Watercooler Reviews | The Stand (2020)

Did you think that after re-reading The Stand (or more accurately, re-listening to the audiobook) and reviewing the 1994 miniseries adaptation for Off the Beaten Path that I’d be sick and tired of talking about the classic Stephen King door stopper? Honestly, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. That said, I’m still excited to see how this new adaptation, a 9 episode miniseries on CBS All Access, turns out. That or see how off the mark it is. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Seeing as I just wrote hundreds of words on the subject in my review of the 1994 miniseries, I won’t get into too much detail about the story of The Stand. I’ll just leave you with this basic summary. The story starts off with the accidental release of a super-flu created by the U.S. military. Within 3 weeks of patient zero crashing his car into a small-town Texas gas station, 99% of humanity has died off. The story then follows several survivors (in the novel there are at least 10 characters who have multiple chapters from their POV, each with their own arc) as they wander the countryside looking for fellow survivors. Soon, guided by contrasting psychic visions of a saintly mother figure guided by God and a denim-clad sorcerer who may or may not be a demon, the survivors form two societies; a democratic society based in Boulder and a fascist society based out of Las Vegas. Soon, the leaders of the Boulder society, guided by the word of God, must walk into the land of evil and make a last stand.

If you haven’t checked out my review of The Stand (1994), my basic thoughts were that it was a largely faithful adaptation that struggled under the weight of 1,100 pages of story in 6 hours of runtime. To be as faithful to the original novel as it was (it helps King himself wrote the screenplays for all 4 episodes), some important scenes, the scenes that showed crucial moments of change and growth, were skipped or condensed. It created the impression events and interactions were happening not because of character choice but because the plot demanded they happen, even if there wasn’t build up or if they made sense in context. In conjunction with some rather odd casting choices and a broadcast television budget, it resulted in a weak and sanitized product.

Looking at The Stand (2020), there are a couple of things it already has going for it compared to The Stand (1994). First and foremost, this has the advantage of runtime. Assuming the episodes are between 50 and 60 minutes long each, we can expect up to 3 hours of extra runtime total. This means the story, while still likely to be truncated compared to the novel, will have time to breathe, to come into itself. Looking at the cast list on IMDB, the fact they’ve cast Heather Graham as Rita Blakemoor after the character was folded into Nadine’s in The Stand (1994) fills me with some optimism. Speaking of casting, it looks like some of the casting mistakes The Stand (1994) made are being fixed, though without actually watching The Stand (2020) yet I can’t make any conclusions either way.  Plus, being on CBS All Access, where content restrictions aren’t a problem, means we hopefully will see Josh Boone (the creator and director of the miniseries) go ham on the fucked up shit we couldn’t get in The Stand (1994).

So, if you’re a big fan of everything Stephen King, or if you’re just curious how a show about a world-ending plague will fare when there’s an actual pandemic going on after Utopia (US) crashed and burned, feel free to follow along. The miniseries premieres on CBS All Access on 12/17/20, with new episodes coming out weekly on Thursday.

Episode One: The End

So, after watching The End, the first episode of The Stand (2020), I’m both relieved and confused.

On the plus side, the performances so far have been better than The Stand (1994). Since this episode is primarily about Harold Lauder (Owen Teague) and Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young), the fact these two are already much better than their counterparts in The Stand (1994) is a positive sign. For one, Teague as Harold is much more believable than Nemec’s Harold ever could be. In conjunction with already being more faithful to the book with Harold’s descent into madness by including his ledger, he already feels like a more complete character. As for Young’s Fran, she just feels more natural in the role than Ringwald ever did. Seeing as this was a Harold-centric episode, we don’t get as much about Fran, but the fact she’s already more compelling as a character, both on her own and her relationship with Harold, is a plus. In fact, all the performances, barring Whoopi Goldberg’s Mother Abagail, is better so far.

Also, this really is making the most out of the content freedom possible on CBS All Access. The infected are sicker looking than in The Stand (1994). Stu’s kill of an infected Cobb in the Project Blue research facility is easily the highlight. It was like the most gruesome boil-popping video on YouTube you can imagine.

