The Stand: Pocket Savior

“I’m real real.”

More than 70 signatories have pledged to boycott The Stand for its failure to cast—or even audition—a Deaf actor for the role of Nick Andros.

I am torn about what to do about this as a reviewer. Obviously, I support the boycott, because I’m not an evil bitch. But I also think there is something to be said for reviewing the show to call it out. (That I do so for zero money might be worth mentioning here; I am volunteering my time, not profiting from discrimination.) For now, I’m going to keep reviewing the show. But I’m also very open to feedback on this topic in the comments. Basically, if you readers (Hi! Yes, you!) think I should stop reviewing the show, I will.

In the meantime, though, let’s talk about representation! After last week’s review, I assumed I’d have a little “Let’s Talk About Representation” bullet point in the notes at the end of the review. After the news about the casting of Nick Andros and the contents of this episode itself, I can say with some certainty that most of my reviews are going to be about representation.

Take, for example, Larry Underwood. In the book, Larry is a white musician who likes to party. His whiteness is a source of some anxiety for his mother, in fact, who worries that his hit single “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?” makes him sound Black. (She does not phrase it precisely that way, and can I take a minute to point out how King sometimes gets people so very right? Larry’s mom is a classic case of poor-white caste anxiety’s link to white supremacist discourse.) At the start of the book, Larry is also a “taker”: the kind of guy who will leave you hanging if it’s not convenient for him to cut you down.

In this adaptation, Larry (Jovan Adepo) is Black. He also steals stuff and seems to have a mild coke and alcohol addiction. He steals a drink from the waitress. He steals a bag of coke from his dying drug dealer. The showrunners have transformed a character attribute (being an emotional popsicle) into being a literal taker of stuff. He is, in other words, a Black musician who steals things and is addicted to drugs. In changing Larry’s race, the showrunners have moved from a nuanced portrait to a collection of Reagan-era racist talking points.

Aside from the underlying racism that creates that sort of paper-doll characterization, the mistransformation of Larry also indicates one of the biggest problems with this adaptation of The Stand: it is focused on simplicity and literalism (like Larry literally taking people’s things) rather than emotional nuance and subtle characterization.

In the book, many who dream of Randall Flagg are terrified by him, even those who eventually join his community. He has appeal for some because of his chaotic evil nature, and for others (eventually) because of his willingness to use law and order in the service of that evil nature.

But in this miniseries, the Flagg dreams are all about literal temptation. Flagg offers Larry fame (the Vegas marquee) and Harold girls (the neon strippers in the premiere). It’s an interesting Last Temptation of Christ move, in a way. Yet it also simplifies Flagg’s appeal, and in doing so, effaces what actually tempts Larry and Harold. Harold doesn’t want girls; he wants the clout and respect that would help him get girls. He wants to be the kind of man who gets girls, because he doesn’t understand that kind of man doesn’t think of mature romantic relationships as “getting” anyone. Larry doesn’t want fame. He wants the opportunity for egocentrism that fame provides, the money and status that make his emotional frigidity expected rather than mildly tolerated.

That literalism and simplicity extend to the show’s portrayal of the horror of extreme loss: listening to The Stand while I walked around my neighborhood for the past few weeks has been horrifying. Every person looked like a disease vector, and at one point I nearly started crying on the sidewalk when I imagined 99% of the strangers around me dying. I grant that the showrunners did not make this show with the experience of the pandemic in their rearview mirror, but they fail utterly at communicating the loneliness and despair that King spends hundreds of pages exploring in his book. Instead, they show us lots of snot and pus and bloated necks and rats.

That literalism and simplicity also (Thirdly? Fifthly? What number am I on?) affects the portrayal of Mother Abagail. We didn’t see her this week, but we found out from Stu that she has lists of names of the people she wants to run the Boulder Free Zone. Who is she? Ben Linus from Lost?

Seriously, this is bizarre. Is Mother Abagail going to take a firm hand in governing the Zone when in the books she was, in the words of sociologist Glenn, “other-directed” towards God? Is she really making lists of who is naughty and who is nice? Is the human effort to rebuild a new society going to be missing from this entire show? WTF?!

The one place—one!—where this show pleased me this week and briefly got over its basic portrayal of King’s complexity is in the character of Rita, who didn’t appear in the 1990s miniseries. In the book, Rita is a woman of a certain age and a certain era, one who so completely interiorized the myth of female fragility that I imagine her reading The Feminine Mystique (because all of her friends were talking about it), and spending the whole time mumbling “This doesn’t apply to me” while popping Quaaludes and waiting for her husband to come home from his mistress.

But Heather Graham’s Rita was lovely. She was freaked out and on the verge of freaking out more, but who wouldn’t feel that way? She was brave but not stupid (the sewer route was not a wise choice). She reassured Larry when they reunited and provided him with emotional support in a way he couldn’t do for her. Rita was a great, nuanced character.

