The second chapter of the eight-episode miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story settles into its narrative a bit more but still divides its time between three increasingly connected arcs: the present dilemma of Lisey Landon, flashbacks that seem to be driven by her dead husband, and a vision of an alternate world that can both heal and destroy. Once again, Pablo Larraín executes an effective hour of television in terms of craft, even if the story feels like it’s already starting to lose some momentum, setting up the question of whether this would have been more effective as a feature film.
Like a lot of second episodes, “Blood Bool” slows things down, filling in character details through flashbacks. There are the early days of Scott and Lisey, but also visions of both Amanda Debusher and Scott Landon as children. There’s also the sense that Scott is pushing Lisey to specific memories. Why? To protect her against the increasingly terrifying Jim Dooley? To save her sister? Both?
Once again, Lisey Landon returns to her wedding day, remembering her sister telling her that she speaks the same language as her new brother-in-law. Amanda tells Lisey to protect Scott and keep him connected to the world. Modern Amanda is catatonic at the Greenlawn facility, spilling water in a way that allows a cut to an alternate reality in which she’s a little more coherent. She sits with other solitary figures on the edge of a body of water. Out in the water, the imaginary ship known as the Hollyhocks is docked, and the Debusher sisters — Amanda, Darla, and Lisey — play on it. The playful sound of children is intercut with a sense of danger here, something lurking that “takes the bodies, keeps the souls.”
Lisey Landon calls professor Dashmiel and orders him to call off his attack dog Jim Dooley. He tells her that they met at a bar, and he thought that Dooley was only a fan who could talk some sense into Lisey — either the good professor is a liar or a really bad judge of character, as a later flashback reveals that Dooley was at an 11 on the creep scale at that bar. (Anyone who tells you that he doesn’t eat pork because it’s too much like human flesh should be reported.) He swears he didn’t want violence, but now he can’t call off the Annie Wilkes he’s unleashed on Lisey Landon.
The centerpiece of “Blood Bool” is a flashback to the day that Scott Landon sold his first book, The Coaster’s Daughter. It’s not for much — and Darla doesn’t hesitate to emphasize that in a passive-aggressive manner to her sister — but they’re going to celebrate. However, Scott chooses to have a few drinks with his colleagues first and doesn’t make it home in time to go out with Lisey. When he does arrive, she’s furious, and he’s drunk. He tells her to wait two minutes. He can fix it.
As Scott marches down the street in the flashback to the night of the book advance, the show drops to another layer of flashback to Scott as a child. A threatening father sits in a chair, playing with a knife. He tells them, “I made you boys. I made you what you are.” Scott sees his own reflection as a child in a window and smashes it, then uses the broken glass to cut open his arm. “I fixed it. It’s okay now,” he tells Lisey. It’s pain connected to past trauma as an attempt to heal a recent mistake. “It’s for you, Lisey,” he tells her. And now it won’t happen again. Pain leads to a better future in this twisted form of apology. It’s another story of a bloodletting author — the image of a creative who has to give a part of himself to the world. He heals quickly, but there’s still pain and blood in the process.
Later the night of the window smashing, Lisey wakes to find Scott gone. She goes to the bathroom, where the sink is running, like the one in the hospital in the premiere. And we see where Scott goes, the same place Amanda was sitting earlier in the episode. There are healing waters there that he uses. Lisey turns off the sink, and he’s back in bed. He’s practically unhurt. The next morning, he’s making eggs and talking about how much he wants to be married. They go out that day and someone takes a photo of the soon-to-be-famous author and his soon-to-be wife.
Back in the present day, Lisey looks at that framed photo and turns it over to find the third clue left by her husband. It’s a sign to call the doctor now caring for Amanda. He reveals that his favorite Landon book was called Battleflags, and, of course, Scott left a note in the edition that he signed for the doctor: “Cedar Box, Fourth Clue Bool.” What’s he pushing her toward? What’s in the box??!?!
Meanwhile, Jim just keeps getting creepier. First, he basically threatens the guy who now lives in the old townhouse of Scott and Lisey Landon. Then, he proves he can even cut and eat cheese pizza like a dead-eyed lunatic. While the cops are assuring Lisey that they will keep an eye out, Jim is already at the Landon home. When Lisey returns, she plunges her hand into the mailbox, only for it to come out covered in bird blood. She may want to get that gun that the cop recommended after all, especially after learning that Jim may have microwaved the poor bird before leaving it for the postman. Lisey swears that all she needs is her trusty shovel. After all, it took care of a homicidal fan once before.
To end the episode, Amanda is still staring at the Hollyhocks of her playful memory, but the tone shifts. She’s getting scared. She doesn’t want to be there anymore, especially with a chatty Cathy nearby muttering things about why she “killed them all.” Lisey stares into the water as if she can see this magical place that healed Scott and now seems to be terrifying Amanda. The camera rises above Amanda in this sad place as Lisey walks away, holding on to her fan-killing shovel a little more tightly.
• What about that final image??!?! For half a second, there’s a shot of a humanoid shape with blue eyes and a reddish, misshapen body that makes it look like the bloody brother of the Swamp Thing. It’s an unsettling final note, a hint of monsters to come.
• Of course, most people realized this when the show was announced, but this is a very cool reunion of two of the stars of one of the best sci-fi movies of the new millennium. If you’ve somehow never seen Julianne Moore and Clive Owen in Children of Men, correct that oversight now. It holds up very well.
• I was curious about why King chose the name Hollyhocks and stumbled upon an article about the plant with this amazing opening paragraph that sounds right out of a Stephen King book: “I remember hollyhocks in my grandmother’s garden. They were tall and pink, and there was something wistful about them — as if by sitting with them I could somehow hear the echoes of children from a time beyond imagination.” It’s incredible how much that fits here. Scott Landon would say it wasn’t a coincidence.