What to Watch Verdict
After one solid installment, 'Lisey's Story' slips back into its bad old habits for a penultimate episode that feels like a waste.
🩸 The trio of women at the core of the show remain excellent.
🩸 The cinematography is grimly distinctive.
🩸 The final half of the episode at least has moderately fascinating plot machinations.
🩸 Another extended flashback without any oomph.
🩸 The reveal about Jim Dooley is limp and boring.
🩸 Extending the finale across two episodes is a bad idea.
This post contains spoilers for Lisey's Story.
Check out our last review here.
The end of the sixth installment of Lisey’s Story was clear-cut and genuinely intriguing. After six episodes of beating around the bush, Lisey Landon (Julianne Moore) and her sisters Amanda and Darla (Joan Allen and Jennifer Jason Leigh, respectively) were going to join forces to kill Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan), a crazed super-fan of Lisey’s late husband Scott (Clive Owen). That was it. There was just one question, specifically for those of us who haven’t read the book that author Stephen King is adapting: why would this terrifying yet direct task have to take up the space of the final two installments? Well, with the plot focused and the threat of Jim on the horizon, Lisey’s Story is doing what it does best and worst: heading straight back to the past for an extended flashback.
Yes, that’s right. The first half of this episode, “No Light, No Spark”, takes place entirely in the past, specifically surrounding the question of how Scott Landon died. We’ve seen glimpse after glimpse of him having been shot by another Dooley-esque fan, but this time around, we learn that the immediate gunshot wound isn’t what took Scott’s life. No, instead, after being driven to a nighttime event with a crowd of dedicated fans (or, as Scott calls them, campers, because that is the kind of faux-quaint language King loves to employ in his work), Scott is overcome with an intense coughing fit or two, derived from his trips to Booya Moon, eventually being so overwhelmed as to die in a hospital bed, surrounded by his loving and now heartbroken wife Lisey.
In the present, Lisey goes over the ramshackle plans available to her, Amanda, and Darla in taking on Jim. Plan A is bringing Jim to Booya Moon, and Plan B is just attacking him in the farmhouse with whatever weapons they have at hand. Neither Amanda nor Darla is terribly impressed with the plans, and Darla (like this writer) is particularly infuriated when Lisey says “Sometimes the story just has to write itself.” When Darla shouts, “I am begging you to quit with this bullshit,”...well, let’s just say that Darla is clearly the best character in Lisey’s Story because she is the smartest and most relatable.
Both plans end up being placed in action, though not in the desired order. After Jim very quickly and handily dispenses with the local cop (Sung Kang) assigned to keep an eye on Lisey, he cuts the power to her farmhouse and dons himself a handy pair of night-vision goggles fresh out of Buffalo Bill’s basement from The Silence of the Lambs. He tries and fails at taunting Lisey, who’s far more assured now than during their last encounter, and who confronts him with the fact that his fellow patient at a Tennessee mental institution is the same young man who shot Scott. But when he starts strangling her, she gets her sisters out from hiding, a plot thickened by Jim overtaking them all. And yet, through the power of magic or [waves hand vaguely] stuff, Scott’s presence allows Lisey and Jim into Booya Moon. Now that she’s able to taunt the reasonably very confused Jim, she locates the strange blood monster thing, presumably to give it a Jim-shaped meal.
But that will have to wait until next week’s finale. For now, we have this penultimate installment, which remains as much a slog as most episodes of the limited series have been. And it’s a shame, too, because last week’s episode made clear that there was a way for Lisey’s Story to be compelling, well-paced, and intelligent. The performances remain a strong point, most specifically those of Moore, Allen, and Leigh. Nothing against Clive Owen or Dane DeHaan, to be clear: they’re both solid actors and they’re doing what’s expected of them here. The problem is that what’s expected of them is to play such single-dimensional characters that their continued presence never gets more interesting.
DeHaan, particularly, has been dealt a very bad hand as Jim Dooley. It has been painfully obvious since the first installment to anyone with eyeballs that Jim Dooley is unhinged. That he was previously a patient at a mental institution is both unsurprising and unnecessary information. That he was able to fool a seemingly intelligent professor is all the more inexplicable because that professor gets so little character development that he might as well not have been part of the series. Jim’s handful of lines of dialogue in “No Light, No Spark” continue to lean heavily on the lack of nuance to the character, as he shouts nonsense like “No wife!” and “I am the lighthouse!” both in and out of Booya Moon. The episode concludes with the implication that he’s about to be eaten, but honestly? Get it over with. DeHaan is doing his able best, but it’s genuinely shocking that Stephen King is having a hard time capturing the unseemly depth and breadth of characterization of bad fans. He wrote Annie Wilkes -- was it just once and done for him?
And while Clive Owen is a charming and elusive figure within Lisey’s Story, he can’t do much to the characterization of Scott to make the popular author seem realistically involving. When we see Scott interacting on stage with his fans -- one of whom shouts out a particular line from one of his works, leading him to do a call-and-response with the rest of the crowd -- it’s hard to understand why all of his fans aren’t like Jim Dooley. The fevered response is all the more baffling because we’re held at arm’s length throughout the show so that we can only barely, on the surface, grasp what it was like to be that famous, and what it’s like to be married to someone that famous.
As we trudge our way to the finale, perhaps we will finally grasp the point of why Lisey’s Story is called...Lisey’s Story. The present-day sections hinge on Lisey and the actions she takes, but so much of this show is obsessed with hopping back and forth in time, a choice that has been ineffective from the start. If the only thing you can hang on is the length of hair of your main character to establish past or present, it’s a problem. But then, with one episode, this show just is awash with problems. At least it’s almost over.
Josh Spiegel is a freelance cultural critic who has been published in Slashfilm, SyFy, ScreenCrush, The A.V. Club, The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post and others. His favorite films include Singin’ in the Rain, The Rocketeer, Pinocchio and A Matter of Life and Death. His favorite TV shows include Ted Lasso, Only Murders in the Building, Deadwood and Lost. He lives in Phoenix with his wife, two sons and too many cats.
Thank you for signing up to Whattowatch. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.