The best filmmakers know that to adapt Stephen King is to adapt the vibes that King provides. It’s a part of why works like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (despite King’s hatred of it), John Carpenter’s Christine, and Brian De Palma’s Carrie, all of which sacrifice fidelity to the source text to some extent, end up feeling so fresh. The minutiae that can be explored in text, where one can muse on a memory for pages on end, doesn’t always play well on-screen. To some level, King himself has realized this in adapting Lisey’s Story, and though the show continues to feel like a show that might be better suited to bingeing as a long movie, its third episode is a step to clarifying much of what the first couple introduced.
“Under The Yum-Yum Tree” packs a lot within its 50 minutes, deepening some mysteries while actively explaining others without sacrificing its slow-burn quality. Yes, this episode gives us a glimpse into the lengths of Jim Dooley’s obsession with Scott Landon (from his former interactions with those who would dare critique the writer to wandering through Lisey’s home and starting a fire) and Amanda’s navigation of both our world and the Boo’ya Moon, but it primarily exists to further connect the past to the present (even though those memories only take up a small portion of the episode).
Recurring shots from the premiere of Scott and Lisey alone at dinner are revealed to be part of a bigger picture. While on vacation at an empty hotel, where they are kindly upgraded to the honeymoon suite due to snow cancellations, the couple heads off through the snow and under the comfort of a gorgeous icy tree. The way Larraín presents each beat of their moments together is genuinely romantic, even when the interactions are purposely awkward. They’re two people who are decidedly in love but still learning how to navigate being with each other.
Just when one finds comfort in the vague romance, they’re pulled into the memories of Scott’s childhood, a tonal pivot that’s surprisingly well done. The small view of child abuse (a staple theme of King’s work) that was present earlier on is expanded, and Larraín and King don’t change much from the Lisey’s Story novel in presenting these events. Their depiction of Scott and his brother Paul going through what he calls the “best bool hunt ever” is all too sweet, but tinged with an appropriate ache. Ever great at tonal shifts, the kindness of these moments is paired with a revelation that both Scott and Paul have processed their trauma quite differently. Making a wish over a bottle of cola, Scott hopes for a bookmobile while his brother hopes for his father to be electrocuted to death at work. It’s a dark punctuation mark on a tender scene, only strengthened by what led up to it.
Earlier, we’re shown the abuses that Scott and Paul go through. When Scott’s father is openly beating and cutting Paul in order to coax Scott into jumping out of a window, the utterances of “bleeding out the bad” and “I’ve seen the bad in you and the gone in him” don’t sound so far-fetched anymore. “Bool Hunt” and “Blood Bool” set up the balance between fantasy and reality, and the show seems to understand that it can now dive into the way those two realms intersect without fear. Just as it navigated past and present exquisitely, it can now elaborate on the logistics of evil and realms outside of our own through dialogue instead of relying on oddly compelling visuals. The closer to the merging of these realities the show comes, the more Lisey herself questions it. She is intent on denying what she knows is true but has managed to repress.
“That never happened, because I can’t deal with it,” Lisey bluntly says to her husband about his revelation of both trauma and another world, and it’s hard to watch. “Under The Yum-Yum Tree” mostly avoids any of the humor of past episodes and instead leans into the melancholy of denial. Willful repression of trauma is what hurts us, while remembering and sharing with those who care for us is what proves to be a salve in times of distress. In spite of knowing that her husband and Amanda (with Allen really making the most out of a role that requires her to blankly stare much of the time) both truly believe the stories they tell and the worlds they visit, Darla exists to challenge Lisey and keep her “grounded” in a false reality: “Please tell me you really didn’t believe any of that crap, even for a second. I mean, you were always the practical one.”
But that’s what is so fascinating about Lisey’s Story; it’s about someone who believes she’s grounded being faced with an abstraction she can’t quite wrap her head around. When Moore heartbreakingly delivers the line, “My prize is learning how to be alone, which is not much of a prize,” there’s a sense that Lisey is aware that her circumstance is not limited to just that interpretation and that one might be alone in a space, without being truly alone. It’s why the episode’s final shot, of Lisey just barely glancing over her shoulder, is so impactful. It isn’t just a cliffhanger, it’s a reminder that even when she thinks there’s nothing there, something is always just a look away, whether that’s the deranged man roaming through her home or simply a long-forgotten memory ready to be rediscovered.
- However much I’m willing to defend King’s writing when said aloud, I’m not sure if I’m fully sold on the way Moore delivers her pet name for her sister. “Big sissa Manda-Bunny” already reads a little strange and hearing it aloud is just as odd.
- “Grief is a bool hunt” is a line I can’t decide if I hate outright or if I think is sort of a playful way to spell out themes. Maybe a little of both.
- I did flat out laugh out loud at DeHaan’s delivery at the end of his video of the lines: “Scott Landon forever. No wife. Stay single.”
- We, as a culture, should be making dozens of GIFs of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Julianne Moore yelling “fuck” constantly on this show.
- This show is making me strongly reconsider trading out the baseball bat I usually carry in my car for a fancy looking shovel. There’s more menace and intrigue to it. Also, a lot of Oreos. Just mountains of Oreos.
- Can I just say I love the relationship between Darla and Lisey? Just two exhausted women, dealing with circumstances that weigh on them heavily, but always willing to just sit, talk, smoke, and drink comfortably with each other, even just after a fight. Also smart of King to remove the additional sister that was present in the novel.