Review: 11.22.63 – The Killing Floor

Episode 2 of 11.22.63 was actually really interesting in terms of characters. Last we saw, Jake was overwhelmed with taking on Al’s final wish to stop Kennedy from being assassinated. Understandable. But before returning to his time, tail between his legs, he decides he can do one good thing: save Harry Dunning’s family from being brutally murdered by Harry’s father. It’s interesting that the series itself began with a much older Harry telling his life story through creative writing. It was clear this was going to be an important plot point and it’s quite a good one too.

The opening scene to The Killing Floor is, once again, of Harry except this time as a young boy. We see him being chased down by a group of older boys. Clearly Harry has never had an easy life. As the group captures Harry they take off his pants, throw them in the river, and, as a final humiliation, spit on his face. Harry, however, decides to show no emotion. He lies on the ground and the mocking laughter soon becomes awkward silence. A sort of moral victory. It doesn’t get much better for Harry though. We soon meet his father, Frank, and understand there’s no happy ending there.

Josh Duhamel guest stars as Frank Dunning, a drunken, violent, almost immoral man who seems to have grown up believing masculinity is defined solely by physical strength and intimidation. Three days before Frank is supposed to murder his family, except Harry, Jake comes into the picture and hopes to stop it. He tries to befriend Frank but all it gets him is a trip to the killing floor, a room in the slaughterhouse where the cows are literally bludgeoned to death. Not because that’s the way it has to be done, Jake points out you can shoot the animals instead, Frank just liked to pick up a mallet and do the deed himself.

Duhamel actually brings a lot of power to the role; from the get go he’s demanding and non-apologetic. He’s frightening because he feels real; that level of hyper masculinity still exists in the world. Perhaps he is an easy villain to Franco’s good guy Jake but the two characters worked quite well together. While Jake tries to subdue the situation, Frank only increases in his fervour. Their showdown at the end was also done well and we can’t help but cheer when the bad guy goes down.

This was an episode mostly about characters. We meet a lot more people and get a good picture of Harry’s life and we can understand why it’s never been easy. There were other great moments too. When Arliss Price tells Jake the story of how he got the bronze star for bravery in the war, the writing and delivery were great. Yes, it’s a little obvious where it’s going but it was good. The sense of guilt, regret and disgust was all too clear in Arliss’s face. And Jake, too, got a slice of reality that he did not expect. Franco is still not bringing his ‘A game’ to the role but he’s getting there.

The Killing Floor was more about exploring Jake’s choices (i.e. not continuing on with saving Kennedy) and his attempt at making someone’s life better. But, as outlined in the pilot, the past will push back. Jake may have stopped Frank from killing his family but repercussions will come. There’s a good chance Harry and his family are still not out of danger.

 

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