While it’s beautifully shot and one can’t truly criticize this strong ensemble (except for perhaps Clive Owen’s wavering accent), the third episode of Apple TV+’s Lisey’s Story, adapted by Stephen King from his best-selling novel, succumbs to a common problem of the prestige miniseries: bloat. One can’t help but feel like this 53-minute episode would have been condensed to about 10 or 11 minutes in the feature film and been more effective. Scenes drag in a way that doesn’t feel like it enhances mood as much as it just fills a determined eight-episode run time. There’s a heavy focus on Scott Landon’s background and some intense developments with Amanda and Jim Dooley, but it’s almost an episode that could be skipped in terms of narrative momentum, and that’s not a good thing only three chapters into a season.
Lisey Landon is driving home with her trusty shovel and a police escort when her sister Darla calls. Save for a bit of chitchat over wine and cigarettes that ends the episode, King is really turning Darla into a two-dimensional character here, a shame given what Jennifer Jason Leigh is capable of with material that challenges her. She wants to know when Lisey is coming to see Amanda, who is sliding even further into a catatonic state, looking more emaciated and exhausted than last episode.
Some clunky exposition is literally handed to Lisey in the form of a tablet of information about Jim Dooley. He gained some notoriety when he smashed a pie in the face of a man who dared to write a book called The Cult of Landon. It turns out the “Pie of Death” is a bit from a Landon book called Relics, and Lisey finds Dooley’s use of it kind of funny, but the rambling video that follows is less LOL. The gist is that Dooley thinks Scott Landon should have won all the awards, including that Nobel one, and he wants the unpublished manuscripts so that his favorite author will get the credit he deserves.
Lisey basically lucks into finding the cedar box that her dead husband’s “Bool Hunt” led her to, and it includes photos from the Landon honeymoon at a place called the Antlers Inn. A vicious snowstorm meant that Scott and Lisey were the only people there. They were given the honeymoon suite and directions to a gorgeous tree that they could sit under even in the middle of the harsh weather. They do just that, and Scott tells them that he has visions. He writes down his visions and people pay to read them, but they come from a place that he created with his brother, Paul, called Boo’ya Moon, a place they used to escape their abusive father Andrew, and the place in which Amanda is now mentally trapped.
The bulk of the episode is a flashback in a flashback as Scott tells Lisey about his awful childhood, starting with an incident in which his father put him in a high window and then took away the ladder, ordering him to jump. Dad smacked Paul, Scott’s brother, telling Scott that he had to jump to stop the abuse. And then he turned it up, cutting Paul on the face and threatening to lop off his ear. It’s not your ordinary abuse, as dad says he has to cut Paul to “let out the bad,” which they call a Blood Bool. The scene drags, missing the tension that the show needs to be building at this point in the season. Scott’s dad mutters and goes on in circles about his kids and letting out the bad. The key is that Scott and Paul created something called Bool Hunts to entertain each other, the prize usually being something simple like a candy bar. Now he’s sent Lisey on a fateful Bool Hunt as a final gift.
In the first layer of flashback under the tree, Scott gets emotional talking about the death of his brother and the response creates water around them. Suddenly, they’re almost on an island, and then transported to a magical place called Sweetheart Hill. This interesting development is quickly ignored as Lisey decides she doesn’t want to talk about Scott’s bad past, where they went, and Paul. It’s too weird. She can’t deal with it.
Back in the real(ish) world, Jim Dooley comes back to the Landon homestead. He leaves a threatening voice-mail and a timer strapped to a device that lights a barn on fire, pulling the cop from protecting Lisey.
While this is happening, Amanda is visited by Scott, and she can suddenly move again back in the real world. She’s able to walk and even able to get her hands on some scissors. (Greenlawn security — not great.) While she’s sobbing at Boo’ya Moon, she’s cutting herself in the real world, carving into her arm: “HELP ME LISEY.” Darla finds her and understandably freaks out. Lisey is there not much later and tries to coax Amanda back to reality with memories and nicknames. It’s not that easy. Everyone back on that shore shushes Amanda. A voice can even be heard over Amanda’s cries that says, “You’re home.”
Lisey comes home and opens a bottle of wine just before Darla arrives, Dooley not far behind her in the yard. Scott Landon may be gone, but people keep visiting the world he’s created, the one that he and his brother made up. Why? What’s the power there? And what does it have to do with Amanda? While they smoke, drink, and chat, Dooley is going through Scott’s boxes. Darla and Lisey have an interesting conversation about how Scott turned his refuge from abuse into a home of healing waters in his books, which feels almost confessional from King. One wonders what he considers his personal Boo’ya Moon.
After Darla leaves, Lisey goes to the house to look at the files again, and we see Jim Dooley looking out the window like Norman Bates watching his motel. Lisey Landon senses something is wrong.
• Han! If you’re wondering where you recognize the helpful officer Dan Boeckman from, yes, that’s Sung Kang, better known as Han Lue from the Fast and the Furious movies. No crazy driving scenes yet on Lisey’s Story, but one can dream.
• Am I the only one who finds Michael Pitt nearly unrecognizable as the abusive Andrew Landon? I keep having to remind myself it’s him.
• Lisey reveals that Scott Landon had a name for his most out-there fans: Deep Space Cowboys. What do you think Stephen King calls his kookiest fans? You know there must be a similar name.
• Speaking of King connections, Dooley’s video reveals a few covers that look eerily similar to King book covers. Landon’s Prophecy Dying looks a lot like King’s Cujo, and Night Fortress looks reminiscent of Night Watch. Bet it’s a short-story collection.
• I like the small shovel in the aquarium at Greenlawn that’s a nod to Lisey’s weapon of choice. I wish the show had more interesting visual flourishes like that one.