This week’s episode picks up right where we left off: Sadie just discovered a recording of the Oswalds speaking Russian in Jake’s basement and is understandably freaked. Jake arrives and tries to calm her down, but she flees. Practically in tears, Sadie says, “Everything you say is a lie,” and tells Jake to stay away from her. This seems like a big leap from finding a weird recording, but remember that last week featured a big heartfelt speech from Jake about how Sadie is “a wonder,” which he used to soothe the lingering trauma from her marriage to Johnny Clayton. If Jake’s lying about weird Russian dialogue in his basement, maybe he’s lying about that, too. Maybe he doesn’t really love her. So she storms off. Going back into the house, Jake finds the casserole Sadie brought him along with the “I love you” note. It’s too late for that now, though, and Jake summarily throws the dish in the trash.
Then comes the first 2016 flashback in awhile. While teaching his present-day English class about Homer’s Odyssey, Jake asked them why Odysseus wouldn’t just stay with Calypso on her island, rather than return to Ithaca. This likely presages a major choice Jake will face one day — if and when he manages to save JFK, will he return to the present or stay in the past with Sadie? (If she ever forgives him, that is.) In an odd coincidence, Jake also once asked this class what they would do with a time machine. Most of them have violent answers: kill Adolf Hitler, kill Joseph Stalin, kill Saddam Hussein, kill Homer so they don’t have to read this dumb book anymore. Is violence the only application of time travel?
Back in the present, Sadie has revealed Jake’s weird Russian basement secret to Principal Simmons. Combined with the earlier brothel excursion, this is just too much for Deke, who invokes the morality clause of Jake’s contract to fire him. The only person who believes Jake is still a good guy is Ms. Mimi. Despite her suspicions about him in last week’s episode, she’s seen his goodness firsthand. In segregated Texas, he’s been one of the few white people to reach across racial lines to help her when she needed it. But there’s nothing she can do for him right now.
Meanwhile, Jake has bigger problems. It’s almost the day of the assassination attempt on Gen. Walker, so he and Bill are planning how to handle it. Based on history, Jake knows that Walker will be shot through the window while at his desk, but will suffer no more than some shrapnel in the arm. There’s a nearby church service that gets out at 9 p.m., allowing a perfect getaway crowd for the shooter. Al told Jake that if he can prove Lee Harvey Oswald took the shot on Walker, he’s also the JFK shooter, and taking him out will save history. Bill doesn’t quite understand this last point. Gen. Walker and Kennedy are such different political figures (Walker is a racist, Southern demagogue while Kennedy preaches an inspirational message of unity); why would the same guy try to kill both? But Jake’s in too deep now to ask questions like this. All that matters, he tells Bill, is if Lee shoots. Then, they’ll take him out.
However, Jake hasn’t thought very much about how they’ll take Lee out if they catch him in the act. He’s planned everything else, checking spare tires and changing spark plugs on the car in case the past tries to fight back. But he hasn’t planned too far ahead. Maybe he doesn’t want to think about it. Even further in the future, he hasn’t thought much about what to do when it’s time to go back to the present. To his surprise, Bill actually seems interested in going back to 2016 with him. But that’s for later. Now, the plan is for Bill to follow George de Mohrenschildt if they spot him around the scene, while Jake will stay with Lee. Jake will forget about Sadie because he has a more important mission to accomplish.
But actually, forget about that. When Jake goes to his house in Jodie to clean away all traces of “Jake the teacher” before the big day, he suddenly gets a threatening phone call. It’s Johnny Clayton. Sadie’s ex-husband had appeared to wilt before Jake’s threats in the last episode, but now he’s back in terrifying fashion, holding Sadie hostage at her house. Despite all that preparation, Jake quickly throws the plan to the wind. He tells Bill it’s all up to him and runs off to rescue Sadie.
NEXT: Time to clean this stain
When Jake arrives at Sadie’s, Johnny invites him to the kitchen, where he’s holding a bloodied Sadie at gunpoint. Now Jake’s part of the hostage situation, too. In his slithering, sinister voice, Johnny says that “marriage is all about compromise.” He was okay with Sadie leaving for a little bit so she could find herself, but then he found out she had “stained herself” with an affair. Sadie’s bloody face is all Jake’s fault, according to Johnny’s twisted, backwards logic. Stains can be cleaned, though, according to Johnny. He should know, he’s a door-to-door salesman of bleach. And he wants to clean this stain by having Jake drink a glass of bleach.
Jake, obviously, refuses. Sadie knocks a glass bowl of apples on the floor, further enraging Johnny, who holds his gun right up to her face. Johnny says he’s a product of a different time, “No one understands what I need to do about the greater good.” If Jake wasn’t too busy sliding a glass shard toward himself, he might recognize that Johnny has become an inverted Bizarro version of Jake himself. Maybe it would make Jake question the ethics of his own mission. But this is no time for questions. It doesn’t really seem like a time for laughter, either, but that’s exactly what Sadie does. She starts laughing, a low knowing chuckle, and as expected, it totally unsettles Johnny. Nothing is more emasculating to a self-serious, deranged patriarchal man like Johnny than the laughter of a woman. All this because I told him about the clothespin? Sadie asks. “I didn’t even tell him about your grandmother.”
