This episode did a good job of taking seemingly underwhelming elements from its predecessor and really doing something with them. For example, the big cliffhanger didn’t seem all that jaw dropping, but it is not something that Jake can easily dodge. In fact, the reveal of the tapes not only cost him his relationship with Sadie, but his job as well.
More importantly, though, Johnny Clayton gets a much better showing here, as he gets to show us his true colors as an antagonist. Admittedly, T.R. Knight’s performance comes with a healthy helping of ham, but it never gets too cheesy.
It’s a good thing too, as the tense standoff really is the crux of the episode. Clayton may not be as menacing or disturbing as Dunning, but he holds his own in the psycho department. He disfigures Sadie and forces Jake to drink bleach at gunpoint. You do find yourself wondering why Jake doesn’t just throw the bleach in Clayton’s face, but then he does, so that head scratcher just needed some time to resolve itself.
There’s an odd fake out where a doctor implies that Sadie died as a result of her injuries, but only clarifies that she survived after Jake directly asks about it. You’d think, being a doctor, that you would know to be more clear about something like that. From the viewer’s perspective, it works well enough, as it catches you off guard. It is a shocking moment, followed by genuine relief when it’s revealed that she survived, but at the same time, would a professional really do that?
The incident also leads to some heartwarming moments as well. While it was nice to see Jake mend fences with both Sadie and the school, the real kicker has to be when all of the students volunteer to give blood upon hearing that she lost a lot of her own from Johnny’s attack. That floored me, it really did. I don’t think you’d see that happen in this day and age.
As to the overall “save Kennedy” arc, there is some advancement, courtesy of Bill, but not much. He continues to spend time with Marina, which results in a brief run in with Oswald himself. Oddly, Oswald isn’t possessive, jealous, or all that suspicious of Bill. With Clayton, it might have been redundant, but really, he’s just on the curt side. He’s not particularly chummy, but he does give Bill a book on Marxist economics.
Bill’s efforts to see if Lee acted alone in shooting the general also botch thanks to a woman who bears a striking resemblance to his sister. It’s a contrived coincidence, to be sure, but it has been established that the past would take measures and fight back, so this is obviously an instance of that.
In terms of shortcomings, the episode didn’t really have all that many. It was a bit odd to see Jake start to pack it in and talk about going back to the present when he still had 7 months to go.
It’s weird to think that we only have three episodes left. The show has been moving at a pretty solid pace, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see things get kicked up a notch as the titular date draws ever closer.