Now here’s the confusing bit. In the biggest departure to both the novel and the 1994 miniseries, The Stand (2020) is told out of chronological order. The episode opens with Harold working with the Free Zone Burial Committee, then it jumps back to the superflu taking hold in Ogunquit. At some point, we follow Stuart as he’s in military custody, which then flashes back to the fatal crash in Arnette, then back to Stu as he’s being shuffled around. By the end of the episode, we see Harold writing his homicidal and insane thoughts in his ledger, then we go all the way back to Campion fleeing the base.

Honestly, I’m not sure why they did this. When it comes to Harold in particular, we don’t get that context about why he’s turned homicidal other than one quick scene between him, Fran, and Stu in Boulder. We don’t see anything in between that could offer an explanation, which is frustrating to me. On a broader level, this anachronic order is bound to be confusing to new viewers. Since I’ve read the book and seen the first miniseries, I could follow what was going on. Conversely, some of my sisters, who were watching with me and had never read the book or seen the first miniseries, were lost. It makes me wonder just how impenetrable this miniseries will be to new viewers, especially since we’re getting new episodes weekly so details could be lost or forgotten. It’s honestly bad enough that it drags down an otherwise solid episode and casts a concerning pall over the rest of the show.

So yeah, The End is a mixed bag. It introduced us to the updated world of The Stand (2020) and gave us some good stuff related to the Ogunquit cast that fans of the novel can chew on, but it tells it in one of the most confusing ways possible, especially for people unfamiliar with the story. Here’s hoping future episodes can clarify what’s going on.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode Two: Pocket Savior

Two episodes into The Stand (2020), and I’m feeling the same as I felt after watching the first episodes. Pocket Savior is a story that follows two characters through the pandemic, featuring improvements from the 1994 miniseries and greater changes from the novel, all told rather confusingly. The only difference is that while The End followed the story of Harold and Stu, Pocket Savior follows the story of up-and-coming rockstar Larry Underwood and new prison rock star Lloyd Henreid. So, you know, I’m kind of non-plussed.

On the positive side, I’m just happy about the appearance of Rita Blakemore. Mostly, her appearance means that Nadine can have a character arc with some actual weight behind it. In the 1994 miniseries, Rita and her brief arc are folded into Nadine. In terms of story, that means she’s not Joe’s caretaker when Larry runs into the two in New England. In the process, Nadine lost what made her turn so tragic, what gave it real substance. Here, the two are separate, and as of now, that dramatic potential is there for Nadine. Plus, it helps that Heather Graham and Amber Heard are good in the roles of Rita and Nadine respectively.

Speaking of good for the roles, I’m digging Jovan Adepo and Nat Wolff as Larry and Lloyd. Larry because I thought Larry was one of the weaker aspects of the 1994 miniseries and so far he looks to be closer to the book’s more compelling character arc. For Lloyd, I just see Nat Wolff as Lloyd more than Miguel Ferrer’s turn as the character. On those fronts, things are looking up.

But there’s plenty on the negative side too. Like Rita’s arc for instance. While it follows the books fairly closely, we don’t get the feeling she’s suicidal and unhappy until she literally tells us so. We don’t even get a scene where she’s unable to handle life post-Captain Trips with Larry. It’s small in the grand scheme, but it bugs me. Plus, I’m not crazy about Larry’s trip through the sewer. Maybe it’s just me thinking about the change from the book, but I kind of wish they had just stuck to Larry freaking out in the Lincoln Tunnel. Sure, a dark sewer is creepy, and they make it creepy here. That said, the trip through the Lincoln Tunnel in the book and 1994 miniseries, now a lightless crypt for hundreds, if not thousands, of travelers has more horrifying oomph to it.

