her car ran out. The attendant refuses to fill up her gas. Jake tries to get around it by buying a can of gas for her, but the attendant sees through the ruse and refuses. Jake resorts to giving Ms. Mimi a ride himself. Upon returning home, he finds Bill tussling with their homophobic neighbor, Raphael, who insists on making kissing noises at the two men living in an apartment together.
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Heeeeeeeere’s Oswald! The former U.S. Marine has finally returned after an extended stay in Russia, and Jake’s in the airport to covertly observe him, just as Al had done. Lee Harvey Oswald expresses surprise that there are no reporters around to cover his homecoming, but his mom shushes him and leads him away. Jake knows that Lee’s staying with his mother for a few days until moving in to the shabby Fort Worth apartment, which should give him and Bill enough time to bug the apartment first. That mission is Jake’s conflicting commitment for the night of the school dance.
He and Bill get a tutorial in surveillance equipment from a man who happens to be an enthusiastic Gen. Walker supporter. Little does this fan know that the two men are trying to protect his favorite politician; the cover story this time is Jake bugging his estranged wife to find grounds for a divorce.
Despite the importance of this mission, Jake does make it to the school dance. He and Sadie bust some students sneaking in spiked punch and retire to a classroom to “inspect” it. After this pre-game, they then take a turn on the dance floor. Jake is astoundingly good at these ‘60s steps, it turns out; he explains that his ex-wife made him take lessons. Jake tells a pleased Sadie that they “make a good team,” but before more chaperoning can occur, he catches a sight of the clock. Citing a sudden emergency, he rushes off to help Bill bug Oswald’s place.
NEXT: Apologies like dandelions
He and Bill get off to a good start, putting recorders under tables and behind paintings in the Oswald apartment. But this was never going to be easy; the past always pushes back. Sure enough, Oswald and his Russian wife, Marina, suddenly arrive at the apartment. Jake and Bill are stuck hiding in a closet while the happy couple commence some lovemaking. Luckily, Jake finds a hidden ladder into the apartment’s air vents. Not so luckily, this escape path is covered in dust and spiders; it bears no small resemblance to Shelob’s lair from The Lord of the Rings. Bill screams, and Oswald hears. “You wanna mess with me?” The possible assassin screams. Jake is able to kick out a panel and the two escape to their next-door hideout. The bugging was successful, but not in enough time for Jake to make it back to the school dance.
The next day, both Ms. Mimi and Sadie are disappointed by Jake’s flaking. Sadie gives him the silent treatment, and Ms. Mimi tells him that apologies are like dandelions: “They’re pretty and they sprout up fast; but they don’t have much substance.” Ouch.
Back at the apartment, Bill and Jake start pouring over hours and hours of Oswald tape. Bill becomes like a soap opera watcher, observing that he feels for Marina. Then, just when it seems like it couldn’t get any more boring, George de Mohrenschildt shows up. Back in the first episode, Jake had confirmed Al’s suspicions that de Mohrenschildt was associated with the CIA. Now that he’s talking to Oswald, Jake realizes, “This might be the start of the whole thing.” Unfortunately, Oswald and de Mohrenschildt are mostly speaking Russian. Jake curses himself — if he’d known this, he could’ve spent the last two years learning Russian. But there should be an English-Russian dictionary in the school library, so Jake runs off to retrieve it.
He returns to find a bloody, unconscious Bill and the recording equipment stolen. It turns out Raphael is the culprit, but when they bust into the neighbor’s apartment, they find the equipment trashed. Jake beats on Raphael a bit before Bill points out the little girl cowering under a table. Cursing, Jake and Bill take back their ruined equipment.
Back at school, Jake gets another chance to apologize to Sadie when she drops some books in the hallway. She initially gives him the cold shoulder, but when he asks what he can do to make it up to her, she plants a kiss. “I like dancing with you,” she says. Sadie asks him to take her out to dinner the next weekend, and he agrees. But she warns him, “Don’t ever do anything like that to me again.”
In the meantime, Jake and Bill follow Oswald to a General Walker rally. With the Confederate flag as a backdrop, General Walker denounces the nascent Civil Rights Movement and the Kennedy’s, insisting that the poll tax “preserves Southern culture.” After the rally, Oswald unexpectedly accosts the general, asking him For someone known for killing Kennedy, Oswald here appears to be a strong leftist. He repeatedly calls Walker a fascist and gets into fights with his guards as de Mohrenschildt looks on. The encounter reaches an eerie climax as Oswald screams, “wake up, you fascist! Wake up or I’ll kill you!”