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The Stand (2020)
And boom goes the dynamite. In an episode that shares its title with the series itself, The Stand bids adieu to Randall Flagg (or does it???) and his dark empire on the Vegas strip. Show trials, theatrical executions, the declared intent to slaughter the good people of Boulder and their “old witch” Mother Abigail—none of it matters in the end. A supernatural storm vaporizes Flagg’s most prominent followers, zaps him into oblivion (or does it???) and triggers an enormous nuclear explosion, wiping out the entire bad-guy population of North America.
By that time, Glen Bateman has already been shot dead by Lloyd Henreid, who empties a full clip into him in the middle of his “trial” after the genial sociologist, already wounded, forgives him because he doesn’t “know any better.” Larry Underwood and Ray Brentner…well, you can’t say they make a stand per se, because they’re chained to the bottom of a reflecting pool on their knees, and you can’t really say they bear witness to Flagg and company’s demise, since they’re in the process of drowning when it happens, but they’re taken out by the bomb too.
Lying broken-legged in his ditch far away, Stu Redman sees the uncanny light from the explosion, then gets hit with the shockwave.
When Frannie Goldsmith asks him if he knows what happened to Stu, she goes right into labor, saying “Oh shit” to end the episode.
Thus The Stand wraps up most of its action, with a final episode in reserve as a kind of coda. As such, I think it’s fair to survey the episode as it pertains to the characters who meet their maker (or the other guy) by the end of it.
Take Nadine Cross, for instance. What finally motivates her to end her relationship with Flagg, permanently, by killing herself? Not the realization that he’s a literal and figurative monster, not horror at what he’s done or what she’s helped him do—it’s rather the crushing disappointment of discovering she was meant to be a temporary incubator for his “prince” and nothing more. When she learns that there’s nothing in it for her personally, that’s when she decides to end it all.
Even the gnarly visual of her pulped skull being brought to Larry on a platter to taunt him can’t make up for this fumble.
Next, take a look at Lloyd Henreid. He spends the episode vacillating wildly back and forth between blind, performative loyalty to Flagg and trembling, teary-eyed dismay over what the Dark Man is making him do. Does this lead to some late-in-the-game change of heart? Not really—he refuses an order by Flagg to shoot an unseen woman in the crowd who echoed Larry Underwood’s mantra “I will fear no evil,” but after that he’s mainly concerned with saving his own skin, not making a serious moral stand. As a consequence, he’s rewarded with the same kind of goofy splatstick death as Julie Lawry and the boisterous minor character the Rat Woman (Fiona Dourif), both of whom get pulped by the magic lightning that descends out of the sky to rain justice on Flagg’s empire; Lloyd doesn’t even earn that lethal honor, dying instead when a falling piece of lighting clocks him right in the noggin.
Now consider the Trashcan Man.
When he first appears in the series, he’s a gibbering crazy man with a penchant for firestarting. When he next appears, he’s retrieving a nuclear warhead, at the express orders of Randall Flagg. And for his final appearance, he delivers the bomb, as requested; the only hiccup is that he brings it to the wrong place, and considering his overall level of sanity it would have been a minor miracle if he hadn’t brought it to the wrong place.
If you’ll permit one last contrast with the novel, this is a case in which nearly every choice made by the show was the wrong one. In the book, Trash is crazy, yes, but he’s capable of coherent speech, coherent thought, and actual attachment to other human beings. He feels friendship with the people he gets to know under Flagg’s command in addition to puppylike devotion to the Dark Man.
Desperate to make amends, he does the only thing he feels is big enough to make up for his crime: He retrieves a nuke all on his own, without Flagg’s orders to do so, and delivers it to the Dark Man’s doorstep as an offering of penance. It’s a whole lot more complex, interesting, and ultimately human than just hooting and hollering his way from Point A to Point B to Point C the way he does in the show.
(In a way, Trashcan Man is as underdeveloped as Mother Abigail. In her case, we’re never really made to understand what’s so magnetic about her, or how close a relationship with God she really has. She’s just kind of…there, and it’s like the good-guy characters coalesce around a random old woman, not the Voice of the Almighty on Earth. Similarly, Trash is just a firebug, not the complicated individual with a near-supernatural expertise in weapons, incendiaries, and explosives that he is in the novel.)
The Stand (2020)
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‘The Stand’ Episode 5 Recap: What Happens in Vegas…
Ray Brentner, née Ralph (a dude) in the books, is somewhat easy to give a pass on character development, since “just folks, with a heart of gold” is a pretty accurate assessment of both the book and TV versions of the character, but compared to Glen and Larry and Stu, it still feels like she just came along for the ride. As for Larry himself, Jovan Adepo made him likeable, but almost to a fault; despite some feints in this direction toward the start of the series, you never really get a sense of him as a ne’er-do-well who constantly disappoints and hurts people who get close to him, so his struggle to become a better man in the aftermath of the plague never comes through. Only Glen Bateman, courtesy of Greg Kinnear’s warm and witty performance (at one point he mock’s Flagg’s pretension by addressing him with a series of honorifics from Game of Thrones), feels like he’s truly gotten his due.
A lot can happen in a series finale, even one based on an already beloved book. We know, for example, that Stephen King wrote the finale himself. Based on his work writing the fine 1994 miniseries adaptation, we could be in for a real treat—or, given the success rate of more recent adaptations that have earned King’s seal of approval, a real trainwreck.
Where’s the Gunslinger when you need him?)
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.
Watch The Stand Episode 8 (“The Stand”) on CBS All Access
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