Most importantly, like The End, Pocket Savior is told out of chronological order. To someone who has read and listened to the book multiple times and watched the previous miniseries, I’m able to make sense of what’s going on. To anyone else, like my family members who were watching along, this was nearly incomprehensible. Events and character moments don’t hit as hard because there’s often little to no context for why we should care. It reminded me of Arrested Development S4, but if we were forced to watch it only one episode a week. Shit just doesn’t make sense right now. It’s frustrating, and it’s something I’m thinking won’t go away for a while, if ever.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode Three: Blank Page

The more I watch, the more confused I’m getting. We’re three episodes into this miniseries, and with the general pacing of the story on top of the non-chronological presentation, we’re both flying through the story and not all that into it. To be more specific, we’re simultaneously 3/4 of the way in – if you’ve been following along or have read the book, I’m referring to Nadine seeking out Harold – while still introducing the main cast and overarching conflict. I watched this alone today, but I’m betting that if my sisters were around they’d be confused about the events happening on screen.

Even beyond that, I think Blank Page is the weakest episode so far. Nominally an episode about the first introduction of Nick – the episode title clued me in right away due to a passage about Nick’s education – and the greater introduction to Nadine, they’re not overly present. A solid half of the runtime is devoted to scenes about Stu, Larry, and a totally new creation. It’s like Boone wasn’t sure whether to commit to just another intro episode or fully build on top of what we’ve already seen. Which is a shame, cause the Nadine stuff struck me as the most compelling part of the episode.

On that note, I will give it to Boone for being willing to play with the individual elements of the story. The stuff with the crucified man and his message was genuinely creepy, and the offer Flagg has for Nick beforehand adds an interesting twist that simultaneously adds an edge to Flagg’s vendetta against the Free Zone and highlights the positives of Nick. That said, there were changes that frustrated me. Mostly they were relegated to Nick’s time and Shoyo (what little we see of it) and Mother Abigail’s whole attitude regarding who can and can’t talk to her.

Here’s hoping now that the major character intros are complete (unless they refocus on Fran, including her relationship with Stu) that we can just focus on the story with as little jumping around as possible.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode Four: The House of the Dead

Looking at my previous thoughts on Blank Page, it looks like I’m kind of right. Seeing as the main cast – barring ol’ Trashie – has been introduced, the primary character focus of The House of the Dead was set on the Stu-Fran-Harold triangle and all its current and future ramifications. And true to form for this miniseries so far, it had some promise but was mixed up due to the chronological presentation.

That said, while I think the story side of the episode was as clumsy as before – it’s about the progression of Nadine and Harold’s plot to assassinate the council while the council decides on spies to send out west – I think some of the more character-centric moments shine through.

On the darker side of things, we finally get the context of Harold’s turn into darkness and the start of Stu and Fran’s relationship. Turns out that shortly after being romantically rejected by Fran (I think his accusations of her being into Stu rings false seeing as Stu is nowhere around them by this point), the two run into a serial rapist (a toned-down version of the nomadic rape gang they encounter in the book and a dark reflection of Harold’s growing view of ownership of Fran). After a short and violent confrontation saved by the timely arrival of Stu and Glenn, the rapist is killed by his surviving prisoner Dayna Jurgens while Harold gets emasculated in front of everyone by how helpless he is to stop the carnage. Later, once the survivors have coalesced into a single group, Stu and Fran begin to bond.

On the one hand, we finally get some context for Harold’s turn which is appreciated. On the other hand, this being the start of Fran and Stu’s relationship, helped along by Glenn’s painting of Fran based on his dream, feels forced. It’s like the designs of divine fate on top of a whole “damsel in distress” situation rather than just some survivors bonding after a long journey across the continent. Plus, since Dayna is chosen as one of the spies to be sent to Vegas, this means all we know of her is what we see in these scenes and her mission briefing, which isn’t a whole lot.

For something more outright positive, we see how Tom and Nick became true companions in their journey from Arkansas to Colorado. When they inevitably meet Julie Lawry, an unstable nymphomaniac with a penchant for cruelty, while they have to avoid getting shot by her when they tell her she can’t join them, Tom finally learns Nick’s name (if you’re wondering why, Nick is mute and Tom can’t read). It’s a truly heartwarming moment for the two, one of my favorites of the series so far. Sure, it’s haphazardly juxtaposed with Tom being the last recruit of the three spies, but it doesn’t remove that heartwarming moment.

