The following contains spoilers through Episode 9 of The Stand on CBS All Access, and for the entirety of the original Stephen King novel The Stand.
Welcome, constant reader, as we complete our review the CBS All Access miniseries The Stand with Episode 9, “The Circle Closes.” Once again, CBS All Access flipped the episode title on us. It has been advertised all along as being titled “Coda: Frannie at the Well.” That title makes a lot of sense now, of course, but maybe gave a little too much away. Recall that Episode 5 had the advertised title of “Suspicious Minds” swapped out for “Fear and Loathing in New Vegas” when it aired.
This new title comes directly from the novel. The novel’s prologue is titled “The Circle Opens,” covering Army Specialist Charlie Campion’s fatal flight from the base where Project Blue (i.e. Captain Trips) just leaked out. The epilogue is titled, of course, “The Circle Closes,” and gives us Russell Faraday awakening on a beach and enthralling the local natives. Apparently, we would insert this story as part of the epilogue, just before that.
In the opening montage, Frannie speaks to her new child, named after Mother Abagail we find out in a little bit. Nice touch that. An improvement over the novel, I’d say. She is starting to see the mirror version of what Glen noted in the last episode. The people in Boulder are starting it all up again. Rebuilding society without even a thought to doing anything different. She questions whether it’s even possible for them to do anything different.
After fearing she had lost both Abby and Stu, then miraculously getting both back, Frannie is uniquely positioned to assess the situation. From the sounds of it, she had fallen back to a more figurehead role in the Boulder governing body. Paraded out to attend vigils as a stand-in for Mother Abagail, though also perhaps to show off the hope promised by little Abby. This more practical interpretation of Frannie would probably have disapproved of giving out guns to the patrol, yet gone ahead and voted in support of the move.
By July 4th, Frannie is feeling claustrophobic and homesick. Boulder is growing, with 500 more people having been added since Stu’s return. In the novel, they were up to 19,000 in population, giving the premise a slightly more sound footing. She brings up the idea of going back to Ogunquit to Stu, expecting him to balk at the idea, but he’s feeling it too. They pack up Abby and a thousand roadmaps, and head east.
On their second day of travel, Stu and Frannie pull into a farmhouse in the middle of Nowhere, Nebraska. Frannie seems to be drawn to this place, where apparently the forces of good and evil await her. Indeed, watchful eyes, both inside and outside the house, are tracking their progress. Kojak knows something is up in the cornfield, but doesn’t raise any red flags.
Much of the tension during the real world side of Frannie’s encounter stem from a series of just plain stupid decisions Stu and Frannie make. I mean, beyond leaving the safety of Boulder in the first place, of course. They don’t all drive back to town together. Frannie can’t wait a half hour more from Stu to return with some water. Stu pulls over onto the soft shoulder to jack up the truck, rather than just parking it in the middle of the road. Just so many opportunities to yell at your TV screen.
On the dream world side, we get a great interaction between Frannie and Flagg. Unlike her confrontation with Harold, this one is almost fun. The stakes are high, but the banter is light. Flagg offers to fix all the bad things for free, of course, while casually mentioning the little thing he wants of her. He’s not looking to make her his new right hand man, as he did with Nick. Just wants to peek out through her eyes every now and then. I’m not gonna lie, they got me. I thought Frannie was going to kiss him to save Abby and Stu. Oh, me of little faith.
Stu gets a little help from the mystery girl, only finally acknowledging how weird her appearance is when she calls him by name. As she gets set to lay hands on Frannie, we finally see the necklace and know for sure who this is. This is Mother Abagail, who, like a struck down Jedi master, has returned more powerful, becoming more than just a spokesperson for God.
After that terrifying scare, we are confronted with yet more disbelief as Stu and Frannie continue their journey to Ogunquit, instead of turning tail and going back to Boulder. They manage to arrive unharmed, however, and we pick up with them looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Stu has apparently been keeping his questions bottled up for the last three or more days, but finally asks Frannie what happened back in Nebraska. Frannie explains that she was given a glimpse of the dark side of the world, where she was tempted. She faced down that temptation with the same command that Roland gave his apprentice gunslingers: “Stand and be true.”
