Ah. Time Travel. An indispensable staple of science fiction. Where would we be without Back to the Future, The Time Machine, Twelve Monkeys, Looper, The Terminator, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Source Code, Hot Tub Time Machine and Austin Powers?
Television has also mined time travel for all it’s worth, either as the central conceit (Quantum Leap) or as an element that crops up in some episodes (Star Trek, Babylon 5).
The latest TV show to lean on time travel as a concept is 11.22.63, a superb mini-series adaptation of the Stephen King novel, which looks at the possibility of travelling back in time specifically to try to prevent JFK’s assassination. James Franco plays Jake Epping, an English teacher asked by his friend Al to use a portal located in a cupboard in his diner (not as silly in its execution as it sounds) to travel back to 1960 and then live through the next three years building up to JFK’s assassination in Dallas. Al is convinced that the world is an immeasurably more horrible place for having missed out on a further five years of Kennedy’s presidency and that if the assassination can be prevented, everything will be better.
As always, nothing is quite that simple and despite ample preparations, Epping hits more than a few potholes on the way, not least Time itself, which is constantly pushing back, seeking to assert its will as Epping tries to mess with it. 11.22.63 has real edge to it, some genuinely unsettling supporting characters (take a bow, Josh Duhamel and the superbly horrible T.R. Knight) and a distinctive approach to the butterfly effect. To celebrate its home entertainment release, here are a handful of time-travel themed TV shows and their signature episodes.
11.22.63 – Episode 5 – The Truth
Epping has fallen for Sadie Dunhill in a big way and despite needing to focus on working towards thwarting JFK’s assassination (he can only enter history on a specific date in 1960, so he must live through three years in order to get to the key dates in tracking and stopping Lee Harvey Oswald) he desperately wants to be with her. It turns out that she is on the run from her unpleasant husband, who turns up in episode 4 and is told in so uncertain terms by Epping to hit the road.
Although 11.22.63 certainly doesn’t shy away from portraying violence, in Episode 5 it certainly gets more graphic – Sadie’s husband gets the jump on her and Epping and in the resulting face-off Epping must choose between watching Sadie die and drinking a lethal dose of bleach. In the midst of a propulsive, clock-driven narrative for the rest of the season, this is a tangent that nonetheless works exceedingly well, delivering menace, tension, violence and an enduring impact on the rest of Epping’s mission. The whole season is spectacular stuff, but this episode specifically delivers.
The superb 11.22.63 is available now across all of the usual home entertainment platforms.