11.22.63 recap: Soldier Boy
The last time we saw Jake Amberson (né Epping), he was comatose in a hospital bed after getting beaten to a pulp by loan sharks. When he finally wakes up at the beginning of this episode, he’s having a hard time keeping his timelines straight. Anderson Cooper is on the TV; his ex-wife, Christy, is by his bedside; and his doctor appears to be Al, berating him for failing to save Kennedy. Then Sadie finally brings him back to his true time and place: Nov. 5, 1963 (or 17 days before the Kennedy assassination, as a helpful title card reminds us).
Sadie takes Jake for a walk outside the hospital grounds. Jake’s in a wheelchair and can’t remember what JFK and LBJ stand for (“that’s a lot of initials”), nor can he remember the details of his season-long scheme to monitor and stop Lee Harvey Oswald — doubly frustrating because he had finally put everything together in the moments before the beating. Sadie is optimistic that he will remember everything eventually.
A week later, Lee stops by the FBI office to ask after the FBI agent who’s been following him and Marina. The receptionist says he isn’t there, so Lee files a formal complaint. He still thinks that the bugs he found in his apartment at his birthday party were planted by the FBI, rather than Jake and Bill, and is starting to blame all his frustrations on the American government. Most of all, he seems determined for people (whether the FBI’s office workers or otherwise) to respect him and remember his name.
Jake finally gets to check out of the hospital, but he still can’t remember important details like why he was beaten or who Bill is. He also mixes up facts, calling Deke “Frank” and thinking he’s married to Ms. Mimi…who, sadly, succumbed to her cancer in the interim. Jake’s mind is swimming in the kind of alternate histories he’s trying to create. But sometimes all it takes is some muscle memory — signing his own release forms reminds Jake of how he consigned Bill to the mental hospital.
He and Sadie go to the asylum to check out Bill, in the hopes that he can remind Jake of the details of their mission. The hallway of the asylum is rather like a descent into hell; Jake and Sadie are instructed not to make eye contact with any of the inmates and definitely not to laugh at them. It turns out Bill was transferred here after the doctor at the hospital didn’t hear anything from Jake. The Bill they find is a hollow man; when Jake and Sadie greet him, he responds “we get Jell-O today.” Jake wanted to keep his friend safe from involvement in the assassination plot after his loyalties became compromised, but instead he subjected Bill to the kind of barbaric mid-century mental health “treatment” that so vividly colored One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Weeks of electro-shock therapy have instructed Bill that people don’t come from the future; that’s only in comic books. Now, unfortunately, Jake needs to try to reverse Bill’s treatment so that he can fill in memory blanks. Jake reminds Bill that they’re friends, to which Bill responds, “If you’re my friend, why did you do this to me?” Jake and Sadie go to sign the release papers, but the mental stress is too much for Bill. While their backs are turned, he jumps out the window, Mrs Dalloway-style.
It’s now Nov. 15, a week out from the assassination. They’re running out of time, but Jake keeps popping pain pills, which make him groggy.
On Nov. 16, Jake overhears Sadie tell Deke that “he doesn’t want to be helped,” but it doesn’t do anything to stop the pill-popping. On Nov. 17, Jake is still couch-bound. The past really did a number on him. Sadie tries to talk him through it — were the Russians involved? The ones she heard talking on the recording equipment in his basement that time? Jake can’t remember, but he finally agrees to wash all the pills down the drain and asks Sadie to repeat exactly what he told her over the phone before his beating.
Meanwhile, Lee’s mom is berating him for bothering the FBI. She reveals that she still carries around his report card from the second grade, on which the teacher had written that Lee showed great promise “in all areas” and had potential. Mrs. Oswald wonders where that little boy went; Lee replies that he’s still here.
On Nov. 18, Lee is sitting on a park bench, reading a newspaper article about Kennedy’s arrival in Dallas. He sees that the motorcade route will go past his book depository, and this appears to give him some sort of epiphany. He looks out at the other people in the park, a vision of Kennedy-era nostalgia, and perhaps remembers his mom’s words about his potential. He throws the paper in the trash and walks away, looking determined.
