Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

“Jim Dandy” makes for a torturous, but intriguing watch on Lisey’s Story

The latest episode of Lisey’s Story seems designed to turn off anyone on the fence, but offers rewards for those who stick it through

Image of Julianne Moore and Clive Owen in Apple TV Plus' Lisey's Story
Julianne Moore and Clive Owen star in Lisey’s Story
Photo: Apple TV+

For the past few weeks, I’ve been referring to Lisey’s Story as an indulgent show. I almost regret making that declaration earlier on considering the first third of the show’s fourth episode, “Jim Dandy”, which kicks off with a bang and then does everything possible to turn off viewers who are on the fence about the series.

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By bang, I mean Jim Dooley literally putting a plastic bag over Lisey’s head, the camera holding on the shot as she struggles to breathe until she passes out. Following that? A comically drawn-out torture scene that I’m not sure what to make of. Let’s go through a rundown of what that includes. Dooley languidly plays multiple records while talking to and torturing Lisey, including Maria Callas’ performances of “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” from La Wally and “Un bel dì, vedremo” from Madama Butterfly. At one point, he pauses his abuse—which includes headbutting Lisey, punching her over and over, and slicing her with a pizza cutter—to sit down and eat a sandwich.

Practically every word out of Dooley’s mouth is sort of nonsensical. There’s something camp about the way Larraín presents these deadpan actions though; DeHaan performing without an ounce of humor in his inflection, playing with a a yo-yo and saying laughable things like “secrets secrets are no fun, secrets secrets hurt someone” and “no more of your bitchery”. Moore’s relentless screams and grunts only add to the humor, or to the cringe depending on the viewer. And, as if to cap it all off with a playful wink, King ends the scene by emphasizing the inefficiency of the police within cinematic horror situations: sitting outside, calling Lisey to let her know they’re there to protect her, long after she’s been tortured half to death.

At this point, the episode makes a grand pivot, ditching the horrors of Dooley for the introspection and fantasy that comes with exploring Lisey’s Story. It’s in this back stretch where the episode proves its most rewarding, diving deeper into the pool that is Booya Moon. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the way the show moves between past and present, between fantasy and reality, is exquisite. The presence of her wedding band, once again, singing “Too Late to Turn Back Now” as she tries to push forward in her understanding of her husband’s fantasy world is an especially nice touch.

So much of the pleasure of watching the series comes from this navigation of space. It’s a series that embraces magic, the visual effects of a hotel room becoming this otherworldly plane just riveting to watch. Lisey, as uncertain as ever, asks Scott in a flashback, “Was it real, where we went today, or was it my imagination?” But her present self, embracing what she’s been told to deny, is beginning to understand that there is some reality to what she once thought was imagined. Lisey and Scott’s exploration of the Booya Moon is key to the episode, with his description of the beast known as the Long Boy a smart way to contextualize something with a silly name.

Much of the way people discuss things in this episode feel like an attempt at rationalizing mental illness through the supernatural. King’s work has always taken a heightened approach to this, not dissimilar to the way M. Night Shyamalan would later explore the same territory, and it’s interesting to see the way Scott, Lisey, and Amanda all discuss these trips to Booya Moon through different lenses. Scott describes so much of what he experiences as a disease, and Amanda’s catatonic state is perceived by her sisters and doctors as such as well, but through Lisey’s memories and interactions with the Booya Moon, the audience (as well as the characters) understand that there’s much more to it than fiction and escaping repressed trauma.

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This episode may be the first to flub the use of flashbacks though, depicting Scott and his brother Paul on their first trip together to Booya Moon and their interaction with the Long Boy (that left the pair marked for life). It’s an unnecessary depiction of a scene where most of the impact lies in how Scott remembers and tells the story; Clive Owen’s voice full of pain does more than any of the cheesy horror imagery it presents. To boot, it’s an anti-climactic scene in depiction, but not in description, as the weight of Booya Moon has been made all too clear over four episodes.

More than anything though, this episode is another step towards Lisey understanding that she is her own independent being. Despite Dooley telling her she’s a parasite, despite her own doubt eating away at her, her own self-awareness and strength is growing. Her knowledge that she’s always been the one to ground her husband, that she has saved his life not once, but twice (Moore’s repetition of “I loved you, I saved you, I gave you ice, I saved you twice” is captivating), has come to the surface. And just beyond this realization lies the chance to explore the Booya Moon; not for Scott, not for Dooley, and not even for Amanda, but for herself to heal more than just the physical wounds that have been inflicted on her.

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Stray observations

  • Darla texting Lisey “You could have at least washed the dishes” without any awareness of her just being tortured is just another ideal depiction of what I love about their relationship. Fully passive aggressive like any good siblings.
  • Starting to realize I should have done a “fuck” count because I think it’d be delightful to know how many times per episode Lisey says it, to herself or to others.
  • I would simply like to know if Jim Dooley does anything in his spare time besides videotaping himself with a cardboard cutout of Clive Owen and sitting in other people’s houses. I mean, actually, maybe I don’t, but I just find him sitting in Amanda’s bathroom in the dark while Darla is in the other room with a gun and taser so stupidly funny.
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