Of course, her last scene was talking about how there was no point to living in a world without people, then popping a bunch of pills. Larry mentioned throughout this episode that he’d lost someone on the road. Do you think he’ll save Rita the way Harold saved Frannie?

Or is that even supposed to be a cliffhanger mystery? I’m not sure, because I don’t understand the pacing here. As Billie pointed out in last week’s comments, these episodes don’t make much sense for people who haven’t read the books. Benjamin Cavell, one of the showrunners, discussed their decision to include flashforwards and flashbacks in a recent interview with the AV Club:

It seemed to me when I when I revisited the book that the [non-linear approach] was the clear way to do it. For one thing, we didn’t want to make people sit through three episodes of the world dying before we got to the peak of our story. Captain Trips [sic] is the mechanism by which the world gets emptied out so that the heroes can walk to Mordor. What comes after, the rebuilding and the battle for the soul of what’s left, that’s really the narrative spine of the book. How would you rebuild civilization if given the chance?

Is that...is that...is that all this book is about? A roadmap to rebuild the world? To pick up on Cavell’s comparison, the walk to Mordor doesn’t start once everyone gets to Boulder. The walk to Mordor starts when everyone crosses the Hero’s Journey threshold to venture into the broken world. Skipping over the journeys, skipping over the tedium and terror of a destroyed America, is like if the hobbits just took an eagle to Mt. Doom. Quicker, perhaps, but stripped of meaning, since for Tolkien—as for King—the journey (and the people we take it with, and the lessons we learn along the way) is pretty much the point.

Here, though, the showrunners seem to assume we know the outlines of the story (plague, journey, Boulder, [spoiler], [spoiler]) and want to see that outlined colored in with new crayons. I don’t feel like the showrunners have amped up the tension or pacing by avoiding, in Cavell’s words “mak[ing] people sit through three episodes of the world dying before we got to the peak of our story.” We’ve gotten some backstory and some flashforwards to Boulder, but someone who hasn’t read the books likely has no idea what it is they’re supposed to be anticipating or why any of it matters.

More importantly, perhaps, I keep thinking back to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TedTALK, “The Danger of a Single Story,” in which she points out that it matters who gets mentioned first in any narrative. (For example, do you start explaining the history of the US with the Pilgrims? Or with the native people of the Americas?) The Stand’s first episode focused on the non-elite white men Stu and Harold. The second episode is all about race: not only Larry’s character but also Ray Brentner and the boy Joe (see below). Having got that out of the way, I assume the third episode will focus on women before we get back to our “protagonist” Harold.

And that prospect leaves me with nothing else to say.

Boulder Free Zone CB Radio:

• At the beginning of this episode, Larry barbeques indoors. Kids, do not ever, ever do this. It is a fabulous way to give yourself carbon monoxide poisoning.

• Oh, hey, I didn’t talk much about Lloyd in this review. Fun fact: when I read The Stand, Lloyd’s arc—which includes some time in an Arizona prison—was only the second time I’d seen my homestate represented in literature. (The first was a Nancy Drew novel.) I don’t have a lot to say about Lloyd beyond that, although I do hope we get to see more of him, because he has an interesting arc. Or, at least, he does in the book.

• The character of (male) Ralph Brentner is now (female) Ray Brentner, played by Native actor Irene Bedard. So, hooray!

• Joe (the boy that Larry and Nadine take care of, portrayed by Gordon Cormier) is white in the book but described, far too frequently, as having “strange Chinese eyes.” The show has fixed this by making him Asian, which is probably the only way to save those parts of the book.

• We only saw Nick Andros for a few seconds in this episode, and he looked like a thirteen-year-old me’s version of Jesus by way of Jim Morrison.

• What do you think is going on with Nadine? Why was she drawn to the evil board games?

• Do you think each episode of this show will include a woman trying to commit suicide?

And the most important question: What did you all think? How many Yankee Yankers out of four?

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

13 comments:

migmit said...

> Obviously, I support the boycott, because I’m not an evil bitch.

You do understand that you've just insulted a huge amount of people, including those who weren't even aware of that drama? Which kinda makes that statement self-contradictory.

lisam said...

if you support the boycott, why are you watching the show?

Josie Kafka said...

Hi Migmit.

I certainly wouldn't blame anyone for not knowing about the boycott, especially since it hasn't been covered on typical pop-culture sites.

I'm sorry to hear you think I'm an evil bitch.

Josie Kafka said...

Hi Lisam,

From the review--did you not get a chance to read it?

I am torn about what to do about this as a reviewer. Obviously, I support the boycott, because I’m not an evil bitch. But I also think there is something to be said for reviewing the show to call it out. (That I do so for zero money might be worth mentioning here; I am volunteering my time, not profiting from discrimination.) For now, I’m going to keep reviewing the show. But I’m also very open to feedback on this topic in the comments. Basically, if you readers (Hi! Yes, you!) think I should stop reviewing the show, I will.

