11.22.63: The Kill Floor takes up where The Rabbit Hole ended. Jake is in Holden and attempting to stop Harry’s family from being murdered by his father Frank Dunning (Josh Duhamel). The episode starts with young Harry Dunning being chased through the woods and getting caught by a creek. The quaint tradition of holding a victim down and spitting on his face and “de-pantsing” him is practiced on the boy.
Jake sees him in town, at the soda fountain getting a pair of shorts from the druggist.
With a few days left till Halloween, the time when Frank kills his family and leaves his son Harry brain damaged, Jake must hurry to set his plans in motion. Checking with the druggist/soda jerk, he finds a local place to stay.
Directed to the Price’s house, “good Christians” Jake rents a room for three days “at the weekly rate.” Mrs. Price (Annette O’Toole) is suspicious of Jake and after accusing him of being a communist reluctantly rents him the room.
Epping runs the story that Harry wrote about his personal tragedy through his head while planning to intervene with Frank Dunning’s murderous act. Jake meets with Frank at the local bar, as he knows that the man is a drinker.
Harry Dunning: “When he was drunk he was always mad.”
At the local bar, Jake runs into Frank with the story that a mutual friend told him to look the butcher up if he passed through Holden. Frank and two cronies join Jake at his table. After a long period of drinking, the men all leave and head to the local slaughterhouse.
Once there, Frank and his pals set up a calf to be killed with a hammer blow to the head, and the unpleasant bully wants Jake to kill the animal. He refuses. Frank picks up the sledgehammer and does it himself.
“Jakey” then tries to circumvent the murders by giving Doris Dunning (Joanna Douglas) an all expenses paid trip to a Howard Johnson’s for Halloween. After successfully getting Doris to accept the “prize” he returns to the Price household thinking that he has averted the killings.
Over dinner, he and Arliss Price (Michael O’Neill), who won a Bronze Star for bravery in WWII, talk about war. After asking Jake if he has served (Epping states that he was with MASH 4077 in the Korean War) Arliss tells of how he earned the star and how killing someone does not make them brave.
Frank Dunning arrives to collect Jake and the time traveler goes with him. At Frank’s butcher shop, he brings out Doris, whom he has beaten and throws the “prize” (of the Halloween party) at Jake and punching him. Epping is then thrown out of the shop while Billy, from the bar, watches from across the road.
On Halloween night, the time when Frank is to murder his entire family, bar Harry, Billy shows up.
Once again this adaptation of King’s 11.22.63 keeps the viewer’s attention focussed on the Bridget Carpenter version of events; which are not too far from the novel’s. For instance, in a flashback sequence Al Templeton talks about the Lisbon girl crippled in the hunting accident from the book.
Director Fred Toye (Fringe, The Good Wife) manages to keep the tension cranked up. The combination of Duhamel’s Dunning, who is not only a “died in the wool” SOB but also a psychotic madman along the lines of Texas Chainsaw Massacre lineage and Jake’s awkward attempt at stopping the slaughter, makes this episode a white knuckle ride for the viewer.
It does help to put away all thoughts of specificity regarding events in the book. This version of King’s time travel tale moves well and grasps the imagination just fine. Franco’s desperation and his obvious “outsider” status allows us to get into the frame of mind necessary to make this trip an uneasy and sinister one.
Sidenote: It is interesting to note that on the night that Harry’s family is murdered, the television is airing Cheyenne, starring Clint Walker (who would have just returned to the show following a dispute. The character Cheyenne Bodie was a drifter who stepped in and fought for the underdog and each week held different jobs in different towns. Bodie also romanced a new girl each week and had gunfights with bad guys in each episode. Considering what happens when Jake Epping steps in, this seems a perfect touch for the event.
11.22.63 the mini-series airs Mondays on Hulu. Stop by and watch this latest Stephen King adaptation. Thus far, the series is world’s better than CBS and their “Under the Dome” mess. Just saying.