One last thing I want to talk about is Nadine’s greater turn to darkness. After she seduces Harold to her side – at least, as much as she can while remaining Flagg’s virginal bride, which is a lot if they go the book route – their conspiracy grows darker and darker. After securing some explosive material to make a bomb – side note: this is much better done than the 1994 miniseries since it highlights Harold’s intelligence – Nadine kills Teddy Weizak, Harold’s boss on the burial committee who considers Harold a true friend, when he stumbles upon them mid heist. Not only is it a much darker turn for Nadine, but it also severs the best opportunity Harold had at leaving his anger behind and becoming a productive member of society. With that one kill, Nadine has damned them both. It’s an interesting change, one that could have highlighted Nadine’s fall all the more if they had just given her internal struggle and fall more context.

One last random thought before I leave The Stand (2020) till next Thursday. I wonder if, after The Stand (2020) concludes, if it could get the Arrested Development S4 treatment, and if so would it be better? Granted there are some changes to the story itself that still irks me, but I wonder if they’d be lessened if some fan put the narrative in order. Food for thought?

So in the end, while I think there are some good moments interspersed within The House of the Dead and some solid context finally getting doled out, there are just as many moments and decisions that leave me scratching my head.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode Five: Fear and Loathing in New Vegas

If you’ve been watching The Stand (2020) every week (if you are, I admire your persistence in watching this misfire and implied optimism this will get better), I bet you’ve been wondering just what the world on the other side of the Rockies looks like. All the hints we’ve gotten so far, the crucifixions, the possessed man, the mere presence of Randall Flagg, suggests something dark and inhuman. Well, we finally get that look behind the curtain, and it’s surprisingly not what I expected.

First and foremost, Fear and Loathing in New Vegas is the first episode to not rely on flashbacks. In fact, there isn’t a flashback at all other than some quick flashes of stuff we’ve seen already, it’s just one continuous narrative. Thus, it goes without saying this was the most straightforward and easy to understand episode so far. Granted, I don’t think this will last – Trashcan Man, arguably the most important character in Vegas besides Flagg himself, has yet to make an appearance – but it’s nice to see what The Stand (2020) could be like if it told the story like the novel.

Now, we gotta talk about New Vegas. In the novel and the 1994 miniseries, Flagg’s Vegas is set-up as a fascistic dictatorship with technocratic overtones. There Flagg ruled as a feared God-Emperor, a being who can restart society with incredible efficiency while ruling his populace through fear of his otherworldly reprisal. The punishment, from acts of sabotage and incompetence to offenses as little as drinking too much, resulted in either crucifixion or induced insanity. Here in the 2020 miniseries, Flagg’s Vegas is instead a perpetual bacchanal of vice that puts Caligula’s court to shame. Instead of being an autocratic boogieman, Flagg is revered as the Master of Ceremonies who gives his citizens the ability to live their lives free of the restraints of the old world.

Like the series up to this point, this portrayal is a big swing and a miss. While I can understand what he was going for in theory – to make a society that could reasonably entice survivors prone to vice and/or vileness – Boone made this Vegas so depraved it’s hard to believe they’re the technologically superior society let alone functional. Like, how do these people have the energy to work? At least King’s original vision made it clear work and reconstruction was the primary goal for the citizens, even if it was in the name of carrying out war. Also, I think Boone is missing something by not focusing on Dayna and Tom’s time as part of the blue-collar worker force in Vegas (and I don’t mean gladiator body disposal). Not only would it be a good counterpoint to the work shown in Boulder, but it would provide a window into the greater population. It could even make the world of Vegas more well-rounded and multi-faceted. Lastly, while I’m not opposed to the idea Boone has for Vegas on paper, it’s presented as so over the top that it blasts past ridiculous to harmfully reductive. It’s hard not to notice how sexuality, queer sexuality in particular, is linked (whether intentional or not doesn’t matter) to evil, especially when the portrayal of sexuality in Boulder is downright puritanical.

