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The Stand: The Stand

“How long do you plan on going on with this?”

Watching the first seven minutes of this episode—after which I took a nap before trying again—the phrase “after-school special” kept bouncing around my brain. Glen Bateman arguing that Flagg crucifying people was a sign of weakness, not strength. Lloyd warming up the crowd, who laugh uproariously and on cue in their shiny, trashy clothes. It’s a simple, thoughtless picture of malevolence that doesn't succeed as realism or as allegory.

The episode does improve a bit. Not in background (that cheering crowd drove me crazy) but Greg Kinnear’s Glen gets some great dialogue, and even Lloyd explaining that he’s afraid of Flagg because “he fucking flies and he, like, ate a guy last week” was precisely the sort of deadpan humor that I love. I also enjoyed that Glen’s death marked a stark departure from the book’s plot; it made me wonder how much else this episode would change. The answer? The plot is roughly the same. The meaning is quite different.

Throughout, the showrunners emphasized that Flagg’s power comes from fear, that his people can change, and the evil is really all in the mind. As doubt begins to creep in, Flagg’s stupid powers of levitation decrease. This is the same premise of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: the power of a god is dependent entirely on the quantity and quality of the god’s believers.

That’s not King’s perspective, though. Throughout his work, he emphasizes that evil is real, often physical, and any psychoanalyzing or metaphorizing diminishes the potential for us to fight back. Father Callahan speechifies about it in Salem’s Lot in a way that even Mother Abigail (who is on record as hating those "mackerel-eating" Catholics) would agree with.

Locating Flagg’s power—not just his political power but his spooky superpowers—in the minds of his followers diminishes the moral struggle at the heart of this novel. It also means the show is saying the same thing Flagg states outright later in the episode: morality is an invention. But if good and evil aren’t real, then what on earth is the point of this story? Is this show arguing that good is real, God is real, but evil is all in our imagination? If evil is all in our heads, where did that storm come from? All of this sounds like the sort of woolly-headed liberal thinking that leads to being beaten.

Meanwhile, Nadine killed herself. Nadine’s suicide happens in the book, off-screen: at the time, she was near-catatonic due to the physical and psychic torture inflicted by Flagg. Here, Larry convinces her to see the errors of her ways. She is the second woman who killed herself after interacting with Larry, and I don’t even know what to do with that parallelism, or if it was intentional, although I did enjoy the way that this episode changed just enough elements of the book to be surprising.

That back and forth—I dislike it, I briefly like it, I dislike it again—permeated my reactions to this episode. My notes say things like “Ratwoman has suddenly become interesting” followed by “Ugh, now we’re back in the fight club pool area and everyone is acting like we’re about to watch WWF” and “Lloyd liking Larry’s music is classic King," then "I wonder if Rae and Larry in the pool means they're going to survive the nuke."

My ultimate impression, though, is one of discontent. In the book, Trash Can Man brings Flagg the bomb as a peace offering, unsolicited. Here, Flagg requests the bomb and is essentially hoist on his own petard (with an assist from some divine weather). The book mines a brewing, subtle tension in New Vegas with the combined shock of Trash’s appearance and a literal Hand of God. Here, Flagg’s public failure, the prolonged lightning bolts, and even the slapstick quality of the deaths of Lloyd and Ratwoman makes the whole final scene cheesy in its attempt to be epic. A comeuppance rather than a reckoning. Grandiosity through VFX, and not in a charming 1990s way.

The final scene of this episode is promising, though: Stu and Kojak seem to be far enough away to survive the bomb blast. And is that the figure of Tom Cullen in the distance?

Boulder Free Zone CB Radio:

• Glen: “Randall Flagg, mother of dragons, queen of the Andals…” So does Glen think that the characterization of Dany in Game of Thrones was consistent with Flagg?

• Flagg: “Now we are the predators and they are the prey.” Parts of this episode were oddly reminiscent of the recent attempted insurrection in the Capitol building and Trump rallies in general, right down to the chanting.

• I’m regretting my joke back in episode two about how many women would attempt suicide in this show, since we’re now up to three women in eight episodes.

• Larry, Rae, and Glen didn’t really get a last “stand,” did they? Rae and Larry were kneeling.

• Throughout these reviews, I’ve given Harold a very hard time. But I’d like to draw your attention to this interview with Owen Teague, who portrayed Harold. He comes across as a thoughtful, intelligent young man who has actually read the books.

I’ve given up on rating this show. How many swimming pool fight clubs out of four?

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

4 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Well, not as good as the previous episode, so maybe two out of four strikes of ball lightning? Said lightning was so over the top that I was laughing as it was killing people.

I'm not quite sure what they were doing with moving Ray and Larry to the pool. I don't suppose there's any way they could have survived the nuke?

I was actually hoping for more with Stu and Kojak because I loved that part of the book.

Big sigh for Greg Kinnear not making it through most of the episode. And Alexander Skarsgard, who could have been a terrific villain -- check out Big Little Lies.

A couple of other things. The way that they set up the opening credits always makes me go, "The Tan," as if the show is about sunbathing. And Nadine went through that glass so easily. Later, *everyone* was going through glass too easily. There's no safety glass in Vegas?

Josie Kafka said...

Do you remember that terrible shooting in Vegas a few years ago? That guy shot from a window, so he either removed the glass or shot through it.

Although I'd love the idea of Rae and Larry surviving, it would be rather difficult to believe. That was quite a blast.

TheShadowKnows said...

"Nadine’s suicide happens in the book, off-screen"

It's been a few years since my last reread, but I don't think that's correct. Doesn't Nadine actually goad Flagg into throwing her off a building?

Anyway, kudos for having the patience to put up with what sounds like a not great adaptation, just so you can write reviews that are much better than it deserves.

Josie Kafka said...

It seems the shadow does know!

I checked elsewhere, and it sounds like you're right. It's weird: I listened to the audiobook recently, and I remember quite specifically thinking "Oh, how weird, we don't get the scene of Nadine dying, just Lloyd thinking about it."

But I must have either accidentally fast-forwarded part of the book or just totally zoned out while I was listening and walking. (Admittedly, that happens to me a lot with audiobooks; it's why I can only re-read things.)