Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, “11.22.63” is the newest Hulu original eight-episode-mini-series show starring James Franco as a high school teacher that needs to travel back in time to prevent the assassination of John. F. Kennedy.
The pilot episode starts with Harry Dunning (Leon Rippy) sharing a traumatizing experience in his life in front of a class taught by Franco’s character, Jake Epping. On Halloween, when Dunning was a boy, he watched his father murder his mother, and younger brother and sister with a hammer. His tragedy, a gruesome and uncomfortable story that makes more sense to the viewer at the end of the episode is a great, captivating technique used by the producers.
Once the setting transitions, viewers get a better understanding of Epping’s character while he is sitting in a diner. It is present-day in Lisbon, Maine and Epping is eating a hamburger while finalizing a divorce that he apparently does not want. While there, he is confused when his friend and owner of the diner Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) comes out from the back looking sickly and coughing up blood after just appearing healthy and normal.
Templeton shares a secret with Epping about a closet in the diner; it is a “rabbit hole” that transports anyone who enters it back in time to 11:58 a.m. on Oct. 21, 1960. Regardless of how long you stay in the past, only two minutes of the present day goes by, but any time you leave the past and decide to go back it resets.
Templeton tells Epping that he needs to go back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK and kill whoever committed the crime, something he could not do because he became ill due to cancer. Epping is reluctant at first, but ultimately decides to go through with it.
As expected, the butterfly effect applies, meaning any changes that occur in the past can alter the course of history. Templeton warns Epping to tread lightly and not get too close to people because it never ends well. “You f**k with the past, the past f**cks with you.”
Epping goes into a phone booth and makes a call to his father, but since it is the past he has not been born yet so his father isn’t his father in the 60s. The music in the shot gets super creepy and the phone call goes static. For a moment, Epping leaves the phone booth and then turns around to go back to it. Just as he does this, a car comes racing toward him, crashes into the booth and flips over killing the woman who was driving. As Epping approaches her lifeless body, she looks at him and says, “you shouldn’t be here.”
The rest of the episode takes place with Epping in the 60s. There are occasional flashes back to Templeton telling him how to survive in the past: buy a boring car, get a haircut, shave, etc. He also equipped Epping with a book of sports statistics (so he can survive by gambling) and files with potential suspects and leads to who may have assassinated Kennedy.
There is eeriness throughout the show that is expected coming from a Stephen King adaptation. A homeless man serves as a motif throughout the episode, only showing up to warn Epping that he “shouldn’t be here.”
After a series of events lead Epping to Dallas, Texas, he changed the past and consequently killed the 14-year-old son of a family he was staying with, he decides he cannot do this anymore and drives back to Maine.
On his drive back to Maine, he stops in Kentucky where he remembers the story Dunning shared in class about his family being murdered in their home in Holden, Kentucky. The episode ends on a cliffhanger with Epping sitting outside of the house, watching Dunning and his siblings say goodbye to their mother as their dad picks them up to get ice cream.
“11.22.63” airs every Monday exclusively on Hulu.