The following contains spoilers through Episode 5 of The Stand on CBS All Access, and for the entirety of the original Stephen King novel The Stand.
Welcome, constant reader, as we continue to review the CBS All Access miniseries The Stand with Episode 5, “Fear and Loathing in New Vegas.” You may find some references to the episode title being “Suspicious Minds,” as that was apparently the working title until just recently. No news on why the change was made. My guess would be that they didn’t want to give away in advance that this would be the big intro to New Vegas episode.
There were no real flashbacks in this episode, for the first time. This allowed us some nice back and forth between the action in New Vegas and Boulder, with the plot in both locations in full swing and moving forward. I suspect the flashbacks will be back next episode though, when we finally get to meet Trashcan Man. (Just a guess based on hints given by those who’ve seen the first six episodes.) Expect lots of things to go boom.
Nadine and Harold cover their tracks by staging Teddy’s body to look like a suicide. Now we understand the strange choice General Starkey made to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest in Episode 1. That set the stage for Stu to believe Teddy’s arrangement here later in Boulder. Harold tops it off with another performance and the case is closed.
Flagg tells Nadine that the old witch’s powers are fading, as he can now reach out to her without the toy. His powers are weakening in Boulder also though. Nadine is a little miffed at being given to Harold like a whore. Not realizing the irony of his actions, he reaffirms that he is Nadine’s “friend” in the same way that Nadine has to later reaffirm she is Harold’s friend.
Mother Abagail caps this off with the first worthwhile thing she’s done in the whole series, pointing out to Nadine that she made a choice on the road to take care of Joe. She can be a good person, and she still has that choice available to her. At least, until she’s done something irrevocable. Does Mother Abagail know? It seems doubtful, the way they are playing her in this series. She just happens to be one of those people who say just the right thing at the right time it needed to be heard.
Unfortunately, Nadine takes the advice in the wrong direction. Rather than interpreting it that she can choose to be good any time she wants, she is looking to remove the choice. For whatever purposes, Flagg needs his queen to be a virgin, and she knows Larry still wants her from their time on the road. Unfortunately, Larry’s desire to put his past behind him—using people, especially the women in his life—runs into Nadine’s need to be used. He worries that she’ll feel taken advantage of. He thinks she’s drunk. Perhaps she even is a little drunk, to build up her courage, or loosen her resolve. So Larry rebuffs her and Nadine’s fate is sealed.
Dayna Jurgens is the worst spy in the world. Let’s just be clear about that. She arrives on the scene in New Vegas and works hard, making her invaluable to the team at Hoover Dam. All good there. But then she’s been asking around to anyone and everyone about seeing Randall Flagg, and that has attracted the attention of The Man himself. So much for sneaking in and sneaking out.
She gets picked up by the New Vegas power couple, Lloyd Henreid and Julie Lawry. As promised, Lloyd has become Flagg’s right hand man, though it doesn’t seem like he ever does any work. It’s all sex, drugs, and…shopping? Well, I’m sure they’ll develop his amazing administrative skills in some future episode. The boss man did task him with showing Dayna a good time, so maybe this isn’t a typical day in the life.
The entire time she’s with Lloyd and Julie, Dayna simply radiates her discomfort with the whole scene. When Julie points out Tom Cullen to her, Dayna invents the lamest excuse in the world to approach him and call attention to them both. Luckily, the wheels were already in motion to send her up to the penthouse.
Flagg gives Dayna the sales pitch, hitting home by claiming he is just trying to protect folks from people like Garvey, the man who held her prisoner in Ohio. It’s all just a difference of opinion in how to rebuild things, that’s all. With that, he’s just going to just send her home with no strings attached. Except…who is the third spy? Now Dayna hits home, taunting Flagg with how much not being able to see that is driving him insane. A minor and short-lived victory.
There wasn’t just spying going on in New Vegas. Plenty of spying going on in Boulder also. Fran has a really bad feeling about Harold and sends Larry to search his house while she and Stu distract him with dinner. The after dinner conversation gets deeply weird, and Harold excuses himself to go splash some water on his face. Here we have one of the more effective mirrored scenes of the series, as Harold scopes out Frannie’s bedroom while Larry scopes out Harold’s bedroom.
