This is a three disk collection containing a total of eight episodes, each about 45 minutes in length. Over all the series is very well done. I give it five stars. There might be a quibble here or there with a few historical details, but nothing too dramatic. I was, however, disappointed by how many things were not included. The last two episodes in particular rush through some of the most important historical events during JFK’s presidency. I would liked to have seen this as a ten episode series, but I guess it’s better to be left wanting more, rather than less.
Below is a synopsis of each episode, which may contain spoilers.
Episode One: Joe’s Revenge Hour I: This first disk is where we meet the family. We quickly learn that Joe Kennedy had early aspirations for the presidency, but loses the opportunity through mistakes he made as ambassador. In his stead, Joe Junior plans to fulfill his father’s dream. Obviously that doesn’t happen and the obligation falls to Jack.
Episode Two: Joe’s Revenge Hour II: Jack has just been elected president, but is still living under his father’s thumb. In flashbacks we learn that Jack had no initial aspiration to become president. He campaigns without heart to please his father until he finally finds his voice. It’s a beautiful moment, and I found myself wishing I had been there. The flaws of the Kennedy family are portrayed in various roles, particularly that of unfaithful husbands.
Episode Three: Us Against Them: This is the episode where Jack makes his famous big blunder, the Bay of Pigs. It opens just before the inauguration. Rose Kennedy asks her daughter-in-law, Jackie, who has recently had a baby, what she will wear to the inauguration. Jackie mentions that she has eight weeks to get her figure back, and Rose snubs her by saying that it only took her four. (Oh, to be a woman.) We also see Joe Senior’s influence continue. Joe insists that Bobby become Attorney General. Jack tells his father that Bobby doesn’t want to be Attorney General, and Joe responds, “Well, I want it for him.” And that’s that.
Episode Four: Who’s In Charge Here: Joe dabbles in the mob with both feet out of the pond. As Attorney General, clean-cut Bobby attacks the mob head-on. Sound like trouble? It is. Once again the presidency becomes off-limits to Joe, all the while the Berlin Wall goes up. Jack continues to battle health problems, particularly the old injuries he sustained during World War II.
Episode Five: Life Sentences: The civil rights movement is in full swing, though it isn’t swinging smooth. Lindon Johnson seems to be the only cabinet member able to communicate with southern politicians. As the presidency prepares to support James Meredith’s enrollment at Old Miss, as ordered by the Supreme Court, Joe suffers a debilitating stroke. The family members are left reeling as they try to cope with their unresolved feelings. Rose, in particular, is burdened by troubling memories. Simultaneously, law and order dissolve in Missouri as a near civil war atmosphere engulfs the university and threatens the state.
Episode Six: The Brink: Jack’s indiscretions cause Jackie deep pain. She takes a trip to Virginia with the children just before the Cuban Missel crisis begins. Tensions run high as the entire cabinet works together to prevent disaster. This is truly JFK’s finest moment, and true to form, Bobby is continuously at his side. Ethel and Jackie have a candid conversation, and Jackie returns to the White House as Jack brings the country safely through what could have easily become a nuclear war.
Episode Seven: Lancer and Lace: The episode opens with Walter Cronkite telling the world that the president is dead. The rest of the episode leads up to that point. Jack’s affair with Marilyn Monroe is referenced, and as usual, Bobby is stuck cleaning up the mess. Jack commits more definitively to Jackie prior to the assassination, which is left to the imagination, or memory, and the families reaction to Jack’s death is explored.
Episode Eight: Bobby picks up where Jack left off, protecting Jackie as if she were a blood relative. Jackie eventually remarries, stating the need to keep her children safe. Bobby is determined to carry on in politics, and becomes a presidential candidate. When the polls show him out of favor he turns to his mother for political backing. He begins to rise in the polls only to be assassinated a short time later. As he is dying he asks Ethel, “Was anyone else hurt?” And that’s the end of Bobby. With such a gruesome end to the tale, the episode closes by going through some enthusiastic scenes that leave the viewer feeling like everything is fine.