Another too-slow episode of Lisey’s Story pulls at the themes in this show but can’t quite untangle what Stephen King set up in his book of the same name. It’s a story about the roots of creativity, companions to those who have to access their dark sides, and even fans who elevate their obsession to stalking, but sometimes these themes get muddled, a problem with the source material that I’d hoped Larrain could have ironed out more than it appears he will be able to.
“Jim Dandy” (the most King name for an episode ever) sees Lisey Landon, after being assaulted by the brutal Jim Dooley, trying to reach into her memory for a way to heal, as well as save herself and her sister Amanda from their current nightmare. It starts with a recording from Jim that’s still threatening, but Lisey has no idea what’s to follow. Before she can stop him, Jim places a plastic bag over Lisey’s head in the show’s most shocking and intense moment to date. She struggles and passes out as the music rises. Jim barely blinks.
He puts on a record: “Waymore’s Blues” by The Crickets, another so Stephen King choice. It’s a deep cut, Jim. As Lisey rouses, he turns on his full creepy-stalker mode, playing with a yo-yo and showing the promotional item to Lisey, a tie-in to the book The Empty Devils by Scott Landon. He’s so intense that he would make Annie Wilkes of Misery reconsider her fandom. He claims that he won’t take much of her time before unleashing a wave of insults, claiming she did nothing more for the best author that ever lived than sleep in his bed—again, one wonders if poor Tabitha King has received similar insults from so-called fans, given the biographical nature of this story. She tries to argue that they were partners who relied on each other and loved each other, but he’s not having it. He reveals that his favorite book of Landon’s was The Coaster’s Daughter and that he’s read some of the unpublished material. And then Lisey Landon calls him a thief.
He smashes Lisey to the ground before head-banging to the Crickets. It’s half-tantrum and half-dancing, and all unhinged. He asks for the “secret stuff” by Scott before really assaulting her. Each punch is amplified by Larrain in the sound design, sounding like a car crash each time Jim’s fist connects with Lisey’s face. If it wasn’t clear before now, Jim Dooley is going to have to die before the end of this story. There’s no way around it.
Trying to talk her way into safety, Lisey tells Jim that there’s a hidden sequel to Relics. It doesn’t quite work. He starts cutting her face and body in a way that feels a bit like torture porn. She screams. He slices. Opera plays. Eli Roth would be impressed. She wakes to find a note on her body: “Tell anyone I was here and I’ll kill you. But I will kill your sisters first.” Lisey takes the threat seriously.
Lisey goes to the mirror and sees the deep cuts and bruises all over her body. She looks destroyed, but Moore also imbues the scene with an undercurrent of anger that she’s in this situation. She has one of several overlaid flashbacks to come of Scott saying that the Landons are fast healers. Does that mean she is too? Flashes of water and the tree in the last episode, along with the journey they took to Sweetheart Hill. Can she do it again to heal herself?
While Dan the dumb cop is being useless and Darla is packing up supplies, including a taser and gun (with Jim Dooley in her closet), Lisey spirals through memories, trying to figure out how to heal herself and save her sister. She hears Scott call her “Babyluv” and he sort of “comes to her” by her pool. She sees a vision of the band from their wedding sing “Too Late to Turn Back Now” — subtle choice, Scott. Does she have to push through the Bool Hunt to figure out how to stop Jim Dooley? To bring her sister back from Boo’ya Moon? In a beat that really doesn’t work, one version of Lisey screams in absolute pain while the wedding band sings about falling in love. Still, that band is killer.
Lisey wakes up in her chair, mumbling about how much she loved Scott and gave him a voice. She says that she saved him twice, meaning the assassination attempt at the university and then a time when Scott was in a catatonic state not unlike Amanda is in now.
In a flashback, Lisey comes to a more normal Amanda in the aftermath of an intense snowstorm. It’s a good scene between Moore and Allen, two of the best actresses of their generation. Scott communicates differently with Amanda compared to Lisey. They have a connection. Lisey needs to know how to save Scott, and they discuss his childhood and what Scott revealed on their honeymoon.
The episode reveals how much Scott Landon, one of the most famous writers in the world, had to essentially challenge his own sanity to be creative and to survive the abuse of his childhood. In the flashback, he’s catatonic — unresponsive and unblinking — stuck in the alternate universe that now holds Amanda in a similar state.
Another flashback — the editing in this episode gets more than a little muddled — reveals how Scott discovered Boo’ya Moon with his brother Paul, and that they would go there when they were hurt. Amanda wants to know if she will go there again, but the urgent question the current Lisey is trying to unpack is how to get there now to heal herself. The broken people are there, captured in cries and moans before something massive ascends the horizon. The show is back in the time that Lisey and Scott went to Sweetheart Hill on their honeymoon, now chased by a creature called “The Long Boy.” He has caught glimpses of its many faces before, but it was Paul who moved to it, ignoring Scott’s screams for him to return. A growling, screaming cacophony unfolds before the Long Boy cuts Paul on the arm. They know the pool can fix him, but now they’re connected to the Long Boy. It’s a metaphor for the connection between an artist and his darkest visions.
Lisey asks Scott in flashback if he’s at the pool to get better and the editing connects Scott’s state then to Amanda’s now. She yells at Scott before turning on the sink. The lighthouse turns. The sink overflows. Lisey Landon, battered and bruised, stares into the sky for answers.
• There are way too many shots of Lisey trying to remember things in this episode. It doesn’t hold it together like Larrain thinks, distracting with takes of “remembering” that only clutter.
• Is there anything creepier than the way Jim Dooley calls Lisey Landon “missus”? What a weird, very King touch.
• I’ve praised the visuals in the credits before for how they set a tone, but the music is a major factor there too. It’s a nice use of haunting strings that raise tension and set a stage that the show arguably doesn’t actually live up to.
• When a sociopath puts on a favorite song, it makes sense to try to unpack the lyrics. This one from “Waymore’s Blues” really stands out as something you don’t want to see a man like Jim Dooley lip-sync: “If you wanna get to heaven, gotta D-I-E.”