Larry finds a t-shirt that he recalls Nadine wearing at the baseball field, just as Frannie calls him to get out of there. He fumbles with the dresser drawer and knocks over a bunch of chess pieces on a board. Larry manages to get them all back in their right places, but has left a knight facing the wrong direction. When we see Harold turn the piece back, we think aha, he’s on to them.
Turns out Harold is more like a dozen steps ahead of them. He has electronic surveillance in his house, and later replays Larry entering and searching around. He knew he was being set up, just like Flagg knew Boulder was sending spies. As an added bonus, he installed a nanny-cam in Fran’s teddy bear so he can now spy on them as well.
We finally got to see New Vegas this episode, and it was…OK, let’s be honest. The best thing I can say about it is that it was cartoonish. Kind of a Road Warrior meets Showgirls aesthetic. When Flagg plucked Lloyd out of the bottom of the barrel in Episode 2, he told him this was “a good time for people like us.” Apparently, that would be people who “love violence,” “love sex,” and “want more,” as he declares on the jumbotron screen. One wonders how they keep the trains running on time with all this “freedom.”
This seems to be the first Dayna has seen of any of this. Like this level of hedonism is reserved for the elites, not for grunts like Dayna’s former substation supervisor or the put upon civil servant at the post-apocalypse employment agency. How many of these people followed the Dark Man’s call, only to be assigned a grunt job like mopping up the gladiator pits?
In the early episodes, this show completely squandered an opportunity to make some relevant social commentary, using the in-world pandemic to comment on the real world pandemic that kicked in just after filming wrapped up. Here again, there was another opportunity to draw some parallels with the rise of authoritarianism happening in the real world. Having these episodes air in the aftermath of last week’s insurrection—showing the person in power manipulating the masses into a frenzied mob—it could have been amazing. Instead, we get the wild party from Larry’s backstory in the novel, writ large.
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:
- Vulture pointed out in their recap that Mother Abagail signs her note “Mother Abigail,” with an “i” instead of an “a.” This would seem to be a mistake by the prop department, as it is “Abagail” in the book, the credits, and every other reference made to the show. Boy, what a blunder.
- I loved the nickname “Flashdance” for Dayna on the power substation crew.
- Prediction: They showed us the Hoover Dam flowing all the way down to New Vegas because they’ve changed up the end of the novel. Instead of blowing up the town, Trashcan Man is going to blow up the dam, which will wipe out the town sure enough. Maybe that’s a stretch, but it also seems like a bit of a Chekhov’s Gun.
- Reddit user u/housemollohan proposed a “Piano String Theory” that Harold and Nadine will plant the explosives in Mother Abagail’s piano. I like it.
- Flagg tells Dayna he learned his acting skills from his old lover, Konstantin Stanislavski. Stanislavski is a well know Russian theater director who pioneered a system of actor training in the early 1900s utilizing improvisation that is still used by actors today.
Best lines of the episode:
- “You know Mr. Flagg’s rule. Anyone who comes here voluntarily is a citizen, no matter what.”
- “I think it can be tempting to believe it’s all connected, but wouldn’t necessarily make it so.”
- “Now I’m as soft as a pool floatie!”
- “They made quite the pair, like a goddamn Richard Pryor movie.”
- “I live with the guy who keeps the watch schedules so…” “Oh, I remember. I do remember.”
- “We all have choice until we don’t.”
- “If I were a key, where would I be?”
- “I was just thinking the other day, it’s a really good thing that neither of them turned out immune, ’cause then they would’ve had to go on without her.”
- “Lord! I don’t know what I’ve done to offend thee, but I am heartily sorry.”
- “Now, while I admire your determination, Dayna, but this is starting to feel delusional.”
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:
- In an interview with Collider this week, showrunner Ben Cavell goes into many of the same comments he’s given in other interviews regarding the origins of the show, choices made for Mother Abagail and Randall Flagg, and the pending coda penned by King. Here though, he makes some timely comments about Lloyd in particular, promising a character arc that is not present in the novel. So good news, there will be more to Lloyd than the ridiculous cosplaying pimp daddy we saw in this episode.
- Variety interviews VFX supervisor Jake Braver about tube necks, using live wolves, and creating New Vegas, inside and out.
- In a move that should appeal to 25YL readers in particular, ScreenRant does a bit of a deep dive into connections between Harold Lauder and Henry from David Lynch’s Eraserhead. This analysis was inspired by Harold having a poster for the movie in his pre-epidemic bedroom.
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