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:
- If you’re gonna pick a corny R.E.M. song to end the series with, wouldn’t “Stand” have been the more obvious choice than “It’s the End of the World as We Know It?”
- I think they missed a real opportunity in not renaming this episode “The Fran Stand.” Amiright?
- The license plate on the vehicle outside Stu and Frannie’s house in Boulder reads “503-2LV.” In computer parlance, a 503 error is “service unavailable,” making it read: “Service unavailable to Las Vegas.”
- Stu tells Frannie that Tom saved him. Hey, hey, mister! What about good boi Kojak? Who fought off a wolf to save your ungrateful behind? Geesh.
- In the novel, they find a second, female dog in Boulder. There’s just no love for Kojak in this miniseries, literally.
- This whole episode was written by Stephen King to give Frannie a “stand” moment, since she missed out on “the walk” with the others. Technically though, Stu never had a “stand” moment either.
- Many people are complaining that they did not give us Stu and Tom’s journey back to Boulder. Originally, my assessment was that these people simply were not paying attention to the first eight episodes if they were harboring such hope in their hearts. Then someone on Reddit posted a tweet from Brad William Henke (Tom Collen) saying that they did in fact film the scene where Nick visits Tom in his dreams to help him save Stu’s life (intended for Episode 8). “And it was AWESOME,” he adds. OK, now I’m pissed too.
- One moment that I haven’t seen a lot of chatter about was the callback to Frannie of the novel who would giggle at inopportune moments, as she giggles at Flagg’s request for a kiss. That was a nice touch.
- Frannie tells Flagg, “Get thee behind me,” echoing the same words that Mother Abagail said to him in Episode 6.
- Lorton, Nebraska, is a real town on the eastern side of the state. It could be that the miniseries intended to use this as a stand-in for Mother Abagail’s home in the novel, Hemingford Home, Nebraska. Since they repurposed it for this miniseries to be a rest home instead of a geographical location.
- In the rubble of New Vegas, the camera pans past the head off the statue of Randall Flagg that they were putting up when the limo brought the Boulder folks into town.
- As promised, Mick Garris, director of the 1994 version of The Stand, made a cameo. He was in the crowd at the July 4th party in Boulder. A little more subtle than King’s cameo in Episode 4.
- Harold, Stu, and now Frannie all broke their legs. All occurring as the character was on a journey away from Boulder.
- It’s weird that Flagg’s button somehow stayed behind in Las Vegas when the rest of him disappeared. Then again, note that they did pay attention to the continuity and had his jean jacket clearly missing the button in his scenes with Frannie.
- I guess in the end though, Flagg died with his boots on—and little else, apparently.
- Right before Stu’s tire blows out, he is belting out “Burning Love” by Elvis Presley. Perhaps reflecting a little bit of Las Vegas influence touching on the edges of his mind, as Flagg works his magic to put Stu in peril.
There were so many Easter eggs in this episode—nods to other Stephen King works—that I’m going to break them out into their own section this time:
- As Stu and Frannie pull up to the house in Lorton, we look out at them through the window, and there in the foreground is a turtle figurine. Surely a nod to Maturin, The Turtle, one of the twelve Guardians of the Beam.
- Stu’s walkie-talkie was on channel 19. 19 is a number that recurs a lot in King’s works, especially The Dark Tower
- The lighthouse in Maine definitely feels like a stand-in for the “Dark Tower” itself.
- Definite Gunslinger vibes as Stu straps the six-shooter around Frannie’s waist.
- Of course, massive Children of the Corn vibes throughout their arrival in Nebraska.
- In the outro credits, the Queen card is holding a rose, another probable nod to The Dark Tower
- A well is central to both Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game, and plays in several short stories also.
