This review contains spoilers for episode 8 of The Stand.
It is no coincidence that the Coloradans in this episode of that have no reason to have hope, have the most. While Mother Abagail’s limited power has faded, Flagg’s power has on been on the rise. Literally. Flagg is floating around his penthouse, charging up on the fear and adoration of people like an energy vampire that exclusively works overcrowded rock concerts. When Mother Abagail dies in Boulder, Flagg is so immersed in marinating in the fear of his people that he does not even notice that his main enemy in this fight has left the ring.
What do you do when you’ve lost hope? Do you embrace nihilism? Do you sit quietly and wait for things to end? Or do you fight to hold on to hope? For our final three heroes from Boulder, you may choose to spark hope in the other side. If hope fights fear and the enemy consumes fear like it is oxygen, hope is the only viable option. This is a lesson Glen learns quickly, and one he deploys in short, killing cuts. The Dark Man never saw hope coming, because he does not understand hope in the face of impossible odds.
The Vegas People’s Court
In a make-shift jail in New Vegas, Glen (Greg Kinnear), Ray (Irene Bedard), and Larry (Jovan Adepo) await their fates in stylish orange jumpsuits. Glen appears resigned to his fate, and he notes that the people in town feel familiar. “[People are] lost, scared people, following somebody who makes them feel just a little less lost,” Glen says. “Same as us?” Ray asks before she calls the town evil. Glen smiles because he knows that in the grey area between good and evil, sometimes circumstance is the only thing keeping you from being on the right side. Glen explains that the crucified people on the way into town show that Flagg’s (Alexander Skarsgård) weakness is defiance.
A trial is held. Half for entertainment, half to show the hometown team that the visitors are really no one to worry about. Rat Woman (Fiona Dourif) presides as the judge. At one point Rat Woman crows that she is the cruise director of the town, and I love this particular description of her role. In every showy moment, Rat Woman is there to make the call, to give the color commentary, and to rile up the viewers. Rat Woman warms up the crowd and by extension, juices up the bossman up in his penthouse.
The fact that Flagg spends most of his time floating in his living room at this point, makes his hold on the citizens of New Vegas seem tenuous. Sure Flagg is so high off his own supply of fear that he basically bobbles pointlessly around the room like a mylar balloon. Absence may make the crowd’s adoration only grow in intensity, but if Flagg’s true power lies in fear, then why does he so rarely make an appearance outside of his penthouse? Does he rely on his enforcers to drive home his message? All the billboards around town promote Flagg’s generous side. If Flagg’s power lies in the stick, then why does he appear to only promote the carrot?
“He’s nothing without fear!” Glen tells the crowd of onlookers. Cracks begin in the group. Looks of doubt. Upstairs, Flagg’s body slowly loses altitude until his boots meet the carpet. Glen has guessed Flagg’s weakness, exploited it, and done more damage in one sentence than even Flagg could have imagined. Flagg underestimated his opponents because he believed they had no hope.
Wily Rat Woman feels the change in the court, and she goads Lloyd (Nat Wolff) into shooting Glen. As we know from our look at Lloyd’s previous life, he never had the stomach for killing. And in this moment he is shaken by what he has done, and by the knowledge that he cannot turn back.
Glen forgives Lloyd, forcing Lloyd to shoot to prove to himself and to Flagg that he is the man this world asked him to be. “You didn’t know any better,” Glen says with his dying breath. In Glen’s sacrifice, he has planted seeds of doubt among the faithful, and he has forced Lloyd to face himself.
Hello, My Baby
After Glen’s death, Larry and Ray are dragged to a kitchen and chained to a stove rather than return to their holding pen. As the ghoulish looking and very pregnant Nadine (Amber Heard) waddles into the room, Ray speaks for everyone and says, “Bitch, you look bad.” Nadine sneers at Ray and sends her away with some goons so that she can talk to Larry. Nadine still feels a connection to Larry, but the person before him is no longer Nadine. Larry sees it. Nadine can’t. Nadine needs to believe in the lie about her life with Flagg, that she still can’t see the truth of her situation. Larry forces Nadine to confront her reflection, and to confront what she has become. Nadine goes into labor.
In fits and starts, Nadine realizes just how fully screwed she is. As the henchman rush Nadine to the penthouse to give birth, Nadine can no longer deny what is about to happen. In pain, disillusioned, Nadine accuses Flagg of knowing that her pregnancy would kill her from the start. With his usual smile, Flagg attempts to work his mojo, but it is too late. Larry’s connection to Nadine has fully opened her eyes.
In the book, Nadine needles Flagg into losing his temper, and he kills her in a rage. However, this adaptation chooses to give Nadine the full power to take control of her destiny. The fact that Nadine uses the symbol of Flagg’s control to make her own path out of her predicament, is a beautiful change. I would not go so far as to say that Nadine is redeemed in that moment though. Nadine had been manipulated since childhood, and her choice to jump was more about taking back control rather than saving the world from her beast of a child. Saving the world was a nice bonus though.
