“The Good Brother” really stretches the title of Lisey’s Story given how much it sidelines the title character to learn more about her dead husband. One of the more notable and increasing problems with this show is how little we still know about Lisey Landon. It’s a problem of the source material too, but one might have hoped that Pablo Larraín and Julianne Moore would find a way to give Lisey Landon more dimensionality than being a sounding board for Scott Landon’s creativity and supernatural powers, but that’s not really happening. It’s an episode that’s really more about Paul Landon than Lisey Landon, and it’s another repetitive hour that offers little beyond a few strong performances (Michael Pitt, in particular) and solid craft (cinematographer Darius Khondji is still doing everything he can to keep this entertaining).
False advertising of the title aside, Larraín and Stephen King clearly leaned into the “it’s more of a long movie than a TV season” epidemic of modern television, and that decision has not been to the show’s benefit. It’s such a generally formless and shapeless story that an episodic structure would have helped ground it a bit, but these episode breaks barely even register. Each installment bleeds into the next, making them feel unsatisfying in a weekly format. There’s also the growing sense that King may have been the wrong choice to adapt his own work. He sees shape and form here that another writer would have been able to clarify more for the audience.
It opens with the only shot of Darla this week, sleeping with a gun next to her pillow. Jim goes through the papers stolen from Scott’s property, taking the time to smell the paper that his icon touched. He calls Dashmiel, who tries to bring his rabid dog home, but it’s too late. Jim lies about never laying a finger on Lisey and tells Dashmiel that it’s too important to stop. After all, the world is waiting.
Back to the truly cluttered flashbacks within flashbacks within alternate planes of reality of the last episode. Lisey, beaten badly by Jim, sits by her pool, remembering the time she had to save Scott Landon from Boo’ya Moon. She traveled there to save him, finding the cross on Sweetheart Hill where Scott buried his brother Paul. And then the episode dips into another layer of flashback as Scott conveys the story of the final month of his brother’s life. What is the story of Paul Landon? A child who could visit a world that took away pain and got infected by what’s left in that place. Or is it? Did the Long Boy poison Paul Landon? Or is this the kind of story a child tells himself to reconcile child abuse and even homicide by his father? The show plays it pretty straight, but the thematic gray area remains.
Scott says that Daddy couldn’t save Paul. After they returned, Paul turned more and more violent, and he suddenly chases Scott, cutting him with a long nail. He got “the bad.” And so Scott and his dad trussed up Paul like a pig. Dad talked about the Landon Curse, which is “also a blessing,” of course. He speaks about just being gone or being remembered, which is an interesting theme given the origin of the book, which came after a nearly fatal car accident for Stephen King, probably at a time when he was considering his legacy more than ever.
They left Paul in the barn, screaming, for three weeks. Paul would try to entice Scott with a Bool Hunt that would end in a candy bar and an RC if he let him loose. The feeding process got more intense as Paul got more feral, and they would dose the young man with ketamine. He got so strong that he could pull a tractor with the chain around his neck.
A decision is made: Sedate Paul and take him to Boo’ya Moon. It doesn’t go well. Paul is demonic at this point, attacking a screaming Scott until Dad shoots his oldest son. The rain stops and Paul is dead. Interestingly, this seems to make Scott’s powers more pronounced — read what you will into the idea that tragedy makes better writers — and he can pretty easily take Paul Landon to Sweetheart Hill to bury him.
In another layer of flashback, Lisey finds the syringe that was used to sedate Paul by the cross where Scott buried him. And she makes it to the shore on which her sister now sits in the present day. She sees Scott there, and they watch a vision of their happier selves dancing on their wedding day. Someone sees Lisey and tells her that she doesn’t belong, leading to more people shushing her, which happened to Amanda a couple weeks ago. Of course, the Long Boy hears the ruckus and goes after Lisey and Scott. They escape just in time.
A montage of images from the first four episodes ends with a line heard twice in the last quarter of the episode: “If you ever need to go, remember, water is best.” Lisey trudges inside, gets supplies out of a drawer, and even grabs her trusty shovel. She texts Darla to say that she can help Amanda. And she walks into her pool. “Lisey, be careful,” Amanda whispers, as her sister dives under the surface.
• Who does “the Good Brother” refer to? Probably Scott Landon, given the animalistic portrayal of Paul Landon, but Scott himself may say that it’s about his brother before he was turned “bad.”
• I love Clive Owen — he’s been underrated most of his career — but he’s just not working here. I think it’s more King/Larraín’s fault, but Scott Landon feels like a non-character, even as he steals focus from the title one. He’s stuck in flashbacks, telling stories from his childhood with unearned emotion that we then see play out. It feels like he’s struggling, a real shame given his talent.
• On that note, a wild restructuring might have been more effective for everyone involved. Imagine a premiere episode that is just young Scott and his crazy dad. We could get to know the characters better instead of jumping around in time and having so many instances wherein one character explains something that we then see in flashback. And then a second episode that fills in Scott and Lisey’s life that leads up to their memorable honeymoon. The cross-cutting isn’t helping Lisey’s Story, draining each thread instead of tying them together.
• ICYMI: Jim Dooley is so intense that he doesn’t take his shoes off on his bed.
• To be fair, Lisey’s Story looks great. I particularly loved the shot from where the chain meets the trailer, the metal links in focus and Paul writhing out of focus in the background. It’s just too bad that a show with such a great cast and so many great ideas can’t blend them all in a way to match that craft. Let’s hope it comes together in the final three — or else Lisey’s Story may be a footnote in Stephen King’s film and TV career.