‘11.22.63’ Mini-Series Finale Review: “The Day in Question”

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Having read the book, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the finale of the mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s “11.22.63,” but I was certainly intrigued. Would they actually follow the book’s somewhat controversial ending? Or would they go way off-book, a la “Under the Dome”? Lord knows, they’ve taken some liberties thus far.

Granted, any King fan worth their salt knows that, master of horror and suspense though he may be, King can be somewhat erratic when it comes to the endings of his novels, particularly the longer ones, of which “11.22.63” certainly is one. But for my money, the one in that book was one of his better efforts, striking the perfect mix of horror, dark humor and melancholia.

Well, I’m happy to report that, in “The Day in Question,” the mini-series (or “event series,” as Hulu would have you call it) does indeed stick pretty closely to the book- near to the letter, in fact. This is certainly good news of fans of the book, many of whom have complained about the myriad of changes begotten upon the book up until this point.

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Arguably the most glaring of them was the decision to make relatively minor supporting character Bill (George MacKay, “How I Live Now”) into a major player on the series, and one of the few people Jake (James Franco) shares his secrets with. On the one hand, I get the inclination to do so, as for a long stretch of the book, we are mostly in Jake’s head, which might have made for stagnating going in an extended mini-series.

By cleverly giving Jake a sidekick of sorts, it allows the series to not only cut-to-the-chase more, but gives Jake a soundboard with which to bounce ideas off of, as well as upping the ante on the chances of him getting caught. The problem is, as many have pointed out, Bill was more than a little annoying, and his actions were, more often than not, prone to doing more harm than good.

As such, his presence was more of a hindrance than a plus, and maybe not as good an idea in execution as it was on paper. In other words, I get why they did it, and it was a reasonable idea given the circumstances and the issues with the book, in terms of reading better than it would have played on the series, but in the end, it was also a bit of a failed experiment that didn’t quite work, unfortunately. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I guess.

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On the plus side, other changes worked like a charm, such as moving the action forward a few years from 1958 in the book to 1960 in the series and streamlining the process a bit in terms of what went down and how it went down.

For instance, in the book, Jake travels back and forth in time more than a few times, whereas in the series, he only does it three: the first, “trial” run; the second one, in which he does what he set out to do; and the final return, to undo what he did when it has unforeseen circumstances. In the process, we lost a secondary mission of Al’s from the book and a large portion of a subplot involving Jake’s gambling, which is present in the series, but in a severely edited form.

For my money, these were perfectly acceptable losses, and had the positive effect of moving things along in a much timelier manner that worked great in the series. Indeed, for those who roll their eyes at the length of some of King’s work, and prefer his shorter, more to-the-point efforts, these changes might have actually improved the source material in their minds, and they would certainly have a point.

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That said, I did miss some of King’s patented in-jokes- notably the one involving the kids from “IT”- though the series did incorporate a few clever ones, including an amusing cameo from “Christine” herself, aka the ’58 Plymouth Fury driven by Sadie’s ex, Johnny (T.R. Knight, a long way from “Grey’s Anatomy”) and what I’m pretty sure was a “Captain Trips” reference in the present Jake returned to in this episode the first time around, as in the deathly super-flu that takes out most of the world’s population in his epic “The Stand.”

Acting-wise, I thought Franco did a commendable and likable job in the lead, not shying away from the occasional ugliness of the character, perhaps best exemplified in the one part of the Bill storyline I did think was effective, when he had Bill committed against his will when he got a little too out of control for comfort. His confrontation with Johnny was also pretty vicious, albeit much more understandable under those given circumstances.

Speaking of which, insofar as villains go, Johnny was an effective one, especially in the showdown with Jake where he cut up poor Sadie and tried to get Jake to drink bleach. Ditto Frank Dunning, played by Josh Duhamel (a long way from Tad Hamilton, that’s for sure) in another bit of casting-against-type that worked like gangbusters. That scene with the poor calf in the slaughterhouse was even more cringe-worthy than a similar one in the original movie version of “Carrie.”

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As for the lead villain of the piece, Lee Harvey Oswald, Daniel Webber (“Home and Away”) played him as more of a lame duck with a nasty mean streak than a formidable opponent for Jake’s plot to stop the Kennedy assassination. As such, he came off a bit more like he was slow-witted than genuinely dangerous, but I’m pretty sure that was intentional, both by the actor playing him and the way King portrayed him in the book.

For instance, there was the scene in which wife Marina (Lucy Fry, “Vampire Academy”) laughed at Oswald’s acting “tough” as he posed with a rifle for a picture, even as she knew she’d probably pay for that trespass with a beating later. There was also the sad display of whining when Oswald went off on General Walker (Gregory North, “In Good Company”) in front of a crowd after a rally and got smacked down by some military types, which was pretty pathetic as well.

While he certainly made for a neutered and pitiful sight at times, I thought Webber did a good job of communicating a genuinely dejected individual that just wanted to make his mark on society but was convinced that no one was listening and so he had to do something to make them pay attention. No conspiracy here, just a loser who was taking his own issues out on the world in the worst way imaginable.

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To me, that was way more interesting than yet another far-fetched scheme you’d see in, say, something like Oliver Stone’s entertaining-but-convoluted “JFK” movie. Frank and Johnny, now those guys were evil bastards, but Oswald was just a misguided, self-hating misanthrope, at least in this version of events.

The run-up to the would-be assassination was truly exciting and action-packing, leading to a tense showdown with an unavoidably tragic outcome. Jake may have saved the day, but he obviously did so at a high price, and one that ultimately led to his decision to leave well enough alone and “reset” time once and for all, both resurrecting the woman he loved, Sadie (a sweet-natured and winning turn from Sarah Gadon, who should be better-known after this and deserves to be, IMHO) and avoiding a horrific fate that resulted from his actions in the present.

The realization that all he’d done was for naught was a heartbreaking one, as was his realization that the “Yellow Card Man” (Kevin J. O’Connor, “Chicago P.D.”) was absolutely right: time is a loop, infinitely repeating. You might can change things in the short-term, but sooner or later, to paraphrase another time-traveling opus: “Whatever happened, happened.”

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In other words, you can stop one bad thing, but you can’t stop them all, and in the end, nothing Jake could have done would have worked to its desired effect. That’s a sad realization, but also an effective one, from a dramatic standpoint.

I thought that the final scene, where Jake shares one last dance with his beloved Sadie, now elderly, but still very much alive and with a happy, fulfilled life, was just impeccable, as was the last line: “I’m someone you knew in another life.” Ain’t that the truth?

Like life itself, “11.22.63” wasn’t perfect- it was sometimes messy, unruly and all over the place tonally and not all of the changes to the book worked. But what it got right, it got very right, and more often than not, it got enough right to warrant seeing it and certainly enough to make it one of the better entries in the King adaptation canon. Indeed, I dare say, it may be the best mini-series adapted from one of his books ever.

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Hats off to the cast and crew for their fine job bringing this bad boy to life, and especially to Franco and producer J.J. Abrams for getting as much right as they did. Here’s hoping this won’t be their last attempt to tackle a King property- would that Abrams were the one behind the long-gestating “IT” remake, in fact. But in the grand scheme of things, they did good with this one, regardless.

What did you think of “11.22.63”? How did you rate it? Were you happy with the cast? How about the direction? Is there anything you wish they had done differently? For those who read the book, what did you think of the changes they made to the source material? Were you happy with the overall result, or was it a near-or-outright-miss in your eyes? What should they have done differently if you didn’t care for it? Sound off on this and more down below!