After ordering a cleanup of what is left of Nadine, Flagg has her head delivered to Larry as a message. If Flagg thought he would instill fear in Larry with his gift, then he really never knew what he was up against from the other side. The horrid sight only solidifies Larry’s resolve to face death. When Larry and Ray are taken to the pool and chained to the bottom as it fills with water, Larry can only smile. Not so for Ray.
This adapatation changed the gender of Ralph to an Indigenous woman named Ray. I like the idea of it, but it is more than a bit troublesome that unlike the male versions of the character, Ray panics and needs Larry to keep her calm. Why does the female version need to be comforted? The character was always the one most at peace at the end because he was a man of faith. It is pretty gross that the character is changed to an Indiginous woman, and she falls apart. There is no reason to make Ray weaker than the male version of the same character.
What I do like about this episode of the new adaptation is how they wrap up the New Vegas story. Unlike the rather hokey literal hand of God of the last adaptation, this version uses the same idea in a less literal way. It is not a hand, but a sudden lightning storm that metes out justice and distraction. While Flagg is hellbent on giving a rousing speech to keep his faithful from going any further astray, Flagg is missing that his other plan is going slightly off plan.
The other change this adaptation made that I prefer is the entrance of the Trashcan Man (Ezra Miller). Previously, Trashy basically went rogue when he delivered a nuclear bomb to Flagg. In this version, Flagg is aware that the bomb is in transit. And why wouldn’t he be? Flagg has amassed great power and the ability to know all. Of course Flagg would see Trashy making a slow journey across the desert strapped to a bomb. So this adaptation makes use of that obvious plot hole, and instead makes Flagg a part of the plan to bring the bomb to the city.
In the book Flagg knew about the plan to deliver the bomb to a plane, but he was unaware that Trashy had bypassed the airport out in the desert. Here, the plan is to deliver the bomb to the nearby airport so that Flagg himself can fly the plane out of New Vegas for all to see.
So while Larry’s defiance causes further fractures among Flagg’s faithful, it pulls enough attention that Flagg does not notice what Trashcan Man’s new plan is for the bomb until it is too late. It is a small but satisfying change.
Steep Canyon Redman
While Larry and Ray face their last moments together in New Vegas, Stu (James Marsden) lays in a canyon, contemplating suicide. From the moment Glen gave Stu the option of a way out, it was only a matter of time before Stu would consider it. One of the great joys in life are dogs that appear to be judgmental. One furrowed furry brow from Kojak, and Stu backs off of the plan to take a couple extra pills and say goodnight. With that temptation gone, Stu has one last test.
A wolf appears. Until this point the wolf has been the embodiment of Flagg. Is that the case here? Hard to say. Flagg’s power is waning over in Vegas at this moment, and if this wolf is Flagg’s messenger, it never stood a chance against Kojak. Kojak makes quick work of the wolf, and limply returns to Stu’s side.
By the time the blast from Vegas reaches the canyon, Stu and Kojak are sleeping. At this point, it is a bit concerning that the wind from the blast appears to be so stiff. In the interests of drama, the effects in this sequence makes it feel like Stu is still in danger of radiation sickness. Stu may be protected because he is not in the direct path of the blast, but that is not true for Tom Cullen who appears to be walking out in the open. If Stu and Tom are as close to the blast as this feels, they are going to wish they died at ground zero of the detonation.
Meanwhile in Boulder, Frannie (Odessa Young) is sharing the same concerns I have about a nuclear blast. Frannie instructs Joe (Gordon Cormier) to get inside immediately. Apparently only Frannie and I are aware that nuclear fallout is kind of a thing one should worry about.
As the big climax of the story, this episode is always going to be one to watch. Was it handled well? It was okay. Ultimately it supports my fear that Skarsgård’s turn as Flagg just doesn’t work. In Flagg’s final moments he gives a speech to rally the troops, and it is neither compelling nor interesting. It falls completely flat. Skarsgård had some really interesting moments in this adaptation, but in the end, he never felt scary at all. The Dark Man, Randall Flagg, is an undying evil. I’ve been more terrified of women at my gym. It just did not work for me.
Of the New Vegas crew, Dourif as Rat Woman was excellent. I would have loved to see her do more. Again, I think this adaptation would have benefited from more episodes. The things the show did well, like expanding the role of Rat Woman, would have played better in a longer series. The weaknesses, like the abbreviated journeys of the people to the two camps out west, were amplified by the shorter run.
Though this episode is not very exciting, it is still a fairly satisfying conclusion to the main story. I think the choices of the lightning was a good one, but the direction as a whole felt a bit flat. Next week we get to see the new coda written by Stephen King. Here is hoping that it ends the series a little stronger than this episode’s climax.
Odds and Eggs
- The new hand of God feels an awful lot like a cameo from The Mist.
- Why does Flagg look scared throughout this episode? He is an immortal evil. Have some respect, man.
- The bickering fight between Rat Woman and Lloyd after the trial is a highlight worth watching.
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