The following contains spoilers through Episode 6 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 6, “The Vigil.” At last, the series sets itself apart from the novel and the previous miniseries in ways that are meaningful and contribute to the story. For example, the word “vigil” does not appear at all in the novel, where Harold was just targeting a regular Committee meeting. Well, the trailer clearly shows us who from the chosen five is going to survive to go on “The Walk” in the next episode, so where’s the suspense in that? Now though, he might potentially take out a large chunk of the population of the Boulder Free Zone, raising the stakes on the original story. Smart.
Up until now, so many of the “choices” seem to have been made either for expediency in the compressed flashbacks, or to do something different just for the sake of doing something different. As we round the bend into the latter episodes, the changes are finally starting to have purpose. OK, yes, New Vegas is still the place “where nuance goes to die,” as the AV Club so succinctly put it. Likewise, apparently, for the take on Trashcan Man we got in this episode.
One of the best book-to-screen adaptations I’ve ever seen was Season 2 of His Dark Materials just last month. They mostly stayed true to the books, giving the fans the scenes they were dying to see, but then also added scenes where characters who never met in the novel had interactions on screen. In Episode 6, The Stand does the same thing. We get a face-off between the ultimate poles of good and evil, Mother Abagail and Randall Flagg. We also get a face-off between the true protagonists of this series, Frannie and Harold. These scenes were new to fans of the novel, and both were quite satisfying.
It also helps that we finally get a lot of Randall Flagg in this episode. First, Lloyd brings the newly arrived Trashcan Man up to the penthouse for a meet and greet with the boss. Flagg has big plans for his boy Trashy. He’s sending him out to a military facility in the desert to bring back a nuke. Lloyd is skeptical that they even need this joker or the “fire,” but Flagg insists he wants it for the holdouts.
Next up for Flagg is the confrontation with Mother Abagail. She is wondering the wilderness, putting in her 40 days and 40 nights if need be, hoping for a sign from God. What she gets instead is a little visit from the Enemy. Flagg appears to her, and the two trade barbs, telling each other what they are afraid of. Neither side really wins or loses this mini battle of wills, but it is probably one of the more interesting conversations either character has had so far in the series. Flagg eventually ends it by calling up a cold blast and a murder of crows to assail Mother Abagail, hoping to speed her along towards death.
While he was away, Judge Farris finally made her move and tried to enter New Vegas. Lloyd’s border man, Bobby-Terry, turned out to be extremely surgical after all, putting a bullet in her right between the eyes. He invents a story that she drew on him first, but no one really believes it, least of all Flagg. Sick of the interrogation, Bobby-Terry finally breaks down and gives Flagg the finger. He saunters out of the room all cool like, but then chains up the door and runs to the elevator in a panic. The elevator doors slide shut very dramatically at the last possible second, and Bobby-Terry breathes a sigh of relief.
Until he looks down.
Nadine brings Joe with her to deliver cards made by the children, along with a little something extra. Right on the heels of getting chewed out by Ray, Nadine chews everyone’s butt just a little more when Larry implies Joe would be at the vigil. Nadine clearly had not thought about that either though. Killing everybody in Boulder sounded like a great idea, except oops…not Joe. Joe is the last vestige of good that Nadine is hanging onto. She can’t kill Joe. Now, by extension, she’s taken responsibility for saving all of the kids. Aren’t they lucky to have her?
Later, Nadine swings by Larry’s to pick up Joe and take him to the school for movie night. Does she truly see something good in Larry, or is she just choosing to save him so that Joe will still have one of his adopted parents around? Either way, she sabotages both his walkie-talkie and his bike, keeping Larry out of the fray.
In the midst of all this, Joe becomes amazingly cognizant, first warning Larry about the different sides to “Mommy Nadine,” then trying to keep Nadine from leaving to set off the bomb. After she does leave, he gets a shine that Mother Abagail is out in the woods nearby. Joe makes a beeline straight to her and calls down the search teams with a blood-curdling scream. He’s really making up for the last several episodes.
Another nice character-to-character interaction happens with Stu and Harold out in the woods, while they are searching for Mother Abagail. They have an interesting conversation about randomness versus destiny. Stu views the events that brought them all together as a combination of luck and randomness. He doesn’t understand how and why things ended up the way they did, and has gotten used to not knowing. Life is unfair—wildly unfair in light of the millions of people who died while these few survived.
While Stu is talking, Harold pulls out his gun and takes aim at the back of Stu’s head. I’ve seen a lot of commentary saying Harold cannot bring himself to pull the trigger because he doesn’t have the stomach to kill someone in person. They point out that even when it comes time to push the button on the bomb, he has to reach out to Nadine and have her push it with him, so he doesn’t take sole responsibility. I disagree though. Right before that moment, he announces to the world that he—not “they”—is doing this of his own free will. An ironic statement for someone who supposedly believes this is all destiny.
No, Harold killing Stu in the woods is simply not how this is supposed to play out. He’d like to. It would be so easy. Just like Nadine did to Teddy, with no hesitation. If he did so though, it would be his free will action going against destiny. Again and again, the randomness of life that Stu was referring to keeps screwing up the script in Harold’s head, and he keeps course correcting to bring it back in line. Captain Trips was supposed to be his great adventure. He was the last man on earth, with his “soulmate” Frannie (recall that was the title of his rejected script in Episode 1). She wasn’t supposed to end up with Stu f***in’ Redman. Teddy wasn’t supposed to stumble onto them getting the explosives. Mother Abagail wasn’t supposed to disappear. “It wasn’t supposed to go like this.”
