The Stand: Blank Pages

“Cavi-what?!”

The title of this episode refers to a passage in the book, unseen here, in which Nick Andros learns to read and write. It is the moment at which he becomes himself: no longer a blank page, but the author of that page. It is a lovely scene that draws on the structural discrimination Nick has faced, the power of a good mentor, and the way that communication is at the core of Nick’s character.

That emphasis on Nick as a communicator, one who writes rather than speaks, is lost in this episode and in this show, perhaps because showrunner Benjamin Cavell identifies Harold Lauder as the only writer (that is, the only author-proxy) in the book.

Rather, the Nick we get here is a study in sadboy apathy. He is, as played by Henry Zaga, a blank page. He seems unengaged and unengaging. All we know about him is a laundry list of trauma: his deafness, which the show portrays as a tragedy rather than an opportunity to participate in a vibrant culture; his ethnicity (Salvadoran), which the show portrays as a “shit hand” (that his mom brought him to the US and he wound up deaf, omfg); him getting beaten up, which the show portrays as something he patiently deals with, eventually bathing the brow of the man who attacked him. He probably would have turned the other cheek, if he weren't so apathetic.

Reviewing this show leaves me equally apathetic. My original draft of this review was a pseudo-postmodern bullet-pointed list of talking points. My next draft was a treatise on the individual and social models of disability. I made a halfhearted attempt at roping my cat Beatrice into the reviewing process, but she was busy napping. This post is simply what I’m writing to be done with the darn thing.

The Stand caught well-deserved flak for casting a hearing actor who doesn’t know ASL for the role of Nick Andros, and the show doubled down on that mistake by 1) portraying Nick’s deafness as the most important part of his character, and 2) having Mother Abagail tell Nick that he would be her voice.

In the book, Nick has his own voice, and King does a great job of showing how equal access isn’t about special favors but rather about able-bodied people not being assholes. In the book, Nick helps get the power back on, helps the Free Zone committee get established, and is generally running around doing awesome stuff for a few hundred pages. Here, Nick communicates Mother Abagail’s desires while looking emo.

It’s dispiriting, this flatness. The Stand is not bad in a wacky way, like Under the Dome. It’s not bad in a horrifying, “what were they thinking?” way, like The Dark Tower. It’s just blah.

I can’t find tension in the plot. I can’t find development in the characters. I’ve even started to think of those characters—people I’ve known since I was in middle school!—not by their names but by the names of the actors who play them. I cannot imagine what a non-reader would get out of this show.

The one highlight of this episode was Greg Kinnear, who plays community-college professor of sociology Glen Bateman. Kinnear’s chemistry with James Marsden was delightful, and his off-beat, vaping “cool prof” persona was a breath of fresh air. In the books, Glen and Stu become fast friends. In this show, at least, we got to see someone acting like a natural human being for a few brief moments.

Even within those moments, however, the showrunners continued to cut corners. Instead of an in-depth series of conversations about dreams of Mother Abagail, religion, and fate...Stu and Glen play Pictionary (see above).

That’s not the only time that images substitute for character, for theme, for the camaraderie that makes The Stand do double duty as a coffee table. Frannie looks at a picture of Jess, the father of her child, just so we know she’s pregnant by someone we haven’t met. Even Randall Flagg’s playing cards are meant to evoke malice in lieu of actual spooky tension.

Nadine does get some words rather than pictures, courtesy of a Ouija game, but even that is a bit of a letdown, since in the books Nadine struggles with whether or not to be loyal to Flagg. In this show, that’s a fait accompli.

The showrunners are clearly out of their depth. The 1990s miniseries did a great job (in its 1990s-miniseries way) of adapting this massive book to just a few hours. Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell cannot handle the load. This isn’t a story. It’s a collection of misbegotten bullet points in search of meaning. And it’s boring.

Boulder Free Zone CB Radio:

• So, Flagg sent a semi-crucified guy to Boulder to let the Boulderites know that “he” was coming. Why?

• Stu was really upset that the semi-crucified guy was crucified by someone who knew what they were doing. But that means Stu knows how to crucify people, so...

• Speaking of Stu's intelligence: that “cavi-what?!” was one of the stupidest “look at this yokel” things I’ve ever heard.

• It was almost as bad as playing Tom Cullen’s intellectual disability for laughs, which was obnoxious. Seriously, does CBS All Access not have a standards department?

• The plague/journey part of this show takes place in the summer months, but everyone is bundled up like it’s fall in Canada.

I’m going to keep reviewing this boring show, and I’m going to keep looking for the good parts (which might all be Greg Kinnear and Kojak). But I’m not too hopeful about it ever getting any better.

Highlight for book spoilers: Although I do wonder, given the way the show is portraying Harold and the current composition of the Boulder Free Zone Committee, whether or not a Big Event from the book might play out quite differently in the show. If that happens—if people who die in the books don’t die in the show—I will be much happier.

One out of four Kojaks.

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

3 comments:

Baz said...

Josie, meant to respond to you on the last episode, but never did. I think an excuse to Snark continuously is a good reason to keep going for sure :). If nothing else, this is encouraging me to finally reread the Stand, which I’ve wanted to for 5 years, so there’s some good come out of the show! Just need to finish up the Witcher book I’m on and it’s next on the list...

Billie Doux said...

Baz, you took the words out of my mouth. Reading Josie's reviews is making me want to reread the book.

Josie Kafka said...

Baz (and Billie), the book is still really good. The show is making me appreciate it even more.