The fifth episode of 11.22.63 is trying to be many things: a romance, a time-travel thriller, an illuminating look at the need for human connection. As a result, it sometimes can feel like we’re bouncing between different shows.
Despite its interesting developments, the main culprit that undoes “The Truth” is sloppy pacing. The moments that need to be held on for a bit longer move too quickly. And those that don’t quite work are given too much of the spotlight. 11.22.63 is essentially a middlebrow show, which privileges narrative twists and entertainment above the supposed “literary” flair we’ve come to expect from prestige dramas. I’m not sure if the creators of the show realize this, though.
We pick up moments after the last episode ended: Sadie has just discovered the recording of the Oswalds that plays like smut. She’s disgusted by Jake, like she can’t trust him at all. He tries to lie to fix things, but it doesn’t work. Sadie ultimately decides to end their relationship, which would seem to push Jake back to the task that brought him to the past. It’s April 1963, mere months before Kennedy’s assassination. One thing I find odd about the show is that it doesn’t play up the Kennedy factor. Sure, we get dates to let us know where we’re at in a given episode, but what about some commentary about Kennedy’s effect on the country? The Kennedys have been discussed time and time again, but it would be nice to see the show’s outlook on them. At this point, the conspiracy theory feels like the weakest aspect of the show, despite it being positioned as a main selling point. It just feels underdeveloped.
Back in Jodie, Sadie apparently tells Principal Deke about finding “Russian filth” in Jake’s home, which forces him to resign. (Miss Mimi, for her part, doesn’t think this is fair.) Despite working at the school for two years, finding success as a teacher, and developing a friendship with Deke, this is too big a moral failing to ignore — and Jake’s contract has a moral clause. He’s out.
Jake tries to move on by focusing on Oswald. He goes over the plan with Bill: They’ll watch General Walker’s home to see if Oswald makes an attempt on his life. He mentions how he’ll kill Oswald, and hopes he’ll avoid arrest so he can go back to 2016 to see how Kennedy’s survival changes history. It’s a weird thing to say, considering that Al made clear he could never come back; changes don’t stick if you return through the rabbit hole. Bill is upset that Jake won’t let him join. Jake returns to Jodie to pick up the last of his things, effectively ending the life he built there. The desire to connect figures greatly into this episode, as Al says in a voice-over, “The hardest part about living in the past is that everything you tell everybody is a lie.” He goes on to mention that it’s a mistake to get close to anyone, since it can make you forget why you went back in the first place. That’s why I struggle to have sympathy for Jake. His choice to have a relationship with Sadie puts her in harm’s way, which he learns when he gets an unexpected call from Johnny. He’s at Sadie’s house, and we hear her screams in the background.
This emergency forces Jake to let Bill handle the Walker plan, which proves to be a big mistake. Also, this is when the odd pacing of “The Truth” is in full effect, shabbily bouncing between Jake’s conversation with Bill and Jake running full speed to Sadie’s. (Doesn’t he have his car?)
He finds Johnny sitting at the dinner table, a gun in hand and Sadie nearby. A white bag rests over her head; blood is seeping through. It’s a powerful, unnerving image, but it isn’t held long enough. If moments like this were better paced, the twists within this episode would have been far more impactful.
Johnny takes the bag off Sadie’s head, revealing a deep gash on her face. It was clear from the jump Johnny was off, but now he’s revealed to be an unhinged, raging misogynist. He rants about about how he essentially owns Sadie, and how she became a “dirty little bird” by consorting with Jake. He also calls Jake “cock boy,” which is more ridiculous than frightening. Johnny wants Jake to drink a glass of bleach or he’ll shoot Sadie — weird plan. The other aspect working against this development is T.R. Knight’s performance. It’s incredibly arch, campy without any nuance. He’s rarely menacing. He’s eye-roll worthy.
Sadie throws Johnny off his game by mentioning his abusive grandmother Jake takes this as an opportunity to get a piece of glass underfoot. We watch him slowly slip it closer and closer. Then, the doorbell rings.
We cut immediately to Bill’s beaming face at the door. Is he coming to the rescue? Nope. He’s actually at the Oswald’s door to talk with Marina. Cutting to Bill to throw us off seems clever at first, but it undercuts the drama because his dynamic with Marina isn’t all that interesting. Oswald interrupts them, and after a brief introduction, he gives Bill a copy of a Karl Marx book. When Bill asks if it’s any good, Oswald replies that it “tells the truth”. The truth is slippery in 11.22.63, so who even knows what that really means.
Back to Sadie’s. Turns out two students were knocking at the door with a gift basket she won. Jake talks them into leaving, but not before mouthing, “Call the police.” Inside, Johnny gets even more over-the-top about threatening Jake to drink the bleach. At this point, I wanted to kill Johnny myself. Jake throws the bleach in Johnny’s face, grabs Sadie, and runs into the living room. Johnny isn’t far behind, but he is somewhat blinded. He shoots around the room, hitting a vase and a few couch cushions. Again and again, his bullets don’t strike his intended targets. (How many bullets does this gun have, by the way?) Jake distracts Johnny by throwing his watch into the corner; he hears the noise, then turns in the wrong direction. Jake nabs a poker from the fireplace landing, then swings. It lands on the side of Johnny’s face with a soft, sickly thud. But ultimately, it’s Sadie who kills him with a shot in the gut.
Sadie’s taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Jake is frantic and angry. Deke thankfully still has some goodwill left toward Jake, and helps him get out of an interrogation so he can get to the hospital. While Sadie is in undergoing surgery, Jake is finally truthful to someone — the cop, surprisingly. He tells him the emotional reasons why he and Sadie broke up, what happened with Johnny, and his regrets.
Soon Jake notices it’s almost 9 p.m., which means Bill is at the Walker’s residence watching out for Oswald. (He did see him leave his house, for what it’s worth.) Earlier, Jake hammered into Bill how tricky time can be and that they must always be prepared in case anything goes wrong. The car battery could die, or he could get sick. But that isn’t how time plays with Bill. Just as he sees movement in the bushes near Walker’s home, time creates an illusion of his dead sister coming out of a nearby church. He runs to her, but of course, it isn’t really her. At that moment, a gunshot goes off.
It was only a matter of time before Bill completely screwed up Jake’s plans. While I understand he needed to go to Sadie, in doing so he left one of the most important aspects of his mission in the hands of someone ill-equipped to handle it. This is Jake’s mistake more than Bill’s.
Jake sees Walker at the hospital and gives Bill a call. Hearing about how monumentally Bill screwed up, an icy chill comes over Jake’s face. Time may have a sick sense of humor, and it certainly isn’t on Jake’s side, but the choices he has made have also given time plenty of ammo to use against him.
The episode falsely teases us with Sadie’s death. Turns out she’s alive, and the doctor is just apologizing for her facial scars. Jake is overjoyed. “The Truth” ends with Jake professing his love to Sadie and telling her what he’s been holding back all this time: He’s from the future. She believes him more quickly than I expected. We end on this tender, hopeful scene of Sadie and Jake coming back together. But it’s a weird note to end on, given both the episode’s tonal changes and how his mission has been utterly undercut by Bill’s mistake. Now that the truth is out there, can Jake still go forward?