This episode of 11.22.63 feels like pure, unfiltered Stephen King suspense at its finest. Within the first few moments, you’ll already know how fierce and bitter this one’s going to be, as we follow a young child being bullied by local boys. They torment and humiliate him, but he does nothing except take it. He chooses to accept defeat almost instantly, making you wonder what this child might have in store against his tormentors later on. Yet, we soon realize just how much of routine this torment has become for him. He walks down the busy street without his pants, visits a local malt shop and grabs a fresh pair of shorts he had been storing for such days. This may have absolutely nothing to do with preventing one of the most recognized assassinations in world history, but young Harry’s story ends up being one fantastic in between tale that was definitely worth telling.
Picking up immediately where we left off in “The Rabbit Hole,” Jake Epping (James Franco) has temporarily lost hope in trying to achieve his goal of preventing Kennedy’s assassination, thanks to witnessing a boarding house catch fire and kill a young teen, believing it was because of his interference with the past. However, seeing that the opportunity he’s been given can still bring some good fortune for the future, Epping sets out towards small town Kentucky in hopes of preventing a triple homicide. Harry Dunning, (Leon Rippy) an adult student of Epping’s in the present, bore witness to his family being slaughtered by his drunken father Frank (Josh Duhamel) when he was just a boy, and has been scarred by the event for his entire life. Using Harry’s essay as a blueprint of the events, Jake arranges to do everything he can to prevent Frank from bringing harm upon his family. Yet, with a past pushing against Jake’s presence as it is, history just might not want to be changed for better or for worse.
Perhaps you’ll be turned off by the notion of 11.22.63 taking a detour from its main plot so quickly, as this is only the second episode of the eight part series thus far. Be that as it may, “The Kill Floor” manages to ace everything that made the pilot episode so interesting by expanding the stakes and tension to a perfect blend. The pilot did a superb job of setting up Franco’s performance as Jake Epping, and why we should like both in this narrative, but episode two just so happens to guide Franco’s performance to an even higher degree of captivation. Even when he’s doing something as simple as sitting in a malt shop, watching young Harry sort through some comics, we feel for Epping every step of the way. This is in large part to how well Franco appears suited for the role.
Conditionally, from Franco’s handling of said personification, there are two exceptional scenes here that had me on the edge of my seat, biting my fingernails from straight suspension. One of these scenes has Jake pal around with Frank and his goons to what is known as the “kill floor” by his family. Being that Frank has a violent history and a mean drunken rage, you can only imagine what horrors this might entail for both Jake Epping and the viewer. Still, not a moment goes by, from Jake being lead into the unknown to when the screen cuts to black after the “kill,” where things grow dull. Every step taken, every second spent, all we can do is just sit there and wonder what decision Jake will make in the moment. There are no easy predictions for this scene, and that’s what makes it so captivating.
The other scene just so happens to be the enthralling climax itself. Where as episode one was mostly exploration of what 11.22.63‘s world has in store for us, “The Kill Floor” is all about that grand sense of build up, and one marvelous pay off to make it all wonderful to watch. Every scene where Epping tries to get Harry’s family to run away before that fateful Halloween day, or even seeing the absolute desperation in his eyes, adds to the pure intensity and trilling spectacle of Jake’s character. We can only speculate what his decisions may mean for the future, or even the past for that matter, but you’ll be glued through every second of it waiting to find out what happens next.
There are so many chills to be had in this week’s episode, that “The Kill Floor” feels like a pure shot of Stephen King tension to the brain. As though it’s without any limitations to hold the story back, 11.22.63 crafts what could end up being decided later on as the series’ best episode. Only time will tell if this sentiment stays true, but those already hooked by the series’ pilot will find even more of a reason to stick with this magnetic show’s streak. In summation, “The Kill Floor” marks an even more palatial pinnacle for Hulu, and winds up feeling like a perfect little story in between the pages.