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'Lisey's Story' Finale Review: Lisey's Story

The limited series 'Lisey's Story' wraps up its overlong story in now predictably dry, slow-moving fashion.

Joan Allen and Jennifer Jason Leigh in 'Lisey's Story'.
(Image: © Apple TV+)

Our Verdict

The best thing about this show's finale is that it's finally over. Blech.

For

  • 🩸 Julianne Moore remains a legend even in bad material.
  • 🩸 Darius Khondji maintains the moody tone as cinematographer.
  • 🩸 Jim Dooley is dispatched quickly.

Against

  • 🩸 The show's extended finale has no reason to be this long.
  • 🩸 The final showdown is laughably brief.
  • 🩸 The last extended flashback is unnecessary and boring.

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

The best news about the eighth and final episode of the limited series Lisey’s Story is that it is the eighth and final episode. The series boasted an impressive pedigree, but was unable to turn that pedigree into anything remotely compelling or entertaining, a fault that can largely be placed at the feet of its author, Stephen King, who adapted his own novel for Apple TV+. When you bring together an A-List group of actors, a celebrated director, a hotshot producer, and a beloved cinematographer, and they collaborate to create something as turgid and dull as this, something has to be wrong with the story.

The final episode’s problems are clear enough. For a 57-minute finale, this one dispenses with any kind of suspense or dramatic concerns all too quickly. The previous installment ended with the cliffhanger in which Lisey Landon (Julianne Moore) has lured the malevolent fan Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan) into the fantastical world of Booya Moon with the express intent of having the mysterious giant monster that resides there into attacking. And after a brief fight in which Jim withstands more than one slap to the face with a massive shovel and breaks a couple of Lisey’s fingers...well, that monster attacks him. Jim initially seems to think this is predestined, as he speaks in his insane mantras about being the “son” of Scott Landon and “the lighthouse” before he’s subsumed by the massive creature that is an amalgamation of countless screeching and grabbing bodies. 

And that’s that, right? Well, sure, unless you notice that there’s about, oh, 45 minutes left in Lisey’s Story. That’s because there is, at least in King’s mind, still one more thing to resolve. Lisey’s sister Amanda (Joan Allen) noted that Scott (Clive Owen) mentioned something about “Lisey’s story”, which seems unlikely seeing as he never dedicated any of his novels to his wife. Lisey decides to head back to Booya Moon one more time, once Jim’s dead, gone, and disposed of, and once there, she completes the bool hunt that Scott led her on at the start of the series. The prize at the end of that hunt is a manuscript Scott wrote to her directly, in which he details one more extended flashback, wherein we see that a young Scott kills his father (Michael Pitt) by request, a secret Scott has kept for his entire life and through his own death. Lisey then lets go, as much as she can, her dead husband and begins to move on with her life.

Julianne Moore in 'Lisey's Story'.

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

That is, in essence, what the majority of this installment, itself titled “Lisey’s Story”, focuses on: her letting go of him once and for all. What’s truly remarkable about this final episode is how wildly misguided it is. The final showdown between Lisey and Jim is barely a showdown at all. Were it not for a dragged-out bit where Jim is grabbed by the monster, then dropped, then grabbed again and allowed the opportunity to scream in agony for a while, it could’ve been part of the previous installment without anyone being terribly surprised or baffled. Instead, the episode dives back into Scott’s life once more, without ever thinking that its presentation of the author’s childhood is incredibly slow-moving, uninspired, and boring. Learning that Scott’s father killed his brother upon becoming homicidal (or, sorry, going Bad), and that Scott killed his dad because the grief weighed so heavily upon the older man that he was truly losing his mind could well be fascinating and tragic, if the story wanted to make it so. But we never really get to know Scott Landon as an adult, for as much as we apparently learn about his intensely depressing childhood.

The story goes that Lisey’s Story is a what-if inspired by Stephen King’s infamous accident in the late 1990s when he was hit by a car. What if, he wondered, he died and his wife was left behind with his legacy to maintain at a fairly young age? This story is the result, and perhaps the most perversely funny aspect is that his wife Tabitha -- to whom the book is dedicated -- is not a fan of Lisey’s Story. As King himself once said, "I don't think she's real crazy about this book."

It’s difficult to blame her. So few of the plot threads of Lisey’s Story wrap up satisfactorily, in part because they wrap up exactly the way you figure they would. The awful Jim is dealt with expediently, and the remains of his body are so effectively disposed of by Lisey that no one could ever find his body. (And since he killed a cop before he himself was killed, even the local cop who rightly presumes Lisey had something to do with Jim’s demise doesn’t really care.) Amanda is saved from being perpetually stuck in Booya Moon. Lisey accepts, as much as she can, the death of her husband. None of these plotlines needed to be extended throughout eight hours of television, let alone all of them. 

Clive Owen in 'Lisey's Story'.

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

This has been the problem from the get-go: Lisey’s Story, if it merits an adaptation at all, does not merit a limited-series adaptation. For those of us who haven’t read the book, it’s somewhat terrifying to imagine that this adaptation is quite faithful. (It’s not surprising, of course; King is famously very loud about the adaptations of his work he doesn’t like, so him writing every episode all but assures that this show is as faithful as it could get.) The cast can’t be faulted here. Moore, Allen, and Jennifer Jason Leigh are a lot of acidic and spiky fun together, making it something of a shame that they don’t get more scenes as a trio of sisters. Owen is probably the right choice to play such an enigma of a charmer, but it would’ve been nice if, for all the exhausting time spent with Scott Landon as a young man, we felt like we ever got to know who the man was.

Endings are hard, especially those that feel like extra finales. Still one of the very best Stephen King adaptations, The Shawshank Redemption is one of those stories whose ending is sneakier than expected. The main action -- spoiler for a nearly 30-year old movie -- seems to resolve with about 30 minutes ago, as the wrongly imprisoned Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) successfully escapes after patiently plotting for years. But the last half-hour focuses more on the aftermath, from the perspective of narrator Red (Morgan Freeman), and how he eventually, gradually, and legally is released from prison and struggles to get by in the outside world. There’s a case of a story with a patient, deliberately paced finale that ends up being exactly as long as it needs to be.

Lisey’s Story ought to be over about 10 minutes into its final episode, you’d think, but it takes its time to arrive at the actual ending. All that time spent on tying a bow on Lisey’s emotional state, though, and we’re none the wiser about her connection to her husband beyond a broadly generic perspective on a seemingly happy marriage. Apple TV+ has been increasing its output of late, and has some of the best shows on television running right now (or returning soon, in the case of Ted Lasso). Lisey’s Story was a big swing, and it’s easy to see why they wanted to. You’d think a show with three of the best living American actresses, from a director who steered another talented actress to an Oscar nomination a few years ago, a Spielberg-esque producer, and one of the most famous writers of the last century, would be an easy home run. But as we close out Lisey’s Story, it was a big swing and an equally frustrating miss.