The following contains spoilers through Episode 1 of The Stand on CBS All Access, and for the entirety of the original Stephen King novel The Stand.
Welcome, constant reader, as we begin to review the CBS All Access miniseries The Stand with Episode1, “The End.” “The End” is the beginning, but it begins in the middle, and it ends with the beginning. Or something like that. I’m honestly not sure how well folks unfamiliar with the original novel are going to be able to follow this Lost-style flashback format.
Speaking of, I wanted to say a thing or two about my own relationship to The Stand. I love The Stand. I read the original…probably not when it was released—I was only nine—but pretty soon thereafter. Stephen King is my favorite author and The Stand is probably my favorite of his novels. Certainly one of the rare books in my life that I’ve read more than once (I’m midway through my fourth reading right now). Back in the day, my BBS handle was even “Captain Trips” and my current handle is an anagram of that. So, you know, I’m a bit of a fan.
As such, I’m going to say some negative things in these reviews, and I’m going to poke fun at some of the absurdities. Some fans are extremely negative about the changes this series is making. We went through that with Mr. Mercedes, where they rearranged the order of the three books, and with The Outsider, which had a very different take on one of King’s most beloved characters, Holly Gibney. In a way though, the recent experience of those two series has left me feeling open to the idea of new takes on King’s old ideas. Overall, I like what I see so far and I’m feeling positive about the show.
Be warned, we will have spoilers in these articles. I do not have screeners, so no worries there, but we will definitely be talking about the entirety of the original novel, and probably making comparisons back to the 1994 miniseries as well.
One benefit of this flashback format is that it allows us to settle in with one character for one episode and really dig in. Walk through where they are and how they got here. In the chronological style of the novel, we had to hop around through literally a dozen characters, which could bring about its own form of dizzying confusion. Thus, the series starts us off with an unlikely perspective for the Wheel of Ka to turn upon, Harold Emery Lauder.
I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t have Harold paint his note on the barn roof, hanging his ass over the edge to impress Frannie. Then again, that’s not this Harold. That Harold was abrasive, but still sympathetic. He was the consummate “ugly duckling” teenager, overweight and cursed with horrible acne. He was understanding that Fran would want to bury her father by herself. That Harold railed at the “unfairness” of the end of the world, because it robbed him of the chance to become a famous writer.
This Harold is introduced to us as a Peeping Tom. He’s viewed as a potential school shooter by his classmates and verbally abused at home. He is a creepy creeper who wanks off to a picture of his former babysitter—swiped from his sister, no doubt. This Harold’s epithet for the world is to note that out of the entire town of Ogunquit, only he and Fran are spared. The death of the world has brought him good fortune. The title of his rejected story is “Soulmate.” Who do you suppose that could be about?
In his new life in Boulder, there’s a hint that the humiliations might start all over again. He makes a spectacle of puking that gets him recognized by Norris, the leader of the clean up crew. In his pridefulness, at the end of day pep talk, Harold is the first to shoot up his arm when everyone is asked who is coming back.
Then he saves Teddy from falling into the mass grave. He’s a minor hero. At the end of the day, Norris recognizes him once again, telling him “good eye” and calling him “Hawk.” He realizes he’s actually respected here. He has friends. He could reinvent himself here, and let go of all the old hurts and grudges.
However, his choice is already made.
Our second backstory recipient is Frannie, though she is largely relegated to the sidelines of Harold’s flashbacks. So far, we’ve only really seen her story at the points where it intersects with his. Here again, I worry about how this is going to play out for folks new to The Stand. They hint that there’s something she wants to talk to her dad about, then we leap ahead to Boulder where she is pregnant and Harold wants to kill her and Stu. That leaves a lot of blanks to be filled in.
The big change in Frannie’s story is her suicide attempt, which did not happen in the novel. I’m not against it, but I do find it a bit of a hard sell. They did make a point of establishing that she “had some experience with loss” with a younger brother who died. She has to watch her dad die before her eyes, and is left with the sole responsibility of burying him. That is a lot to deal with.
Still, you get the feeling that it’s Harold’s parting shot of “No one’s coming, Fran” that pushed her over the edge. Despite everything, Frannie is still an optimist. She was holding on to hope and a belief in the system. Harold dashes that for her, pointing out that it was probably the people in charge of that system who did this. His remarks set the stage for the horror of dealing with her dad’s bloated dead body and reframe the tragedy of it all. The changes in Harold’s story instigate this change in Frannie’s story, as his darkness rubs off on her, just a little.
Stu is third main character to be featured. Not so much to show us Stu, but rather to show us the origin of the super flu, i.e. Captain Trips. His flashbacks are not even anchored by anything in the present. They just kind of get shoehorned in. We don’t really know Stu yet.