Another thing that wasn’t supposed to happen is Frannie seeing Harold’s basement. The show continues to give more agency to Frannie than she has in the novel, as we get closer to the new “coda” penned for her character. Larry’s break-in last episode yielded questions about why Harold is locking his basement (apparently, so far no one is locking their front door in Boulder). Fran sees her chance to go do some investigating of her own with Harold and Stu out on patrol. She breaks in and finds what she hoped she would not.
Here we have the other pairing that never happened in the novel, when Harold comes in and discovers her. Harold picks back up with the conversation he never got to complete with Stu. He knows about the unfairness of life. An unfairness that continues to be perpetrated against him in this new life. Frannie tries to reach out through their shared experience, pointing out that they might be the only two people on earth who knew each other before. But she didn’t really know Harold, and she clearly never really cared for him. As a last ditch effort, she reminds him of his own words when he saved her from suicide, that they could not afford to lose a single person, because they were the future. Just when you think she’s won him around, he pushes away and locks her in.
It’s confusing what would have happened had Frannie not been discovered by Harold like this. Was he going to save her all along? He claims up front that he planned to kill all of Mother Abagail’s disciples except Fran, but it’s not really clear how he planned to spare her. It seems unlikely that he just forgot she’d be at the vigil, as Nadine forgot that Joe might be put in harm’s way. If he had planned to kidnap her and take her with him to New Vegas, he could have still done that here. Maybe he was truly leaving her fate to destiny for once, instead of making his own destiny as he has been all along.
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:
- We start the episode with a bang and end on a bang.
- The prop department fixed Mother Abagail’s signature on her note (as noted in last week’s review of Episode 5). This week it reads “Abagail” instead of “Abigail.” They actually completely rewrote the entire note, changing the wording in the process. Either super weird or super sloppy—you be the judge.
- The moment where the other four lackeys all simultaneously take a step back, fearing what Flagg is going to do to Bobby-Terry was just a little too over-orchestrated.
- When Flagg asks Trashcan Man what was the biggest fire in history, he answers “Siberia.” My initial assumption is that he was referring to the 1908 “Tunguska event,” where a large meteoroid exploded above an area in Siberia, flattening millions of trees. Though in 2019, when the series was still filming, Siberia also had an enormous wildfire raging, ranked #2 at the time on the list of largest fires of the 21st century.
- The correct answer was Tsar Bomba, a 1961 Soviet nuclear weapon test that achieved a 50-megaton blast that is actually listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the “most powerful thermonuclear device that has passed the test.”
- The “Amargosa Hotel” where spy #3, Judge Farris, is holed up appears to have been filmed on-site at a real world location, the historic “Amargosa Opera House and Hotel,” in Death Valley Junction, Nevada. For 25YL readers, this location was also featured as the “Lost Highway Hotel” in Lost Highway.
- The hotel lies approximately 90 miles due west of Las Vegas, implying the Judge was also trying to mask her origin point by going the long way around to approach from the opposite side. Lloyd even mentions this to Bobby-Terry as a glimmer of hope that he didn’t shoot the Boulder spy, since she should have been coming in from the east. Bobby-Terry agrees that she looked like an old Portland hippie.
- The Judge marks off November 10 on a wall calendar that has the month starting on a Monday. The last time November 1 fell on a Monday was in 2010. Though it will again this year, 2021. Just when the heck is this series supposed to be set?
- Harold signs off his manifesto Stephen King style, giving the date range he wrote it. However, he labels it as “Year 1,” so no help there.
- Potential Easter egg: Randall Flagg calls Judge Farris an “old bag of bones.” Bag of Bones was a 1998 novel by Stephen King, turned into a miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan in 2011.
- In her fury at the Committee not joining the search, Ray calls Glen a “condescending, ivory-tower, wasi’chu mother***er.” Yikes. “Wasi’chu” is a derogatory term for white people in the language of the Lakota and Dakota tribes. It literally translates as “takes the fat,” meaning a greedy person.
- The movie the kids are watching while the vigil is going on is 1981’s Time Bandits. A classic, no doubt, but I dunno if it’s such a great pick for the kiddos.
- Ultimately, Harold and Nadine each saved one of the five Committee members for their own purposes, and they executed the plan knowing Mother Abagail herself was going to be missed. Hard to believe Flagg is going to be happy with those results.
Best lines of the episode:
- “Completely. Sideways, in fact.”
- “Did you know that the Chinese character for ‘crisis’ includes the Chinese character for ‘opportunity’?”
- “You smell like gasoline and bird s***.”
- “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about fire, would you?”
- “Lloyd, my precious flower. Jealousy doesn’t become you.”
- “Yeah, here’s the thing though. Like, my Bordermen, they aren’t exactly ‘surgical.’”
- “All I see is…the moon.”
- “Empathy’s not really your strong suit.”
- “Last thing this kid needs is a folic acid deficiency.”
- “I got a little idea. Why don’t we park it, take a nap, see if Mother Abagail comes to us in a dream. Maybe she’ll let us know where she’s at.”
- “You make it sound like it’s all random.” “You think it’s not random?” “It’s destiny.”
- “Remember that time Frannie’s pregnancy brain made her, like, crazy paranoid?”
- “Captain Trips was supposed to be my great adventure.”
- “You’re a good man, Larry Underwood.” “The jury’s still out on that one.”
- “Nadine and Mommy Nadine are two different people.”
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:
- CinemaBlend reported on Stephen King taking to Twitter after Episode 5 to gush about how pleased he is with this adaptation of his work and everyone involved. Hopefully a good sign, because he knows how it all ends.
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