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Jake foils the Kennedy assassination — but at what cost?

April 04, 2016 at 01:57 AM EDT

It’s all come down to this. After years of preparation, title cards slowly counting down the time, Jake Epping has finally arrived at Nov. 22, 1963, the day of the John F. Kennedy assassination. He and Sadie are armed with historical details (i.e. Lee Harvey Oswald will fire his first shot, and miss, at 12:30 p.m.), though not all of them prove useful in their attempt to change history. After hitting an unexpected police barricade that forces them to abandon their hotwired car, Jake realizes that his presence has already changed history. Time is malleable now, and anything can happen. This makes the appearance of visions (Frank Dunning, Johnny Clayton) even freakier. Time is out of joint.

Oswald is already in position. “They will remember your name,” he tells himself. Even after five episodes with the character, it seems like this is the only motivation we’ll ever get for his attack on Kennedy.

As Jake and Sadie finally reach the book depository where Oswald’s holed up, the scene quickly shifts among different vantage points: Oswald steadying himself, the presidential motorcade approaching the plaza, and other incidental characters so important to Kennedy conspiracy theories. There, for instance, is the Babushka Lady while Abraham Zapruder films the whole thing with his personal camera.

Oswald gets off his first shot (and misses) just as Jake and Sadie burst in. He turns to shoot them. Once again, he misses and loses his opportunity — the Kennedy motorcade gets safely away. But then the door slams shut, trapping Jake and Sadie inside with the assassin — the past can be a real bastard when it gets angry.

Oswald tells Jake he came here to do something important — sounding not unlike Jake himself with his mission. After a few minutes of stalking each other through the rows of boxes, Jake and Oswald finally get into a face-to-face scuffle. Jake grabs the rifle and shoots Oswald dead but not in time to save Sadie. She was shot in the crossfire. Jake wants to run and get help, but she tells him to stay with her. He does so. Police burst in and arrest Jake. He screams at them to help Sadie, but it’s too late. She’s dead. Kennedy is safe but at a great cost.

Jake is arrested and booked — found with two dead people and his fingerprints all over the incriminating rifle, he certainly looks suspicious. Luckily for Jake, FBI Agent Hosty (the one who had been following Oswald over previous weeks) is in the interrogation room. When Jake asks why Hosty didn’t stop Oswald, the agent dismisses the ornery Dallas cop and talks to Jake privately. Hosty tells Jake that American citizens love Kennedy and they’re looking for someone to blame for this scary assassination attempt. Jake promises that if he’s put on trial, he’ll reveal everything he knows about the FBI — not only that they failed to stop Oswald, but that the organization is also spying on the Kennedys. Plus, there’s that little matter of the president’s mistresses. Pay attention in history class, kids!

This only makes Hosty more determined to pin the crime on Jake, but then a call comes through. It’s the president himself, calling to thank Jake for saving his life. We don’t see Kennedy’s face, just hear his voice while Jake gazes at a portrait hanging in the precinct. That’s what Jake was saving, after all — not a physical person so much as an optimistic idea of America that was marred by the violent assassination.

Jake’s name is not publicized, and he gets Agent Hosty to drop him off at the bus station, planning to get back to the rabbit hole in Lisbon and return to the future. Hosty is weirded out by Jake but promises he won’t tear down this image of an American hero. “God knows the country wants a hero,” he tells Jake in full ending-of-The Dark Knight fashion. He asks Jake for his theory on why Oswald wanted to kill Kennedy. No one will ever know, Jake responds. That’s true — Oswald is still a historical enigma. It’s nice that the show didn’t try to shoehorn its interpretation on top of a real historical figure, but on the other hand, it does feel weird to have spent so much time with a character and still know barely anything about him. Oswald’s mother is shown speaking on camera about how her son is still a hero, but there’s no word of Marina or the children.

As Jake waits for his bus, he sees a vision of Sadie — just as he first met her, reading From Here to Eternity on a bench. But then she disappears, like all the others. Jake returns to Lisbon and goes back to the rabbit hole to see what he’s wrought.

NEXT: How it changed 

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