Sadie starts mocking Johnny, hinting that his grandmother abused him and that “they took her away because of you.” An enraged Johnny loses his cool, getting right up in Sadie’s face, which gives Jake the freedom to reach down for that glass shard…just as the doorbell rings.
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Meanwhile, Jake told Bill to handle the Lee situation without him, but of course Bill’s just talking to Marina Oswald. He knocks on the door and offers his crush a cigarette. They start talking, and Bill shows her a picture of his dead sister, the one murdered by Frank Dunning years ago. Then, they too are interrupted by a door opening as Lee comes out to find Marina. Bill asks if Lee wants to talk. Lee responds by giving him a book by communist philosopher Karl Marx. If Bill reads that, then they’ll have something to talk about. “Is it any good?” Bill asks. “How’s the truth?” Lee responds, sounding just like a modern-day Reddit bro.
Back at Sadie’s, the doorbell was completely innocuous — just two students from the high school coming to drop off Sadie’s gift basket for winning the spring raffle. Jake quickly shoos them away and locks the door, but the kids already ruined his chance at slicing Johnny with the glass shard. Johnny appears to have the advantage once again, and Jake appears to actually be on the verge of drinking the bleach to save Sadie. But then, just as the glass is about to touch his lips, Jake throws the bleach right in Johnny’s face and grabs Sadie into the living room. A blinded, screaming Johnny starts firing wildly as Jake and Sadie take refuge behind a couch. Just as Johnny appears to close in on their location, Jake throws his watch across the room. When Johnny turns to fire at that noise, Jake slams a fire poker right into his face. For a minute Johnny seems dazed. Then Sadie shoots him with his own gun, and it’s over.
Sadie is taken away in an ambulance, but when Jake asks the paramedics why she doesn’t have an IV yet, it becomes apparent that he and his friends are at the service of 1960’s medicine. Not very encouraging. Jake wants to follow her to the Dallas hospital, but a cop demands his statement on the incident. Luckily, Deke shows up and charms the cop, who apparently used to be a star quarterback and student of his. The cop agrees to get Jake’s statement about Johnny’s death later at the hospital. As they walk away, Deke asks, “Did you kill that sonofabitch?” Yeah, Jake responds. “Good.”
NEXT: Nothing but the truth
Meanwhile, Lee leaves the house, telling Marina he’s going to the “library,” and Bill follows. At the hospital, Sadie’s in critical condition, which means Jake won’t be able to leave to help his partner. The cop finally gets his statement, and at first seems suspicious of Jake because of his recent public argument with Sadie outside her house. However, once Jake admits that “it felt great when I cracked his skull because he deserved it,” the cop approves his story and stands down. Once again, Jake is given validation for killing someone who “deserved” it, playing into the show-long ethical calculation of whether he should kill Lee Harvey Oswald.
Bill is alone outside Gen. Walker’s office, on the lookout for a shooter. For awhile, all he hears are leaves rustling. Then, the next-door church service gets out, just like Jake said it would. One thing Jake didn’t prepare Bill for, however, was the appearance of his sister in the crowd. Forgetting everything, Bill runs after his sister. When he finally catches up to the woman, however, he realizes his mistake just as a gunshot rings out. It was just an illusion put on by the past to stop him from changing history, and now the evidence that supposedly could’ve linked Oswald to Kennedy is gone.
Back at the hospital, Jake remembers something Al said to him: “The hardest part of living in the past is that everything you tell everyone will be a lie.” It’s easy to lose track of yourself, Al said, making you desperate to make a connection. In that respect, Jake’s experience living in the past is a bit like a Philip K. Dick novel, where one science-fiction alteration makes a protagonist lose all track of reality. Just then, Jake sees Gen. Walker come into the hospital with his gunshot wound, so he calls Bill to find out what happened. Bill tells him that his sister Clara’s body was never found, so that’s why he hoped she was still alive, even though another part of him knew it was impossible. Bill is crying and disconsolate. He knows he messed up. Jake knows, too, but since the mistake is his fault as much as Bill’s, he just walks away from the phone.
A doctor finds Jake in the hallway to give him a Sadie update. Unfortunately, the doctor is apologizing, saying that Sadie’s facial wounds were more intense than anything he’d encountered before. Jake assumes the worst, but luckily it’s just a classic doctor fakeout, in the vein of 30 Rock’s Dr. Leo Spaceman or Arrested Development’s Dr. Fishman. Sadie’s totally fine! The doctor was just apologizing for her lasting scar.
The name of this episode is “The Truth,” and that’s exactly what Jake tells Sadie. “I’m from the future,” he says. Everything else is true, though. He’s really an English teacher, and really from Lisbon, Maine. Jake says he loves her. Sadie responds that this seems a little quick since they just really met. “Well, it’s good to meet you,” Jake says.
(For a behind-the-scenes look at the hour, check out showrunner Bridget Carpenter’s blog.)