The second episode of 11.22.63 centers on Jake's efforts to save the family of Harry Dunning, the school janitor whom we met in Jake's GED class in the first episode. As you'll recall, Harry's father, Frank, murdered Harry's mother, sister and brother (and injured Harry badly) on Halloween night in 1958 with a sledge hammer. And Jake, so haunted by that story, will do anything to prevent that.
To my surprise, this episode took several leaps away from the source material. This is something I'm used to with adaptations of King's works, so it shouldn't have caught me by surprise, but it did. This does not mean, however, that I thought these changes were bad. In fact, I quite enjoyed them because they worked well for television. And ultimately took the story the same place.
When Jake rolls into Harry's hometown he rents a room from Annette O'Toole (whose character name I can't remember because she'll always be Beverly Marsh from It to me) and sets about his plan to stop Frank Dunning. His initial plan involves avoiding any violence. He intends to befriend Frank and subtly manipulate him into just walking away from his family entirely rather than trying to solve any problems. When this doesn't work (and this part involves a rather disturbing scene in a slaughterhouse) he instead tries to get Harry, his mother, his brother and his sister away from town on Halloween. Again, his plan backfires (the past is obdurate, after all) and he is forced to admit the only way he can stop Frank is to kill him.
As I said earlier, this episode jumps away from the source at several parts but hits all the main points. My one complaint is Frank Dunning himself. While we are supposed to know Frank is dangerous, he isn't supposed to come off that way all the time. Folks in town knows he's a mean drunk and has hit his wife, hence their separation, but overall, he's described as handsome (which he is here) and charming (which he most certainly isn't here). Heck, in the book the ladies love to buy their meat from him at the store because he flirts with them! The Frank presented here is not at all that character. Which I suppose works, but when it comes up that Frank may have murdered someone before, you don't buy that no one else in town but this one guy who brings it up would believe it. In the book, it's easier to believe that Frank could be accused of murder and people would dismiss it.
Overall, though, this series continues to be fantastic. I hope it holds up for the remaining six episodes. It's gorgeous to look at, the directing is great, and the acting is fantastic. I think James Franco is underestimated as an actor. Hell, even I didn't appreciate just how good he is before now. The final scene where Jake is in the rain washing blood off himself is superb. And the final twist (which was not in the book) leaves you on the edge of your seat waiting for more. My only real complaint besides Frank Dunning is that Hulu didn't just drop this whole series at once Netflix style so I could have plowed through it already. Then again, there is something to be said to savoring the slow burn. After both episodes so far my wife has said “what? That's it? No!” So I guess it's doing it's job.
Final grade: A+