11.22.63: Bridget Carpenter blogs Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald | EW.com

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11.22.63 boss takes you behind the scenes of Lee Harvey Oswald's party

(Sven Frenzel/Hulu)

Spoiler alert: This post contains details from 11.22.63 episode “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald.” Read at your own risk.

Who better to break down the adventures of Jake Epping than the woman behind it all, right? That’s why Bridget Carpenter, the showrunner of Hulu’s 11.22.63, is writing weekly blogs. Found exclusively on EW, Carpenter’s blogs will take viewers behind the episode they’ve just watched with everything from photographs to stories from set and more.

Dear Constant Viewer,

Do you like surprise parties?

Not me.

I think of surprise parties kind of like I think about clowns: they’re okay from a distance, but I don’t want to open my door and find one waiting for me. For Lee Harvey Oswald, a man with few friends and an estranged family, I imagined a surprise party would get … weird.   

John Coles directed this episode with a keen eye for detail. He took an opening scene (Lee interviewing for a job at the Texas Schoolbook Depository) that many directors would have just dispensed with as a quick two-shot, and turned it into a small epic. Carol Spier turned this abandoned warehouse into a striking version of the first floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Lee’s job interview looked like part of the gathering storm. 

That FBI agent waiting for Lee? Real guy. The FBI did indeed harass Lee and his wife, and Agent Hosty in particular was the agent who monitored his activities.

It’s been six months since Jake missed seeing who took a shot at General Walker with a Carcano rifle. Now, all he has is his surveillance of Oswald. Jake knows Lee a little more now. He’s been listening to him for years. What is he listening for: ANYTHING. Is Lee talking about Kennedy? Is he ranting about political change? Is he meeting with pro-Castro activists, is George de Mohrenschildt telling him to do something?

Jake hasn’t heard anything for certain.

And part of that is because Jake’s focus has shifted.  For the past six months, he’s moved into Deke’s house to care for Sadie. (You don’t think she’d return to her kitchen after the day she had there, do you?) No secrets between them anymore.

Jake knows how close he came to losing Sadie. He knows how the Past works. The thing is, like so many heroes in so many stories that have come before, Jake believes that he can do it all. He believes that he can save JFK and get the girl. It’s like being a writer: you HAVE to believe that you’re going to make it — because if you took a single minute to consider the odds … you’d quit.

So Jake continues to live two lives — this time, with Sadie knowing everything. He continues to make bets — this time, to pay for Sadie’s hospital bills. Sure, he’s ignoring his own advice (bet small) but it’s just this once! He’s hoping for a break.  He’s hoping that Bill will hear something on the tapes of Lee, anything. Jake knows that he only has a few weeks left before the day. Which means it’s more important than ever not to make a mistake now — he’s already made too many of them. 

And Bill.

Bill, Bill, Bill!  Can you blame him for falling in love with Marina? You cannot. It’s not that he planned to betray Jake. He’s lonely. When Jake learns about Bill’s transgression, he has to consider — is this the Past now? Using Bill as an obstacle?  Jake’s solution for handling Bill is upsetting, to say the least. But he tells himself that it’s temporary. Once he learns from George that he isn’t involved in planning an assassination, Jake just needs to get Bill out of the way for a day or two. Then it will all be okay. Right, Constant Reader? He has good intentions…

Notes from the set:

On a personal note, can I just say how profoundly amazing it is to write for the gifted actors Tonya Pinkins, Nick Searcy, Cherry Jones, Daniel Webber, and Lucy Fry? I still cannot believe that Cherry Jones is in our show. I still wait for her name to come up in the credits and after I see it, I grin like an idiot.

Here, I am trying to match Marguerite Oswald’s stern demeanor.

Here’s the suburban home we used for Ruth Paine’s house. Ruth is one of the fascinating small players in the Oswald saga, an ordinary woman of great heart who gave Marina a home when she needed it. Nice to include this little-discussed aspect of the Oswalds’ lives in our story.

On a side note, the real Ruth Paine’s home in Dallas has been remarkably preserved, and is a small, poignant museum. Stepping into that home (and the garage where Lee reportedly kept the rifle) was truly stepping into the past.

We used the University of Toronto School of Dentistry for our insane asylum! Which, incidentally, was called BRIAR RIDGE MEDICAL CENTER in the script (an Easter egg from Stephen King’s The Green Mile) — but lamentably, we never shot the signage. Check out the display case in the hallway.

As Bill raced down the hall, one of the windows in the swinging doors shattered — our crew had to go to heroic lengths to repair the window FAST and keep the shoot running on schedule.

Here’s a shot of one of our secret weapons, Nick Searcy. As rabid fans of Justified, we were thrilled to cast him as Principal Deke Simmons. It speaks to the strength of our cast that I wished I could write a show for each of them.

George Mackay decorated Jake and Bill’s surveillance lair with doodles that Bill would have done while passing the time.  This is Bill’s portrait of Marguerite Oswald running for President (“free chins for everyone!”).

A shot from the monitor of James Franco rehearsing a violent scene but also finishing his lollipop. 

Lastly, here’s co-EP Brian Nelson with Lindsey Somers, our on-set medical consultant. Lindsey had a deep affection for period medical equipment (strange but endearing), and she trained our extras and day players in hospital protocol, impressing the hell out of us. And, Constant Viewer, Mr. King has taught us that there are no coincidences; there’s only the Past, harmonizing — it turns out Lindsey was inspired to become a paramedic by In A Heartbeat, the series about young paramedics for which Brian Nelson wrote years ago on the Disney Channel! [Insert sound of record scratch here.]

What else can I tell you, Constant Viewer? Our time together is growing short. There’s next week; there’s the week after, then — well, I’m not going to think about it yet. I’ll think about it tomorrow. Next week, maybe.

Until then,

Bridget

For more insight, follow Bridget on Twitter @BridgetCarpen12.