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'Lisey's Story' Episode 1.05 Review: The Good Brother

The fifth episode of 'Lisey's Story' shows no signs of creative recovery.

The land of Booya Moon in 'Lisey's Story'.
(Image: © Apple TV+)

Our Verdict

"The Good Brother" covers some more ground from the past, but continues to imply that "Lisey's Story" is shaping to be a huge disappointment.

For

  • 🩸Clive Owen's performance is becoming more nuanced.
  • 🩸Julianne Moore continues to be very effective as the title character.
  • 🩸The show is still handsomely, effectively mounted.

Against

  • 🩸The flashbacks take very long to share very little information.
  • 🩸The grimness of Scott's backstory feels unnecessarily unpleasant.
  • 🩸The show's moving slow and barely forward at all.

This post contains spoilers for Lisey's Story.
Check out our last review here

“The Good Brother”, the fifth installment of Lisey’s Story, manages to be repetitive enough that it not only brings to mind images of having your foot stuck in the mud and unable to wrest it free, and also is enough to make you double-check to make sure you’re not watching last week’s episode a second time. Where last week spent a large amount of its time in the present for an unbroken section, this week’s episode is largely about flashbacks, as Lisey herself makes very, very little forward movement. Three episodes remain, but the creeping sense in the last few episodes -- that Lisey’s Story may well be an excellent novel, but doesn’t lend itself to a limited-series structure -- is becoming impossible to ignore.

Last time, as you may recall, Lisey (Julianne Moore) was recuperating as quickly as she could from the vicious injuries she received at the hands of Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan). Jim’s only briefly in this episode, mostly for a call he makes to Professor Dashmiel (Ron Cephas Jones), to inform the professor of how impressed he is at the unpublished writings he’s found from the late author Scott Landon (Clive Owen). And as was the case with the last time we saw Dashmiel, his attempts to remain above the whole “Threaten the well-meaning widow of a famous author to let his fans see his writings, but also don’t be mean about threatening her” bit are ridiculous and foolish. Jim lies through his teeth that he didn’t harm Lisey, but he also blithely dismisses the professor at the end of the call about stopping his pursuit of Landon’s work.

So while Jim’s left behind some scars on Lisey, there’s not much time spent with him this week. On one hand, that’s a good thing -- too much of DeHaan’s showboating, over-the-top performance is unpleasant, so the less, the better. Unfortunately, what we’re left with in “The Good Brother” is a lot of flashbacks within flashbacks, specifically centered around what happened to Scott’s older brother Paul (Clark Furlong). As with the last episode, Lisey sits in the darkened night by her steaming outdoor pool, one that may have unique and special powers, thinking back to a time when Scott was under a particularly fierce catatonic spell. And upon waking from that spell, he shared with Lisey how Paul had become seemingly possessed by the bad spirits of Booya Moon. After the possessed Paul tries to attack Scott as a boy, their father (Michael Pitt) chains Paul up before eventually having to kill him with a shotgun.

Clive Onwe in 'Lisey's Story'.

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

This offers context for Scott’s grim past, no doubt, but each extended flashback that provides a glimpse into the backstories of the lead characters of Lisey’s Story don’t do much to create forward propulsion into...well, Lisey’s story. The last two episodes, in particular, have made Julianne Moore -- a fine actress, of course -- into something of a passive observer, captive to the whims of unhinged men and forced to listen and react to their monologues. Owen’s ability to approach emotional cliffhangers is somewhat surprising, and more effective than what DeHaan is doing. Owen, in so many of his film roles like Inside Man and Children of Men (also co-starring Moore), cuts a taciturn, strong-but-silent figure. And in the early going of Lisey’s Story, that’s what seemed to be going on with his take on Scott Landon. But there’s more nuance and strangeness to Scott Landon that allows Owen to offer a more three-dimensional performance, even if we’re constantly seeing the character in layered flashbacks filtered through memory.

So much of “The Good Brother”, however, relies very heavily on the grimy and mud-soaked flashback to when Scott was a boy. There are only so many times that you can hear Scott screech like a banshee, soaking wet, chained near a farmhouse, before it just becomes an exercise in something approaching torture porn. Unlike some of the other violent sequences here, it’s not a very gory setpiece. But the sequence feels unnecessarily unpleasant, yet another stark reminder of how this show is spiraling out of control in slow motion.

Julianne Moore and Clive Owen in "Lisey's Story".

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

After the flashbacks resolve, it becomes clear that Scott’s spirit is guiding Lisey from beyond the grave, to make a full-throated return to Booya Moon to save Amanda (Joan Allen, who makes only the briefest appearance here). As Scott says in a repeated line, “Water works best”, leading Lisey to grab the same shovel she used to slice open a deranged fan’s face in the premiere, and walk into the pool in the hopes of heading back. The problem here is simple, and perhaps unavoidable when you’re talking about limited series like Lisey’s Story: did this adaptation really need to last eight 50-minute episodes? Stephen King has had plenty of experience with filmmakers adapting his work for the big screen -- and he’s never been shy to chime in about the adaptations he thought failed to capture the spirit of his work, such as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But the fact that he’s writing each episode of this series may well be part of the issue. He’s spoken before about how Lisey’s Story is the favorite novel of those he’s written, so it’s hard to see him wanting to trim it down for an adaptation. His passion may be undeniable, but episodes like “The Good Brother”, coming right on the heels of “Jim Dandy”, likely did not merit a full episode. Couldn’t these two installments have fit into one hourlong box?

Alas, no. That Lisey Landon has already made a concerted effort to return to Booya Moon, after having done so before to get Scott out of his funk, means the endgame is on the horizon. Yet there are three installments of Lisey’s Story left, and considering how little time has moved in the present over the last two, we may have more plodding to do before the end truly is near. Pacing is becoming killer on this show, but with any luck -- or a wing and a prayer -- the next couple installments might pick things up and bring us towards a logical and maybe even slightly satisfying conclusion.