Now, while Fear and Loathing in New Vegas gets some stuff right compared to the rest of the series, it’s still not great due to being hamstrung by previous decisions. Per usual, I think the one who suffers from this the most is Nadine. One moment in the novel we see here that defines her is the moment she goes to Larry to seduce him. In the novel, Nadine is in the process of fully falling under Flagg’s sway as his virginal bride to be but she has enough sense to realize she’s going down a dark path, a path she can’t abandon once she’s started going down. In a last-minute attempt to avoid that fate, she tries to get Larry, a man she had grown to love and who loved her in return (at least, at first), to take her virginity. The problem is that Larry is now with a woman named Lucy Swann – side note, of all the characters to cut why cut Lucy? – and is finally in a good place emotionally. Rejected, partly by design, Nadine succumbs to her destiny and starts her path to destruction and insanity by seducing Harold on Flagg’s orders. The issue with this miniseries, besides the absence of Swann, is that Nadine is already on the path to darkness. She’s already killed Teddy Weiszak and seduced Harold, all but kneecapping the impact of the original scene.

Now, this isn’t the only case of a character moment or plot point spoiled by the order Boone decided to present the story, but it’s the example that annoyed me the most. And it’s because of things like Nadine’s spoiled narrative and the portrayal of New Vegas that Fear and Loathing in New Vegas, despite correcting some of the mistakes of the previous episodes, never rises to the level of quality it could have achieved.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode Six: The Vigil

All right folks, it’s time to pack it in; unless some radical change is in the pipeline, The Stand (2020) will only be going downhill from here. Why you might ask? Well, let me explain my thinking.

Earlier this week, I was ruminating on the reasons, beyond what I’ve talked about so far, why The Stand (2020) just has been so disappointing. One idea, a rather simple one at that, occurred to me; due to the non-linear story, the real-time plot starts when the novel loses steam. It was such a foundational thought I’m low-key disappointed I didn’t realize this earlier. If you haven’t read the novel or read my review of The Stand (1994), the story is divided into three parts; the destruction of society by Captain Trips, the journeys of the survivors and the formations of the societies in Boulder and Vegas, and the final confrontation between Boulder and Vegas. So what’s the issue here? It’s that the novel is strongest in the first half; pretty much everything up till society reforms to be exact. Once the novel reaches this point, the plot slowly fizzles out. It’s honestly a testament to how strong the beginning is, especially when it comes to establishing characters and the greater conflict set-up, that the novel is considered a King classic.

With that in mind, the issue becomes apparent. Namely, Boone starts the story when the book falters and glosses over a lot of what made the original story so beloved. As for why The Stand (2020) will only go downhill from here, it’s because the conclusion of The Vigil – the explosive finale of Harold and Nadine’s bomb plot – is the turning point from the second part to the third part. So yeah, even with this muddled re-telling, we’re now past the good bits.

But all that is pretty general, what about the episode itself? To that, it’s at least not worse than the other episodes, but it’s still pretty ineffective due to a lack of dramatic weight. As for examples, three immediately jump to mind.

To start, we’re finally introduced to the Trashcan Man (Ezra Miller). If you aren’t aware, he is the most important Vegas character barring Flagg himself. I won’t go into too many specifics due to spoilers, all you need to know is that Trashie is a schizophrenic pyromaniac and Flagg’s most developed follower. Like, he worships Flagg as a God after Flagg promises him the greatest gift ever; as Flagg’s weapons master, Trashie can burn down the entire country. In the novel, he’s a tragic figure despite his villainy. For all the pain and suffering he causes through his pyromania, the reason he thrives in Vegas is that he finds a supportive group that values him as a member of the community for the first time in his life. Hell, his hallucinations are manifestations of the guilt he feels for said suffering. All that’s to say that based on The Vigil, Trashie is just a cliched crazy person acting crazy. There’s no rhyme or reason given for the “why” of Trashie besides one contextless backstory mention that means exactly nothing if you haven’t already read the book. We don’t even get a flashback of his past. He’s just a plot device for events to come, and a tone-deaf one at that.