NEXT: Return of the Yellow Card Man
On Nov. 19, Sadie and Deke are dancing in the living room. Suddenly, Jake comes in with another slice of memory: He remembers that his Dallas address was somewhere on Madison Street.
The next day, Nov. 20, Jake and Sadie decide to visit Madison Street. Jake can’t remember his old apartment by name, so they just start knocking on doors in the hopes that someone will recognize Jake. Unfortunately no one on Madison will talk to them; that’s a non-starter. Even when they unknowingly find Jake’s old apartment, it’s inhabited by a cranky woman who thinks they’re bond collectors and doesn’t want to let them in. Luckily, they try going upstairs, where Lee recognizes Jake from his birthday party. In an ironic twist, Sadie and Jake end up sitting in Lee’s living room, talking to him like old friends. Then suddenly Jake’s memories of Lee Harvey Oswald come roaring back — specifically, Al telling him to take Lee out. Jake goes into the kitchen and grabs a knife to do just that, but just then Lee walks in with his baby, so Jake backs down. He and Sadie head home.
Jake doesn’t tell Sadie about his Lee revelation. He plans to sneak out alone and take care of it himself, but Sadie catches him. He tries telling her it was for her own good, but Sadie isn’t having it — she’s heard enough of that pathetic rhetoric from Johnny Clayton. Sadie says she’s involved now, whether Jake likes it or not. After all, he never would have remembered Lee without her help. But Jake’s still reluctant to involve her in murder, so they plan for a nonviolent solution instead: stealing Lee’s rifle from his friend Ruth’s house.
Little do they know that Lee’s there, visiting Marina. Lee and Marina have another argument, which causes the babies to wake up. Lee says he knows what to do. “No, you think you do, but you’re always wrong,” Marina replies.
At this point Jake and Sadie arrive at the front door. Jake says he’s a friend of Lee’s from work, but Ruth isn’t buying it. Luckily Sadie is a much better charmer, so she convinces Ruth they need to go to the garage to check for a “package” she says Lee’s keeping for her. Unfortunately, the rifle’s not there, so they head out.
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All of Jake’s best-laid plans have failed. Now, he’s going to have to stop Lee on the day of the shooting. He and Sadie stake out the Dallas plaza in their car the night before, planning to catch Lee the next morning. They talk again about the future; Jake reveals that shoes get more comfortable, but admits he doesn’t miss any friends or family. Suddenly the radio and lights start flickering, the classic sign of the past messing with Jake, and Sadie is replaced by the Yellow Card Man.
The Yellow Card Man is apparently a failed time traveler himself. Like Jake, he tried to travel back to prevent a tragedy — in his case, the drowning death of his daughter. But no matter what he tried, he always failed. This didn’t stop him from going back over and over, which basically trapped him in a never-ending time loop. His daughter is always drowning, and he always has to watch it, having failed to save her. Now, like Jacob Marley, the Yellow Card Man has come to Jake, warning him against the same path. Then the dream sequence ends and he disappears.
This conversation appears to have affected Jake. He asks Sadie whether it wouldn’t be better for them to just “let history happen,” get married, have kids, and age into parent figures for the Jodie school. But Sadie reminds him that he came here for a reason. Now it’s her reason, too.
They wake up at 8:30 a.m. on the big day. The car’s dead, of course, because the past doesn’t make anything easy. They grab a pistol and run.
Meanwhile, Lee appears to have spent the night with Marina. In a parallel of Jake and Sadie’s conversation, Marina gives him an out: Spend the morning with her and the kids, maybe go to the zoo. But Lee says he has a job to do, and leaves with his rifle.
Jake and Sadie manage to hotwire a car, probably so they can reach the book depository (and Lee) in time.
It’s now 9 a.m., and Lee has arrived at the book depository with a friend. The friend is excited about the Kennedy motorcade passing within view of their work, but Lee says he’ll keep working. Whistling, he gets up to the abandoned upper floor and sets up his position. He loads his rifle, props it against some boxes…and waits.