Jake Epping is done with the past.
After having spent the first episode fighting to change time and creating disastrous consequences, the English teacher-turned-time traveler (played by James Franco) called it quits and decided to head home — but a quick detour to Holden, Ky., to prevent his present-day friend Harry Dunning from losing his mother and siblings to a murderous sledgehammer-wielding father seemed like a decent one to make.
Jake finds that the young Harry of the ’60s is a far cry from the slow-speaking janitor he knows in modern times. The young version of Harry is a quiet, but resourceful kid — someone who has the smarts to stash an extra pair of pants with a store owner for when the bullies take his.
Jake’s first stop is finding a place to stay, while he waits for the night Harry’s dad is going to commit his crime: Halloween. He finds a place with Mr. and Mrs. Price, who keep a room available for men in town who need a place to stay. Mrs. Price (Annette O’Toole) is a God-fearing woman who doesn’t trust Jake but allows him to stay anyway. (Fun fact: This isn’t O’Toole’s first experience with a Stephen King adaptation. She played the female lead, Beverly Marsh, in the 1990 miniseries “It”).
After finding a place to sleep, Jake’s first stop is a bar. There, he meets a bartender named Bill Turcotte, who seems visibly uncomfortable when Jake comes up with a lie about why he is looking for Mr. Frank Dunning (Josh Duhamel). Clearly he has a reputation in Holden.
Frank and his friends show up and end up having a few beers with Jake before inviting him on a short road trip. They take Jake to an empty slaughterhouse, and after a quick show-and-tell through the lesser rooms of this creepy building, they get to the main attraction: the kill floor, which is where all the slaughtering happens. Frank’s buddies bring in a cow as Frank tells Jake he wants to see if he really has what it takes to be “one of us, struggling in the dirt.” Jake refuses to kill the cow so Frank makes short work of it with a sledgehammer.
Perhaps realizing he may need to figure out a new way to save the Dunning family — because if you can’t kill a cow, how can you kill a human, who is technically still innocent? — Jake tells Frank’s family that they’ve won an all-expenses-paid Halloween vacation, in hopes to get Frank’s wife and kids out of the house so that he can stop the crime from happening.
Hoping he has solved the problem, Jake spends a night in with Mr. and Mrs. Price, and talk turns to Mr. Price’s war service, which Mrs. Price is very proud of, though he brushes off the compliments. He tells Jake a harrowing story about being awarded the Bronze Star and that there is no such thing as a war hero, and then utters the last thing Jake had hoped to hear. “The last thing you can say about killing a man is that it’s brave,” Mr. Price said gravely.
Turns out Jake’s last-minute trip for the Dunning’s doesn’t work. Frank shows up at the Price’s and takes Jake to his butchery where Frank’s wife (who has a new black eye) can be found. Frank lays a similar beating on Jake and throws him out of the shop. Apparently that was the straw that broke the camel’s back because Jake immediately goes to buy a gun.
Sensing that he’s not messing around anywhere, time starts to push back. Jake wakes up on Halloween morning with food poisoning. A flashback reveals that before he went through the Rabbit Hole the last time, Al had a clean bill of health. He thinks time gave him cancer to stop him.
Fighting through the sickness, Jake hides by the bushes outside the Dunning house waiting for Frank to surface, but instead, Bill the bartender, who is apparently on a mission of his own, shows up. The knife-wielding Bill tells Jake that Frank killed his older sister 12 years ago. To calm him down and let him do what he came to do, Jake let’s Bill know he is from the future.
A cry from the house reveals that Frank came through the back door while Jake and Bill were at a standoff. Jake rushes to the house and finds Frank with his sledgehammer, bearing down on his wife. A gunshot from Jake’s weapon to Frank is about as effective as spitting in his face and the two topple to the ground. Harry shows up and instead of giving his dad the dropped sledgehammer, he runs away with it. This gives Jake a window to choke Frank to death with a piece of rope, all in front of Bill.
Jake flees the scene and after a short run-in with Mrs. Price, who informs him that God will be the final judge, he puts Holden in his rearview mirror. With blood still on his hands, he pulls over to a street-side faucet to wash the guilt away when a gun cocks behind him and Bill the bartender is back again — this time with a gun and a newspaper clipping detailing the Kennedy assassination. “What the hell is this?” Bill asks.