Back in Boulder, we have to deal with Mother Abigail wandering into the Rockie Mountain wilderness to commune with God for guidance and forgiveness. On top of Mother Abagail being rather under-developed as a character, her climactic moment with this plotline has none of the impact it should. On the plot front, she’s only out in the wilderness for like a day or two at most instead of the weeks in the novel and 1994 miniseries. This means that on top of not getting her “Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt”-moment that’s missing by having her already based in Boulder, her return and the resultant interruption of Harold’s bombing doesn’t have the miraculous luster it should have. Combine this with Mother Abigail being criminally underwritten (an issue that has plagued the women of this show) on top of the changes to her personality I’ve mentioned before, and you get one of the most fumbled character arcs of the show.

That is, until we consider Nick. Like the novel and 1994 miniseries, he is the biggest casualty of Harold’s bomb. The issue is that we’ve gotten so little from Nick in this series that this death has, you guessed it, little emotional impact. Beside his intro back in Blank Page and the flashbacks with Tom Cullen, he has no impact on the plot and has no real development as a character. Like Trashie before, he feels more like a plot device. It’s sadly kind of fitting that one explosion introduces a character plot device and another explosion concludes another character plot device’s story.

If there are any positives, they revolve around Harold and Flagg. The completely original scene of Harold and Fran’s confrontation in Harold’s basement is a well-acted character moment for both that’s filled with good tension. It also gives Frannie a better reason to realize the existence of the bomb; in the original story, she has a premonition and that’s it. Also, Flagg is in top form this episode, vacillating between bloody violence and modest apology with unsettling ease.

So yeah, sorry for going on so long. There’s just a lot to talk about and I need to vent my disappointment in what I’ve seen, especially since from here on out the only direction is down.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode Seven: The Walk

So yeah, my prediction back in my review of The Vigil panned out; we are indeed on the downward spiral. Or at least, we aren’t going in an upward trajectory, even when the story is in the end game.

The narrative thrust of the episode follows the journeys of two groups from Boulder to Vegas; one group is Harold and Nadine, on the run after their assassination attempt; the other group is Stu, Glen, Larry, and Ray, directed by Mother Abagail’s final command to deliver themselves unto the forces of evil in Vegas in a Biblical last stand. Over the journey, members of each party fall. Harold crashes his bike, launching into a ravine where he ends up with a broken leg and (somehow not immediately fatally) impaled on a dead tree. Stu, meanwhile, falls into washout the party traverse, breaking his leg. Both are left behind to die, Harold with callous disregard by Nadine while Stu is left behind because he commands his companions to leave him.

In a vacuum, this is a fine narrative duality, but this isn’t in a vacuum. Because The Walk follows all the bungled mess that came before, the emotional impact that should be felt is nigh non-existent beyond a few isolated moments. When Harold dies, his death comes as a relief, since we no longer have to follow this weird incel who for some reason was made the protagonist of the miniseries. With the Boulder crew, knowing they’re going to their deaths, I don’t feel anything. With Stu left behind, the only character who’s even been given a shred of development was Larry; Glenn has been rather inconsequential to the narrative, while Ray is such a non-entity I’m surprised Boone even wrote her in at all. Honestly, Ray has been shafted so hard. While he may not have had a ton of presence in the novel, he felt like a character and a friend; here she just feels like a presence who’s only around because the story demands it.

Speaking of getting shafted, man Trashie is hit hard; he’s just a plot device. In the novel, his quest to find a nuke for Flagg is born out of a need to redeem himself for destroying Flagg’s war machine, even if it results in his death. At the same time, he is also the greatest threat to Flagg; since he can’t be seen by Flagg due to his mental illness and his seeming superpower of finding and rearming weapons of mass destruction, his unknown return is a wrench in Flagg’s already collapsing machine. Here, he’s literally just told where to go, and he picks it up. He’s just some gibbering courier running an errand.

So yeah, two episodes left, and then we can put this shambling husk of an adaptation to rest.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode Eight: The Stand

Guys, I’m not gonna lie, I’m tired of The Stand (2020). I’m not even angry or frustrated anymore at how the miniseries fumbled a solid narrative and memorable cast so hard from the very beginning that it makes The Stand (1994) look like a masterpiece in comparison. Eight out of nine weeks in, I’m just over it. What else is there to say at this point? The impacts of various moments that should hit hard are kneecapped by poor plot and character development? That some legitimately good performances are wasted on a story that’s all bark and no bite? That while they’re some legitimately good scenes and ideas they’re outweighed by all the accompanying mediocrity? Thursday can’t come soon enough so I can finally move on from this miscarriage of a show and find new life in other shows for Off the Beaten Path and Watercooler Reviews.

