We’re officially halfway through Lisey’s Story, and these spinning plates are starting to wobble. I had concerns that Dooley obtaining the manuscripts but sticking around to deal with Lisey would feel contrived, and my fears were realized. While you could argue that Dooley needs to tie up Lisey as a loose end in order to release the manuscripts, he has completed his goal – then suddenly, he accuses Lisey of hiding even more secret Landon scribblings from him. Jim and Lisey’s shared relationship of Scott Landon is one of the most compellingly complicated details of Lisey’s Story, which makes it all the more frustrating that it now feels forced when there was a fantastically unsettling foundation it was built on. One feels as though this may have been a far stronger tale if we’d solely focused on the human dimension, parasocial relationships with our creators gone awry and who decides the legacy of creatives. It’s a finale-feeling confrontation that has came far too early to pack the dramatic punch it tries to swing.
Not for Dooley’s lack of trying though, as this episode far exceeds its horrifying moment quota – within one scene, Lisey is put through asphyxiation, a brutal face pummelling and lacerating slashes from an overly-sharp pizza cutter. Whereas these disturbing outbursts felt peppered in until now, this just feels slightly gratuitous and far too over the top, particularly against Lisey. She’s presented to us as a strong, independent person who can easily hold her own against crazed fans, so why does she suddenly crumble in the face of Jim Dooley? You could argue it’s down to Dooley’s sheer malevolent presence, draining Lisey of her strength – but when you’ve seen her vivisect someone with a shovel, that doesn’t really stand up. It feels like violence for violence’s sake, designed merely to shock and discomfort you but without having actual reason underneath. Jim feels like an individual who only acts when absolutely necessary, so having him almost gleefully cut into Lisey with a pizza cutter just feels like gross torture porn.
Lisey’s conflict with Jim is about as much story development as we get, as Lisey seems to have stopped excavating the past and just starts languishing in it. The constant flashbacks are getting tedious now, as we revisit the same memories from slightly extended perspectives, rather than unearthing new, hidden memories. They’re impeding Lisey’s treasure hunt, and to what end feels unsure – we learn little from this episode we don’t already know, save for an admission from Scott on his brother’s whereabouts. There’s also a completely bizarre surreal concert, a displaced memory from Lisey’s wedding that feels like tonal whiplash considering how dark the remainder of the episode is; the fact it’s edited against Lisey’s denial and clear trauma over events makes it feel even more confusing, what was the point?
There’s also the problem of The Long Boy, the name of the unknown creature we’ve peeked glances at. Scott tells us it’s made from despair and sadness, and the two seem to share a lifelong acquaintanceship – so it feels like a possible personified trauma made real in this fantasy world, which could be a strong metaphorical avenue for mental illness. However, going down that avenue means we get entangled in King’s mythical ‘Boo’ya Moon’ and the grounded human drama he establishes, because while it could be a personified metaphor, we also understand that ‘Boo’ya’ Moon’ is real. Because we still know very little about this world, King doesn’t give us much to go on at all. Considering we’re four episodes in, this is getting very frustrating.
Episode 4 of Lisey’s Story is on AppleTV+ from June 18th