The Eyes of Texas
James Franco as Jake.
“The Eyes of Texas” is about the lies we tell and the secrets we keep. Jake’s lies are catching up to him because he has become too entangled. He’s settled his relationship with Sadie, as well as life, in the small community of Jodie, Texas. His biggest mistake, of course, is that he hasn’t hewed closely to Al’s initial advice about time travel. Maybe he’s even a little cocky, believing his charm and knowledge about the future are enough to get him out of any tricky situation.
It’s now March 25, 1963. Jake and Bill have a backup apartment in Dallas, right under the Oswalds’. Lee Harvey Oswald is seen, timing himself as he puts together a rifle. But that’s not the only reason to believe he really will end up killing Kennedy: Marina takes a picture of him, which many will recognize as the infamous “backyard photo.” As the picture is snapped, Oswald and George de Mohrenschildt share an interesting exchange.
George: What’s a man like you going to do with a rifle like that?
Oswald: I’m going to hunt fascists.
The two are overheard on a recording, discussing General Walker and making allusions to his assassination. George even mentions that his powerful friends want to meet him, which Jake thinks is the CIA. While Bill takes this as clear evidence that Oswald is on the path to kill Kennedy, Jake believes they need to take a closer look. Perhaps Oswald is just a pawn? So, they continue to keep tabs on him and George. Jake watches George; Bill is tasked with Oswald. But that’s a mistake: Despite living together, Jake still can’t read Bill all that well, or maybe he’s just so wrapped up in his own drama that he can’t see what’s happening. Bill has feelings for Marina.
I’ve mentioned before that Jake taking on Bill was a major mistake. It hasn’t completely backfired yet, but it is only a matter of time. The work Jake and Bill are trying to do — essentially rewriting a defining moment in American history — requires discretion and sacrifice. These men, who seem ruled by their hearts and selfish impulses, aren’t capable of either. There’s a moment toward the end of the episode, in which they overhear Oswald brutally abusing Marina. Jake is able to stop Bill from interfering, but later that night he does so anyway by showing Marina some kindness. It isn’t a passing kindness; it’s the intimate sort. I can’t imagine Oswald will be happy about it.
Meanwhile, Jake follows George and Oswald to what he thinks is the CIA meeting. They get into the building with the code word “candy bar.” If Jake had thought about it for a moment, he would have realized that going inside without a plan wasn’t a good idea. Bill may be far less intelligent than Jake, but they’re both short-sighted. When they get inside, they find not sharp-suited CIA agents, but a brothel. The sex workers are written as idiotic caricatures, especially the woman Jake picks out as an excuse to get closer to Oswald. This writing feels rather odd next to the more somber moments I’ve come to expect from the show. It also doesn’t feel funny; it reads as cruel and rather ridiculous.
Things take a turn when the police bust in, arresting both Jake and Bill. They’re bailed out by Principal “Deke” Simmons, which puts another mark on Jake’s reputation. I don’t have much sympathy for Jake, though. He’s making too many blind decisions. Deke doesn’t even let him change clothes for class. You’d think getting arrested for soliciting a prostitute would have bigger blowback, especially in regards to his relationship with Sadie, but it doesn’t.
By episode’s end, Jake and Sadie have run the gamut from tender romance to sex to a sort-of breakup to “I love you” to the suggestion that things won’t last much longer. It’s actually enough to give you whiplash. The pacing seems a bit odd, but it is far more interesting than Jake’s investigation into Oswald.
Jake’s lies are catching up with him. In an earlier scene, Miss Mimi goes to his second place in Dallas. The school never received his immunization records, so she started to look into things. The closer she gets to Jake, the more his lies unravel. This is one of major reasons why Al warned him to avoid connections with people. Of course, his records won’t hold up all that well under scrutiny. Faced with this, he comes up with another lie about being in witness protection and even steals a story line from The Godfather to explain his “real” background. Mimi seems to buy it, even though Jake has to explain what the mafia is. Nevertheless, she thinks it’s wrong for him to lie.
If Mimi does buy Jake’s story, then she should know a person in witness protection shouldn’t under any circumstances be going around telling people about his past. I find her moralizing about truth and dignity rather self-righteous, unnerving, and far too simplistic to apply in the real world. Jake is lying about witness protection, but if she believes him, that seems like odd advice to give. If anything, this betrays her small-town mindset. The people of Jodie believe transparency is tantamount to good character.
However, there’s a moment when it seems Jake will tell the truth to Sadie. He plans a romantic night with her at a bungalow, as suggested by Deke. She thinks he’s being sweet, but a bit dramatic. The next morning, Sadie mentions how she finds it odd how Jake doesn’t talk much about his past. He starts to talk about feeling like an impostor in his own life. Before he can tell her the whole truth or just the witness-protection lie, he notices an envelope slipped under their door. Inside the envelope are compromising photos of them. He doesn’t show Sadie, then cuts things short. He seems to think the photos came from the CIA. Are they pressuring him to stop trailing Oswald? Nope. I suspected they came from Sadie’s not quite ex-husband, Johnny Clayton (T.R. Knight), and that hunch proves to be right.
Johnny makes his presence known by showing up at the school to talk to Sadie. As she soon tells Jake, Johnny doesn’t want to grant her the divorce. She also admits that Johnny has some … interesting sexual proclivities that involve a clothespin in an odd place. He was also quite abusive during their marriage. She stayed to maintain propriety and because her mother believed that women have to please their husbands. Their own pleasure and safety be damned, I guess?
Johnny even follows Jake as he trails George and the CIA agents. (Time pushes back in subtle ways during this scene, so Jake fails to hear their discussion.) Johnny threatens Jake, but it doesn’t go as planned. Jake gets ugly, cursing wildly and refusing to back down. He doesn’t hesitate to bring up Johnny’s tastes, which throws him off. Johnny grants Sadie the divorce, but I don’t think he’s the type to completely disappear.
We’re now at the halfway point of this miniseries, and I have to question how everything is developing. 11.22.63 seems better suited to domestic drama rather than the main plot involving Oswald, who has yet to feel like a compelling antagonist. I think a major issue is that the weirdness and humor of the pilot episode, which reminded me of The X-Files, feels almost entirely absent. Time is pushing back, just not in the ways it did.
The episode ends with Sadie coming over to Jake’s place. He obviously isn’t home. When she leaves the casserole on the counter, the Yellow Card Man slips behind her in the darkness, a sign of disaster to come. Will Johnny somehow be waiting for her? Will a violent accident befall her? No. Instead, Sadie comes across one of the recordings in Jake’s basement. When she hits play, she hears Oswald and Marina having sex. Jake isn’t able to catch her in time, and the look that passes between them when she asks, “Who are you?” confirms something to me. This relationship has doom written all over it. Even if Jake is able to get out of this mess, there is no way they can have a future together. Time won’t allow it.