11.22.63 S01E06 “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” REVIEW
Airing in UK on FOX, Sundays, 9pm
Writer: Bridget Carpenter, based on the novel by Stephen King
Director: John David Coles
Essential Plot Points
- Six months have passed it’s now 10.16.63.
- Oswald gets a job at a book printing press.
- The FBI are monitoring Oswald.
- Oswald and Marina have separated.
- Oswald didn’t shoot Walker.
- Jake has been paying for Sadie’s plastic surgery with money from gambling.
- Miss Mimi has cancer.
- Jake makes a big bet on the boxing with a local bookie.
- Oswald discovers a bug that Jake and Bill planted.
- Bill is in love with Marina and fights with Jake about it
- Bill threatens that if he ever sees Jake again he will tell Oswald about him.
- The Yellow Card Man shows up at the hospital where Sadie is having surgery.
- The Past tries to kill Sadie by tampering with the anaesthesia machine.
- Jake saves Sadie and she asks if she is in his way.
- Jake has Bill incarcerated when he suspects he might be the 2nd gunman
- Jake interrogates George and finds out Oswald isn’t being set up. He’s now free to “deal with” Oswald.
- Jake calls Sadie and asks her to marry him and come to the future.
- Jake is savagely beaten by the bookie and his gang and left in a coma.
“Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” proves that what makes 11.22.63 so compelling is the stakes at play in Jake’s quest to stop JFK from being assassinated. The episode’s core focus is about conflict whether it’s between other characters or the conflict within Jake himself. It’s conflict that causes the events leading up to this episode’s shocking conclusion. But some clunky narrative decisions prevent it from being a great episode
Events take place six months after the attempt on General Walker’s life. The date is now 10.16.63 and with barley a month to go before JFK’s assassination the tension is already high from the off. Oswald interviews for a job at a book printing factory. The mechanical delivery of Oswald’s answers to the manager’s questions shows his disdain for conforming to American society, which is made even more apparent by his interaction with the FBI agent outside the factory. As it turns out the FBI has been monitoring Oswald and speaking to his wife as he refuses to speak to them. This begs the question, if George is already observing Oswald for the CIA, why are the FBI involved? Perhaps the CIA is involved in the plot to kill JFK or is it the FBI? It’s these kind of espionage thriller story beats that really add to the show’s appeal.
It seems that Oswald and Marina have separated. Oswald goes to see Marina to beg her to come home. Given that she’s had a decent amount of time to develop as a character, Marina is pretty dull to watch. Her clichéd Russian accent gives her monosyllabic lines very little impact. It’s difficult to see why Oswald would be attracted to her and be trying so hard to get her back. It’s possible that he wants to salvage the relationship for the sake of their child or the relationship is an integral part of his cover but it feels like it ought to be more than that and if Marina was a more fleshed-out character this would make their relationship more relatable.
Meanwhile Jake and Bill are another couple in a spot of bother, as Jake has been taking care of Sadie while she recovers leaving Bill feeling neglected. Bill wants to make more bets using Al’s notebook but Jake tells him this is too risky. The boys listen in on a conversation between Oswald and George during which Oswald says he didn’t shoot at Walker. Jake and Bill puzzle over this reflecting the audience’s own thoughts nicely. This is another example of the mystery surrounding Jake’s mission that really makes this show engaging.
Jake makes a long overdue admission that he does not want to kill anyone else when Bill asks him why they don’t just kill Oswald. This raises an issue with the progressing narrative of the series. In episode three Jake had a nightmare about killing Frank but he seems to be coping fine with that now and even better with the murder of Johnny Carson in the last episode. This is a man who as far as is apparent, has never killed anyone before and yet apart from this brief exchange, it doesn’t seem to have changed him as a character.
Jake is paying for the treatment of Sadie’s wound that was so cruelly dealt to her by Johnny last episode and she keeps asking him to tell her one more thing about the future. How much has he told her already? It feels like we’ve missed out on some potential fun moments with Jake trying to describe the future to Sadie.
