Lisey’s Story finale cements show as one of Apple TV+’s finest [Review]

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Lisey's Story finale review: Lisey learns to carry on.
Lisey, played by Julianne Moore, learns to carry on as the Stephen King-penned mini series concludes.
Photo: Apple TV+

The time has come for a bool hunt in Lisey’s Story! In the Apple TV+ series finale, Lisey and Dooley reach their final showdown — and get their last look at the brutal past just in the rearview mirror.

It’s a fitting end to the Stephen King-written miniseries about the widow of a famous writer and the crazed superfan who hunts her down. If you’re an Apple TV+ subscriber and haven’t watched this show yet, a rewarding binge awaits.

Lisey’s Story series finale review

In this week’s episode, titled simply “Lisey’s Story,” Lisey (played by Julianne Moore) has brought her foe, incel lunatic Jim Dooley (Dane DeHaan) into dream world Boo’ya Moon for her final showdown with him.

It doesn’t take long before he’s crushed to death by the wandering demons of the place that Scott Landon (Clive Owen), her dead author husband, keeps at bay. The monster itself is a lovely creation when we finally get a good look at him. He’s a kind of giant made up entirely of the wriggling bodies of the damned souls he’s collected over the years — true nightmare fuel.

It’s funny to think of Pablo Larraín directing a monster movie but that’s very much what’s happening here.

A little too easy

There’s no denying that it’s a slightly unsatisfying conclusion to this story thread. And, indeed, considering the very real threat Dooley posed, finishing him off in a patently supernatural fashion feels a little over-storybooked. I place the blame pretty squarely on King for building to this in his teleplay, without setting up more of a struggle in the dream world or at least more of a showing for the world’s internal powers in dealing with an external threat.

It feels too clean. But that’s long been a problem with King’s books. Part of my allergy to his writing has been the idea that whenever the going gets tough, someone has superpowers specifically tailored to the problem they’re in. Can’t talk to your friend because he’s in a prison of his own mind? The gun in your hand magically turns into a telephone! Problem solved!

I can’t stand the convenience of stuff like that when it’s clear King spent so much effort dreaming up the problems in the first place. Lisey’s Story coasted along on the talent of its director and cast. But in the end, it can’t fully contend with the unsupportable nature of King’s dramatic ideas.

Back to Boo’ya Moon

Eventually, Lisey returns to her sisters Darla (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Amanda (Joan Allen), then disposes of Dooley’s body at a reservoir. Beautifully disarming stuff from Larraín, that scene. Amanda tells Lisey something she’d been wondering about the mute observers littering Boo’ya Moon, which confirms unfortunately that there is no bringing Scott back. Lisey really does have to learn to be alone.

Composer Clark really earns his paycheck this episode, undergirding painful revelations with haunting and spare arrangements on the keyboard and strings.

When I die please bury me…

The show basically continues undisturbed after Dooley’s demise, more or less admitting that that narrative thread was the least-interesting part of the show. Lisey’s Story gets right back into Lisey’s grief and Scott’s tormented childhood.

This feels like the right move and also accurate: You can kill someone, or whatever the most literal version of removing an obstacle from your path looks like, but life goes on. And so does the sickness in your heart.

Ultimately, Lisey goes back into Boo’ya Moon. (As much as I love this show, I don’t mind telling you how grateful I am that I never have to type that phrase ever again as long as I live. There is so much about King’s writing that absolutely gives me hives.)

Once back in the fantastic realm, she discovers the last, lost story Scott wrote and left just for her to read. It details the end, finally, of the anecdote he told about the death of his brother, Paul. Things got even darker after we last left the saga of Scott’s home life but, like everything in this show, there is a happy ending. Sure, it’s a bitter one, but it’s persuasively presented by Larraín and company.

An honest story for survivors

At the end of everything this is a story about having to continuously compose a portrait of someone who’s no longer around. Lisey must jump through hoops to survive. But in so doing, she finds a perfect version of the husband who left her to keep her company. He’s gone but she’s come to terms with who he really was and what he meant to her.

The show provides an honest look at that stuff, the way we don’t see people when they’re gone, not really. First, we build them into something. Then we must take them apart again before we can build what they really were. The things seen and not seen, the shape of them in a hug we’ll never again get to have.

“He’s gone now, but I’m not.” says Lisey to her sisters. When all is said and done, we have to live. It can’t be in fiction and it can’t be in the past.

One of the best shows on Apple TV+

Lisey’s Story and animated film Wolfwalkers are probably the best things I’ve seen on Apple TV+ since I started writing for Cult of Mac.

The Lisey’s Story finale proves it was well worth it to hang in for a show that really did seem anxious to have a conversation with me. Visually wondrous, exquisitely acted, marvelously edited, stunningly scored — this is as good as it gets.

Lisey’s Story finale on Apple TV+

You can now watch all eight episodes of Lisey’s Story on Apple TV+.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.