His character, quiet and steadfast, comes out in the face of adversity in the novel. His captivity is much less pleasant, and his final escape even worse. The whole experience essentially leaves him with PTSD. Here, he’s all buddy-buddy with the staff, and not really under any threat until Cobb shows up. General Starkey has a final word with him and just cuts him loose. I wonder what this Stu is going to be like without the trauma of that experience.
Just as the military is shown playing nice with Stu in his captivity, they’ve also downplayed some of the more diabolical aspects of the nation-wide military lockdown. Sure, the internet gets shut down, to quell all the conspiracy theorists (who turn out to be right this time). The president’s address perhaps hints at mass hysteria elsewhere in the country. Overall though, it’s about staying at their post. Starkey is proud that his units maintained discipline much longer than expected. Things fall apart, but they held it together for maybe one or two days extra.
What we aren’t getting are the scenes of “just following orders” style civilian shoot outs and such. We’ll see if that gets worked in somewhere else. The door would seem to be closed on another missing piece from the novel that I always found especially disturbing. As General Starkey is briefing his replacement (instead of Stu), he sets in motion the “Rome falls” plan. The United States has undercover agents “behind both curtains, iron and bamboo,” who have been unknowingly given vials of the virus. Once it is clear the United States is going down, these folks are there to ensure that it’s not just us.
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:
- One minor fail is that weird title card sequence. It’s “THE TAI.” Or rather, “THE TAN.” Oh, no, wait, I mean, “THE STAND.” That could have been done better.
- There’s a little Easter egg to one of the more unlikely of Stephen King’s other works, his non-fiction book On Writing. Harold’s spike where he hangs his rejection slips is exactly what King himself had when he was a teenager. [Source: Reddit]
- In another little Easter egg, the new rejection letter is from Cemetery Dance Publications, a real world publisher of many of Stephen King’s works.
- The series is going to be nine episodes. The ninth is all new content written by Stephen King himself. His intent is to give Frannie, who will be unable to participate in the final “stand” against Randall Flagg, her own “stand” moment. The title of the episode is “Coda: Frannie at the Well.”
- We’re told that Stephen King is going to have a cameo appearance in the series, as he often does. My bet is that he will show up in that coda episode.
- Frannie keeping her dad’s dog tags was a nice touch. I wonder if that is also something that will play out in the coda episode.
- There are actually two Tom Cruise references in the episode. Of course, he’s Harold’s fake smile role model, via the magazine photo. Then there’s also the movie Risky Business, which stars a young Tom Cruise. I concur that it is indeed one of the great classics.
- For some reason, they’ve relocated Mother Abagail from Hemingford Home, Nebraska, to Hemingford Home, Colorado. I’m not sure whether to hope that’s some sort of mistake or that it was changed on purpose. Either way I’m baffled at that one.
- Next week’s episode, titled “Pocket Savior,” looks to feature Larry Underwood, as that is the title of his would-be debut record release, featuring the hit single “Baby Can You Dig Your Man?” I’ve heard good things about the new version of the song for this series. Looking forward to hearing it.
Best lines of the episode:
- “But if you’ve had enough, if you feel like you can’t take another day, you won’t have to worry about avoiding me in the street.”
- “I’m not your f*cking babysitter anymore!”
- “That’s funny, I wouldn’t have taken you for a doctor.” “Yeah. I get that a lot.”
- “’Fran, I have a plan.’ F*ck that rhymes.”
- “I thought maybe you opted for the early checkout, you know? Beat the traffic.”
- “Would you believe I don’t know?” “No.” “Well, that’s fair. I guess, in your position, I wouldn’t either.”
- “I didn’t know your middle name.”
- “I am on a great adventure.”
In The News
Here I try to point you to a few of the more interesting and informative news items over the last week related to The Stand:
- The Post Mortem podcast happens to be hosted by Mick Garris, the director of the original 1994 miniseries of The Stand. This week, he had Josh Boone, a director and writer for this new miniseries, on his podcast as a guest. How cool is that? Their conversation is just amazing.
- Syfy Wire has a nice little recap of the Television Critics Association’s virtual panel presentation held on December 3, 2020. In particular, they discuss Stephen King’s involvement in the series, writing a new ending to give Frannie her own “stand,” and personally vetting every script. By the way, Mick Garris is also going to have a cameo in the series. Keep your eyes peeled.
- Gizmodo does much the same, recapping a more recent “press day” for the show. In particular, they discuss how the characters of Mother Abagail, Tom Cullen, and Larry Underwood were updated, and a few more tweaks they made for this version.
- Esquire has an interview with Owen King, Stephen King’s son who is also serving as both writer and co-executive producer on the series.
That’s all for this week. Please let me know your thoughts and feelings about this week’s episode, and any theories you have on what’s to come, in the comments below.
All images courtesy of CBS All Access