Billie Doux said...

I'm a bit torn about this. Josie, I most certainly don't want you to stop reviewing this show because after episode one, you might be the only reason that I keep watching it. I haven't seen this second episode yet, and I support the Deaf community in wondering why The Stand Powers That Be couldn't at least audition a Deaf actor, or five.

At the same time, I'm deeply involved with Outlander who cast the marvelous and not blind Maria Doyle Kennedy as a blind character -- starting in season four. I'm not going to stop watching and reviewing Outlander. If I want to be conscious of inequity and supportive, what do I do?

Samantha M. Quinn said...

The case in point; you audition ten actors, and seven of them are blind and three are seeing and the one that knocks it out of the park is seeing why shouldn't you cast that person?

The basic principle of casting is that you are trying to find the right person for the part, and it is acting, therefore it isn't truly representational.

The position that casting a person for a specific type; blind, deaf, specific racial characteristics or gender identity can be a touché subject because there isn't as much opportunity for actors of a specific minority. Casting white cis actors in roles that should go to someone who actually represents the character correctly should be an exception for a perfect audition, not the general rule.

I guess the devil's argument would be in that case, if those seven blind actors are awful for the role, do you cast one of them anyway?

In the case of Nick, I don't know the full situation and it very well may that they never bothered to audition deaf actors, which is a shame because there are some great choices. It could be that no deaf actor auditioned because the script and production is crap. Or maybe it was a bias of the casting director. Unfortunately rumor cannot always be trusted in the movie industry, while sometimes it is accurate, some wild industry legends turned out to be just as wildly inaccurate.

I guess the question is whether a reviewer should pay attention to that kind of thing? In some cases they have no choice to follow their personal beliefs, but for me as long as the main grievance is discussed in the article, than there is no real moral issue with reviewing something made under morally gray circumstances.

Baz said...

Personally, this sounds like a complete shit show of an adaptation and you might as well stop reviewing it for that reason rather than yet another “outrage”.

Josie Kafka said...

Billie and Samantha, these are both really great comments with lots of food for thought!

Baz, I know it sounds bizarre, but the badness of this adaptation (apart from all the issues of representation, even!) is a huge part of why I do want to keep reviewing it.

I haven't had the opportunity for sustained snark in a really long time, and I feel compelled to defend King's novel. I didn't realize how attached I was to the novel until I saw what this show was doing to it.

Billie Doux said...

Josie, writing about the series through the lens of King's novel works for me. It's an amazing novel and I love it lots.

Unknown said...

I'm just glad to find someone who sees this adaptation for the crap that it is. They've completely butchered the story with their non linear style, and taken down many of the characters with it. As bad as it is, I think you should keep reviewing it, maybe in the hopes that the producers see and realize how badly they've ruined it.
On the subject of Nick, as someone who is hard of hearing, I was and still am very angry that they cast a hearing actor for the role, when several people actually reached out to both Josh Boone and Henry Zaga, explained the issue, and asked if they could consider recasting. Nick was always my favorite character, and the only person sort of like me that I'd seen for a while in a popular book, so when I heard that they were remaking the Stand, even though Rob Lowe did a good job with it, I had hoped that they would cast a deaf actor.
If you've heard about the boycott maybe you know Boone's given reason for casting a hearing actor, but it was utter nonsense. But again, I don't think you should stop reviewing the show. Instead talking more about representation in your reviews and why this is such an issue could be beneficial and draw more light to the subject. Unfortunately I might have to stop watching it, since I'm pretty sure the next episode is going to be Nick-centric, and I don't think I could sit through it.

Billie Doux said...

Unknown, yes, I simply don't understand why the producers wouldn't at the very least audition Deaf actors. That's inexcusable.

Josie Kafka said...

Unknown, thank you for your comment.

Yes, Boone's reasons are complete nonsense. If tonight is a Nick-centric episode I'm quite curious to see how it goes. He was always one of my favorite characters in the book, too.

Billie Doux said...

And after already posting three comments, I finally saw this episode. I liked it more than the first one, but it also suffered deeply from the stupid choices that the producers made for the entire series. In my head, I kept filling in stuff from the book that didn't make it to the screen, and the viewer isn't supposed to do that.

I did like Jovan Adepo's Larry; he's a likeable actor who felt like a somewhat decent guy who's made bad choices. I liked Heather Graham's Rita, too. It was too bad that they made the tunnel sequence into a sewer sequence, because I remember the first time I read the book, I practically read the tunnel sequence standing up and pacing around because it was so intense. I liked that Ray Brentner is now a Native American woman and that Joe is Asian -- that felt right. I also kind of liked the unfortunate Lloyd.