In its fourth episode, 11.22.63 peers around a lot of corners, into windows, at mirrors, and through doorways, and very few of its characters like what they see.
At first glance, “The Eyes of Texas” may seem to drag a bit. Until near the end of the episode, nearly every event that seems like a big development—for example, Miss Mimi discovering that Jake’s using an assumed name and a fake degree—tends to fizzle out a bit. But set aside the time travel, and the episode becomes a thoughtful look at the lies we tell each other, the selves we hide, and the costs of both. “When you refuse to tell people the truth, Mr. Amberson, you deny them their dignity,” Mimi tells Jake. “And for some of us, dignity matters.”
Of course, all of this also matters precisely because of the time travel. Jake may be using Al’s betting book and following his leads, but he’s not sticking very closely to his advice, particularly where personal entanglements are concerned. And even the entanglements that seem positive—Bill’s presence on Team Save Kennedy, for example—could potentially have serious ramifications. It’s one thing to know the future and to decide to stop that future from happening, but quite another to turn off your humanity and resist the lures of friendship, love, compassion, desire, and the need to protect and defend those who don’t seem to be able to protect themselves. Bill and Jake both seem to know that getting involved is a bad idea, but that’s not enough to stop them from charging on in.
While it’s Jake and Bill whose lies and ties drive the episode (and tellingly, not their discoveries about Oswald), they’re far from the only characters with something to hide. ”The Eyes of Texas” opens with Lee assembling and disassembling a rifle—with a timer, no less—all the while giving himself a pep talk of a sort (“You are in the Marines now, son.”) Then he heads out to the backyard to have Marina take a photo of him with a rifle and newspapers, so that people know he stands for something. What’s he going to do, this angry guy posing for a ludicrous photo? Hunt fascists, of course.
Oswald remains a mystery, thanks in no small part of Daniel Webber’s odd but entrancing performance. Something’s not quite right, even in his gentlest moments, but it’s hard to pin down precisely what it might be. Some of what’s wrong couldn’t be more obvious, of course—the bizarre photo, that long gaze in the mirror, and the wife-battering, for example—but the source of his instability, and the degree to which he’s responsible for (or even capable of) Kennedy’s assassination is still unclear. They do seem to verify that de Mohrenschildt and the C.I.A. are involved, but that lead slips through their fingers because of all the other entanglements Bill and Jake encounter. Bill’s fascination with Marina becomes a liability in more ways than one, from his inability to continue listening in when the couple upstairs is sexually engaged to his need to leap into action when he hears Lee abusing his wife. Jake’s prevention of this action is both the smart thing to do and utterly hypocritical, and hard as it may be to fault someone for wanting to aid a person in trouble, we can file ‘comforting Marina Oswald despite the fact that your mission is to stay undercover while you attempt to stop her husband from killing the President’ under ‘stupid.’
So yes, Jake’s right to stop Bill, but pot, meet kettle. The romance between Jake and Sophie charges on, full-speed ahead, and it’s difficult to fault the english teacher for falling so hard for the librarian. Sarah Gadon is one of those rare performers who seems to glow each and every time she’s in the frame, and better still, she imbues Sadie with a kind of warmth and innocence that’s utterly devoid of naivete or vapidity. This isn’t a blushing maiden, but a grown woman who remains terrified of her ex-husband, the society in which she exists, and even her own mother. Jake’s not there to fall in love, and he should know better, but human beings don’t work like that. Franco and Gadon are terrific together, sparkling like old-fashioned matinee idols. But when the world intrudes, all that glitter goes away, and they’re simply two people in a very unpleasant situation. Oh, and one of them’s got Russian sex recordings in his basement.
The biggest intrusion comes in the form of Johnny Clayton, played with relish by Grey’s Anatomy’s T.R. Knight. His is a completely different brand of villainy than Josh Duhamel’s: while Duhamel oozed violence like sweat in “The Kill Floor,” Knight’s is a much quieter brand of menace, a palpable threat barely contained within an “aw, shucks” exterior. Some of what we see of Jake in this episode comes courtesy of Clayton (or someone Clayton hired), one of several instances in “The Eyes of Texas” where the spy becomes the spied-upon. We see Jake peer through windows and doorways, and see him through the eyes of someone else through a car window, or from outside the bungalow. It’s as Deke warns Jake after he catches him with Sadie, despite Jake’s assurances to Sadie that the school’s empty and there’s no need to worry: “For every pair of eyes you see, there’s two pairs you can’t see, and they’re all watching you.”
Time’s not the force pushing back in “The Eyes of Texas.” It’s life itself that does that. Jake misses the chance to listen in on de Mohrenschildt because Johnny pulls up in that bright red car, setting the dogs to barking. Bill loses his anonymity when he chooses to reach out to Marina, and first opens the door when she sees him, waves, and he waves back. Even Miss Mimi, who comes to Jake privately with her discovery because she values trust, and Deke, who preaches discretion, get caught in what seems to be an overly personal moment. Secrets are all very well, but life has no interest in helping to keep them. Instinct will out.
- Here’s what Sadie was playing.
- “I had this friend, Fredo. And his brother Michael had him killed on a fishing trip in Lake Tahoe.”
- “Let’s try to handle this without profanity.” “Fuck you.”
- The clothespin thing: Jake’s first response, “What?,” is pretty much what I thought. By the time Jake’s confrontation with Johnny ends, things seem a bit more clear, but still. Upsetting, certainly visceral, but not particularly easy to understand.
- Book stuff: speaking of the clothespin, I went back and checked that section in the book for clarity, and it’s definitely not there. It’s OCD (which seemed to come out when Sadie mentioned that he made her clean himself). Thoughts?
- I really loved George Mackay in this episode. He gave me the biggest laugh (in his insistence that he wasn’t going back to the brothel) as well as some of the most thoughtful moments. I watched that scene where he and Marina trade waves at least three times.
- Did you catch the yellow card man?