- When Mother Abagail tells Frannie, “The wheel keeps turning,” she is surely referring to the Wheel of Ka, from The Dark Tower series (and other references).
- When Stu pulls up to the pharmacy, there is an optometrist office across the street with a logo that is slightly reminiscent of the Crimson King’s Eye sigul that is seen throughout The Dark Tower.
Best lines of the episode:
- “Are you real?” “Ask me again in a little while.”
- “Everything’s a risk.”
- “Frannie Oakley.”
- “Well, let’s table the issue for now, shall we?”
- “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”
- “I don’t believe you. You lie.” “Yes. One of my many talents.”
- “Well, of course it’s free. What kind of a philistine do you take me for?”
- “Get thee behind me, you f***ing bastard!”
- “He’s his father’s son, and he tempted you.”
- “I’m in the way of knowing things, Frannie Goldsmith.”
- “Dog. Baby.”
- “Give me some space, Stuart.”
- “My name is Russell Faraday. Worship me!”
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:
- I talked about this two weeks ago in the Episode 7 review, but now that we’ve actually seen him in action, I thought we’d revisit PopHorror‘s interview with Tarun Keram. He plays Steve, the vet-turned-doctor who delivered Abby. He is also one of the folks who see Frannie and Stu off when they leave Boulder.
- A tad older than that, the Omaha World-Herald had a nice article from October 2016 about Stephen King’s use of Nebraska as a setting throughout many of his short stories and novels. I was surprised to learn that Hemingford Home has had other references beyond The Stand. It’s a pretty cool little piece. I recommend it.
- The Losers’ Club podcast has another great one-on-one audio interview, this time with showrunner Benjamin Cavell. He confirms there were cut scenes, but he does not anticipate releasing those with the eventual DVD release of the series. He also talks of the influence of modern day “authoritarian strongmen” on the shaping of Randall Flagg and this series’ version of New Vegas.
Well, that’s it for the series. I said before that, in the end, I would judge this series based on the new content Stephen King gave us in this final episode. It was perhaps a bit derivative, replaying a lot of the same thoughts and themes from Nick’s temptation. I was leery of her confrontation being limited to a dream sequence, but the way they blended it with real world stakes worked out nicely, I thought. Having Flagg initially show Frannie the tribe also resolved one of the long-standing issues as to whether Faraday had awakened on another level of the Tower. Overall, I liked it, and I think it adds seamlessly to the canon of The Stand.
Looking back on the series as a whole, there were definite hits and misses. I may be in the minority, but I really liked what they did with Rita. I liked the streamlining of Nick and Tom’s encounter with Julie, and the confrontation between Frannie and Harold. Some of the other changes from the novel were clever, like turning Hemingford Home into an actual “home.” Others were nonsense, like the crazy S&M hellscape that was New Vegas.
There has been a lot of well-meaning ragging on the show for doubling down on the “Magical Negro” trope, especially after this episode, instead of shying away from it per their stated intent. The trope accusation stands on fairly firm ground for the novel version of Mother Abagail. She is “in the way of knowing things,” even before Captain Trips, and she heals Frannie of wounds sustained from the bomb attack.
Here in the miniseries, she has never shown any magical abilities, and even her spiritual knowledge is usually lacking. She was losing faith when Nick and Tom showed up, expecting to die in Hemingford Home before any of the promised pilgrims arrived. She was paralyzed with indecision after Ferrari Guy showed up with a warning from Flagg. It is not until after death that she returns as a younger avatar of herself, replete with magical abilities to heal and such. At that point, she’s not human, she’s essentially an angel.
The real problems with the series mostly stem from the same source: they were cramming in 18 hours of content into nine hours of episodes. The cuts were brutal to fans of the novel, but it probably means only we were equipped to be able to fill in those blanks enough to enjoy the final product. I’m glad I watched it, but I’ll probably never watch it again.
All images courtesy of CBS All Access