After a few weeks in the dramatic muck, this episode of 'Lisey's Story' is actually entertaining.
- 🩸A streamlined story makes for a good episode.
- 🩸The fewer flashbacks, the better.
- 🩸The humor is welcome in this installment.
- 🩸With half of the major drama resolved, how much more is there to learn about these characters?
- 🩸This episode may be too little, too late.
- 🩸The hints at another showdown are frustrating.
This post contains spoilers for Lisey's Story.
Check out our last review here.
What a perverse feeling it is to watch an episode of Lisey’s Story and find it to be effective, dramatically compelling, and propulsive. After five episodes that have progressively felt duller and duller, more and more plodding, and unwilling to move the plot forward, “Now You Must Be Still” suggests a version of this adaptation that could be fairly entertaining. It is absolutely no surprise to learn, though, that there’s one reason above all others that this episode works so well: it’s got almost no flashbacks. At all. What a strange coincidence!
“Now You Must Be Still” is helped enormously by the fact that the installment (written as ever by author Stephen King, and directed by Pablo Larrain) is focused on one goal: for Lisey (Julianne Moore) to rescue her sister Amanda (Joan Allen) from Booya Moon. Amanda’s been in a fiercely catatonic state for most of the series, as Larrain keeps cutting back and forth, throughout, to her sitting in her room at the mental institution or sitting and looking out at the water in Booya Moon. With the attack from Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan) in the rearview, Lisey steels herself to do exactly what seemed like a logical thing based on last week’s episode: go into Booya Moon herself to get her sister back.
First, Lisey has to make it clear to her other sister Darla (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that she’s got a similar gift to that of her late husband Scott (Clive Owen), able to jump into the fantastical world of Booya Moon at a second’s notice, thanks to an overabundance of water. Darla has been the closest thing that Lisey’s Story has to Han Solo -- someone who has a healthy amount of skepticism for any supernatural or fantastical elements in the wrold around her. But even she can’t deny something strange is going on after she visits Lisey in the farmhouse and then, in the blink of an eye, her sister disappears and then re-appears right next to her.
Darla can’t go quite as far as her sister, traveling to Booya Moon with her. But once Darla accepts that Lisey’s got some kind of power, they travel to Amanda’s room at the institution, where we do revisit one brief but critical flashback. Earlier in the series, we saw as Scott gave Amanda something akin to the kiss of life, except this time with a flood of water. As it turns out, that very kiss is the way that Scott was able to bring Amanda back from a previous bout of catatonia/a previous trip to Booya Moon. Once Lisey puts two and two together, she’s able to do the exact same thing. The subsequent emotional reunion between the three sisters is frankly the first time in six episodes when this show has succeeded at building and crafting a genuinely powerful moment.
Now, of course, there’s a slightly critical problem with Lisey’s Story. At least half of the story seems to have been resolved: as much of the setup of the limited series was that Lisey needed to get her sister back as she needed to shake the grimy hands of selfish, violent fans like Jim Dooley. There are still two installments left in Lisey’s Story, and the end of this episode may set up the other half of the climax...but it can’t possibly take two episodes, can it? There’s almost a hiccup or two after Amanda comes back -- she’s still in a mental institution, after all. But Lisey and Darla are able to smooth things over with the Scott Landon super-fan doctor at the head of the institution, largely by flattering him (Jennifer Jason Leigh fawning over a photo of the doc with Bruce Springsteen is a rare bit of effective humor). Afterwards, Lisey and Darla fill Amanda in on what’s going on with the unhinged Jim Dooley, leading them all to an obvious conclusion: they need to kill him.
Jim and his old benefactor, Professor Dashmiel (Ron Cephas Jones), show up here briefly. Dashmiel’s on the receiving end of another call this week, but this time from Lisey, who blithely threatens to sue the professor for a half-million dollars. (As Lisey notes dryly, she says she had to talk down her lawyer from suing Dashmiel for three million dollars, because he couldn’t possibly have that much to give.) As much as Ron Cephas Jones is an extremely talented actor, it’s difficult to see the character of Dashmiel as a wasted, useless red herring, whose own agency was robbed as soon as it became clear that he was just an academic dunce.
Jim, at least, remains a real threat. He starts the episode still reading through Scott’s unpublished works while holing up at Amanda’s house, and managing to evade the not-terribly-watchful eye of local cop Dan Boeckman (Sung Kang). By the end of the episode, he’s no longer inside Amanda’s house, and Lisey and Darla have realized how close he was to them even after attacking our heroine. (Amanda’s fury upon learning that this stranger was in her house leads to another great bit of humor as she vows to kill him herself. It’s kind of a shame that Joan Allen hasn’t been able to let loose more fiercely throughout the series.) But as the three sisters unite in some mysterious plan to take down Jim by the end of the episode, laughing amongst themselves, we see Jim spying on them and muttering, “Don’t laugh at me.”
Leave aside how bad Jim’s hiding spot is -- he’s very visible between a couple of tree branches not more than a hundred feet or so away from the three women. This clearly sets up the penultimate installment as being a showdown between the sisters and Jim...but again, it’s a struggle to envision why there need to be two more episodes of this show. And while this episode is unquestionably the strongest since the two-episode premiere, it raises a question Lisey’s Story cannot answer: why is this adaptation eight episodes long, totaling close to 400 minutes when all is said and done?
There’s an easy enough answer: King, who’s previously said this is the favorite of the novels he’s written (a pretty high bar considering his older, more beloved titles), wrote every episode. And if Stephen King loves the novel he’s adapting, and he’s adapting it for a streaming service like Apple TV+, he probably has carte blanche to make it as long or as short as he wants. Eight episodes? Each 50 minutes long? If that’s when the master of horror wants, that’s what he gets! Sadly, no one seems to have asked if that’s what this novel needed. Did it need to be this long? Just because an adaptation may be faithful -- and maybe it’s not, but considering King’s history with his own adaptations, that’s kind of hard to imagine -- doesn’t mean it’s satisfying.
The good news is “Now You Must Be Still” was pretty solid television. We’re closer to the finish line. And the three female performances at the core of this show are strong as ever. That’s the good news. But what’s next? And why will it take two episodes for us to get there? Considering how the middle portion of this series all but screeched to a halt dramatically, finding out the answer may be the most terrifying thing of all about Lisey’s Story.
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