“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.” — Stephen King, "11/22/63"
On Monday Hulu capped its original mini-series "11/22/63," based on the book by Stephen King. The series, which starred James Franco, was about a teacher in Maine in 2016 who has a chance to go back to 1960 and try to save President John F. Kennedy.
I was intrigued by the premise. I never read the book — though I've heard it was great — so throughout the eight weeks I was curious to see where it would go. Eventually, Jake (Franco) does, in deed, save JFK. But it comes at great personal cost. Then he heads back to 2016 to see the world re-made.
And it is. I won't ruin it for those who haven't seen it, but suffice it to say it's not the future he'd hoped to create. So he is confronted with a difficult choice of what to do next. Eventually he resets the timeline and returns to the future without doing anything. He thinks he's a failure. But he comes to realize that, without his interference — which was done with the best of intentions — people followed the path that helped them be their best selves. What felt like failure, to Jake, was really the right thing to do.
I reminded me of a powerful song from a few years ago, "The Dance." In the song, Garth Brooks essentially asks that bigger question — if you knew what would happen, that JFK would be assassinated, that Martin Luther King, Jr. would be assassinated, would you change history. Should you change history. His answer is no; that despite the pain everything happens for a reason.
I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end
The way it all would go
Are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss
I can't help but wonder if Stephen King would feel the same. A big part of the story is the love that blossoms between Jake and Sadie (Sarah Gadon). When he resets the past, he misses the chance to have that relationship. Sadie is left with no memory of him. It causes him pain and regret.
But when Jake sees how life turned out, it brings him a sense of peace. The pain isn't gone, but he knows that he's made the right decision.
I didn't love all of "11/22/63," and sometimes I wasn't sure where they were going with the plot. But in the end it wasn't saving JFK that made Jake a hero, it was doing the right thing even when it was hard. And that provided a beautiful ending.