And you know what’s a goddamn shame in particular? This is episode 8, The Stand, the final showdown between the forces of good and the forces of evil. This is the climax of the whole goddamn miniseries, and it just feels hollow and performative, like Boone is just going through the motions of the novel. While I admit I think the ending of the novel and 1994 miniseries was always the weakest link in the chain, I was hoping this would hit harder. But like everything before, it didn’t. If anything it just got drawn out.

Sure, in between there are some good moments. Glenn’s death, while at the end of an unnecessary kangaroo court, did have a poignancy and an impact the other versions didn’t. The whole “hand of God” sequence was at least not as goofy as the other versions (there’s no actual hand made of electricity descending from the sky). And while I think Nadine’s death misses the point of the novel, it was a sufficiently creepy scene evocative of the cephalopod’s birth in Prometheus, which was by far the best scene.

But then again, there’s a good amount of stuff that’s fumbled, and in this case, it’s whole storylines and arcs. The climax should revolve around the collective realization of the citizens of Vegas over time that Flagg isn’t infallible due to the slow and steady collapse of his carefully crafted society. Here, we only start seeing that now. Like, it wasn’t until the trial scene when the mere idea that beyond the leaderships of both societies, the general populations are essentially the same, just one more scared than the other; all we’ve seen of Vegas till now is either an incongruous mix of Caligula’s court or the streets of Pyongyang. And beyond that, we haven’t seen the growing failures of Vegas other than Nadine’s death; there’s no previous destruction of Indian Springs Airbase, the leadership hasn’t been planning on defecting, nothing. Basically, I’m just saying that when people started standing up to Flagg, it felt like an afterthought up till now.

And that’s not even getting into the greater character failures, but if you’ve been watching or reading along, you know this already. At least there’s nothing new; everything that started off poorly ended poorly, and that’s that.

At this point, with only one episode left (and an original coda written by Stephen King himself), I’m just waiting for the sweet release of freedom from The Stand (2020).

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode Nine: The Circle Closes

It’s over everyone! After nearly 2 months this miniseries is over and we’re all free at last! I have been waiting for this moment for months now, so let’s mercifully put The Stand (2020) to bed.

Seeing as the last episode featured the explosive climax of the whole story, The Circle Closes is all epilogue. In this case, it starts up when Fran gives birth to her daughter, who becomes the first known survivor of Captain Trips. Shortly after Stu, Tom Cullen, and Kojak make it back to Boulder alive and in one piece. Then, for reasons, Stu and Fran and baby Abagail decide to leave Boulder and go back to Maine.

At this point, there’s not a whole lot to talk about. While the events of the journey from Boulder to Maine is new, the coda follows the book fairly closely. As a story, it’s pretty light, especially since they completely took out Stu’s return journey. With that gone, the conflict revolves around Fran falling into a well while Stu is out on a supply run, at which point she has a supernatural encounter with both Flagg (surprise, this quasi-immortal sorcerer and lynchpin of King’s works isn’t dead after all) and Mother Abagail. Fran manages to avoid temptation from Flagg while receiving reassuring words from Mother Abagail about her role as the mother of humanity’s future. In the middle, there’s also some problematic racial politics, so there’s that I guess. If there’s any positive about this episode, it’s that Fran falling into the well is somehow the most horrifying moment of the entire miniseries due to it being both completely new and it actually being a horrifying possibility of a solitary post-apocalyptic life.

So yeah, there’s not much else to say. The Circle Closes is a hollow epilogue that wraps up a hollow miniseries that despite initial casting promise and higher production values somehow makes The Stand (1994) look like a masterpiece in comparison. At this point, I’d only recommend this series to either King adaptation completionists or new writers who need examples of how not to establish characters. So yeah, do yourselves a favor and watch something better, like WandaVision.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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