11.22.63: “The Rabbit Hole” (Episode 1) Beat Sheet
Genre: The genre will become clearer with future episodes, but at this point it appears to be a Golden Fleece with the subcategory of Solo Fleece. The main character doesn’t yet have a team, but if he is successful on the road, his prize will be changing the past. On the other hand, it deals with a “rabbit hole” through time, making it somewhat of a Surreal Out of the Bottle story, with the wish to change time, the spell of the “rabbit hole,” and a future lesson yet to be learned. Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts!
Opening Image: Harry, a man in an adult education class, reads his story about a moment that changed his life. On Halloween night in 1960 in Holden, Kentucky, his mother and siblings were murdered by his father.
Set-Up: By day, Jake Epping (James Franco) is a high school teacher in Lisbon, Maine. By evening, he teaches adult education. In a Save the Cat! moment, he praises Harry’s paper and marks a large, red “A+” on it, filling Harry with pride. Jake visits Al Templeton’s (Chris Cooper) diner, which has been in business for 35 years. Although his friendship with Al is one of the few positive things, there are plenty of things that need fixing in his life. His ex-wife shows up to have him sign divorce papers, his father died without Jake being able to speak to him one last time, and his writing has gone nowhere. Al comes out from the back of the diner, coughing and gasping. A former Vietnam veteran, he looks horrible and disheveled. Jake is shocked by this sudden and unexplained change in Al’s physical appearance and takes him home. Al confides in Jake that he has cancer and tells Jake to come over tomorrow, promising to explain everything.
Theme Stated: At school the next day, stasis =death for Jake as he shows a video documentary of shock therapy to his inattentive high school students. Even though the students couldn’t care less, he asks, “Why do we think these filmmakers chose to document these conditions? People tend to think the important stories are wars, elections, political movements… but these people matter. Little things matter.” On his journey, Jake will discover how the smallest things can have an impact on history.
Catalyst: At the diner, Al tells Jake to go into the closet as long as he needs before coming back. Jake thinks it is a joke but is curious and enters. Second later, Jake falls through the dark and into the open space of a small town in the past. As he stands, a beggar approaches him and tells him, “You shouldn’t be here.”
Debate: Escaping back into the diner, Jake confronts Al, who tells him that the closet is a “rabbit hole” that opens into October 21, 1960. No matter how long he stays in the past, only two minutes elapse in the diner. Al says he needs Jake to go back through it and finish what he could not: prevent President Kennedy’s assassination. Citing the “butterfly effect,” Al notes that if JFK had lived, many historical events would have turned out for the better, including the fact that the Vietnam War would not have happened. Jake doesn’t think the past can change, saying it is just a theory, and no one actually knows what would happen. Al argues and pushes Jake to do something that matters in his life. As proof that time can be changed, he sends Jake back through the rabbit hole to carve something into a tree, giving him a knife with the dates of the Vietnam War on it. The test works, and Jake begins to ponder the possibilities. Al warns him that once he changes something, Jake can’t go back, as it resets each time.
Al leads Jake to his research room, questioning whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald was really to blame. Al has a theory about whether Oswald was involved in the assassination attempt of another political figure, but Jake must make it to April 10, 1963 to find out. Al gives Jake a fake ID under the name of James Amberson and a book of sports statistics to gamble with. Initially, Jake refuses to go through with the idea but has a change of heart in the middle of the night.
Break into Two: Jake arrives at Al’s to find that his friend has succumbed to the cancer, and Jake goes through rabbit hole.
B Story: While future episodes might include a larger B Story, time itself seems to have a relationship with Jake. As he strives to make major changes to the timeline, the past will begin to take on its own persona.
Fun And Games: Interspersed with flashbacks of Al giving him instructions, Jake tries to blend in to 1960. This includes getting a haircut, a suit, and a new car. He almost gives himself away when his cell phone falls out of his pocket, but quickly avoids detection. Using the book Al gave him, Jake gambles on a sporting event with 35 to 1 odds.
Midpoint: Jake has a false victory as he wins, netting him a huge sum of money. It looks like he will survive in this upside-down world and will make a difference. But the stakes are raised, as his win begins to draw too much attention to himself.
Bad Guys Close In: Suspicious, the men from the gambling ring track him to the motel. Jake escapes and travels to Dallas, but the inner bad guys begin to set in as he remembers Al’s warning not to get close to others and how loneliness will set in. The forces of fate also function as bad guys; Jake remembers Al telling him, “The past doesn’t want to be changed. There are times when you feel it push back.” If Jake tries to change the past, time itself will react and try to prevent him from doing anything significant. Jake first learns this as he tries to call his father at a phone booth and is greeted by static. As he attempts the call again, a car careens through the phone booth, killing the driver, who tells him, “You shouldn’t be here.” Jake takes Al’s advice to follow another lead that might shed light on Oswald, tracking one of Oswald’s future acquaintances, George de Mohrenschildt. He follows the man to a Kennedy campaign political rally and sneaks his way into the VIP room.
All Is Lost: Jake is soon spied by security and chased down. As he flees, the whiff of death is in the air as his mission is compromised. In the hallway, he sees the mysterious beggar from when he first passed through the rabbit hole.
Dark Night of the Soul: Caught and questioned, Jake sees Al’s Vietnam knife and is reminded of his mission. He pretends to be enthusiastic supporter of Kennedy, and is let go by security. With a renewed sense of purpose, he sets out on a night Al said was important because he had “felt the past push back.”
Break into Three: Jake trails Mohrenschildt to a restaurant to learn more.
Finale: At the restaurant, time pushes back in more ways than one, making it difficult for Jake to get close to Mohrenschilt. Once he gets close enough to listen in on the conversation, his hearing is assaulted by noises. He overhears Mohrenschildt tell the other men, “A man like me wants his life to matter,” echoing the theme of every individual being important. Mohrenschildt is given a list of people, leading Jake to wonder if the man recruited Oswald to kill Kennedy. Jake also realizes that Al was right, that the men Mohrenschildt had met with were from the CIA. As Jake arrives at the house he is staying in, he is shocked to find it engulfed in flames. Al’s book of information has been destroyed in the fire. The past has pushed back, and Jake realizes he shouldn’t be there. He heads back to Maine, but comes to a crossroad and digs deep down, making a choice: he will do something with his life. He goes to Holden, Kentucky, arriving at the childhood home of the high school janitor, Harry.
Finale Image: The story comes full circle and centers on Harry, a lone individual whose life matters. With a steely gaze of determination, Jake watches young Harry greet his father, unaware of the carnage to come.