Jake goes to see Miss Mimi on Deke’s request and she tells Jake she has cancer. The impact of this is heightened because Miss Mimi reveals categorically that there is a relationship between her and Deke. This is one of the better scenes in this episode showing that in the time that has passed Miss Mimi and Jake have become close. It’s touching to see Miss Mimi chastising Jake for crying. This also serves as the incentive for Jake to make a crucial decision at the end of the episode.
Jake makes a sizeable bet on a boxing match in a sleazy bar with an even sleazier bookie. Has he not learned from last time? Upon returning to the safe house Jake hears Bill in Oswald’s apartment talking to Marina. It turns out that it’s Oswald’s birthday and as Jake investigates he is invited into Oswald’s apartment where a birthday party is taking place. Oswald emerges from the kitchen, laughing with Bill. On top of his head is a paper crown and he keeps referring to himself as ‘the king’. This is a good piece of subtext to show how Oswald is at odds with himself (a socialist calling himself a king) making him unhinged, which also justifies his extreme reaction to the discovery of the bug that Jake and Bill planted in a lamp (Jake and Bill knock it over, what a pair of clowns). Luckily he blames it on the FBI but the party is over and the boys return to their apartment where they have an altercation. It ends with Bill pulling a gun on Jake and threatening that if Jake ever comes back to the house he will tell Oswald about what he’s doing. This is a big moment for this show as Jake had relied on Bill in his mission – how will he manage without him?
The action then moves to the hospital where Sadie is getting her plastic surgery. This sequence features the best moment of the episode – arguably of the series – as Jake and Deke are locked behind windowed doors only for the Yellow Card Man to appear on the other side. The appearance of this bizarre character is immediately interesting because it is still not clear what his purpose is apart from heralding a moment when the Past fights back. This time the Past goes after Sadie by tampering with the anaesthesia machine. Luckily Jake is able to stop the procedure and save Sadie but the close-ups of the gauges on the anaesthesia machine paired with the music, ramps up the tension so much that it almost seemed possible Sadie was going to die, which would have been an interesting direction for the show. However, that would not have allowed for later events, which is arguably the more interesting direction.
After seeing Bill chatting with Oswald while handling a rifle, Jake suspects Bill to be the second gunman. This is a really compelling revelation as it plays into quantum theory about changing time. However, in a slightly disappointing turn Jake has Bill incarcerated, which is a cunning ploy in keeping with Jake’s character and also hinting at a little darkness taking over Jake. Hopefully Bill won’t be imprisoned indefinitely as he would be an interesting adversary for Jake to contend with in future episodes.
The episode ends with Jake determining that Oswald is acting independently in his plan to kill JFK. He does this by interrogating George quite brutally, then we get a flashback in which Al tells him to kill Oswald as soon as he’s sure he is acting alone. Jake calls Sadie and in a big WTF moment Jake asks Sadie to marry him and come to the future with him. As soon as Jake puts the phone down the bookie from earlier arrives with a gang of goons to beat up Jake leaving him battered and bleeding in an alley. Jake wakes up in hospital with the face of his ex-wife from the present intercut with Sadie’s face as if to show how his mind is split between the past and the present – perhaps dangerously so.
“Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” manages to set up some really interesting conflicts for future episodes while providing some decent payoff in the process. Were it not for some illogical narrative choices and a few lacklustre performances this would be the stand-out episode so far. Nonetheless if the beating Jake received caused him to loose his memory then how is he going to cope when Sadie tells him who he is? The resolution to this development alone will be worth coming back for as well as this miniseries reaches its conclusion.
- So much good set-up.
- That trademark tension.
- The Yellow Card Man’s scene.
- Marina is so boring.
- Jake’s only now feeling bad about killing people?
- Would like to have seen how Sadie reacted to Jake’s tales of the futute.
And The Random:
- Miss Mimi and Deke are together!?
- Weird “Stand By Me” cover during the credits.
Review By Ned Newberry