Written by Chris Diggins
‘THE RABBIT HOLE’ PLOT SUMMARY:
Persuaded by his friend, Al (Chris Cooper), Jake Epping (James Franco) travels back to 1960 to prevent JFK’s assassination and create a better world.
In the grand tradition of Game of Thrones, 11.22.63 opens with an elaborate title sequence following a brief cold opening. Red strings connect various objects and locations that tie into both the series and the Kennedy assassination as the camera snakes around the complicated web they create. The score is appropriately sinister, lending an air of menace to the sequence. But it’s also absurdly bombastic, elevating the whole thing to comical extremes. As a representation of the series, it works in a way that the creators probably didn’t intend: much like these opening credits, 11.22.63 is a genuinely tense and thrilling show marred by issues that can make it more silly than interesting.
At an hour and twenty minutes long, the show is able to sit back and give everything ample time to play out, but that’s not always to its benefit. The beginning in particular suffers from a feeling of wasted time. A significant portion of the runtime is devoted to fully explaining all the rules and quirks to its version of time travel, but it completely neglects to properly dramatize this section. Other than hints at why Jake feels frustrated with his life and some vague, impersonal ramblings from Al on why he wants to prevent JFK’s assassination, the whole thing is little more than a constant back and forth of Al telling Jake that he has to do this and Jake saying that it’s crazy (Seriously, he says some variation of “This is crazy” so many times during this part. Someone should try to count it). Despite the fact that it comprises over a third of the episode, it still feels like they’re trying to rush through establishing a premise so they can get to the good stuff.
To its credit, the show does improve once Jake finally commits to traveling to 1960. The costuming and set design for recreating the ’60s are impressive without being overly flashy, and the pace picks up quite a bit once he actually has a mission to accomplish. Still, the extended runtime continues to hurt it, as there are more establishing shots and montages of Jake adjusting to the time period than are really necessary. And there’s an entire sequence where Jake tries to make some money by betting on a boxing match he knows the outcome to, a sequence weighted down both by its ultimate irrelevance and the overblown menace attributed to every single person he encounters along the way. Like much of the urgent exposition Al delivers towards the beginning, it treats itself so seriously while lacking any real drama that at best it makes you laugh and at worst it just makes you bored.
But if 11.22.63 has its number of issues, it should be said that there is something about this series that works very well too. Whenever it ignores all the unnecessary distractions and focuses on its supposed premise, that of a time traveler trying to prevent JFK’s assassination, everything comes together. Scenes where Jake attempts to figure out what really happened shift gracefully between suspenseful thriller and cosmic horror as he deals with both contemporary political forces and time itself pushing back against his efforts. And though the initial set-up for Jake’s ideas on history, of the importance of small personal moments over the big events, is hamfistedly delivered as a lecture towards the beginning, they are more subtly and artfully reinforced over the course of the episode. The more Jake pursues his course in altering one of those big events, and the more car accidents, fires, and chandeliers time sends his way to stop him, the more innocent people suffer. It’s an intriguing parallel, and one that it will be interesting to see play out over the course of the series.
11.22.63 is very flawed, and someone can hardly be blamed for not wanting to spend eighty minutes watching something when much of that time isn’t worth it. But there is something valuable and interesting in there too, a core of a great story buried beneath the fat. If future episodes are more tightly edited, if they can bring the focus to the main plot where it belongs, it could be an amazing series. If not, it could still be a good series, but one that never reaches its full potential and one that you never really need to see.